It's August. Their stories always happen in the fall.
When darling G. first saw J., he was with his then girlfriend. They were all at a mutual friend's party and G. noted how J. carefully leaned in to listen to his girlfriend, the attentiveness on his face, the careful way in which he held her hand, proffering his rapt attention as she spoke.
That, G. decided, is what I want.
Warm chocolate chip cookies. In ten years of friendship with D., these are a mainstay. What distinguishes his cookies from other variations is the Callebaut milk chocolate. Sometimes with a dash of nutmeg. During the hard years when he struggled through a failing marriage, I'd routinely drop a plate of these in front of him when he came over to hang out with Hubby, to seek advice, to drink a beer, to watch a UFC match, to be a friend, to be with a friend.
Later, when the Beautiful One enters his life, he tells me about her over trays of warm chocolate chip cookies. Tells me he can't stop thinking about her, can't wait to talk to her every night. Marvels over the similarities in their lives. Admires her stoicism and independence. Appreciates her insistence that he never stop pursuing his dreams even if it temporarily discomfits and disrupts their life together.
This girl, with whom he was so consumed, with whom he confessed to falling for so quickly, so deeply - well, this girl was The One. In the early days of his campaign to win her over, his fears, his uncertainties that perhaps this was moving too quickly, that perhaps he was thinking about it too much; ah...well, all those concerns were swept away when it became clear to him that this girl -- well, this girl was The One. The Beautiful One.
Of course they have drama and difficulties. All relationships must. But they also complete each other.
One night, when they are staying at our home, he tells her, "I want you to remember this night. It'll make sense to you another time but I just want you to remember this moment and this night."
That night was significant because - though she did not know it then - he had that morning picked up the ring with which he would propose to her two months later.
It took them nearly two years after the engagement to wed; there were extenuating circumstances during which time D. achieved a lifelong career ambition; and they had a child. But the end result was the same. They married on a crisp fall day, both stunningly gorgeous and filled with hope for a lifetime together.
Said he to me, "This is everything I've wanted."
Happy endings. Nothing like them.
When G. and J. met again, he was free. Over the course of a weekend they were thrown together by social circumstances and mutual friends. It was snowing hard one night when she departed a friend's house for her own; J. insisted on walking her back to her apartment. When they arrived, a blizzard was piling the streets with snow and ice. Snowbound that evening, they stayed up and talked and talked and talked. And the attentiveness she noted that first night - not only did he listen, he heard.
And in the ensuing weeks and months, he continues to listen and to hear. G. blooms.
When Hubby and another friend meet J. at a baseball game G. has organized, both are reasonably impressed with J. And they warm to his obvious affection and consideration for G. She laughs when I tell her Hubby made sure J. understood that his limbs and life are forfeit if he hurts her.
"I'm willing to take that risk," she tells me with a wide smile.
New beginnings are a state of bliss.
Why can't happy endings last longer?
I thought when I wrote about D. again...it would be about his marriage and his happy ending.
Men of war are unique creatures; and those at the tip of the spear tend to be even more singular. A few years ago, before he left for a deployment, Hubby and I gave D. a copy of Frank Miller's graphic novel, 300. In this aphorism D. firmly believed: Ē tan ē epi tas. It is Greek; it means, "With this, or upon this." It was the phrase uttered by Spartan women to their men as the hoplites departed for war. Simply put, come back victorious with your shield; or die in battle and be borne home upon it.
For five deployments D. came back with his shield. Three and a half weeks ago, he was borne home upon it; and last Wednesday we buried him at Arlington National Cemetery, amongst his brothers-in-arms, as his newly married wife and now newly minted widow; his elder daughter; his siblings; and his parents watched and grieved. And those of us who were his friends - we stand by with gaping holes where once our hearts beat.
B. sent G. a text message.
"I behaved terribly and did not deserve you. I understand what a true friend you were and are. I want you know that if you ever need me, you need only say so, and I will be there."
"Wow. He beat my prediction by four years," I tell her. About two years ago, I told B. without rancor that he would be useless as a man for at least another six years. He understood and agreed. "He matured faster than I thought he would."
"I never expected an apology," G. says.
"What do you think?" Read: what happens now?
G. shrugs. "We'll see. It's a start."
Some endings can be a precursor to a new beginning.
It's August again. Their stories take place in the fall. But never in the last four years of recording them did I ever imagine that I should write a finale. I thought, foolishly perhaps, that I'd have decades left in which to put my observances to paper. It is incomprehensible to me that D.'s story is finished, that the bookends are now complete. Impossible for me in a year already marked with loss that I should have to say good-bye to yet another whom I loved.
When Hubby flew to Dover to escort D.'s casket back to Ft. Benning, he took with him a bag of chocolate chip cookies. Such cookies which made their way into D.'s casket along with coins from the units in which he had served without peer; and with which he led the way; a Cuban cigar; a flask of favored Scotch. Chocolate chip cookies I promised he should have in endless supply when I rested my hands on his casket at the gravesite to say goodbye.
Make every day as sweet a beginning as you can; because some endings...are heartbreaking in their finality.
"D." was a psuedonym. Those who knew him, know. Those who don't: well, you missed out on someone extraordinary. These are his cookies.
"D's" Milk Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 24 - 28 cookies depending on the size of cookie scoop.
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup organic sugar (we've been using organic cane sugar in lieu of white granulated sugar but either will work)
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
a dash of salt and nutmeg
1 cup chopped Callebaut milk chocolate
In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and/or nutmetg. Using a hand mixer, beat together the butter and sugars on high until creamy and fluffy. Reduce speed and add in the egg and vanilla extract. Fold the flour mixture in with a rubber spatula until you have an evenly incorporated batter. Stir in the chopped milk chocolate.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Using a small cookie scoop, drop rounded scoops onto a parchment or Silpat-lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes.
Put the cookie sheet with chilled dough on the middle rack in the oven and bake for 13-15 minutes until golden and brown around the edges. For softer cookies, pull out when the edges first get brown; for crunchier cookies, keep them in the oven until they are evenly browned.
Alternatively, you can freeze the cookie dough and have them ready to bake at a moment's notice. Normally I'll keep frozen cookie batter rounds in a plastic container -- ready, say for a friend who is driving over and calls to ask for warm chocolate chip cookies...