The plane ride from Columbus, Mississippi, to Springfield, Illinois, took less than two hours. But it was plenty of time to replay that scene hundreds of times in my mind. What had happened?

After all of the anticipation of those weeks and months of e-mails, followed by endless phone conversations, finally resulting in that fun first date, how could it end with me telling him he was a jerk?

I already knew that this guy had an extremely dry sense of humor. I have always had a sarcastic sense of humor, so I totally got it. One of the things we liked about each other was that we made each other laugh. But I had such a hard time deciding when he was serious that I had asked him to use a code (the symbol ~) to indicate when he was being sarcastic in his e-mail.

I assumed those parting comments were his dry sense of humor, covering up the nervousness of saying good-bye. But I would have preferred honesty at that moment.

By the time I got home, I already had an e-mail with the subject line, “the jerk.”

He said he liked the fact that I was strong enough to say what was on my mind. He deserved to be put in his place, and he was glad I had done it.
OK.

I really didn’t expect that response.

At the end of that week, I got a Fed-Ex package. It was April 14, and he had paid for an overnight delivery of my birthday card. That really wasn’t necessary.
No seriously, it wasn’t.
My birthday wasn’t until the following week, April 21. He had gotten the dates mixed up and was so afraid he would miss my birthday that he sent the card Fed Ex. I hardly had the heart to tell him that he was a week early.

**

A couple of weeks after that I got a call saying he was in Chicago. He had gone on a business trip and left his car in southern Illinois where he and his co-workers all grabbed a train up to Chicago. He thought maybe he would drive a few hours out of his way and come by and see me on his way home.
It was the worst possible time he could come to visit me. It was during the final days of the legislative session, and it was assumed that, like all of the other reporters, I needed to work pretty much around the clock to cover whatever happened.

I was always functioning in “survival mode” that time of year. I would eat on the run, sleep very little and work until late in the evening. I was stressed enough just trying to get through my life, at that point. But there was no way I was going to delay this visit. I was surprised and excited that he was actually coming to town.

I scrambled furiously to clean up my apartment. Springfield is a town with so much history, and it still has streets lined with historic homes. I lived in a four-flat apartment building that was probably built around 1940. My apartment had gold patterned wallpaper and thick shag carpeting. The kitchen had the original stove and refrigerator. I held my breath every time I used a match to light up that gas stove, hoping the whole apartment didn’t go up in flames.

I could look past all of that though because of the thick solid wood molding, the built in bookshelves and the sunroom on the front. Instead of a shower, I had a clawfoot tub, and the place used radiator heat. Above the front door was a plaque that said, “The Berkeley.”

To this day, we still talk about The Berkeley. That place had so much character. It instantly brings back great memories of our early days of dating.

**

I was working when he got into town.

I remember standing outside the Pressroom on the mezzanine level of the Capitol, waiting for him to walk up the steps. I worked in an office with a group of men who were going to have a lot to say if I came walking in with this visitor.

Instead, I showed him to the gallery of the Illinois House of Representatives and helped him find a seat. He would have to hang out there until the session ended for the evening, and I could go home.

I told a few of my other female reporter friends that this guy had come to visit me and was sitting up in the gallery. I tried to point him out from where we sat in the press box on the House floor.

I came back a few hours later to find him mesmerized. He had made a few friends who had kept him company while he got a first-hand view of how laws are made in the state of Illinois. Much to my surprise, he wasn’t bored or anxious to go home. He was loving it.

**

I took him to a Thai restaurant that was a popular hang-out with and all my friends. The restaurant was a total hole in the wall. The waitresses were mean and would yell at you if you didn’t order fast enough. But the place was always packed. The food was amazing.
Unless, of course, you are someone like my husband. Someone who loves meat and potatoes. Someone who really doesn’t like Chinese food or Japanese food or Thai. I had no idea at the time how much that restaurant must have been outside his comfort zone.
The only thing I actually remember about that meal was that I was trying to get to the bottom of why he had traveled all the way from Mississippi to Chicago and then went out of his way to visit me in Springfield. Why was he there?
His answer was simple and straightforward.
“I had to see you.”
Little by little, he was taking his chisel and hammering away at the bricks and mortar I hid behind. He was chipping away at a little hole to my emotions.
I was learning that he was a guy who didn’t mess around. He didn’t play games. He was exactly who he was. He didn’t care what anyone thought about him, but that didn’t come across in an arrogant way. He was just completely OK with who he was.
He wasn’t interested in mind games or playing with my emotions. I asked a question. He would answer.
“You had to see me?” I repeated.
Chip. Chip. Chip…. Clunk. One brick down.
**
This story is almost done…

aug2011emily

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