Reading the F seeking M ads one day, I came across an ad by a 6th grade social studies teacher who had placed an ad on a dare. The ad made her seem normal enough. Returning to Johnson County Community College for afternoon classes, I couldn’t shake the words from that ad out of my mind. When I returned home that evening, I began drafting my response. I was in nursing administration at a local hospital, looking for a life partner who also liked to breathe, drink water, et cetera, etc. Soon we were seeing other daily, cohabiting in the 1950’s style by maintaining two separate residences.
Although I had always enjoyed running, Michelle soon showed me how to train for and complete a marathon. In return, I taught her how to ski and we skied in 6 countries. Our true passion, however, was making a fine art of getting into medical school. Almost two years after we met, she would have a seat in the Des Moines University class of 2005. I had been unconditionally accepted at the allopathic (MD) program at Kansas University on February 8th of 2001 and Michelle and I were notified by phone from DMU on February 22nd, 2001 that we were both accepted to DMU’s osteopathic program. But…I already had the golden ticket! I had been trying to gain a seat in KU’s program for 4 years, then suddenly I had one.
No way was I not going to be an MD like my little brother. Soon I was waiting for Michelle to be woman enough to say “you are my husband, we both have a ticket to DMU–you belong with me in Des Moines.” She was waiting for me to man up and do the right thing by joining her at DMU. We failed each other…and convinced ourselves that we could keep our marriage strong and study together on the weekends. How could I have known then that I married a woman like my mother’s mother La Verne–a social climber who would inevitably reject me when I got the boot from KU’s program and therefore would not become a physician? I had been an RN for five years at KU–I knew it was a poisonous, unfriendly campus–but I wanted the MD degree anyway. It makes me sick to my stomach to think that I missed some little cue that would have told me who she was and who she turned out to be.
Michelle and I had fun. We danced, ran, skied, and enjoyed being young and having too much money. But that was all just a stage, a practice run at the institution that is marriage. Michelle bailed on our marriage the moment the fun and easy part was over. At that time of my life I was working in Des Moines on the weekends, staying at the Holiday Inn between shifts, and then returning to our marital home in eastern Iowa three hours away. Lesson number one for thick-headed Norsemen: don’t choose a different medical school to attend than your young wife, 3 hours away. Lesson number two for thick-headed Norsemen: don’t gut an entire home and then start the renovation over from that point–covering and uncovering the marital bed each day is a great way not to stress a marriage. I was an idiot, and worse, I had invested in the wrong woman.
One September day in 2004, I returned home in eastern Iowa from my brother’s farm in SW Wisconsin to a manila envelope from Michelle. She had moved out three weeks earlier and had sent me the divorce papers with a note asking me to attend to this because her clinicals demanded her time each day during normal business hours. I made a list of 12 errands to run that day, the last being to remove Michelle from my life insurance as the benefactor–keeping her in that position no longer seemed prudent. I was standing in the doorway of the State Farm office in Maquoketa, IA making an off-handed remark to the secretary about going through a divorce when a young couple with a small child came through the door. I remarked what a big, beautiful girl she was and her father replied “yeah, you’d never know she got the start in life that she had.” Sensing he was wanting to talk more about this, I took the bait. We got started talking about little Lucy and Tetrology of Fallot, when her mother remarked about my ‘divorce’ comment.
“So, you’re going through a divorce, Eh? Well, I just happen to have this sister…” I cut her off. “No, you don’t understand–I just came from the judge’s office right before coming here. I am in NO WAY ready for this!” I protested. Amy would not back down. “Oh, she’s a good cook, she’s tall, comes from a good family.” State Farm closed and pushed us out onto the sidewalk where Amy continued planning my future. It was a heated election year and I knew 2/3rds of the registered voters in the county drank the blue Kool-Aid. “Well, I am a Republican. A staunch conservative, to be even more precise!” I bellowed, hoping she would give up and walk away in disgust. Instead, Amy’s face lit up and said “Well, so are we! I mean, so is she!” “Ah, crap” I thought. Finally Amy added “wouldn’t it be nice at the end of a long day of renovating that old house if you had a friend in this area to go see a movie with?” Bam. She had me. I was mighty lonely, reeling from the biggest, most personal type of rejection a human being can suffer. “Okay, when do you plan to talk with her next?” Amy, being Amy, said “oh, I’m gonna step around the corner and call her right now!” Many months later Sara would enlighten me to the real content of that conversation: Amy called Sara and said “I just met the father of your children. Don’t eff this up!”
The amazing part of this exchange is that after only about forty minutes of talking to me, Amy could discern that I was a suitable mate for her older sister. Not just a suitable mate, but a life partner. Wow. That still makes me shake my head in wonder. Later that same night I had three hours of windshield time with which to call Sara. Although it started on an awkward note (Hi, I’m Erik–some random dude your sis was totally crunching on for you earlier at the State Farm), soon each of us loosened up and we arranged to talk again on the phone Saturday morning, Sunday, and then even Monday evening when I picked up an extra shift due to an ill call. By the time I ever laid eyes on her, Sara and I had spent about 8 hours talking on the phone, sharing values, dreams, hopes, desires. We agreed to meet in Davenport at the Border’s bookstore on 53rd at 5:30 p.m, 9/24/2004. I was perusing Ann Coulter’s new book Treason when a tall drink of water with short brown hair and brown eyes came up to me and softly said “Erik?” She bought my coffee, she insisted, because she didn’t want to feel ‘beholden’ to me at the end of the evening. I sat there, enjoying adult conversation with a kind woman with big, soulful brown eyes. It was great to not be so lonely, if only for a little while. There were a handful of patrons sitting there when we sat down. Three solid hours later, deep in conversation, we looked up and noticed older women quilting at every single table–as if a flash quilting mob had enveloped us. We chuckled in wonderment at where they all had come from, us so completely unaware.