Forty Years Down, Forever to Go

A mutual acquaintance introduced us. She said her name was Melanie. Good to know, I filed it away. Sure, I thought she was cute, but she was one of a billion fish in the sea. Come to find out, she thought I was somewhat obnoxious and a little too full of myself. Fair enough. And with that our initial interaction, brief and uneventful, was over. Including the routine pleasantries, it lasted maybe all of three minutes.

Not exactly love at first sight.

That was a random Friday night, in the Fall of 1981, at a Columbia River football game (insert obligatory “Go Chieftains” here). I was a senior, so we ruled the world – which likely contributed to her perception of my demeanor… (not saying she was mistaken, but hey, I was a Senior). She was a sophomore, one of the myriad of fresh new faces to the high school scene that year.

Over the next several months I’d see her around school, and at various hangouts around town (shoutouts: Frenchman’s, BV (78th!), Renfro, etc…). She even showed up at a couple of the multi-keg parties I threw at undisclosed locations (ok, they were at mom’s house… but as I continually tell my kids, things were different back then). 🙂 Anyone remember those parties? Good times.

Anyway, I eventually graduated (Top 95% of my class, thank you very much), and headed into the real world. As I was getting my financial feet under me, I still lived at home… free meals, laundry, and messaging service – can’t beat that deal.

One cold, wet winter evening, after a long day in the trenches, I drag myself into the house. The secretarial service – I mean my mom – tells me I had a few calls and two of them had left messages. She adds, in a strangely giddy fashion, that they were from girls. OK mom, settle down.

After I clean up and grab some eats, I sit down and look at the messages. They were from two girls I had known way back in high school (yes, I had only graduated seven months prior, but by then it seemed like a lifetime ago). I knew each of these girls socially, but that was about it. I had zero clue why they had called.

Now I needed to decide who to call back first.

Seems like a minor decision, right? Which one called me first? Hmm, no time was written on the message (made a mental note that I needed to dock the pay of the secretarial service). I could flip a coin. Hmm, no money on me. I guess I will call them back in alphabetical order. One name starts with an M, the other an S. Easy enough. What’s it really matter, anyway?

The message from the letter M was that Melanie girl I had met back in the day at the football game, and then had seen at several get-togethers. I remembered she had briefly dated my friend Darren. In fact, one time I had “third-wheeled” to a concert with them (pretty sure they only invited me because I had a fake ID). Let’s see what she wants.

Come to find out, she called to ask me to a High School dance. Oh. Red flag. Two issues. 1) I am waaay beyond high school, I’ve been out almost seven months now. Not sure I can be seen back there (or if I’m even allowed back on campus… admin was ecstatic that I had actually graduated); and 2) I wasn’t much into going to the dances even when I was actually in school.

So we have ourselves a minor conundrum here. She seems nice enough. She is very pretty. But a dance? I just don’t know. After a brief internal debate, I figured, ok, what the hell. I tell her I’d go. We chit-chat a bit and decide to talk later about details. I fail to mention I don’t do dance details, but I’m sure it will be fine.

Done with that, I now need to return the call from S. Funny enough, she had also called to ask me to the same high school dance. Oh. I thank her for the offer but explain that I already committed to going with someone else.

The rest, as they say, is history.

That high school dance, January 22, 1983, became the foundational date for everything incredible that has happened in my life since. For Melanie and I, that night, 40 years ago, will forever be known as our First Date.

It also created a life-altering revelation… that every decision matters.

Every choice affects the next. Even minor decisions (like who to call first!) can have a major impact… as evidenced here. I’m definitely not advocating to overthink everything you do, because Analysis Paralysis is a real thing. But I am saying that it matters, and there is benefit to simply understanding that in the process.

I was *this* close to having my entire life go in a completely different direction. It’s mind-boggling if you really think about it.

I can’t even imagine what my life would be like had I not returned Melanie’s call first, or if my return call was met with a busy signal (you young people, find an older person and ask about busy signals – and rotary phones while you’re at it – it will blow your mind). 🙂

As I look back over the past 40 years, through the trials and tribulations, the love and the laughter, the life we built, the life we shared, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Anything.

No, I wouldn’t even trade it for a clean bill of health.

Sadly, I’m well aware that I’ll be fortunate if I’m alive to celebrate 41 years together, let alone celebrate our 50-year mark. Such is the reality when diagnosed with a 100% fatal Motor Neuron Disease like ALS.

But – and this is important – if I were given the opportunity to choose between enjoying a longer life, one without a terminal illness, but with someone else, versus a life cut short, one where I’d suffer through the devastation of this disease, but where I would have spent those days with Melanie…

Well, it’s an easy decision, one I’d make 11 times out of 10.

I’ll take the Quality over the Quantity.

Despite the challenges I may face, regardless of the fate I may have before me, I wouldn’t trade the abundant joy of the life experience I’ve had with Melanie for anything in the world. That, to me, is the definition of being Blessed.

Yes, for me, it’s 40 years down, Forever to go.

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