December 28, 2016

How I Almost Met Your Father


Photo Credit: Kathryn Kyker

The author's husband Alan Bowden and their son Dane work on the truck that knew just when its driver should show up.

We called it the “O&O House,” because it stood on the corner of Orr Street and Oglethorpe Avenue. Back then, the house was yellow, the original architecture already obliterated to accommodate a few apartments. Even in 1983 it was a prime location. Once my best friend moved in, I knew residents of the O&O House for many years, as good rentals were handed down from friend to friend.

I was with my then-husband, staying with my friend Jocelyn, hunting for a rental of our own. We were moving from North Carolina in a month. We had time to see one more place. It belonged to Kathleen—a friend of Jocelyn’s.

Kathleen was leaving her place to move in with a boyfriend. We waited at the O&O House for her to bring us a key. I stood looking out the second-story window to Oglethorpe Avenue. An old pickup puttered up, but slowly passed the house. Then it stopped in the street, reversed and bumped over the low curb into the front yard. A woman jumped out and dashed up the stairs. I turned from the window to meet Kathleen, keys dangling from her hand.

Hers was a tiny apartment in another old house of apartments. We had lived in the mountains for over three years, only modest homes, but with space between neighbors who kept to themselves. Boulevard felt too urban—we were idiots. We chose an A-frame house in Winterville and lived there miserably for six months.  

Craving the distraction of the town, we later moved onto Childs Street. We had good jobs, lived on a sweet street in a vibrant town with diverting friends—yet the marriage imploded.
I stayed in the O&O House, nursed my wounds, and got reacquainted with its housemates and visitors. Through that web of connections, I found an apartment three houses away. I started grad school and, through the O&O crowd, met Alan.

Alan knew about real stuff, how to fix everything, where to hike, the laws of physics, poker strategies, how to grow the best tomatoes I’d ever tasted, and he could distinguish the cicadas’ song from the tree frogs and crickets.

I didn’t expect to stay in Athens, and I didn’t expect to stay with Alan. I landed an internship in D.C. to finish out my master’s degree and did not plan to come back. Then, despite birth control, I got pregnant and suddenly needed a new plan.

Being from a large family, babies were another thing Alan knew about. Able to hold a newborn in one hand, he was fearless. We stayed in Athens, married and had a son, followed by a daughter 17 months later.

When our last friend moved out of the O&O House, we went to help. My son beside me and my daughter in my arms, I looked out the second-story window, waiting for Alan to join us. I saw his truck approach the house. He passed the house, put it in reverse and backed up over the curb.

I shivered as a tidal wave of déjà vu crashed over me. I had been here before. Except this time Kathleen didn’t get out of the truck. Alan did.

I knew Alan had once been Kathleen’s boyfriend, but that day years before, I never saw the driver, never realized how close we were to meeting before it was our time. But now, in our timeline, he strode up the stairs, arms open to embrace our toddling son. I greeted him aglow with wonder. We marveled at the revelation, how clever the universe was with its timing.

If we had met then, what would have changed? Do I owe my marriage, my children, my life to Alan not stepping out of the truck that day? Why didn’t we meet—was it fate, or random chance?

Now, 30 years later, I wouldn’t risk changing anything. My life gives me a deep-in-my-bones gratitude for a happiness that doesn’t feel earned. It feels fated.

Humans are pattern-seeking animals, finding connections in random occurrences. I once believed “everything happens for a reason,” but years of social work have deprived me of that comfort. So what to make of this? The puzzle dances in my head, trying to reconcile what I think to how I feel.

Back then, newly-divorced me resented the disastrous timing—the right man at the wrong time. I plotted a path far from Athens, marriage and children. I did not choose this life. It feels like it chose me.

The O&O House still stands; it’s purple now. The back half of Orr Street is a new apartment building. The front half is a new street no longer called Orr—burying the O&O moniker into the dust of Athens past. I drive past it often—a personal testament to mystery, to my willing embrace of human foible, and a tangible invitation to wonder.