There is a tradition at UVA called “Midsummers.” Some time in late June, students flock back to campus for a solstice reunion, the small bars on The Corner packed and sweaty and the frat houses that line Mad Bowl spilling over with howling parties that rage late into the thick summer nights, their roofs dotted with partygoers sitting in lawn chairs alongside coolers of beer, the muffled thud of hip-hop beats in beer-stained basements interrupted only briefly by the strings and twang of country anthems like “Wagon Wheel” and “Fishing in the Dark.” This is the South, after all.
I always loved Midsummers. There was something wildly escapist about being so close to school without any of its responsibilities and deadlines, safely nestled a two-hour drive from my summer job and the routine of life at home: just me and my friends, the haze and stillness of a Southern summer, the taste of poorly-mixed drinks in oversized sorority cups, the bearing of a new summer outfit, the happenstance crossing-of-paths with acquaintances and crushes and old boyfriends. It was thrilling to be seen, maybe with a new haircut, or a deeper tan, or the posture of confidence I did not fully possess.
The summer after my second year, Mr. Magpie drove me down for the occasion. We were only a month into dating, and everything was fresh and new and limber and I called him “baby” for the first time over dinner at The Biltmore, the word catching in my throat like a chicken bone. I looked up anxiously for a reaction.
“What happened?” he asked, puzzled at my sudden change in posture.
“Oh, nothing,” I dismissed, relieved he’d not made the connection between my fumbling attempt at intimacy and my stricken look, comforted by the fact that I could play it off. Maybe terms of endearment were out of reach, I reasoned, this early into the relationship.
After dinner, we parted ways. He headed off to meet up with his buddies and I raced back to my apartment to reconnect with my girlfriends, a tribe of mainly south-of-the-Mason-Dixon-line beauties with a taste for Andre
“champagne” — champagne in quotes because, for those uninitiated in the art of the swill, Andre is essentially $5 fruit juice pumped with some sort of dubious alcohol and bubbles the size of grapes. (It is rot gut.) We huddled in the apartment I shared with my girlfriend A., catching up, blaring music, adjusting our outfits, calling boyfriends and crushes. I flushed every time Mr. Magpie’s name came up–and it resurfaced frequently because I managed to maneuver most conversations toward him. He was older than we were, and I’d been chasing him since before I’d arrived at New Dorms nearly two years earlier, and I felt like I’d won something. Suddenly, my earlier quibbling over the term “baby” felt infantile, and I longed to be in his company: to call him mine, to be seen with him, to be understood as his.
A few hours later, I successfully managed to direct my unwieldy pack of friends to Coupe Deville’s, a bar that felt as though it belonged in 1967, with wood benches and questionable upholstery and low ceilings and the stink of smoke. Mr. Magpie had said he’d be there, and that he knew the bouncer, too — and so I managed to get inside by mentioning his name at the door, despite flashing the ID of an elder sorority sister of a different ethnicity. The bouncer smirked.
“OK, Landon. Fine.” And he waved me through.
I felt as though I had a balloon in my lungs as I skimmed the crowded confines for Mr. Magpie’s shape. My friends were laughing about something as we wove our way through the throngs of good-looking Southern boys and well-dressed Southern girls, many in sundresses with deep tans and sun-kissed hair. We were barreling toward the bar, reapplying lip gloss, breaking out in peals of laughter, and I was scanning for —
Him. Sitting on a stool at the bar in a polo shirt, seemingly freshly showered. He always has that look, even now: clean, tidy, unperturbed. The balloon in my lungs expanded. I leapt toward him.
“Hi!” I beamed.
“Hey, hey!” he returned, pulling me toward him, sliding off his stool, helping me out of the fray. I was conscious of the circle of his male friends registering my arrival, and my face burned with self-awareness. Mr. Magpie widened his stance, pulling his cup of beer into him so that it wouldn’t spill over me despite the jerky movements of the crowd around us, his eyes softening as he looked down at me in an expression partway between bemusement and anticipation. He’s never been big on PDA, but there was something unmistakably possessive about the way he reacted to my presence. Every now and then, he would hold out his hand as if forging an imaginary protective bubble around me, preventing a stray limb or raucous frat brother from brushing up against me.
I remember his regard, his positioning, as if it were yesterday, in part because he still wears it today, on the odd occasion that we find ourselves meeting at some middleground, having arrived separately: that easy welcoming look, that protectiveness. The way he will, simultaneously unphased and disgusted, shove someone out of the way if that person is getting a little too close to me for his own comfort. The way he stiffens if he’s caught wind of an unbecoming sentiment or note of cruelty in someone’s tenor toward me. He is now, as he was then, a gentleman–and it still feels new and indulgent. But I also remember our reunion that night because I’ve never quite shaken the way he made me feel all those years ago, as we groped our way through the awkwardnesses of a young relationship: proud to be his, maybe a little surprised. It’s engendered a reciprocal instinct toward possessiveness around him — even now, closing in on a decade and a half of relationship-nurturing. I wonder occasionally if this marks me as strange, or if other women feel the same way towards their spouses. When I see him across the room at a party, or weaving his way through a crowded farmer’s market, or wrangling mini in the vestibule of the Church, I am overwhelmed by a feeling of attachment: he is mine, I think, with surprise and something like urgency.
Over coffee a few weeks back, a friend of mine mentioned how much she enjoys reading my posts on Mr. Magpie.
“You can just tell from the way you write about him that you’re still chasing him.”
I was caught off-guard by her observation, by its proximity to a truth I’d not acknowledged. I know him well, of course — his moods, his preferences, his occasionally gutting stubbornnesses — and yet, he escapes me. He has always been his own person in our relationship, carrying his own interests and passions and opinions to himself, largely unruffled by my own. He lets me be me, and he is determinedly him. If I ever changed his mind on something, I am unaware of said victory: he is an unrelenting maverick. In the weeks following my friend’s airy and on-point description of our dynamic, I’ve realized that it’s this independence of his that leaves me in his chase. I am always wondering what he will think and how he will act, and whether it will surprise me or not. Whether he’ll recognize my tentative tenderness in calling him “baby” for the first time, or whether he’ll brush it off, concerned with other matters. Whether he’ll slide off the bar stool to wrap me in a bear hug or beam down at me with that quiet “she is mine” gaze.
We are about a year shy of a decade of marriage, and I still find myself wondering, wandering after him — permanently, it seems, in the posture of pursuit.
Post Scripts: Floral Finds.
After sharing some more preppy/nautical/borrowed-from-the-boys finds last week, I found myself bouncing back into feminine territory with a lot of floral finds over the weekend:
+These floral leggings! OMG. Do I need these to motivate myself post-baby?!
+This headband, which I just ordered for my mom! (Sorry to ruin the surprise, mom!)
+This botanical print swimsuit ($35!!!)
+Not exactly floral, but these elegant pillow covers (on sale!) feel like they’d be right at home in that pretty blue color in a feminine living room.
+These fanciful botanical print plates. (I think they’d be the perfect update to my Easter table, which I outfitted with an inexpensive natural linen tablecloth, robin’s egg blue napkins, blue caspari taper candles, and a ton of mercury glass (vases, candlesticks, votives, etc.)) I should mention, though, that I am swooning over this floral-inspired tableware collection from Stephanie Fishwick. GORGEOUS.
+Kind of into these pink Birkstenstock-esque slides (under $15) for a pool day.