Published Dec 6 in the Warroad Pioneer – Column 43~*~
A group of men walked through the front door. “WHO is that?” I thought to myself. He had dark hair and was of medium build, and though there were four of them, all good looking in their own right, I saw only him.
It was my parents’ annual Christmas dance and potluck dinner, and I had designated myself the greeter and coat taker. Home for the holidays meant two weeks off from a meeting-heavy, computer-centric job, an hour-long commute each way, and the beautiful chaos of Seattle’s 4-million-strong greater metropolitan area.
These Minnesota men in their heavy winter boots, snowmobile jackets, and two-day old whiskers carrying their own cooler of beer were like a Copenhagen-laced breath of Real winter air.
I walked up to Tony, held out my hand and said, “Hi. I’m Kellie.”
I don’t remember his touch or his introduction or even how we started talking, but I do remember finding my way back to his side throughout the evening. I asked him several times to dance, but he declined, and I settled for conversation and mixed drinks.
His group stayed late and we talked into the small hours about everything and nothing. A day later, he called my parents’ home and asked me out on a date – ice fishing. He picked me up on a snowmobile, a fast one, and I pretended I wasn’t scared when we reached illegal speeds of nearly 80 MPH. It wasn’t my first time ice-fishing by any means, but it was the first time fishing with a man who wasn’t my brother. I don’t recall anything we talked about, but I do distinctly remember the many comfortable silences.
And I remember catching fish! And him cleaning them right there and cooking us an early dinner on the ice.
I would find many reasons to come back home over the next 20 months, and each time he showed me more unknown facets of The Angle. I’d been visiting my grandparents and their quaint Prothero’s Post Resort all my life, but that tiny west end with the creeks, the inlet, the school and the church were all I knew.
Tony showed me a completely new side of this place: its lifestyle of harsh survival, hard-work and crazy, good-time adventures, so many new people, the island resorts and bars, Canadian fishing, snowmobiling beyond the inlet and Bear River, not to mention the quiet beauty of a wilderness that beckoned to my very soul.
Ten months in and still dating 1,700-miles long-distance, I proposed to him in the boat as he drove me northward on Lake of the Woods one perfect September afternoon. He had found me a fully off-grid cabin on its own island for a week-long just-me solitude retreat. “Let’s get married,” I said above the noise of the outboard. “Right NOW?” he asked, looking aghast. I jumped up and put my arms around his neck. “Yeah! Let’s spend the rest of our lives doing our damnedest to make each other happy.” He laughed and squeezed me in a one-armed hug. Nothing more was ever said about it.
After 21 months, neither of us could take the distance anymore. He drove to Seattle and moved me home. We didn’t have a place of our own or even any direction or a plan. But we wanted to be together.
We were both heavy drinkers then, and that made for trouble and ridiculous fun at the same time. While we were drinking, choosing sobriety seemed like an impossible task.
So we stopped.
And each day from then on, we choose to not drink.
And eventually, it became an easy change once we finally realized that’s what it would take if we wanted any chance at a future for Us, for our little family. We’d separated for over ten months in 2015, both dating other people and doing our best to move on. But the feelings didn’t fade, and when it mattered, he fought to save Us.
For me, something just clicked. I realized I’d never fully committed, never fully chosen him, never elevated him and Us above my needs.
High on the clear-headedness of sobriety for the first time in a long, long time, it became so pleasantly easy to put our love and our family first. But for the drinking, he already knew how to do that. And now, he shows me how to love in a million tiny ways every day.
We’re in our forties. We’re unmarried and are still renters – basically failing at two societal measures of success that drive my ego crazy. But, if it matters and when the time is right, it will happen as it’s supposed to. The worries that used to plague me and result in the shaming pressure I would put on him have dropped away.
The fears of being judged in this tiny community have turned into a forgiving acceptance that people will judge based on who they are, not who we are.
Tony doesn’t seem to have worries or fears like that, and every day he teaches me patient devotion to What Is. Despite his scorn of non-motorized boats, he knows exactly how to float merrily down the stream. He let go of the tiller a long time ago. I’m the one who always steers right into the rapids.
Sometimes, even though I know this life IS but a dream, I don’t want to wake up. I don’t want to loosen my hold on the attachments my ego has created. The dream has become beautiful and comfortable, and who knew I could have so much fun sober?
But going back to sleep isn’t really an option once you’ve started the process of waking up. And all those attachments my ego desperately grasps are what will pull me under when the boat capsizes in the rapids I choose to ride.
But there will be Tony, throwing me a lifeline from the shallows. Smiling. Cherishing my efforts. And calling me Beautiful, as he has every single day since that first one.
“WHO is that?” I asked once. Now I know.
And that is how Tony was born to our family.