I was playing chess at the lounge of the U of U institute of Religion. The institute is on off-campus operation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints where students could take classes about the scriptures, eat snacks and socialize with other LDS singles. I don’t know who I was playing with, but this tall fellow who looked to be in his mid 30’s walked up and asked if he might play the next game with me.
The first thing I noticed were the proud lips and the blonde eyebrows. His eyes were blue and merry. His hair was not quite as red as the full beard that adorned his square jaw. He was just leaving the Biblical Hebrew class but saw me and couldn’t pass up a chance to play chess against a girl.
“How old are you?” I asked.
“How old do you think I am?” he replied.
He laughed and I saw in my tintype world a polaroid viking, defying the elements with his gusto.
“My parents say I was born forty. I’m eighteen. But it’s okay, I took you for Chinese,” he said.
“I’m half, my dad was born there. So when will you turn nineteen?” I asked, thinking of the age when LDS young men typically leave for a mission.
“In two months.”
“Well then, you are three months older than me.”
“That’s too bad. I usually date women older than myself.” he smiled.
“So why do you prefer to play chess with girls?” I asked, laying out my pieces.
“Because most don’t, and I always said the woman I marry will have to be able to beat me at chess.”
“But how many women have beaten you?”
“None since my mom when I was six.” He proceeded to beat me and then explain to me what I had done wrong.
The next week we played, and he told me about his rules for dating. He didn’t want to marry just anyone, so he was committed to three dates a week. If he had dated a woman the previous week, it couldn’t count toward the three. I also learned he wanted to become a massage therapist, but his parents had insisted he give the university a try. He won again.
The following victory, he opened up to me that he hadn’t turned in his mission application yet. He had prayed about going on a mission, and felt oppressed about it. He had discussed this with his ecclesiastical stewards and they encouraged him to keep praying. I regarded him with skepticism.
“Nephi was commanded by the Holy Spirit to break the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’.” he explained.
“And you see yourself as Nephi?” I queried.
“All I know is when I pray about going on a mission, I feel the ‘stupor of thought’ described in the Doctrine and Covenants. But when I ask if I should not go, I feel a ‘Yes’.”
After that came news that he was in love with a woman who was choosing to marry someone else. She was from a family that didn’t attend the Church regularly. Though she had gotten more interested in it, she had fallen in love with a Lutheran. He had prayed about this as well, and believed he had heard a voice saying “It’s her decision”.
In my mind, I was pretty sure he had his emotional and spiritual signals mixed up. But shortly after that, he found room in his vigorous dating schedule to ask me out. We were scheduled to have breakfast and tour Gilgal , a sculpture garden made by a former LDS Bishop with an interesting view on his faith. A minor piece that had come to characterize the place is a sphinx with the head of church founder Joseph Smith on it.
But before that had a chance to happen, he asked if he could borrow $20 for some registrar fee. How could I say no to a fellow dressed in a gray suit and tie? I loved North by Northwest . So we spent the afternoon walking to the bank, waiting in line at the registrar, and then we drove to his parents’ house in the suburbs to get his funds to repay me. We took one of my room mates, because I was still a little unsure of the guy. Then we went to see a new movie, Beaches . I tried not to notice him crying at the end.
Our breakfast date was fun, though a lot of people got the wrong idea when I told them a guy had taken me out to breakfast. Afterward we played the obligatory game of chess. He paid me the backhand compliment “At least you are challenging me to find new ways to checkmate in the mid-game.”
He seemed to be loitering after, and I wondered if he were waiting for the opportune moment to kiss me. He fiddled with my room mate’s guitar. Then he said “I’m afraid you are getting too attached to me, and I don’t want you to get hurt.” I wish I could say I escorted him to the door immediately, without any groveling, begging, and crying “why” but I’m trying to approximately recreate some semblance of reality.
I stalked him a bit after that. I took Tai Chi in the same building where he had ballroom dance on Thursday, so we happened to walk together to the institute sometimes. One day I saw him just ahead and he stopped and looked at me. “I thought I recognized your footfall.” he said. We still talked frequently, and the fact that he did not find me attractive did not deter him from playing chess with me. He taught me some accupressure techniques when he had a migraine, and gave me the privilege of massaging his scalp, much to the shock of the lunching religion students.
The latest news was that he was considering joining the Air Force to be an Arabic Linguist. He had gotten the idea from his non-fiancee, who was an Air Force Reservist. I don’t recall giving him my honest assessment of his inspiration. If I did, I’m sure he was unruffled in his resolve that the Holy Spirit had assured him he was on the right path.
School ended and I spent my summer temping at Mobil Corporation back east. I was thrown together a bit with my Presbyterian ex-boyfriend, who was going steady with one of my Jewish friends. We had dated two years and my mom had actually moved me to Utah to get me away from him. After many concessions, I had told him I would wait for him if he would even stop drinking, but that proved too much to ask. We had only spoken once since the previous winter, but being around him was a drag. At the same time my parents’ marriage was faltering.
But that summer I began to read for the first time since I was little. I read The Book of Mormon, Anna Karenina, the Brother’s Karamozov, and dabbled in Kierkegaard. I spent hours sitting on the roof crying and writing in my journal. I had an old manual typewriter that I would pound out letters and poems on. I painted my Chinese plant studies and sculpted some. I took a lot of photographs and listened to the Indigo Girls. I adopted the motto “Dum Spiro Spero” “while I breathe, I hope.”
In September I returned to Utah for school. I called the Viking’s parents to get his address and was surprised to find him still in town. He had apparently decided to hold off his enlistment until after the wedding of his lady love. He was taking someone else to that affair but he would be happy to take lunch with me the day after.
He was late picking me up and my sister took an instant dislike to him. I can’t say I blamed her. He brought roses but they weren’t for me. They were for the girl he had taken to the wedding, the new savior of his heart.
I tried to tell him in a few hours what it had taken me three months to learn. We found a spot at the arboretum (this is back when it was free admission) and read scripture passages back and forth. I was happy to find I felt nothing but philos (brotherly love) toward him. We lunched at the Cafe Mediterranean, which actually had a chess set, and he regretted I hadn’t introduced him to it sooner. For he would be off to Lackland, TX the next day and who knew when he would see Salt Lake again.
I didn’t really think of him until 11 months later, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. I hoped he was safe, and I wrote him a letter that I never sent about how I wasn’t having to struggle so hard to be happy anymore. But I didn’t get around to sending it. I was collecting a wide array of brotherly lovers. There was one romantic relationship, but it was pretty limited by that guy leaving on a mission in 3 weeks compounded by his already having a girlfriend. I myself was getting quite eager to go on a mission.
I was less than four months from the minimum age to send in an application (20.75 for women) when I got an unexpected call from an Airman home on Thanksgiving leave. “My brothers want to go on a triple date Friday and you were the only one I could think of.”
“What happened to that other girl?”
“Oh, we were engaged for a while, but then we had an argument. It seems she really really wanted to be a husky breeder and trainer, and I told her I didn’t think it would work with the military lifestyle. So I lost out to a pack of dogs.”
The change in him was remarkable. Before he had easily been the most arrogant person I had ever met, but that apparently had not survived basic training. As I primped to go out that Friday, I kept thinking “Why am I putting on mascara? I never wear it. I’m just doing a favor for a friend. I’m going on a mission. But I’m not gone yet...”
After dinner and games together, each couple went their separate ways. Airman Viking and I took another whack at a chess match. He listened to my mission plans, and I finally had to ask him what he had been up to.
“I thought you’d been in Kuwait or something by now.” I said.
“It takes a long time to learn Arabic. It’s the longest course at the Defense Language Institute. I almost got dropped from Basic Training due to migraines. They weren’t even going to let me go into Arabic because my aptitude test was too low. Except I had taken Hebrew, and tested a mid grade proficiency. But I had to wait a few months for the next class to start.”
“How is it possible that I’ve played you every time I’ve seen you for a year and a half and I’ve never won?” I joked.
“Don’t feel bad. No one else has either.”
“You know, no women.” He remembered his old boast.
As he drove me home he talked of his loneliness, how he wanted to live a good life but the peer pressures in the military didn’t encourage the morality he had been raised on. The women were scarce and picky, and the LDS women doubly so. He knew that not having gone on a mission hurt his chances further. Though he had a large following of volunteer massage patients.
“All the lonely people.” I laughed, giving him a reassuring pat on the shoulder. But instead of replying, he took my hand and I let him keep it.
In the driveway, he turned off the car and took my other hand and looked at me. “I’m afraid to ask you for something I wouldn’t give you a long time ago.”
“It’s okay.” I replied and leaned forward to kiss him. The Beatles’ cello track in my head broke into Vivaldi's Autumn .
He returned for Christmas leave and we played chess one more time. I had learned to be wary of his knights and they were traded early. I was behind in points but I still had both bishops. We traded queens, and for once a lack of pawns was to my advantage as I moved my bishops next to each other creating a formidable barrier. He began to sense that he was in trouble when I pinned his king in a corner. I was so excited I worried I might make a mistake, as I had so many times in the past.
Even as I checkmated him, he said “If I’d had your materiel, this would have ended five moves ago.”
“But do I still get to demand your hand in marriage?” The clattering of a spoon behind me betrayed that his mother had been eavesdropping.
We married 9 days later in the Salt Lake Temple, and recently celebrated our 13th anniversary.
pooka... lest I sound like an echo, but that was a beautiful story. What I especially liked was that you became friends first before you both found romantic love together. A great story with great timing considering the holiday coming up. Thanks for sharing.
Posts: 822 | Registered: Jul 2001
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It has happened several times, but probably still less than 25%. But we never play Chinese checkers because one time when we were newly married he could see he was losing, so he moved a piece backwards to squat in my target triangle. I do need to add that he had taken some massage seminars during language school. Thanks for reading and giving feedback!
Wow, that was a wonderful landmark thread! That's a great story (and really well told, too...if you're not a writer, maybe you'd consider doing it in your spare time?)
Posts: 144 | Registered: Aug 1999
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Hubby did read it, and he had two corrections. He said I just grabbed him, he didn't ask me to kiss him. But he said I was good at it. So he didn't mind. I told him it was literary license. Also, he says he got the maximum score on Hebrew, but since it was really God and not him, and God knows Hebrew, he wasn't surprised. You can see he hasn't changed.
Posts: 11012 | Registered: Apr 2003
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Love at first sight (or 2nd encounter...depending on who you ask).
I was staffing this camp freshman year in college. i'm standing there talking to an old friend when i hear this voice behind me.
I turn around to be face to face with this absolutely gorgeous 6 foot tall redhead. I've never met her before in my life. She runs up to me and wraps her arms around me.
"It's been so long. how are you? Oh i didn't think we'd meet again....................you have no idea who i am do you?"
I'm not about to say no or this pretty girl is going to turn up her nose and walk away...so i think fast:
me: "You look different with your clothes on!"
...and i wait for it. If she get's mad, we probably wouldn't have gotten along anyhow. but instead she sits down in a chair laughing her ass off.
The entire weekend is spent with us showering the other with attention and being disgustingly smitten.
I was home for spring break so after the weekend retreat ended, i went to pick her up at her house a couple days later for dinner. She isn't finished getting ready, so i look around at all the pictures on her wall. i come across one of my friend chaz with his arm around her, she meanwhile had her hand around me?!?! I hadn't seen chaz in 2 years...apparently when she insists to have first met me. she worked at wolf camera at this time and to this day i'm not sure that she didn't doctor this photograph or something.
we dated for over 4 years. I loved her the moment i met her (again). Circumstances and changes put an end to our relationship (love doesn't conquer all)but i still say that was love at first sight.
[ February 01, 2004, 01:47 AM: Message edited by: Ben ]
Posts: 1572 | Registered: Jan 2004
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That was a great story pooka. Well told. It reminds me of when I first met my girlfriend 3 years ago. The only difference is (much to my dismay), she hates chess.
Posts: 4221 | Registered: Dec 2002
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pooka, somewhere you mentioned that you were delaying doing your next LT (and so hanging out under a pseudonym) because so much had been going on here. That was a sweet idea, but it is not going to fly any longer.
Girlfriend, update. C'mon. We Are Waiting.
Posts: 14017 | Registered: May 2000
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And Awwww, good grief! I never replied to this landmark.
pooka, it's become one of my favorite stories ever, and I've told it to all my chess partners. But I want to know if you are still beating him!
You have become one of my favorite persons here at Hatrack (which is, of course, where all the best people are). I hear your words with a gentleness but also a leashed strength, kind of like a mother lion who's carrying around a cub in her mouth. You know she could bite him in two, but she doesn't.
You are one gentle soul wrapped up in one tough cookie. What an awesome role model to follow.
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