A library should be an organic thing, sans electronics. It’s not that I’m nostalgic for the old days when such cathedrals to literature held only that, but somewhere deep down, somewhere visceral, I know it’s the truth. The library through which I wandered in high school smelled like musty paper and brown wood. The carpets were earth toned. There were posters on the walls which touted reading’s importance. There was a card catalogue and the Dewey decimal system. True, there were microfiche machines against the wall, but I only used them to feel like a detective. I came for the books. I came for all the countless titles which held truths which our teachers wouldn’t share. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t find something infinitely more profound; I found my soul mate.
Emily Clark (who was a far cry from my soul mate) was a tutor. She sat at one of the brown round tables by the entrance next to an exotic beauty with a mischievous smile. Said beauty had this glowing mane of brown hair and a large forehead. Her grin was small, with her lips pressed together as if she was struggling to keep her thoughts from showing on her face. She was diminutive and firm and I couldn’t breathe for a moment. I walked over, with my long hair and pot reddened eyes, and stared at Emily with an “introduce me right fucking now” look on my face. Emily sighed and did. Her name was Terra. Emily told her my name while wearing a “dear god don’t talk to him because he’s as crazy as they come” expression. I remember it so damn vividly. And that’s odd because when I think back, there are two, maybe three other people who I can remember meeting for the first time. And they’re all dudes with whom I almost went to jail. Multiple times.
I’d see Terra in the halls and I’d do whatever it took to get her attention. I’d devolve into a simian cave dweller beating on my chest. She thought I was weird. She started dating one of my best friends from the second grade. He stopped being a friend. Instantly. I went on with my life, or the lack thereof, while she went on with hers. I graduated, two years before she did, and left for Oregon. I flittered around my late adolescence and failed at everything. But I made it back home to Alaska and hunkered down in the darkness of my father’s house and started my debauchery in earnest. I sunk lower and deeper into a quagmire of what some would call sin, and I reveled in it. I constructed a reputation that one usually only sees in movies, and I was proud of it. But one night, as I sat on a stolen couch in a stolen house drinking stolen beer (long story), I stopped breathing once more as Terra walked in the door. She was with my best friend’s sister, Robin, and some douche bag with blonde hair and a tight necklace sporting those stupid beads surfers wear. Who the fuck dresses like a surfer in Alaska? Anyway, Terra walked over with this full smile that made me quake, and asked what I had been up to. I wasn’t proud of my reputation any more. Instantly. I said I was in school. I was, sort of. I said that I painted runways for the air force. I did, sometimes. But I didn’t say I was a reckless drug addled nobody. A girl like Terra didn’t need to hear inconvenient truths like that. I made sure to get the blonde douchebag puking drunk and he was forgotten.
Robin put in a good word for me. She said that I had a nice car (how I got it is irrelevant). She said that I could play the drums and sing and that I was funny, which was almost 66% true. And somehow, via earthshattering luck complete with trumpeting cherubs, Terra and I started dating. She became the first girl I actually dated. True, I had dated plenty of “girlfriends” before, but none of them had ever listened to Emily Clark’s sage advice, and they learned the hard way that I wasn’t ready for anything more than a partner in crime. Terra took me to her home. She introduced me to her parents, to her family. She loved me, and for the first time, I loved someone other than a blood relative; it was hard for me because I felt so damn tarnished. But it worked. Our burgeoning relationship flowered into something real. I distanced myself from who I was and started painting for real. I traded in my brush for something in the oilfield. And then one day, Terra gave me a ninety-nine dollar gold ring from Fred Meyer hidden in a bag of Lemon Heads. I was standing in her mom’s small one-roomed cabin in the middle of a cold winter as Christmas approached. I cried and my very being exploded. Holy fuck, did that mean what I thought it meant?
I proposed in February. I spent two thousand dollars on that ring and she has it still. Sure, I borrowed most of the money, but I repaid that debt quickly, and we were engaged. We were pregnant soon after. I bought a house. We moved in. We got married in a tawdry ceremony in an Elk’s Lodge basement. Our gaudy union has outlasted some of the more extravagant affairs which we’ve attended since. Terra was five months pregnant at the altar, and her homemade wedding dress didn’t hide anything. Our honeymoon was two days long, and I remember the apologetic look she gave me as she puked into the toilet in our room at the top of the Hilton. I ran her a bath and laughed it off. We fought through some epic bullshit which was all spawned by my latent belligerence, but we made it. Catelynn came in the December following the December containing my Lemon Heads, and that little girl saved my life, but I’ll write that story when she’s old enough to hear exactly how bad things were.
We’ve since lived in New Mexico and Colorado, and had yet another monster named Kinley, who is a miniature, slightly pudgy (but cute), version of her beautiful mother. And we’re still fighting through that selfsame bullshit that comes from who I am. I don’t doubt that Terra wishes at times that she would’ve listened to Emily Clark, but I don’t give a damn because I have someone who’s better than anybody I could ever hope to have. Husbands throw around that “better half” label by rote, but it’s true in my family. Sometimes I feel like a worm in her palm at which she stares patiently while she waits for me to form a chrysalis and morph into a butterfly (a super manly, muscular butterfly), and I hope she waits still, because I fuck up at times, but my love is the very definition of truth. She is, and always will be, my one true love. I hope you read the stress I just put into the singular “one.” When she’s happy, I want to stoke the fire with gifts and praise just to see how happy she can get. When she’s mad and broken and sad, I want to build a stony fortress around my being to keep out the pain because it’s just so profoundly real and tangible that it leaves scars upon my organs.
I have but a few talents, and of them, writing is my strongest. At times, it’s the only gift I can give her which means anything. At times, like this one, it’s the only gift which she’ll accept. So I write for her, I write for my family, and I fight for it with these cold black letters. And it’s the only gift I’m giving her this day, on her birthday. I love you Terra, and I always will. I’ll be yours forever despite the presagious warnings which that damn tutor Emily Clark gave you. I’ll work on it all, and I’ll fight myself for the right because I’m my only enemy. I am yours, and you are my one true soul mate, my one true love, who I found in that long forgotten library. Happy Birthday Punk.