Day 2,685ishI’m sitting in the coziest of living rooms, but I’m shaking. The room is not my own, but so familiar. Here I sat with Ryan as a young teenager, both of us trying to keep our hands off of each other. Here I sat with Ryan as an older teenager, so afraid because if I was on this couch it meant a temporary truce between us that could lead me, once again, into heart-sunk helplessness. Here I sat waiting to speak to Elder Leonhardt on the phone, genuinely loving his family, and trying to be my most impressive self, hoping they could maybe accept me as one of them. Here I sat with his Mom, his wonderful, reassuring Mom who tried to calm my fears when I told her that he hasn’t written his feelings to me in these two years and I have no idea how he’ll feel or what will happen when he returns. Here I sit now, in my carefully chosen clothes, my carefully styled hair, waiting for him… for a face I haven’t seen in two years.
What concerns me is that after two year’s worth of letters containing apologies, and speaking of change and of strength, I still think of Ryan as the guy who is capable of smashing my heart and my dreams. On the outside, I’m a little over-confident. I’m wearing a tough exterior that even I can almost believe. On the inside I have a fear that will cause me nightmares for years no matter how well this turns out.
I glance at my watch as a new flock of butterflies assaults my stomach. The minutes seem like hours. I started watching the clock real hours ago, not knowing exactly when he’d arrive. I watched as dusk turned to dark and the stars came out, reminding myself, all the while, to breathe. Finally, when I was considering letting the scary, scary unknown win out, climbing into pajamas and burrowing into bed for the night to cover my head with a pillow and pretend I could actually sleep- I got a call from his family. They were home. Ryan wasn’t with them yet. His Dad had stopped along the way at the home of the proper authority so that he could be officially released from his calling as missionary. Elder Leonhardt, no more. Just Ryan now… but never just Ryan, not to me, and I’d venture to say, not to anyone who has ever truly known him.
“Are you going to hug him when you see him?”
That’s the question everyone asks. Missionaries spend two years with constraining rules where girls are concerned. When they return, they often greet the fairer sex with handshakes and an arm’s-length distance. Doesn’t matter how many people ask it, or how often, the question repeats over and over in my mind.
“He was really, really strict about the rules. I’ll probably just reach out my hand to shake his and see what happens.”
That’s the answer I usually give. I make it sound like I haven’t imagined the scenario over and over. Like I’m not afraid of the awkward offer of my hand, or how I’ll feel so distant from him if he simply shakes it.
I made a scrapbook for him and it’s sitting on my lap. The outside of it is covered in fabric to resemble a missionary’s suit. Okay, I didn’t make that part, I bought it. I made the pages inside. I’d really be a dedicated missionary-writer if I had the whole two years covered in those pages, but the truth is I’ve been busy dating and living and trying to figure everything out. Am I afraid of what he’ll say about the people I’ve dated and the relationships I’ve had? No. No, that isn’t something that concerns me. I’d be so much more afraid if I hadn’t explored love and life that way. I’d be afraid if I hadn’t dated anyone exceptional. Because I did, I have memories and growth and knowledge. I know more about who I am. I know more about what I deserve. I needed that. Other people don’t need to date the way I did to know that, but Ryan and I both needed that from me.
Anyway, the scrapbook is mostly good intentions, mixed with a few hours of cutting and pasting as his homecoming approached. I’ve only covered the first couple of places that he served so far. So far. I wonder if I’ll finish this book or if someone else will. No, no one else would. No other girl would want to finish a scrapbook that I started for Ryan, or even keep it for that matter. I take a deep breath, nervously tuck my hair behind my ear and then remember that it doesn’t look as good that way, un-tuck it, and fluff it a little.
His Mom, his little sister, his older, married sister and her family are all scuttling around preparing the house, probably for the twentieth time. There’s a cake that says, “Welcome home Elder Leonhardt.” I put a big sign out on the front of the house with balloons. Thank goodness I had that project to pour some nervous energy into, or I might not be conscious by now. His good family members attempt to talk to me now and again, but I’m sure they don’t know which the bigger challenge is- trying to get petrified me to form coherent sentences, or trying to find a subject appropriate for this moment. “Soooo… do you think Ryan will still have feelings for you? Or will he have become so strong, so controlled, so charitable and knowledgeable that you will seem like an emotional teenage wreck to him now?” “Soooo… we’ve seen you around town with a few other guys. How long until you break our brother’s heart, and give us an excuse to break your head, you hideous excuse for a trustworthy missionary writer.”
“Sooo… Are you going to hug him when you see him?”
You can see why the masses stick with that old standby.
They were all at the airport when he got off of the plane, so I am the one they look at with wide, excited eyes when headlights turn in the direction of their driveway, followed by gasps and exclamations of, “I think they’re here!”
The garage door opens to allow for the vehicle to pull in. I forget to remind myself to breath. I stand up, tug on my shirt and straighten my jeans. I think it’s his Mom who says, “Do you want to go outside to meet him?”
I look around at them, my heart racing. Minutes that were hours, are nanoseconds now, speeding out of control. “Should I?” I ask.
“Sure, just head out the front door, there.”
Somehow, my feet, in the platform heels that I’ve adapted so that I can appear taller, take me out that door. I don’t know what happens. I don’t know who directs him to come toward me instead of walking in the back door, I don’t know if it’s cold outside or if anyone is talking or if my palm is sweaty, or soft and sexy for the shaking.
All I know is what I can see: the form, the broad, straight, confident form of a guy in a suit that belongs on him as nothing else ever has. He takes two steps out of the garage, and the form has light shed on it. Defined cheekbones, a gleaming smile, a twinkle of magic in his blue eyes.
The faltering steps that took me down the front walk are no longer sufficient to my feet and legs. They propel me forward before my mind can tell them to. He’s coming toward me just as quickly and his arms are open wide. At the sight of that, my mind does catch up and instructs my feet and legs that the chosen pace could yet increase. My last steps toward him are practically a run, and those arms- those dress suit clad, muscular, warm, welcoming arms wrap around my waist, as I hadn’t dared hope they would. My arms, in their red sweater (because red is my best color), and spritzed with the perfume he remembers (because it can’t hurt) wrap around his neck, and the hug is so enthusiastic that I’m fairly lifted off the ground.
All four of the arms let go almost as quickly as they grabbed on… probably remembering that the other option was a stodgy handshake, and it wouldn’t be appropriate to get too greedy. We’re making some small talk, I think, through huge smiles. I don’t know what we’re saying. I don’t. I think I’m remembering to breathe though, because after a couple of seconds he directs me back the way I’ve come and I’m able to acquiesce. He follows me into the warm living room, and motions for me to sit down on the couch. He sits an arm’s length away. Old habits die hard. We’re about to talk. We’re about to discover each other all over again. The changes and the intentions and the answers, the answers that won’t come any other way but to look each other in the eye and talk, talk, talk. My hands are sweaty now, and I’m thankful that the handshake possibilities have passed. I smile at him again, from across an entire couch cushion… and I remind myself to breathe.