It’s not often I’m asked how I met Mr. Magpie; we’ve been together for almost half my life and we are old news. But I recently had occasion to walk down memory lane when a new friend asked after our story, which always begins with this: I met my would-be father-in-law the same day I met my would-be husband, at a high school graduation party for my best friend at the time, M.
It’s funny to think back on this — something Shakespearean about it, really — because in spite of the fact that I spent close to every weekend with M., I’d never met or even really heard anything about Mr. Magpie. M. had grown up with him; their parents had been tight-knit when they were young, and they trick-or-treated together and attended parties together and dined out together and were offered pizza and a movie together in one or the other family’s basements while the parents shucked blue crabs or downed gin and tonics or talked into the the slurry-sticky-thick air of a Washington summer night. In short, they spent a lot of their youths together. Their families imagined that one day M. would marry Mr. Magpie — only, back then, of course, he wasn’t Mr. Magpie; he was Landon, the deeply tanned, athletic-looking tall-drink-of-water I couldn’t stop staring at. And I was about to become the interloper in what might have been a romantic story of two childhood friends ending up together.
Landon was, by all accounts, A Babe with a capital B. This is a fact. (The picture at the top of this post was actually taken a few years after we graduated from college, and by the incredible photojournalist Andrew Harnik, whose courtly invitation to an awards ceremony in D.C. changed my life, but it captures my young Landon so well.) I would later discover that he had a high school fan club — a group of sophomores who swooned over his every word and smile — and that even girls at the rival public high school in Arlington knew about him and his movie star good looks. On that particular day, he wore an olive-green Ralph Lauren button-down with a navy polo player embroidered on the chest, the sleeves rolled up casually to reveal his tanned forearms, and I remember noticing — when M. scuttled me over to make introductions — that it brought out the hazel in his eyes.
I was ecstatic to learn that he was a rising junior at UVA; I was preparing for my first year there and my imagination immediately got to work envisioning what life might be like with an older, more mature (HAHA) fellow Wahoo to parade me around Grounds and take me out to dinner on The Corner and show me the ropes when it came to tailgating for football games. I can’t for the life of me remember what we talked about, though I know we were engaged in conversation for at least 10 or 20 minutes — I principally recall the misty hazel of his eyes and the swatting away of mosquitoes while his father tapped on the glass from the inside of the kitchen and made a kissy face intended to embarrass him.
“Oh, that’s my Dad,” he said, turning red in spite of himself. “We should probably get back inside.” He gestured at the mosquitoes around us.
And that was that. I didn’t see him the rest of the night and I tried — with difficulty — to play it cool when the girlfriends with whom I’d carpooled to the party peppered me with questions on the ride back home.
Landon, I thought that night as I put in my retainer and curled up under the floral comforter of my childhood bedroom. I am in love.
We didn’t get together for two years.
We ran into one another once very early into my first year at a football game, and he was polite but short — “good to see you,” tossed over his shoulder as he trailed after his friends. We would IM one another every now and then — he used a hideously thick blue italicized font and left bro-y away messages like “gym” or “class” or the oh-so-descriptive “away” — and one evening I worked up the courage to ask him to buy me a six-pack of hard lemonades for an upcoming football game tailgate. (Sorry, Mom, if you’re reading this.) He obliged, and I still remember him careening up the drive to my un-cool “new dorm” like it was yesterday (at UVA, the cool kids stay in “old dorms” closer to the center of Grounds and they know to request “old dorms” when they register because…well, how do cool kids know these things? Older brothers? Word of mouth? I, of course, lived in the dorky “new dorms,” as I had been oblivious to the social implications for said decision — though, in my defense, I was forced to live there because I was an Echols Scholar, part of a special program that waived area requirements in order to enable high performing high school students to chart their own courses of study — which, incidentally, I rather regret because I wish I had been required to take college-level mathematics!). At any rate, he was in his boxy black Jeep Cherokee, music blasting and UVA hat low over his eyes, and he came up to my dorm to deliver my bounty. I couldn’t figure out how to get him to stick around; we chatted briefly and he mentioned how embarrassing it had been to buy hard lemonade, and that he’d needed to barricade it with a few cases of Bud Heavy to compensate. We laughed.
We didn’t see one another for several more months — until I rushed sororities that spring. Part of the pledging process involved filling out a form listing all of your favorite foods, drinks, colors, and any crushes you had. Then, your “big sister” would use that information to arrange all kinds of elaborate shenanigans for you — special baskets full of your favorite foods and drinks, surprise lunches with said crushes, wine tastings, balloons, special t-shirts, etc, etc. On my form, next to the “crushes” line, I wrote: “I’m going to marry Landon Shoop, third year e-schooler.” (Droopy hearts everywhere.)
I was floored when he showed up to take me out to a surprise lunch and was so nervous I didn’t eat more than a spoonful of the soup I’d ordered from Take It Away. (Who orders soup from Take It Away anyway?) I remember rushing back to my dorm room and pecking out an email to M.: “You won’t believe it, but LANDON just took me to lunch. But he was kinda forced to because it’s all part of big sis week. BUT STILL.” A few days later, I opened a card from M.: she’d cut out a picture of Landon’s face and pasted it into a picture with me. Underneath, she wrote: “MR. AND MRS. SHOOP.”
And then, on bid night, Landon showed up at the house party with a smile. “Your big sis invited me,” he said, casually. He was wearing a dark brown leather bomber jacket and a navy blue baseball hat and I could hardly believe that this third year god was spending a part of his evening with me.
Things quickly unraveled, though — he was uninterested in dancing (“you do your thing!” he said, shooing me away) and more engaged in chatting with the buddy he’d arrived with. Within an hour, he let me know he was peeling off.
I remember sending M. an email that evening: “He’s just not into me.”
Now, Landon routinely tells the story as follows: “I wanted to let her do her thing. I liked her a lot, but she was a first year — she needed to experience college before we could start dating.”
I do not believe this. Because the minute I started dating a different boy a few weeks later — a fratty mcfratterson whom I won’t say much about except for that he was funny and awkward and wore outlandishly preppy outfits — Landon started coming around. It began with casual lunches: “Hey, do you wanna try that new place on the Mall?” And then we started to pal around in the evenings, too — meeting up at house parties and tailgates and the chaotically bad idea known as dollar pitcher nights. (Mom, for the record, I did not drink beer.) We carpooled to and from D.C. together. We were both dating different people at that time and we pretended as though we were “just really good friends,” with no romantic feelings towards one another.
And then one night, we were walking home from a party together on 14th street. We were with friends, but we hung back, and at some point, he reached out and started holding my hand. I have, on several occasions in my life, felt something akin to a lightening bolt in my stomach. I felt it in the days leading up to our wedding, and when I walked on stage to deliver a talk to 200 people, and many times in the weeks leading up to mini’s birth — part exhilaration, part nerves, part breathless, and open-hearted awe. But the first time I ever felt it was when Mr. Magpie reached out for my hand that night: a switch flipped. We were electric.
“Friends don’t hold hands,” I tapped out giddily, nervously in an email to M. that night. “…Right?”
With curiously auspicious timing given this recent hand-holding development, my relationship with fratty mcfratterson (FMF) fizzled, as did Landon’s with his then-girlfriend. To be fair, the writing had been on the wall for some time with FMF; we were not in it for the long haul. Looking back, the fact that I never once imagined marrying FMF or even spending the upcoming summer together — such long-term thoughts simply did not compute, did not occur to me — should have been a red flag. Still, the break up was surprisingly dramatic, and FMF begged me to be a good sport and at least attend his fraternity’s spring date function with him, which was two nights later, even if we weren’t together. With the immature, drama-loving illogic only a college student can pull off, I agreed.
The night was A Disaster.
By the end of the pre-game held in one of the beautiful gardens off of UVA’s historic lawns, we were a hot mess. FMF was angry, suspicious of my relationship with Landon, and apparently unphased by the presence of dozens of other party-goers, as I’m certain that everyone knew that we were breaking up by the time we boarded the bus to head to the venue. There were tears involved. When I slipped away to the bathroom during the dinner portion of the evening, I found my way to my best girlfriend, who was attending with a friend of FMF’s as a courtesy to me.
“I need to get out of here,” I said. She nodded in agreement.
I called Landon. I knew he was playing softball with some buddies that evening, but he answered nonetheless, a little breathless.
“It’s a big mess. I need to get out of here. Can you pick me up?”
For some reason, when I remember this part of the story, I always imagine him transposed into that scene from The Godfather, when Sonny gets a call from his sister, who’s been beaten by her husband. He squints into the phone and says, firmly, gesturing with his pointer finger to the ground: “You stay there.” And then drives off in a daze to rescue her.
So Sonny came for me, his boxy Jeep barely rolling to a stop before he leapt out of it. He was dirty, his gray sweats marked with mud from sliding across home base, his face flushed, his hat on backwards —
It was the first of a trillion and ten times in which Landon arrived and made everything right. He scooped me up, drove me home, and we’ve been together ever since.
“That’s probably more than you wanted to hear,” I told my new friend, after getting to the very end of the story, suddenly a little too aware of how long I’d waxed poetic about my Landon.
“No, I liked it,” she said, waving her hand as if to dissolve my apology. “It’s like it was meant to be.”
Meant to be. I feel just that way about our story. Though I’m a big believer that God’s hand is in all things, there is something particularly poetic and formal about our getting together — formal in the literal sense, in that there’s a legible shape to it. The oddness of our not crossing paths until a high school graduation party for a gal whose parents had at one time seemed like probable parents-in-law; the foreshadowings of marriage so early into our relationship in the form of a sorority pledge card and a silly bit of snail mail between two friends; the electric hand-holding; the farce of other relationships, feints poorly disguising our truer feelings; the chivalrous rescue at the fraternity formal. Sometimes these happenings feel foreign — as though they happened to someone else, a sentiment I often feel when reminiscing about the events of my youth. “Did I live in Lyon for a semester?” “Did I actually sing-rap 50Cent’s Candyshop as a part of an interview?” “Did I really steal that magnet from the National Zoo gift shop?” (Yes to all of these things.)
But the other day — Valentine’s Day — I arranged to meet up with Mr. Magpie at a wine bar in midtown after he got off of work. As I walked down sixth avenue, I walked by a hotel we’d stayed at a few years ago while in town to pitch the business we built together and that we’ve since dissolved. A flood of mixed emotions washed over me — bitterness, nostalgia, sadness. Lost in my own brooding, it barely registered that I’d entered the wine bar, and I suddenly looked up and caught sight of A Babe with a capital B sitting at the wine bar, waiting for me.
BAM — the same lightening bolt I felt that time he grabbed my hand on 14th street when we were young. I was looking at this man sitting at the bar, waiting patiently for me, not having ordered a drink yet (“we need to confer on the wine situation,” he said, as I sat down — “bubbles, I assume?”), and the weight of all of the things we have been through together — births and deaths and businesses and moves and heartaches and heartbreaks and triumphs and failures — seemed at once suspended from and implicit in the meeting of our eyes. And that’s how I often feel when I get a moment to step back and admire Mr. Magpie in all of his glory: half of me sees the smile wrinkles in the corners of his eyes, the graying hair, the distinguished look he’s cultivated with age — physical reminders of the very full, though not without struggle, life we’ve lived thus far together — and the other half sees the boy in the olive green shirt that brought out the hazel of his eyes when we were just kids.