The Beginnings of Love

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Chapter V

I shivered. It was a combination of factors; the air around me wasn't quite cold enough to prompt me alone, though I had put my jacket on. I was a fast writer. Had been all my life. But two hours was still two hours.

In the middle of the year, six in the evening was still light, but it was growing darker. The frogs were getting louder, the crickets were eager to begin their chirping. I shut the tablet for the first time since beginning, and felt the ache beginning to form in my wrists. With all my time at a desk, I was already threatening carpal tunnel, but this was going to really be pushing it. I might start having to take breaks. Somewhere in my mind, I knew I wasn't going to. Well, except for this one.

I pulled my sandwich — ham, lettuce, and mayonnaise on whole wheat — out of its plastic bag and took the first bite. Over food, I reviewed what I had just written. Tim as a baby, then a child, then a young teen, then an older teen. Setup. I knew why I wrote it, and I knew why I had taken this opportunity to bite into my sandwich. I wasn't hungry, that's for sure.

I closed my eyes and listened to the creek. I didn't know what it was that kept me awake, but I knew that, in spite of my exhaustion, resting the eyes wouldn't do me in. Tickle Creek. That's the name of this stream. It starts south of here, out in the middle of the woods somewhere, and then it comes a long, long way until it merges into Deep Creek a little east of Barton. After that, Deep Creek continues west, absorbing into itself North Fork Deep Creek and Noyer Creek before crashing into the Clackamas River right next to the highway, a little west of Barton this time. Then, the Clackamas River and the Clackamas Highway are brother and sister for a few miles but separate in the southern part of Happy Valley. The river gets together with South Clackamas River Drive, heading west, until they break up right before the river loses itself to the Willamette in Gladstone, just south of Portland.

That's where my knowledge ended, of course. The Willamette River continued past the boundaries of Clackamas County, which had so recently subsumed and consumed my life. When had I learned all this? Never had I sat down with the task of memorizing the watershed. Never had it been part of my job. I have lived 46 years, and less than a fourth of that have I spent in Oregon, in Boring. I used to know New York City just as well. I probably still did. Even as I listened to the creek, I could feel something missing. And I knew what it was.

The cars.

Oh, how long it had been since I had opened the window on the third or fourth story of a building, stuck my head out, felt the wind on my shoulders, the air on my face, and just listened to the cars. There were so many that you couldn't experience the individual noises that they made. It was a rumble instead. I had never found a word to perfectly describe the sound of an automobile passing by you. A swoosh? Like a strong gust of wind? That rapid increase and then sudden decrease in volume. That, a thousand times over, mixed with the air hissing out of parking buses, the honks of angry drivers, and then the rest of the city sounds; distant music, mumbling crowds, a laugh every once in a while… oh, and the smells. And the lights. And god damn it, the rest of it. All of it. Every single bit.

Portland was so close, but I barely ever went there. It might have been even a year since I stopped in, felt the crush of a teeming population. The towers, the concrete, the storefronts, the malls, the yelling, the running, the joggers, the bikers, the people in suits, people on phones, people, people, people.

But here it was calm. Rustling leaves, something shifting in a bush nearby. Buzzing of bugs. And, of course, the snowmelt in the creek.

I finished my sandwich, and took a fresh batch of deep breaths. Alright, then. No more setup. I pressed a hand into my forehead, and then smoothed my hair back. No more hesitation.

I started typing.




Dad graduated from high school with the class of 1974, and went straight from that into veterinary school. Tim was never the best of students, but he was good enough — he skated by with Cs in the classes he didn't much care for, and Bs and As in the classes he did. I'm still not quite sure why he didn't leave San Diego at this first opportunity, but I have my suspicions. One, locals always get priority, and so he was accepted to the University of California Veterinary School over the other places he had applied. Two, he had been avoiding getting a job and his parents weren't willing to pay for his living arrangement if he went elsewhere. Three, I'm not sure Tim really knew what he wanted to do.

Edna was a veterinarian, yes, and he loved animals, yes, but I don't think he was particularly sold on doing surgery on them. I think that if he were a bit more introspective at the time, he might have found more passion for a degree in ecology, or zoology. That would certainly have played more into his life trajectory than becoming a veterinarian.

But going for a degree that someone in your family already has gives you a willing mentor at your fingertips. I think that really helped Tim focus and excel.

Most of his friends didn't stay in San Diego, though. Blake's grandpa's health was beginning to fail, and his family had moved back to New Jersey to help him. Eva's freshman year in college started with studying abroad, in Greece if I remember correctly, and when she came back she moved upstate. Ricardo and Pablo stayed local, as long as Pablo was finishing up school, but that only lasted two years before Ricardo gained legal guardianship of Pablo and then moved to Nevada, where real estate was cheap. They stayed in touch for a little while after that, but eventually letters just stopped being sent, and the lives of the Gutierrez brothers became detached from Tim's.

Enter the lonely period of Tim's life, as brief as it was. In an entirely new social circle, Tim could have made fast friends if it weren't for his studies. Something flipped in Tim, and he really wanted to make his parents proud, because he wasn't a great student before and he still didn't have a job. He was also invigorated that he was finally getting to go to school and learn about animals all the time. Biology, animal handling, animal behavior, animal sickness, all that good stuff. It wasn't really the area he wanted — it was more about handling pets than wildlife — but for the first year, just the fact that it was about animals at all was enough to keep him engaged. And so Tim began to study, and get good grades, and generally do well, even in his general education classes that he despised. But all of this hard work came at the expense of his social life, so it was a wonder that he met anyone at all.

But he did.


* * * * *


Sometime early in the year, they did a lab. I can't imagine it was anything other than the first thing you can think of: some dissection of a poor, innocent creature. Maybe a frog, or a pig fetus. Some similar assault on the senses, at least. And this time around, they needed a partner.

In a typical arrangement, everyone who didn't know anyone else would begin to pair with those closest to them, and to Tim's left was a pretty, latin-looking girl. Which made her name, when they introduced themselves to each other, all the more perplexing.

"Audrey Fuchs?"

"Yeah," she said.

"Isn't that, what, German?"

"What of it?"

Tim gave her an incredulous smile. "I didn't peg you as German, is all."

"Oh, what were you expecting? Maria Rodriguez?"

Tim's smile grew, and he shrugged. "Maybe something a bit closer to that, sure."

Their conversation paused as instructions were given for the lab. Here was where they had to make incisions, here were the organs they would need to identify. Bonus points for those who could discover a malady, though no extra credit so that those with healthy carcasses wouldn't feel cheated. The necessary tools were already at each station, and so it was three, two, one, go.

The class began to murmur and mingle, grabbing scalpels, paper, tongs, pencils, and all other necessary materials to pull apart the rodent, or amphibian, or whatever else it might have been. But before anything else, Tim donned a surgical mask.

Audrey snickered. "Where'd you get that?"

"This? My mom's a veterinarian, and I can't stand the smell of dead animals."

"Oh really?"

"What do you mean 'oh really'? Of course really, I'm wearing it, aren't I?"

"It's just that I thought guys tended to pretend nothing affected them."

Tim rolled his eyes. "Guys don't pretend anything, maybe we've just got a bit of a thicker skin."

"Oh really."

"Yes, I really do think so. Now, could you hand me that scalpel?"

Audrey did so, but not without shooting him an inquisitive, more-than-slightly judgmental look. Tim took it, and pressed it against the belly of the beast after Audrey had dotted a line with a marker. Tim had yet to understand that he didn't need to act tough around girls. It had gotten him through high school, hadn't it? That and his recent lack of socializing had made him ill-prepared for the forging of a new relationship of any sort. But thankfully, he had cornered himself.

"Aren't you going to cut it open?"

Tim came back to reality, and realized he had been standing over the unfortunate scene for the better part of twenty seconds. He made confused eye contact with Audrey, and then looked back down at the animal. Its eyes were open, staring straight up, directly into his whenever he went to cut it. Innocent eyes. Pleading eyes.

He put the scalpel down, and rubbed a hand over his forehead, pushing back his hair. "What if you do it?"

"Me?"

"Yeah, I can take the notes, you can cut it open."

"Are you sure?"

She challenged him with her stare, eyebrows raised. He took note, suddenly realizing that he had compromised his position. He calculated. Was it worth it? To maintain an image, or to… to…

The decision didn't take long. He put the handle of the scalpel in her hand.

"Yes, I'm sure."

Audrey didn't say anything, but continued to look at him as he dug through his backpack for his notebook he had yet to retrieve. Once he laid it on the table, he noticed her stasis.

"W-well? Get to it, I'm ready to take notes whenever."

Audrey shrugged, and cut the animal open swiftly. Its stomach sagged, and thankfully few fumes came out due to its preservation in the university's freezers.

"Was it really so…"

She saw that Tim had his head turned a full 180 degrees in the other direction and slightly up towards the ceiling, trying to catch as little of what was going on as possible.

"Does it gross you out that much?"

His head turned slightly towards her.

"If you're so uncomfortable with this, I'm not sure why you're going into veterinary school."

"Oh haha," was all Tim could come up with on short notice.

Audrey chuckled a little bit. "You have to look at it to take notes."

Tim turned a little more towards her and the creature, but not enough to make eye contact. Audrey waited patiently for his full attention, but seconds passed. Right before she was about to say something, Tim spoke.

"It looks at me."

Her brow furrowed. "Huh?"

"It's just… it's looking at me."

She laughed just a little, but cut it short when Tim turned around enough for her to finally see his eyes. He wasn't about to cry, no. But he was wincing. Whatever upset he had was more or less hidden from his voice, and the surgical mask covered the most revealing parts of his expression, but his eyes told all. The angle of his eyebrows, pointed up in the center of his face, and the sad squint, like his cheeks were trying to get in the way of him seeing the damage… Audrey shut up completely.

Tim turned away again, and tried to bury himself in the notebook.

"Just report things back to me, I'll take good notes."

There was a pause.

"Okay," said Audrey, and the rest went smoothly.

One night, before some stressful test, Audrey and Tim were studying in his room. Elliot and Edna had left for the night (a sneaky move that Tim learned of by finding a note on the kitchen counter the next morning) to allow the two some privacy, which turned out to be a fruitful investment. Need I say how a long night of reading and testing transitioned into play and giggling? Maybe not. But I will anyways.

The following is the poem that Audrey read to Tim that night:

"Dog on the street
boots on your feet
snow on your nose
running through sleet

Shining black eyes
gray stormy skies
elegant pose
after sunrise

Morning of fur
fuzzy love blur
I see a rose
makes my heart purr"

If that requires more explanation, I'm not sure that you're salvageable. I feel that the following events are a natural progression from such a night.

They went diving together, they went up in a helicopter together, and one summer, they went on a road trip together. They went north to see the redwood forests. That was the first time Tim had ever been out in nature, and Audrey told me that Tim cried. Actually cried. His heart made him barely able to get out of the car, he was so happy. Audrey wondered if she could ever make Tim that happy. Audrey told me that the kiss she and Tim shared in those woods was the most passionate form of love she'd ever experienced — like Tim was filled with so much ecstasy and enthusiasm that he didn't know how to express it in words, but had to share it somehow, and it came out in the form of a tight embrace and a kiss on the lips. Tim told me that it was a chore to convince him to leave, and on the ride back home, he was smiling the entire way.

I don't think Tim would have gotten through his sophomore year if it weren't for Audrey… but he didn't make it much further than that.


* * * * *


Audrey got in the car, and stared Tim down. Tim tried his best to pretend he had no idea what it was about.

"So," Audrey started. "Your mom told me you had something to tell me. I suspect I know what it is."

"Do you?" Tim asked.

"You're dropping out of college."

Tim snapped his finger. "You got me."

"This is serious, Tim. What are you doing? I knew you were thinking of going into some other field, but dropping out?"

"It's a real puzzler, ain't it?"

"Tim."

Tim just giggled.

"Fine." Audrey opened the door and turned to leave.

"Oh, Audrey…"

"No. If you're not going to take this seriously, I don't feel like having this conversation."

"Audrey—"

But she had already shut the door, and began to walk. Tim quickly turned on the car and then began to follow her pace on the side of the road. Audrey pretended not to notice, but it became difficult when Tim rolled down the passenger side window and leaned to get closer.

"Audrey, I'm sorry! I didn't think you'd take it so badly." She just kept walking. "There's more to it! I'm not just dropping out. I have a plan, and you're a part of it. I guess I got the tone wrong, but, this is a good thing! I swear to you, I've—"

Audrey turned around, and started walking the other direction.

"Oh come on, that's not fair!" Tim parked the car in a not-quite-legal spot, left it running, and got out to chase her down. Unfortunately, his heart started threatening him, and he slowed down to a lively jog. It took too long to catch up.

"Hoo, ho, you're a fast walker, you know that? Haah, yeesh. But, haa, seriously, I'm, not, making this up. I'm working on something. I've been, hoo, taking, diving lessons."

That made her stop and turn around.

"Diving lessons!?"

"I, yes! And—"

She slapped him. "So you dropped out of college, and you're keeping secrets, and you're spending your money on lessons! You're not saving up? Not investing in your future? You're really irresponsible, Tim. It's starting to catch up with you."

"No, I'm…"

She turned again, and began to walk faster. Tim had to try extra hard to keep up.

"Audrey, this, hhh, this isn't, fair! I'm, I, haa, can't, to keep up? Please, slow down, I, hoo, hha, I have, something, to! Say!"

She didn't slow down.

"I, am, investing in my, my future, you're not, giving me, time, hhhhaaaa, haaa, hoo, to, exp, uhh, God, I…"

"Oh my lord, Tim." Tim, hunched over, hadn't noticed that she turned around to see him. His right hand was pressed against his chest, trying to monitor his heartrate. "Just, stop. You're going to faint."

"I'll, haa," he smiled, and tried to look up, "I'll faint if I, have to, heheh, haa, hha."

Audrey frowned. "Please don't."

"Then listen to me!"

Audrey stepped closer, and helped him stand up straight. After more than just a few deep breaths, he started to level out, and regain his composure. "Okay," he started, but then paused again. In, out. "Okay."

"Alright, I'm listening." Audrey's tone had softened a great deal.

"I was… trying to make it a surprise… I thought it'd be… exciting, I'm sorry… that I didn't tell you sooner."

Audrey felt that it was too soon to accept the apology, but didn't stop him either.

"I've been taking diving lessons… not to go on tours, but… I got my license, just recently, and… I've got it in good, with… one of the diving instructors."

"What're you talking about?"

Tim smiled, though his eyes were still screwed mostly shut with exertion. "Well, what I'm saying is… I am investing in my future… I'm going to get a job with… the diving instructors! I'm going to… give diving tours…"

"Oh my god. With your heart? Don't you think that's dangerous?"

Tim laughed, as well as he could while out of breath. "I had to swim 200 yards to get… the license. There was no time limit. I did it. I swam 200 yards. It was… really slow, but I did it. I'm fine to be out in the water. And as you've seen with our trip… up to the redwoods, even when I get real excited, I can monitor myself. And… exposure to the ocean will get less and less exciting, I'll stop having heart palpitations, and I've already… been out in the ocean, getting my license, you see? I got it all figured out, I just have too… eheheh, I just have to deal with the fact that, I'm gonna swim slower, than everyone else."

Audrey rubbed his back, though still under the influence of residual anger, and tried to process.

"So you dropped out of college. To give diving tours."

"Yes, yes, I did."

"And this is… why would this be good news for me? I'm going to see you less, we'll stop having classes together. We can't study together, we… we'll have separate lives."

"That's, see, that's where you're wrong. Giving diving tours pays really well, and, I won't have to keep paying for college, see? It's a net gain, in funds. And, I was thinking that, with these funds, and uh, maybe a little support from some parents while we're still figuring it out, I thought that we could, umm…"

Tim stopped short and took some deep breaths, this time not because he was struggling to get anything into his lungs.

"Go ahead spit it out."

"Well, I thought it would be hard to start a family if neither of us is raking in income, see?"

Tim looked to Audrey, and couldn't decode her expression. Her mouth betrayed no emotion. Her eyes were alert, but… happy? Angry? Upset? Unreadable. His heart started to beat faster.

"And… I was thinking we could… umm… get an apartment together, and, figure out what we're doing, from there… and…"

Still, nothing.

"I, I'm so sorry, to spring this on you, I thought, that it would be a good surprise, and that this would all just work out, and, you're right, for being mad, and I'm just—!"

Tim was interrupted with a tight hug and a deep, passionate kiss. When Audrey pulled back, the beginnings of tears lined her eyes.

"You idiot! I'm not mad!" She pulled him in for another kiss. This time, he was prepared, and kissed back. "I'm not mad, I'm not mad. I'm just surprised. But," she looked straight into his eyes. "I'm… not mad."

Tim looked at her, and put a hand affectionately through her hair. He leaned in close, and said, in a very breathy voice: "Oh thank god. I think I was about to pass out."

This lifestyle was much closer to what Tim wanted. Finally, he was regularly out with the local wildlife, and his natural charisma and genuine enthusiasm ensnared plenty of divers. He was, in short, a very good tour guide. He was also very happy to not have to do any more dissections back at the university. After some months of working as a tour guide, he had secretly saved up enough money to get a ring.

And soon after that, under the fireworks on the Fourth of July, Tim made Audrey a very happy woman.

Audrey and Tim married when he was 21 and she was 22. They got their own apartment, as close to Balboa Park as they could be without destroying themselves via rent. Audrey's parents still supported her financially so she could focus on college, but whatever slack there was got picked up by Tim. The schoolgirl and the working man.

But it wasn't going to last long.

Because that's when I was born.




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