Alissa and I had known each other for nearly two and a half years at the point where our story begins. She’d helped me struggle through my adjustment to life in Seattle. She’d seen me struggle through feelings remaining from an unrequited love for a college friend. We talked each other through the angst and uncertainty of those first post college years.
She was my best friend. We were not oblivious to what everyone else saw in the time that we spent together. We’d even talked about it, explored the question of dating, but I remained steadfast in my certainty that we were just friends. I continued to nurse my crush on her roommate, and Alissa began to pull away, seeking opportunities to be seen apart from me. I noticed, but there was always an explanation. This accelerated when we saw Shakespeare in Love. If there was ever a night for romance, it was that one: a romantic movie, hands almost touching during a walk through the misty Seattle night to an all-night café for coffee and dessert next to foggy windows. Two people who were truly “just” friends could have kissed at that end of that evening and written it off to the mood getting the better of them. But I was (too much of?) a gentleman and “nothing” happened that night. After all, we were just friends.
Life went on, setting the stage for Valentine’s Day 1999. It was a sunny Sunday. We had gone to church and were stopping off at her apartment before going to a party some married friends were throwing for their unattached single friends. Walking along the breezeway to her door, we found a note telling her to stop in next door. Alissa let me in and went to knock on her neighbor’s door.
I was in the small dining room shedding my coat; it was sunny, not warm, when Alissa entered carrying a mass of red that quickly resolved into roses: two bouquets of them. One was for Alissa and one was for her roommate. The messages on the cards were identical, ambiguous and anonymous.
My initial reaction was a sort of male territorial jealousy centered on her roommate and the not-so secret crush that I harbored for her. There was a silly feeling that someone was moving in on “my” territory. (It’s important to realize that pretty much everyone knew about my crush and everyone, including me knew that nothing would come of it. In other words, I did not have the faintest glimmer of a reason to believe that I had any territory for someone else to move in on.)
Still, something was off. The bouquets were from the same person, so that brought the motive into question. We were in a Christian community of people who are very caring, and are particular about supporting people in whatever circumstance that God had placed them, including singleness. That was the genesis of the party we were going to. We thought that maybe the flowers were sent for the same reason. A single guy sending flowers to two single female roommates for romantic purposes seemed unrealistic, so the sender remained a mystery. (We later found out that it was a single guy, but he never admitted to a romantic purpose. It was never truly clear what his purpose was.)
Anyway, this speculation was just beginning when I turned to Alissa. She was beautifully, stunned. Her face was graced by a faint blush over a self-conscious smile. I had never seen her that happy, and something stirred in me; a deeper jealousy that made the territorial feelings of a moment before seem less than insignificant. Someone had made her incredibly happy. Someone had touched her heart with a simple gesture and brought her some much needed joy. That someone was not me, and I did not like that.
The thought dogged me for the next couple of days. The next night, I spent some time talking to a close friend. I related the story to her, but I didn’t share my feelings on the matter. Those were deeper, more personal and a whole lot more troubling. Our conversation focused on the mystery of who would send flowers and why. We didn’t reach any great insights in that conversation.
I hung up the phone and sat in my darkened apartment thinking. Suddenly, the fact of the matter became crystal clear to me. I was in love with Alissa. I had never felt love with such power and clarity before, and I sprang into action. I wrote her a letter explaining everything. I wrote her a poem entitled Two Bouquets. I knew when I would approach her. We were working in the drop-in center the following Saturday, so I’d approach her after we were done.
Learning the identity of the sender three days later actually added to the mystery, but it did not alter my course of action one iota. The only hitch in the plan was that she was doing street outreach before dinner in the drop in center while I was the evening lead. That meant that she would be going home at 8 and I wouldn’t be leaving until 11. (This was part of her distancing strategy.) I made arrangements to stop by afterward.
Her roommate was out of town and Alissa was watching Star Trek: Voyager when I showed up at 11:30 carrying an envelope containing my lengthy letter and poem and two small bouquets. At the time of the first posting, I couldn’t recall the type of flowers, but I’ve been reminded that they were tulips. I could not compete financially with two dozen roses. If the battle for her heart was going to turn on the quality of the flowers, I would lose. No, I brought my best weapon to bear: words. I’m not going to repost the letter or the poem. Those are for Alissa and always will be. But I told her, in writing, unequivocally, with absolutely no room for misinterpretation that I was in love with her.
I sat in a straight-backed dining chair and kept my unseeing eyes trained on the exploits of Captain Janeway and her brave crew while Alissa sat on the couch and read. I don’t know how long it took, but the wait was interminable. Finally, she threw herself down on the couch and lying on her back placed a pillow over her face and screamed. After composing herself, she sat back up and told me that she couldn’t talk about it right then, that she needed time to think. That was about what I expected, and I left feeling pretty good about the situation.
Church and lunch at TS McHugh’s the next day was a bit awkward. Alissa still had some processing to do, but I could not stop saying how in love with her I was. It was like a switch had been flipped and I couldn’t shut up about it.
I got some pretty positive signals throughout the week. Her roommate sent me a congratulatory email on my boldness. The two of them borrowed my apartment to watch a video while I was at Bible study that Wednesday, and Alissa and I took advantage of a cancelled meeting to meet for dinner on Thursday, February 25. We were at TS McHugh’s again. She was 45 minutes late because she was trying to figure out what to wear. (I’ve been corrected. She was late because she missed the bus.) Still, I was not worried, unlike the waiter and the two elderly women who kept looking at me with expressions of pity as the evening wore on. Finally, Alissa arrived. We ordered, and then she presented me with a note of her own asking the question that, despite my bold declaration of love, I had managed to leave out of mine. “Would you like to try dating?”
We were married 17 months later.
Happy Valentines Day to my one true love, Alissa Viertel.
I’m still in love with you and always will be.
And to my readers, a very Happy Valentine’s Day.