How many times did we say “I love you” to each other? I don’t remember. No matter how many times, it was never enough.
I do remember how hard it was to say the first time. We’d been seeing each other for a while but neither of us had screwed up the courage to say it. The risk of it. The risk of pushing too hard, too fast. The risk of losing the tender plant that we’d seeded.
What tipped us over the edge to take that risk? To dare to express what was going on inside? We’d got past the discomfort of early dating, putting our best selves forward hoping the other wouldn’t learn our flaws. We were past the early questions: how long should I wait before I call? what did s/he mean by [fill in the blank]? We were past the endless analysis and worry. But something had to spur us forward.
We’d been working side by side making sets for a theater production of Our Town. He was in charge of lighting. I was stage managing. But we were short of warm bodies for Act 3 and were pressed by the director into sitting in chairs on stage as “dead people” in Act 3, each of us worrying about whether the cues would go smoothly or whether something would be missed. I had no lines, but he had one: “Right nice farm.”
Act 3 began and wended along until we got to his line, when he said the three words, but not in the way they were supposed to be said. What he said was “Right nice…farm,” as if the farm was a person and he was approving of something the farm said. “Right nice,” he said to the farm.
At this point, all the dead people on stage (there were about ten of us) shook with suppressed laughter. It was so silly and not something he’d have said if he’d focused on the role and not on whether the next light sequence would come up on cue.
At the cast party, we laughed again at this memorable moment and he took it in stride, laughing along with everyone, happy to enjoy the joke at his expense, happy to have everyone enjoy a memory that, years later, we still recalled. He was self-effacing, the least egotistical person I’d ever met. When he drove me home that night, I blurted out, “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” he said. We said it every day after that for the rest of our lives together. Even so, it could never be enough, even if we’d said it a hundred times a day.