for valentine’s day:

A Brief History of Ralph

We were 17 when we met in church. I was an atheist but went with my mom just about every Sunday of my senior year. She’d just become a Christian and this was her church of choice. I liked spending the time with her (it was always hard to get her to spend time with me one-on-one) and I enjoyed a lot in the sermons (the pastor later married us then cheated on his wife and was disrobed or whatever you call it).

Despite the fact he was a nice person, I instantly disliked Ralph because he was very attractive to me, he was unattainable, and he was a “good boy”. He had a girlfriend who besides being simply an obstacle to my designs, was someone who rubbed me the wrong way in about thirty different ways (I liked his choice of girlfriend after her, very much). Ralph was an unusual specimen for a 17-year old boy: popular, cute, and smart, he didn’t cuss, drink, and he was very polite and deferential to girls. His good behavior was unfathomable to me, although his treatment of girls garnered my esteem quite a bit. Ralph’s respect for women went bone-deep, it wasn’t a facade and to this day I love him for it. He was also pro-celibacy which just blew my mind (later, I came to see the benefits… not that it was ever easy!).

I wasn’t too hung up on Ralph or his girlfriend, being busy chasing and being chased by other boys while extricating myself from my Evil High School boyfriend. The first time I really talked to Ralph – in my memory, anyway – was at a pep band rally – he played the drum kit, another thing that impressed me. He mentioned reading Catch 22, a book I did not like but nevertheless was impressed by this boy who looked like Huck Finn who I would have gladly jumped, had read it. I found out years later he wasn’t much of a reader, despite my first impressions.

I went away to college and had some boyfriends there. He and I weren’t even “friends” so much as “friendly” – we knew one another, but didn’t hang out much. I still remember at the end of my junior year getting an email from him, “Are we going to hang out this summer?” I thought, sure, why not? Within a few days of my return home we were dating. I really fell for him. This was a very troubling time for me. I took his celibacy requirement as a rejection of me, of the fact I’d had sex (he was 99% virgin) and that I wanted to have sex. Now I know better; that it was OK for me to want this, and it was OK for him to want to hold off. It was kind of a battle between us, but between what I wanted and what he wanted (physically, anyway), well, our celibacy lasted about a year. I remember years of push-me-pull-you as we tried to figure out how sexually active was “OK” for us. It was difficult but of course, also fun. I think we were conflicted on this issue until the day we got married.

Oh, and the marriage? Three plus years into our relationship, an unplanned pregnancy! At this point there was no question in either of our minds about keeping a baby. We were very excited about that. We were slightly more jittery about getting married – he wasn’t sure if I’d want him (silly!), I was at first still thinking about the baby. The day after I told him I was pregnant (I remember the exact moment – he said, “My little bird has an egg for me!” when I told him) he proposed to me. Using a fortune cookie that he’d cleverly slipped his own fortune into (“you will spend the rest of your life with a man named Ralph”) and, when I looked up, doing the bended-knee bit on the kitchen of my rented studio apartment. The memory of those couple days is very special to me.

A little addendum: as he proposed, we were just about to head out the door to meet my parents for dinner – they’d driven three hours to see us, totally unaware of what was happening for us. We met them at the restaurant, me cradling the plastic “engagement ring” in my pocket and a big secret in my heart. As we tucked into our dinner salads we told them we were getting married, and they reacted favorably. A few minutes later we told them about the baby on the way. This was the only time I stumped BOTH my parents, especially my father who can always run his mouth, such that neither could think of what to say. We ate in companiable silence for a few minutes before my parents, with their eyes rolling about in their heads, started faintly asking us our plans.

I still feel pretty awesome about that.

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