The day I first held Joy’s hand was in Central Park on June 2, 1997. But before I take you to that moment, I need to back up a year.
It was the last week of my last year of college. I leaned across the sprawling front bench seat of my 1983 Chevy Caprice Classic and planted an innocent peck on her cheek. We had never been romantic up to that point. She totally didn’t see it coming. I instantly knew I had overstepped. But her smile said, “It’s OK. I forgive you.”
Within hours after that regrettable peck, I moved 600 miles east to live and work in New York City. We exchanged letters (yes, paper ones) for a year. Our letters weren’t sappy at all. We just tried to make each other laugh about life. During that year, we even dated other people off and on.
The prospect of our relationship ever being more than it was seemed impossible. We both knew it would never go anywhere. The affections were there, but the circumstances were simply stacked against us.
Until, as providence would have it, she landed a summer internship at the midtown Manhattan company where I worked, and would be coming in June for the summer. When I got the news that she was coming, I somehow knew that my one constant friend and pen pal—whose letters had always made me laugh—would be making me laugh for a lifetime.
Back to June 2, 1997. It was a picture perfect day in New York. We had made plans to spend a Saturday together as casual friends, seeing the city that was still somewhat new to me, and even newer to her.
We were standing on a subway platform that morning, waiting for the next train, when a disheveled black street artist approached us. He had a large pad of white paper in one hand, and a few fat Crayola markers in the other.
He didn’t say much, if my memory serves me. He just stood there, drawing. Not two minutes later, he tore off the top sheet and offered it to me. On it, he had messily but masterfully drawn each of our profiles in green, facing opposite directions, inside a giant orange heart. Under the heart, he had scrawled
and his signature, in orange.
Upon seeing it, we both blushed and looked down at the empty train tracks, smiling speechless. I took the picture from him and gave him a $20 bill. I rolled it up and tucked it under my arm. We barely looked at each other, and laughed nervously, as he walked away. Within seconds, the A train arrived and we were on our way uptown.
Like her move to New York, that moment on the subway platform was completely unexpected, yet eerily prophetic in my heart the moment it happened. I'd thought I would know Joy well enough to know I loved her before the summer was over. But I ended up knowing before the day was over.
Later that beautiful afternoon, as we took a leisurely stroll through Central Park, laughing and talking with the drawing still rolled up under my arm, I reached over and slid my hand into hers. We both seemed to float off the ground at that moment. There was no doubt that it was the right time.
We’ve always kept that picture. The paper has deteriorated to an ugly yellow. The heart and the words are almost completely invisible. But our profiles are still easy to see.
Just like real life, a lot has changed in the picture, but we’re still strong.