The Guy From the Fence

Often times it’s the endings that make us think back on the beginnings.

In the months that have followed Ted’s death, the memories that fill my mind most are the ones from the beginning of our relationship.  That thrilling time when our hearts were bursting with anticipation of when we’d get to see each other again and joy when that moment came.  We fell in love so quickly, so deeply.

I remember his first day with our company and overhearing him when he was being taken on a tour of the office.  When he was being shown the supply closet he said, “Neat, is this where you store all the Mont Blancs?” It was evident the other person didn’t get the reference to the luxury fountain pens that have been around since the turn of the century and cost hundreds (even on Amazon), but I thought the joke was adorable.

I remember a few weeks later being in large conference and noticing him join in on one of the sessions.  I saw him fervently scribbling notes and then realizing he was a lefty.  I was bemused as I too am a lefty and an obsessive note taker.  I’d like to think it’s the journalist in me, but really it’s so I don’t take too many mental vacations.

He caught me looking at him and flashed me a grin that I could see from 20 feet away (despite the fact that the overhead lights were out so as not to compete with the projector at the front of the room).

Swoon.

But we had actually met a few years before he started with our company when I was living overseas and he had just moved to Panama City to begin his final tour in the Navy.  I had been politely asked by the Italian government to leave the country after teaching English to their children without a work permit.  Whoops.  So I was home for the summer and working at the Public Affairs Office on the navy base.

Around lunchtime, someone came into the office saying that a plane had landed on the highway just outside the fence.  It turned out that it was right at the stretch of road that our parking lot bordered so we all walked to the fence to check it out.

It was a banner plane, not an uncommon sight in the height of summer when local restaurants feel compelled to wow the tourists with the great array of domestic beers they have on special (this was before Panama City joined the rest of the country in appreciating microbrews and imports).

The plane began experiencing engine trouble on its way back from picking up a new banner and the deft pilot navigated between the power lines, under the stop light, and around traffic – all to land on the 4-lane highway that runs beside the base.

I had walked down the fence line a little so I could get a better view when this (devastatingly handsome) guy came up.  I don’t remember what he said but I remember it made me laugh.  We bantered a little and then he introduced himself with a smile that one doesn’t forget.

We chatted a bit longer and then went on our way.  The next day, I was waiting for my dad to pick me up for lunch (he too worked on base) when a car pulled up.  I couldn’t make out the driver initially but I could see the smile distinctly.  When he rolled down the window, I saw it was the guy from the fence.

He asked, “Is this what you do, stand on the sidewalk and wait for someone to offer to take you to lunch?”  My heart leapt and I tried to think of a witty response (think, think, think, think, think).  But sadly, my dad drove up right at that moment.

I wanted desperately to talk to this guy, about anything, but all I could manage was a laugh and the explanation that I was waiting for my dad, who was now waiting for me.  He said something charmingly funny and we said goodbye.

I didn’t see him again that summer.  I went back to Sicily the next month and returned to my old life and responsibilities back there.  Though I thought I’d never see him again, he remained in the back of my mind and I hoped that somehow our paths would cross.

Time passed and I eventually moved home to Panama City and began working.  A year later, he came to work for the same company and on his second day I ran into him in the break room.  Clearly not thought out, I blurted, “You’re the guy from the fence.”  He was understandably perplexed, so I described the banner plane landing and then it clicked with him who I was.

The guy at the fence was Ted and that fateful day was 10 years ago today.  I didn’t know it then, but that meet cute would forever change the trajectory of my life.