I had been separated from my first husband for two years. The marriage had ended quickly, in less than six months, and I was simply waiting for the court to approve my divorce papers to make it official. What I had to show for my brief union, though, was an amazing little boy. I had thrown myself into mothering him. Graydon was my world, and the bond we built with each other, the two of us learning together, was beautiful. I wasn’t looking to add anyone to our duo and, in any case, I knew the dating prospects in my hometown were slim. To be honest, I wasn’t sure any quality man would be interested in a real relationship with a 30-year-old mother, so the dates I did have were casual and fleeting.
July Fourth, Independence Day, had special significance for me that year, since it was also the week my divorce was finalized. I was relieved and grateful to be finished with that chapter in my life. To celebrate my personal independence, my best girlfriend Eva flew into town. With my parents along as babysitters, we ventured to our family lake house for the long weekend. Aside from attending a friend’s annual Fourth of July family-style party, our only plan was to swim, sit in the sun, talk, relax, and drink wine–nothing ambitious.
One of the party hostesses, Laurie, an engineer in her mid-30s, and a much more adventurous soul than me, talked us into accompanying her the next day to a place on the lake called, “the Sandbar.” Although I had spent summers on this same lake for over 15 years, and despite the fact the Sandbar was apparently notorious among the single, party crowd, I had never heard of it. Laurie described it as an unpredictable, no-holds-barred sort of floating singles bar. I don’t know if it was Laurie’s enthusiastic sales pitch, or that it was a rare opportunity to step out of my mom role, but Eva and I agreed to accompany her on an escapade to the Sandbar.
Laurie arrived at the house to pick us up in a boat that (no kidding) was named “Hotties,” a play on her family name. We grabbed a cooler, hopped on, and Laurie sped away. As we approached the Sandbar, we saw three long lines of boats, about 30 in each row, tied together in a “U” shape. Music blared from several boats, and we could see people hopping from one boat to another. Other partiers floated in the water, on rafts, swim noodles, and inner tubes, most with beer in hand. The scene reminded me of a “Porky’s” movie: hundreds of barely dressed and inebriated partiers swimming, and singing and dancing on boats. I wondered how I would survive in the midst of this apparent debauchery and where we would tie up our boat.
The answer arrived when we came within shouting distance of one of the lines of boats; three tanned and well-toned men waved to us. I’m not sure if it was the fact that we were three unknown blondes in bikinis, or that the boat was called “Hotties,” but the men parted the line of boats much like Moses and the Red Sea, and guided our boat into the middle.
Right away, one of the three men caught my eye. He had a very athletic body, wore a palm leaf cowboy hat, and had a beer in each hand. Offering one to me, he asked my name. “Allie,” I said, “And yours?” “Bruce,” he said, tipping his hat toward me. I wondered if this guy was for real.
Amidst the chaos and drunken revelry, we started a conversation. Bruce told me about the triathlon he had run the day before; I told him about the 5k I planned to run the following weekend. But, that was where our similarities ended. He was a hunter; I was a vegetarian. I had graduated at the top of my law school class; he had taken 6 years to complete his undergraduate degree, focusing on soccer instead of his studies. He had a thick Texas drawl; I spoke the crisp and correct diction of someone raised by an English teacher. But, over those several hours, we were continuously drawn back into conversation with one another. There was definitely a strong, undeniable mutual attraction.
When it was time for us to go, Bruce said that he would be in my “neck of the woods Monday week,” and that he’d like to take me to lunch. “Monday week?” I said, completely confused. “Next Monday,” he said, crisply, teasing me. I certainly thought Bruce was attractive, and fun, but I didn’t really think he was my type, long-term. What the heck, I decided; it might be fun to spend some time with him.
Before we met for our date, I needed to let Bruce know about Graydon, the most important person in my life, and to allow him the opportunity to retract his lunch invitation. I was nervous about telling Bruce, and I thought he might well say he wasn’t interested in getting involved with a single mom, especially since we had met under such carefree, decadent circumstances. When I told Bruce over the phone about Graydon, his response was, “Not a problem. I was raised by a single mother, too.”
We began seeing one another regularly, coordinating our schedules so we could meet when my parents were available to baby sit Graydon. “I just want you to know that I am dating other people,” I said. “That’s fine,” Bruce replied, “I’m not.” Each of the other men that I went out with seemed threatened by the fact that I was dating several people casually. Bruce was not at all threatened, and he never questioned me about my other dates.
Bruce and I dated for over three months before I said I was ready to have an exclusive relationship, and before I let him meet Graydon. In fact, he was the only one of my dates whom I allowed to meet my son; I did not want men coming in and out of Graydon’s life, especially since he had only sporadic contact with his father. Bruce had never pressured me to meet Graydon, but his calm, steady, self-confident personality convinced me that he was the right man and that this was the right time.
Arriving at my house for the scheduled meeting with Graydon, Bruce bore gifts of tractor- and truck-themed books. He knew from our talks that Graydon enjoyed anything that moved: trains, trucks, cars and tractors. Graydon was thrilled with the gift, and he asked Bruce to read the books to him. They sat together, reading on the couch, with Graydon identifying the front-end loaders, skid steers, and bulldozers.
Later that afternoon, we went for a walk and wound up in a nearby park that had a beautiful meandering creek. Graydon and I had been there many times before and, each time, we would walk over the stone bridge and look down at the water flowing below. Sometimes, we brought a stone or two to cast into it. That day, Graydon and Bruce wound up in the creek, fishing around for stones, getting mud up to their knees, laughing and exploring. Their first meeting could not have gone better, I thought. And, against my better judgment, which cautioned me to be reserved and practical, I began to envision the three of us together as a family.
In the months that followed, we spent a lot of time together, the three of us. Bruce changed diapers and assisted with potty training; he read to Graydon and taught him to dribble a soccer ball; he pushed the baby jogger when we ran together. We took time when we could to go out on dates, just Bruce and me, but those times were not as frequent as most couples get when they are first dating. Bruce never complained. He was patient and loving, kind and funny. The part that won me over, though, was that Bruce was exactly who he said he was. There was no pretense about him, no artifice, and no different personality when talking to his boss versus talking to his friends. I had never met anyone like him.
One year after we began dating, on top of a mountain in Alaska, Bruce proposed to me. Of course, my answer was “of course!” We were married after a one-year engagement, outside, in the Appalachian Mountains. I arrived to my wedding ceremony, a hilltop covered in buttercups, in a red pickup truck. Graydon walked me down the aisle and gave me away to Bruce, who looked incredibly handsome in a black cowboy hat and tuxedo with tails. We exchanged vows that we had written ourselves, standing in front of a hand-crafted grapevine arch with wildflowers woven through it. Bruce told me that he had loved me all his life, and that even before he met me, he knew I was just who he would find. I told Bruce that he was even more than the man of my dreams.
Our minister wore black overalls. Graydon and a few of his four-year-old friends ran around picking flowers during the ceremony. The design (and lack of design) of our wedding truly reflected our personalities and the nature of our relationship. When the ceremony neared its end, Graydon came up to me with a bunch of buttercups he had picked (many with dirt-covered roots still attached), and I tucked them in with my wedding bouquet. The three of us then walked together hand-in-hand down the yellow buttercup-covered hilltop to begin our lives together.
That was eight years and three more children ago. Bruce is still the same down-to-earth, amazing man I met ten years ago. Certainly, we have had our ups and downs, and our share of trying times. Marriage, it is true, takes a great deal of hard work. But, our love has deepened in a way I never knew was possible, and we have both grown individually and as in our relationship as a couple. I believe ours is an enduring love that has grown through the hurt, into forgiveness, understanding, rebuilding and renewal. And, I am forever grateful for the day when I abandoned my usual reserve, threw caution to the wind, jumped on a boat named “Hotties,” and sped away to the Sandbar.