No More Keep Away! is a short writing I wrote years ago, sharing how Bill and I first met. It was published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul about couples in love.
On this Love Day we can’t limit its parameters. Love takes many forms through unlimited relationships with family, friends, colleagues, mentors and mentees, those young and old, our pets and nature, and those we respect and admire from afar over time and place. Love connects us all when we have it to give, even generations from now if we choose.
Love is not always easy, but it heals and shields in ways hate can’t.
Here is how Bill and I first met:
No More Keep Away
Unforgettable! One word out of many to describe this Sunday in July with its sweltering 101 degrees. Imagine me standing outside a friend’s daughter’s rent house with son Matt playing his newly invented game: throw-the-ball-on-the-roof-and-see-who-can-catch-it-wherever-it-falls. For a Southern girl, I’m almost perspiring. Okay, I’m sweating. Yet, I’m trying hard to appease my nine-year-old son. Matt had been a good sport all weekend, playing alone while I gabbed away with my best friend Nina.
It had been a year since Nina and Steve had moved an hour away. For me, it had been one whole school year teaching high school art and English as a single mom without her best buddy for encouragement during our afternoon walks. Nina is that friend every woman needs, not only when she’s going through a divorce, but afterwards, when all of her other married friends have abandoned her.
It was Nina who affirmed, “Ann, you have been a great wife and mother. It was his choices and now his loss.”
Throughout those days I needed to be reminded I was a person of worth when all I felt was rejection. I had begun beating myself up with questions, such as: How could I have been so gullible, so foolishly vulnerable? With that, I built a wall in hopes of protecting myself from ever being deceived again.
However, Nina had self-appointed herself to be my official matchmaker.
“I have just the one for you,” she’d say every few weeks, “my brother . . . my mechanic . . . the choir director . . . Steve has a colleague . . .”
Nina believed there was a knight in shining armor for me even when I couldn’t and wouldn’t.
So it was also for that weekend when I visited her. Without my realizing it after Nina had arranged my visit and knew I would be able to help her with moving their college-aged daughter into this rent house, she also asked some man to bring his truck and help.
“Bill’s perfect for you, Ann. He’s new in town, recently divorced, and a great father who has custody of his two sons.”
Bill and I met that Sunday morning at church, but I kept my distance. Later, I caught him staring at me across the crowded foyer. Yet, Nina had learned from him he had a girlfriend back in Georgia. So while moving that afternoon, I made sure I was in a different area than he was. And just when Steve, Bill and I were starting an introductory conversation in the kitchen, Matt ran in breathless.
“Mom, come play ball with me.”
I smiled cordially and excused myself.
Imagine my surprise when Bill walked out the front door beside me and playfully grabbed the ball as it dropped from the roof. Matt immediately sprang into action, stealing the ball from Bill, I suppose, because that’s what guys do. I was leery though, why hadn’t Bill left by going out the back door to his truck? My wall rose.
“Mom, you move into the middle,” Matt said. “Then you try to get the ball from one of us.” He tossed it over my head to Bill. “It’s called ‘keep away.’”
“I know how to play ‘keep away,’ silly,” I said, noting to myself how good I’d gotten at it lately.
So what should have been an easy game with Matt and this stranger, developed into an unexplainable event for me. Something strange was happening each time I caught the ball and Bill rushed towards me. His blue eyes focused into my mine, I had to gasp from the fluttering in my chest.
I have a heart? I have a heart!
“How long have Nina and you been friends?” Bill asked, propelling the ball over my head to Matt.
I leaped-up. My hands curled over the ball, barely catching it, placing Bill in the middle.
Bill advanced closer just as I pitched the ball over his head.
“How long have you been divorced?” he asked.
His question struck me by its boldness, making me question if he was snoopy, actually interested in me or just plain rude. Matt’s return ball thrust into my chest.
“Three years.” I regrouped, hurling the ball back into midair.
At that point, I considered quitting this game of keep-away. Except I realized with Bill, I suddenly wanted to get caught. His boyish yet masculine good looks captivated me. And he approached me with such strength and confidence. I had also noticed he possessed a gentle, humble demeanor. I liked that.
This whirling inside had me wondering if I was going to be called out of this game for not playing to my potential. Only I wondered, hadn’t I given my all for those eighteen years during my first marriage? Look how that turned out!
This time when Bill rushed towards me, and my insides rotated, he casually cast out another pointed question. “Date much?”
Several minutes passed while I decided my halfhearted attempts had to end. I jumped-up, easily grabbing Bill’s slow, low ball meant for my taking. As he passed me to get in the middle, I replied, “Yes and no.”
I caught his smile.
During that hour drive home, I thought about Bill and fought much mind-battling the rest of the evening. Finally, standing next to my kitchen pantry worn out by my thoughts, I offered my prayer to God, or maybe it was more of a sacrificial compromise.
“Okay, Lord, I can’t think about him anymore! He has a girlfriend. So I’m giving him to you. If You want him in my life, You bring him back.”
I gave an exasperated sigh, one God might surely understand.
“But, Lord, if he’s not the one . . . well, could You give me someone just like him? I’ve never felt like this before.”
For the next three months I continued on with my life and the busyness of beginning a new school year. I was also in the midst of developing an educational program for high-school students on documentary films in the seven area school districts.
Then one quiet night in October, the phone rang. It was Bill. And with that ring, Bill and I began the most extraordinary game of our lives. The air was intoxicating, infused with new life and love. And our most devoted fans cheered us on to win.
We dated living in separate towns the first year, seeing each other every weekend, spending weeknights on the phone long distance for hours after our kids were in bed. Throughout those weeks I often paused at the kitchen sink or wherever I was when the thought overwhelmed me, whispering, “I love you, Bill Robertson.”
I had to say it out loud, for it was far too big to hold inside me.
One night Bill confessed, “Do you know after that Sunday we met, I thought of you every single day. I figured that surely if I gave it a few months, thinking about you would go away. After a month, I broke off my relationship with Susan. Then for another two months I figured I’d see other women and think of them, too.” He shook his head. “I only thought about you.”
I laughed remembering my pantry prayer.
We tried to be wise throughout those two years we dated, easily recognizing our differences: I’m all art and English, drawing words and lines into creative expressions where they belong, loving the world lopsided. Bill’s all math and science, carving cancers out of body parts where they don’t belong, a constant symmetrical kind-of guy. His pristine white coat is ironed with heavy starch; mine is splattered with paint.
Yet, for 25 years, what has kept us steady throughout our death-do-us-part marriage is that we meet each other in the middle on the issues that matter, like work ethic, family values, and most of all, our faith in God, that keeps us focused. We play by the rules, wholeheartedly.
No more keep away for us.
Our first date was at Belle Arte. This is from our return visit there a few years ago. Sadly it’s no longer there.
While in Lisbon, we got to celebrate a day and evening downtown on December 28, 2019, celebrating our 23rd wedding anniversary. Wish I had old photos here to share.
Since we’ve moved to Hot Springs from Chicago in late November, Bill has been going to Tri-Lakes Physical Therapy three times a week. We have grown to love and respect the staff, their concern for Bill, professionalism with hometown warmth. However, we knew we would need to be moving in late spring.
Tim, our dear friend and PT from Searcy, arranged for us to meet with a brilliant and caring instructor at UCA–Dr. Maresh. Her expertise and wisdom merged with her own personal experience since her husband is a paraplegic was invaluable. She encouraged Bill that much more is before him through his body healing, along with physical therapy focused on spinal cord injury repair.
With all the papers and referrals sent, Bill had his first appointment with Lou at Baptist Outpatient Physical Therapy in Little Rock this past week. He is scheduled to go twice a week. (With this inclement weather, he might have to miss this next week’s sessions.)
We also got the hand controls put on our vehicle. Two weeks ago he tried his hand at the wheel at the back of the empty mall parking lot. He did great. The next day he drove the long way to PT. The following night he was needed to drive on a quiet abandoned road to Little Rock.
Healing seems slow right now. But Bill is persistent and God is steadfast.
Of course, we all are in unprecedented times, times we feel isolated in a surreal world, not sure what we’re to do. We must find purpose in what we do each day. Decades ago I read how there are millions of stars in the sky we don’t see because their lights have turned inward. True or not in the skies, its truth is evident in our lives.
Even though stranded at home, we can shine outward, beyond ourselves.
Simple kindnesses for someone who feels invisible–a widowed neighbor, a single parent overwhelmed, the homeless–is a start. Supporting nonprofits who are on the frontline helping children who have been abused, assisting women seeking help from domestic violence, families and singles hurting financially by medical expenses. Ten dollars a month combined with others’ ten dollars a month makes profound differences. Never to forget a simple smile for those who make sure our grocery stores are stocked, our prescriptions are filled, along with the truck drivers and manufacturing laborers who make sure the foods and products are available. And multitudes of prayers and support for the medical community with their many sacrifices.
While talking with Cindy, my husband’s childhood friend’s wife (got that?), I asked her, “How do you know what to do for those going through tough times?” Cindy and Larry have a large circle of friends from over the decades and cities they’ve lived in. Cindy is always giving of herself through gifts of love and cool stuff from Costco.
She said, “I have learned when you tell others to call if you can do something, they rarely do. So I do something anyway, sending food, gift cards, whatever I think they might could use.”
While we were in Chicago with few material items since Covid and international travel restricted what we carried with us, Cindy sent boxes of items that were used daily–white t-shirts, socks and a robe for Bill that I used for sleepwear since I was without all of that (and Bill doesn’t wear those things), extra towels and dishtowels. She even added Brillo pads (seriously, I couldn’t find them and needed some… then poof, they arrived without Cindy even knowing I needed them!). She wrote, “if you don’t need some of the items, give them away.” So I shared unopened boxes of snacks with our doormen, some with homeless friends. Nothing was wasted.
Share something today, if even a kind word.