I still remember the first time I saw you: March 31, 2005, University of Louisville, Davidson Hall, Dr. Jones Black Political Thought class. It was my best friend’s 23rd birthday. We were debating if we should stay on campus to hear Michael Eric Dyson speak or go get an early start on drinking (drinking won, by the way).
You burst into the classroom, loud, gregarious, and full of smiles, three things I would eventually come to learn were very you. You embraced Doc in a hug, and my first thought was: “Damn. Doc has some good-looking friends.”
You proceeded to join the class debate on Booker T and DuBois, making an impassioned defense of Booker T in our very pro-Dubois class. You brought many people over to your side only to immediately admonish them for not being about shit and changing their mind to suit the tide.
I smiled to myself, amused. I enjoyed watching you for the rest of class, left with my best friend, and didn’t think a thing of it until May.
In May, I saw you again. Standing with my same best friend, I asked her, “Isn’t that Doc’s hot friend who came to class on your birthday?” My best friend was endlessly better than me with faces and names. I didn’t trust my judgment. She squinted at you and shook her head. “I don’t think so, Luc.”
But I knew it was you. I’d committed your face to memory without even realizing it.
You were back at UofL and you were teaching. I was getting ready to complete my senior year. One day you saw me in the Pan African Studies computer lab. The first thing you ever said to me was very romantic.
“What are you doing here?” you
Printing a paper for class, I told you. We exchanged names. I was wearing black shorts and a blousy yellow top. Walking to the printer I could feel your eyes on me, and I remember feeling simultaneously cute and incredibly self-conscious.
I began sitting on the ledge between Davidson and Strickler, hoping to see you. I would smile and wave, but sigh internally. You were a professor, I was a student. I was too young, to white, too shy. One day, eating lunch on the ledge with a friend I made meet me there everyday, you smiled and called out my name in greeting just as I was grumbling that you probably didn’t even remember it.
I spent a lot of time on that ledge summer 2005.
On June 25, 2005 a girl asked to use my phone. She called someone, looking for a ride, but he didn’t answer. I would learn later she was the sister of your best friend, and the buddy she called was you.
That evening Fourth Street Live would change everything.
Who cares that Fourth Street Live is literally one of the shittest, douche-baggiest places in the city to go out for drinks? You and I were both there. I saw you. You saw me.
You looked up that missed call from earlier – the number you called back and knew was me when my voicemail picked up. You stepped away, called my number.
“Bet you didn’t know I had your number,” you said as I gasped, spinning around where you stood, smiling.
(We should really send Erica a thank you card).
We talked for four hours straight. As bars closed down at 4am we discovered we lived around the corner from one another.
You came over to the big, strange house I lived in with my friends. We talked more, and we kissed, and I felt this immediate rightness.
We started hanging out every day. You were so quick-witted, so funny, so everything I looked for in a guy but never seemed to find.
On day three I told my best friend I thought I could fall in love with you. I said it tentatively, feeling foolish and self-conscious because I already knew I was in love with you. And that was ridiculous, wasn’t it?
When you read some of my writing, something I’d shared with countless boyfriends but received only blank stares and mumbled comments in return, you immediately called me a great writer. You were sure I’d write a book some day. Maybe we would write a book together.
(Since then I’ve written almost four books).
You had me from that moment. Since that day, I’ve been yours.
The nearly ten years following that summer have been full of highs and lows and troubles. Looking back, I am not sure how we survived. There were moments I thought we would not make it as a couple, that the age difference, the race difference, the job struggles, they were all too much and we would surely break under the weight of all the bullshit.
We did not break.
We grew stronger.
And, my love, seeing you at forty? It was worth every single minute.
What an amazing life we’ve built.
What an amazing man you are.
You brought me into the lives of your oldest sons. You brought me my family.
I fell in love with you when you saw me. I knew I would marry you when I saw you with your children.
You are an amazing father. It is simply what you were born to be.
You make fatherhood look effortless.
You are nurturing and kind, caring for our babies when they are sick.
You are playful and silly, delighting in our children on a daily basis.
You are an affectionate, hands on dad, teaching our children through example that nurturing knows no gender.
walked through hell with me were there for me through law school and the whole stadium heard you holler my name at graduation.
You make a great santa.
You’re good in a clutch moment.
When I said I wanted to run a half marathon you said “cool” in your nonchalant way. I started training. Seven weeks later you started training with me, and you kept up on a seven mile run like it was nothing. Even at forty it is easy to see the high school athlete and the military man of your twenties. You crossed the finish line with me, even though you could have easily left me in the dust.
You travel with me.
I love the way you hear music. Music speaks to you the way books speak to me – straight to your heart until it fills up every part of you. I love when you sing. I love going to concerts with you.
You go black tie with me.
And protest with me.
You’re willing to do anything for your family, including cut your hair so you could get the job you wanted.
You got it.
And you smooth grew your hair and beard right the fuck back out, too.
Because you know I love your beard.
Our older boys don’t quite realize how dope you are, but they will.
You give really good birthday surprises.
Really, incredibly, amazingly good.
And even before you had the ring you wanted to give me, you had me as your wife. I married you in my bare feet in St. James Court, in my dress from Target, adorned only with the clip Karen brought for my hair. Your best friend married us and we took shots of whiskey in the courtyard, giggling and gathering our things as the people paying tens of thousands of dollars to have a wedding in the same spot arrived to set up their chairs.
How do I find the words to tell you how much I love the life we have built? How thankful I am for our family?
Happy, happy birthday.