Love Is the Why of Life

Written By: Samantha N. Olson

My almost-husband looks most boyish in the early morning hours as he jumps from one foot to the other into his slacks. Today’s red and blue checkered shirt still hangs opened. His tussled light brown hair, which appears to be in disagreement over which way the wind is blowing, sits on top of his head incongruously against his stricken look of concentration.

“How does this shirt look to you?” he asks with his eyes working his fingertips up the buttons.

I smile and frown as I walk over to help him with his cufflinks, “so serious.”

I’m going home tonight to my mom and brother. It’s August and they asked to have dinner on the beach with me before the summer ends.

Before the summer ends. The days leading up to Labor Day are honeyed and sulky, full of thunderstorms and never-had plans, cinematic and shadowy. It feels like all the people in the world are waiting at the edge of a breeze that blows a little cooler with each passing night.

My mind shifts back to him as I slip into my flats and watch him unravel a pair of socks. I kiss him goodbye and make my way to work on Water Street in Lower Manhattan. Of all the faces in the city I pass, most of them unfamiliar but also a blur of the same, I love catching someone with their neck craned up towards the tops of the buildings — still in awe of the grandness.

The hours fall off the day like the sweat that beads on my brow as I run beneath the streets to catch the subway. I finally find myself looking out the LIRR’s train window, being dragged further away from the city, watching old familiar towns speed on by, most of which are home to some of my favorite memories: Mineola, Cold Spring Harbor, Huntington, Smithtown, and St. James. Propelling me closer towards Miller Place, my tiny town on Long Island where bonfires on the beach were a high school tradition and everyone had a favorite flavor at McNulty’s Ice Cream Parlor.

The sun is begging to set by the time my train pulls into Port Jeff station. My mom and brother wait for me in the car with curious smiles.

“I’m starving,” I exaggerate the “g” and flip down the visor to smudge my mascara off in the mirror.

We’re chatting about work and I’m thinking about what to order off the menu because it gets busy when the night is this beautiful. We can hear the guitar rocking out a mile away as we pull up into Cedar Beach’s parking lot, its music unfolding out over a sea of colorful towels and beach chairs. We ask to be seated but my mom is not quite ready, she asks that we walk out onto the beach and look at the sunset together.

My stomach grumbles and I look at the pile of menus longingly. I reluctantly agree because she never asks for anything. I lean over and kick my flats off into my hand, walk across the restaurant’s smooth deck and stomp out onto the sand.

Deep breath. My eyes scan the crowd watching the soft ripples at the edge of the shore. I look out into the crease in the sky, where the deep red sun was diving into the Sound. The sailboats far out past the buoys skirt slowly across the water. Here is where I spent hours as a kid curating a collection of the most beautiful sea glass in muted shades of greens and blues.

And that’s when I see him.

My squinted eyes watch as a man walks up from the water. His head down, he’s coming closer yet towards me until I realize what’s happening. The little girls climbing the lifeguard stand stop to look. The diners shift their gaze off one another and down onto the sand and suddenly it feels as if time itself is standing as still as I am.

He kneels. The flats fall from my hand and I reach up to cover my mouth. I can see his face so clearly now and it is the most beautiful face I’ve ever seen. He smiles and asks me to marry him. I can hear the beach come alive with cheers and clapping. The man with the guitar begins to play us “Here, There, and Everywhere” by The Beatles, but I wouldn’t know until later when my mother told me name of the song, as she listened watching us from the edge of the sand.

I wouldn’t know until later when we finally ate, laughing with the waitresses and all of the strangers who had became a part of this special moment with us, how long he had planned. I wouldn’t know until later how hard it was for my mom to keep the secret from me. I wouldn’t know until later that he asked for my brother’s permission or how important it was for him to propose to me on the beach I grew up on. And I wouldn’t know until that night how loved I could feel.

Dear Steven,

As I write to you now, exactly one year later, with the sun hot on my face, my thumb twisting the back of the ring that’s become a part of the groves in my hand; I cannot help but smile and think of your pebbled knee in the sand, your hand outstretched, your glistening eyes looking back up at me. While I stood there unable to answer because I was so overwhelmed with love. That’s the thing about love — words will never be good enough to define its magic. But I can try.

Love is the why of life. It is the only reason we are here. Love is why we’ve spent so many hours on three different trains with four different transfers for all of these years. Love is why you eat my cooking and say it’s good. Love is why you forgive me when I’m late, even though I know you hate it. Love is why I don’t mind when I wake up to find you’ve stolen all of the covers. Love is why I read my favorite lines from books to you. And love is why you always listen. Love is why we can make a game out of anything. Love is why we stay up late laughing with a bottle of wine on the table and the windows wide open on a summer night. Love is why we keep each other warm at our new bus stop. Love is why we can’t be apart for more than a few days. Love is why we can imagine together; our lives stretched out in front of us with endless possibility. You are my why for all of my days, for so many reasons, in so many ways.

Your Almost-Wife