Alan and I met online, a fact I sometimes cloud when asked. I told my daughter, a young teenager at the time, that we met through a friend. A friend told me about the site; it wasn’t entirely untrue. It seemed unromantic, having an algorithm play matchmaker.
It was, in fact, terribly romantic. We wrote back and forth for a few weeks before meeting in person, peering into each other’s souls before seeing each other’s features. It was like receiving a series of love letters while also slowly discovering who wrote them. We even agreed to not speak on the phone – the first time we should hear each other’s voices, we decided, would be in person.
I remember noticing something different about his profile almost immediately: its lack of adventure. So many others gushed about how adventurous they were – their hobbies included mountain climbing and ziplining and nearly dying in some form or another. Their photos were full of pictures of them white water rafting down a torrential river surrounded by unnaturally blue skies. I often wondered if these men would perhaps have better luck in love if they put down their jet skis and talked to a real girl, but it was none of my concern. I had found the only living person who loved a quiet evening as much as I did.
After our courtship, Alan and I immediately agreed that adventure was overrated. We’d both had enough excitement in our lives brought on by chance to willingly choose life’s rockier path. We agreed that camping was out – electing to sleep on the ground was like choosing to be homeless; we weren’t really sure how the practice ever caught on. Traveling to anywhere that had sinkholes was nixed as well. We learned the term “karst topography” and decided it was in our best interest to stay far away from it. Our adventure was limited to our home and those we welcomed into it.
Besides, nearly everyone we knew who was adventurous was also kinda crazy. There is a woman at a restaurant we go to who seemed spirited and fun until we heard about the addict she let stay in her garage and all the turmoil that ensued. These are lines we prefer not to cross voluntarily.
We don’t agree on everything, adventure-wise. Alan avoids anything that involves heights, which covers a wide range of rational and irrational activities. I don’t mind the sensible sort. Airplanes are fine, though mostly I prefer structures that are tightly anchored to the ground. If it sways in the breeze, I’m out.
He’s more adventurous about food, and will try almost anything short of true oddities. I think the only things he flat out refused to eat when we met were crackers, and mostly because he was forced to eat them as a child when he got sick. As for me, the list of foods I avoid is so long it’s usually easier to just say what I tolerate. I have a favorite dish at every restaurant, and will hold a grudge indefinitely if it’s pulled from the menu. But mostly, our lives are a sort of reverse Venn diagram, lived outside of all the circles we avoid.
The funny thing is that when we first saw each other’s profiles, there were things in each that gave us pause. Mine mentioned a love of Argentine Tango, which hit Alan’s hell no dancing nerve. He was once told by a teacher in preschool that he couldn’t skip, and decades later the sting still hasn’t worn off. His profile spoke of a love of food and cooking in a way that made me think he might not be okay with eating sandwiches every night for dinner. It took several months before I lost my intimidation enough to cook for him. My profile mentioned a fondness for handmade soap – I’m not sure if that struck the does she smell like a hippy nerve or the OCD alert, but I assured him I was a normal, rational person who bathed regularly. I just like the way it smells.
The biggest trigger for me in his profile was his professed love of dogs. I am decidedly not a dog person. I never had much in the way of pets as a child; my mother had a policy against anything you couldn’t flush when it died. We’d only ever had goldfish, which were lucky to last a week or two, and my sister’s hermit crab, which somehow lasted quite a long stretch despite the fact that we were sure it was dead at least twice.
I’ve been afraid of dogs my whole life, though I can’t point to a specific origin. I think it’s just that the way they greet someone is indistinguishable from mauling until after the fact. I’ll take a dollar for every time I’ve been told how happy a dog is to see me after I’ve been slammed against a wall. I suspect I just can’t read their body language – Alan will often look at a dog excitedly and say look, he’s smiling. The same expression prompts my Little Red Riding Hood my, what big teeth you have reaction, as I slowly inch away.
Of course, my aversion to dogs means that they gravitate toward me like a magnet. It’s the thrill of the chase, I suppose. I’ve tried becoming more amenable, by patting them lightly on the head as if to regard them. But they always seem to tilt their head back right as I reach for them and approach my hand teeth-side up.
Alan would adopt dozens of dogs if given the chance, and considers caring for them a bit of a calling. He has told me on more than one occasion that if it wasn’t for me, the farm would be flooded with them. I’m not sure whether he meant it as a compliment or a threat, but I try not to piss him off just in case.
I’ve come to recognize that the part of Alan’s personality that adores these lumpy, drooling creatures is the same one that adores me, with all of my awkward quirks. The part which loves nothing more than to care for them to the end of their days is the same one which loves me deeply, unquestioningly to the end of mine. I wonder if perhaps the single best thing I did in my dating life was to meet a dog person, or at least, certainly, to have met Alan.
In the meantime, he’s been building up my animal tolerance with chickens and ducks and other small creatures. I think he’s learned that if he starts small and fluffy, he can get on my good side before the panic sets in. So far, it’s actually worked.
The ducks were my gateway drug. If my mother had known about ducks when I was a child, she would have surely cracked. They are the most compliant of pets, routine driven and eager to please. They are always happy, they love baths, and they go to bed with a simple wave of the hand. I suspect if she had known about ducks, she might never have had children.
Our ducks were not only full of personality, they were excellent caregivers. Although we got them a bit later than our chicks, they grew faster, and took to watching over their feathered cousins. The chicks spent their vulnerable days in a large wire cage while the ducks got the run of the side yard, a half acre of grass and flowerbeds. The ducks would wander off and do their thing, but every so often race back and check on the little chicks. If anything was amiss, or food or water was running low, the ducks would run to my studio window and squawk like crazy until I came out to check on things. Once everything was right in the world again, they’d wander off on another adventure.
Alan’s strategy of wearing me down in incrementally-sized creatures didn’t always work out. Tucked into our first batch of fluffballs was a rooster, a black and white flecked sprout we named Bella. He was attentive when young, before we knew she was a he, and I deemed her my favorite. But he grew into a hellish adult, and tormented me horribly. Alan would remind me that I was the larger of our two beings, but it wasn’t the point. Roosters may not be able to fly, but they can certainly jump. A four foot leap put him near eye level with me, and his beak and spurs far outmatched my soft pinkness. He once cornered me so badly I shrieked like a B-movie chic, shattering glassware across the county.
Alan finally took him out one day after he was attacked badly in the back of the leg. He swung a fence post at Bella to ward him off, but that rooster wouldn’t quit charging til he was dead and gone, and it wasn’t pretty. We served him up a few days later with peanut sauce, a condiment I’ll forever associate with sweet revenge.
We rarely get phone calls out on the farm, but when the person who would typically be calling is still getting dressed for work, it must be either Very Important or not at all. The caller ID said “United States G”, the truncation an unfortunate product of character limitations. Just the week before, Alan and I had filed our taxes, admittedly a little close to the deadline. We owed money that year and the withdrawal hadn’t cleared on the day it was supposed to, nor the next day, nor the day after that. My stomach instantly knotted.
Alan has often told me I have an “overly compliant” personality, a nice way of saying goody two-shoes. I’m a rule follower; I’ve learned to accept it. I almost didn’t pick up the phone. The answering machine would afford me a few more seconds to collect myself before I was told whether I would be hauled off to jail or audited. But, because I am overly compliant, when a phone rings I am compelled to answer.
Yer beezzz are here.
It was the post office, the only government agency I praise on a daily basis. My mail lady comes rain or shine, she picks up all my packages, and she once even shoveled her truck out of our drive during a particularly horrendous snowstorm. (In that same storm, the plow truck we’d hired to clear the drive refused to go anywhere near it.) Our bees had come in the mail, and she was kind enough to give us a call to let us know.
The bees were Alan’s newest adventure. He rushed off to work with a sorry babe! and a wince, as if he was putting me through some sort of marital test. Picking them up involved the obligatory postal worker stories, with offhanded comments like, oh good! They’re all inside the crate… the unspoken …this time hanging uneasily in the air. The crate was not particularly difficult to handle, though the buzzing behind the driver’s seat was disconcertingly loud. When a fly landed on the back of my neck, I’ll admit I jumped higher than I thought myself capable.
That evening when Alan got home, we went through the process of putting the bees in the hive. He’d bought a book — there were more steps than he could easily memorize, and tiny photos in black and white, so we went through straw-drawing deliberations. One of us would hold the book, the other would handle the bees. No, the other one would hold the book. We should take pictures, no? Not enough hands to do all the things. He’d wear the bee suit. I’d heard they were docile… I offered to read from the book, but from a safe distance. They were his bees, after all.
Alan opened the tiny anchovy tin containing the queen. At step two, we were derailed when the tin came loose and fell, open, into the middle of the box full of buzzing bees. Alan fished the tin and queen out with his giant glove and shoved her into the hive. A handful of bees got loose before he was able to cap them back up.
Spray the wire mesh with water, then tap the crate on the bottom, I read. Tapping the crate is akin to tapping a cake pan to shake the air bubbles out before putting it in the oven. It was meant to release the bees crawling on the sides of the crate, to stun them slightly and make it easier to pour them into the hive.
Tink went the crate.
None of the bees moved. Their buzzing got a tiny bit louder.
No, harder. They’re supposed to fall off the sides, I said instructively. Bam. Bam BAM BAM BAM. I’d meant once; it was too late to clarify. The buzzing grew louder with each hit. Even I could tell they were getting angry. This is not good, I mused silently. Alan argued that he’d done what I told him to, why did I say that if I didn’t mean it?? I bit my tongue. The buzzing was quietly deafening. He took the cap off and poured them into the hive. The bees exploded in all directions, including mine. I felt stabs of pain on my nose, the only unexposed part of my body. I dropped the book and shrieked, and ran all the way back to the house.
My nose swelled up for a week and left me with a permanent greenish scar shaped like some small Pacific island. I wear it with pride, a symbol of adventure against an army of thousands of (small, typically docile) creatures. Next time, I wear the suit.
I want a pony, Alan said one evening as we were sitting in the living room. I waited for the punchline. There wasn’t one. We have a farm; we need a pony. I wasn’t entirely sure what the boundaries of “farm” were when I agreed to live on one, but I was pretty sure this wasn’t on the list. I knew Alan liked animals, but I assumed, like my childhood, that they weren’t viewed as permanent fixtures. They were more like having company over; you got to enjoy them for a while, then they went home where they belonged. But Alan saw them as part of the landscape – they were supposed to be there.
We had a different sense of pacing as well. I assumed that most pets were acquired one at a time, like automobiles – once you got a new one, you were satisfied for several years at least. (Actually, I think I assumed that, like cars, you only ever got a new one when you were replacing an old one, but I suspect this concept would horrify Alan so I never say it out loud.)
We compromised by agreeing to only one new major creature per year. This excluded the chickens and the ducks, which were sold by the half dozens, and bees, which he said didn’t count. I added the stipulation that any new creature had to be smaller than I am. This got truncated to just “small” soon after; a nebulous distinction that gave me a lot of leeway, but didn’t win any arguments.
But Alan was hell bound and determined to have a pony. He needed it, he said. For fertilization, for the garden. They poop gold, he said, as a means of rationalization. Besides, he would take care of it. I wouldn’t have to do a thing.
The first few attempts were unsuccessful. Anyone who was getting rid of such a creature typically didn’t have the equipment to cart it around. And we didn’t have a horse trailer, because of course we didn’t have a horse. It wasn’t until the fourth or fifth call that Alan discovered Jan. And Jan had Buckeroo.
He isn’t a pony, Alan explained after getting off the phone. He’s a mini horse. A pony is bigger. 800 pounds. A mini horse is more like a giant dog. That description turned out to be remarkably accurate, though not in a way destined to win me over.
He’s a little immature, Jan had explained over the phone. She had raised dozens of mini horses, and had at least twenty at any given time. She would take would take them to parties and fairs for children to ride. This one was apparently not quite up to the task, though Alan and I didn’t much blame him. It sounded like an awful vocation.
When she arrived, Jan was driving a semi. It was massive – my stomach dropped at the sight. She slid up the giant metal door and there stood the tiniest horse I had ever seen, his eyes wide with fright. She walked him down the ramp and we showed her the way to the pasture, which was enclosed by a now defunct electric fence, three thin wires stretched from post to post with nothing between. Oh, he’ll go right through that, she said dismissively. We explained that we had expected to get a pony, as if to justify our complete ignorance of horse fencing. We had a wire mesh fence around our side yard; that would buy us enough time to figure something else out. She gave her approval.
After she left, Alan and I sat on the bench together staring at the papers we’d been handed and tried to make sense of it all. His official name was Howdydew Buckeroo. We’d call him Buck for short.
Alan put Buck away that night, determined to use the horse shed in the pasture. He had gone to great lengths to install a large metal gate as a door. He came inside and stripped off his muddied clothes to their lowest layer. It clearly had not gone smoothly. Well THAT was bullshit, he said, then mumbled something I didn’t catch. What? I asked. Buck, he said. I didn’t hear you, I explained. I’m talking about Buck! He was clearly growing irritated. He’s out, I said, staring wide-eyed at the window. NO, I mean putting him AWAY. What are you talking about?! His fuse was shortening. He’s… out, I said plainly, pointing at the shape in the window.
There he was, tossing his head merrily and prancing in front of our window, clearly celebrating.
Chickens and ducks and bees and Buck – these are the sorts of adventures I suspect make other people think we’re crazy. We recently opened our farm to campers, and met a 20-something couple. They had married the week before and were on a cross-country adventure from DC to Seattle. It was their honeymoon, and they would find jobs and start their new lives together when they arrived. I couldn’t imagine doing any such thing, but I admired their courage from a distance.
I suppose everyone has their own comfort level for adventure. For some it’s ziplining, for others it’s camping. If you’re lucky, you meet someone in life whose Venn diagram intersects yours. When you do, love them deeply, unquestionably til the end of your days.
As for us, Alan still loves cooking and hates heights, and I am still learning the language of dogs. We haven’t been dancing… yet. But our profiles are slowly shifting. We still both love spending time at home, but we welcome others into it as well. And we’ll trade a quiet evening for mountain climbing every time.