Monday, March 21, 2011


This story is a follow-up on my last post about the pulley bone. I wrote it many years ago and it won second place in a 1977 writing contest held by the Birmingham Quill Club.

                                                     MY TURN TO CHOOSE (a love story)

He is lying very still under the covers, his eyes closed, the bedside light still burning. I slip out of my robe and lean across him to turn out the lamp. But his eyes fly open and his arms come up to pull me close to him.

“I love you,” he says with unexpected fervor.

I snuggle closer and tell him, “I love you, too.”

“Do you?” he asks quietly, holding me even tighter.

“Yes. More than anything on this earth,” I mumble against his chest.

Loosening his hold on me, he looks into my face. “I thought you… loved your writing,” he says, and I can feel his unspoken “more than anything on this earth,” hanging there between us.

I pull free of his embrace. He doesn’t try to hold me. With one arm across his broad, bare chest, I settle down beside him to consider his challenge.

Has my seemingly understanding, liberated guy suddenly become the male chauvinist, asking me to make a decision between him and this mania I have for the written word? Once, long ago, in another time and another place, I recall, I had faced a similar decision with him.

He had known from the beginning -- my charming, young suitor -- that I wanted to be a writer. On our first date, I’d told him of my plans to go to New York right after graduation (that’s where all the big publishing houses were located back then) to seek my fame and fortune in the publishing world.

As a matter of fact, I’d felt that this declaration was the very thing that kept him coming back to take me out every weekend. He was enjoying his freedom far too much to contemplate matrimony. His friend, Don, told me that Ken never dated one girl more than twice because he didn’t want to become involved in a serious relationship.

Growing up on a farm with only his elderly grandmother, Ken had started dating only after graduation from high school and going to live in town with his mother and stepfather. He’d found a job, bought a little second-hand car, and according to Don, discovered that girls really go for the strong, silent type. Much to Ken’s embarrassment, Don even kidded him in front of me about how the girls chased him.

And I’d silently renewed my vow of years before to never give him reason to think I was out to “catch him.”

We were just barefoot kids when Ken came to spend that first summer with his father, who was a boarder at my grandparent’s house. I was accustomed to playing next door in Grandma’s yard with my brothers and male cousins, and when one of the boys told me that Kenneth thought girls were silly, I tried to act like a boy so he would forget that I was a girl.

But when he suddenly showed up again in the neighborhood one evening at the beginning of my senior year in high school, I found myself wanting him to see me as a girl. I think when I told him, “I’m going to have a writing career,” it was more to remind myself than to inform him.

Usually, Ken kissed me goodnight after our dates, but there was no bickering about the heavy stuff as there too often was with other boys. I was truly enjoying our youthful and refreshing relationship. Then on Christmas Eve he’d put a bow from a package in my hair and called me his Christmas present. I found myself wishing that it might be so. But the look in his eyes recalled a challenge from a time in years gone by:

We were playing chase in Grandma’s yard, and I was It.

Chasing a wad of the boys and running with my head down, I saw bare feet scatter in all directions. I continued behind one flying pair without looking up, running and laughing breathlessly. When I was within a few feet of making a tag, the feet in front of me halted. Startled, I stopped, almost colliding with Kenneth at the cow lot fence.

I reached out to tag him, then instinctively withdrew my hand, suddenly conscious of the fact that I was a girl and Kenneth Nivens didn’t like girls.

Laughing, he caught the top rail of the lot fence and sprang over. When I made no move to scamper over after him, the laughter left his eyes to be replaced by a deep, challenging look. “You’re not going to catch me?” he taunted.

So, on a Christmas Eve night around five years later, when he put the bow in my hair, I seemed to read the same challenge in the same dark eyes. But just as I’d done at the cow lot fence, I turned away from him.

After that Christmas Eve night, our goodnight kiss became just a little bit longer and Ken’s arm around my shoulders a little less casual. And I found myself looking forward to warm weather when he would wear short-sleeved shirts, and I could feel his bare arms around me.

At the first sign of spring we put back the top of his newly-acquired convertible and rode through the star-lit evenings laughing, singing and just being happy. I think it was along about the first of May when I decided that instead of going off to New York, it might be best for me to find a job with a smaller publishing establishment closer to home -- and to Ken.

I went to work for a local newspaper (The Birmingham News) as a payroll clerk, hoping to become a reporter. Shortly thereafter, Ken told me he loved me. Laughing and crying I told him I loved him, too.

There was no conflict between writing and being in love. Writing helped to express my love, and finally I could write from my own experiences of the heart instead of from those I heard about or imagined.

Then Ken asked me to marry him.

Expecting him to receive a draft notice at anytime, I agreed to marry him after his army hitch. (This would give me time to launch my writing career, I thought.)

“But I don’t believe in long engagements,” I told him. I asked that we not call ourselves engaged until closer to the time we would be married. Somehow, it seemed safer this way.

He agreed and convinced me to help him pick out rings, which he locked in the glove compartment of his car. And every now and then, sitting in my front yard in his convertible on a still, summer night, he would take out the little, blue box and slip the sparkling diamond onto my finger. “To be sure it still fits,” he would say. It was with reluctance that I let him slip the ring on and with reluctance that I had him take it off again.

Finally, one evening when he took it from the glove compartment, I refused to give him my hand. “No,” I said, “When it goes on again, I want it to stay.”

“Alright,” he quickly agreed, reaching for my hand. And as his eyes looked into mine, I found my mind returning again to a dusty summer afternoon in Grandma’s yard.

It was my turn to be first chooser for the ballgame that day. As I looked around at the boys, Kenneth’s dark, brooding eyes caught and held mine as though daring me to call out his name. He was the best player, and I wanted to win, so, throwing all caution to the wind, I called out bravely, “I choose Kenneth Nivens.”

My cousin Charles, giggled, his red hair and freckles shining in the sunlight.

Someone else taunted, “Get on over there beside her, Ken-neth. She chose you.”

I had thought that day that he surely hated me for singling him out, and embarrassing him.

But sitting in his car years later, I read a different meaning in that challenging look of his. It was with slow deliberation that I held out my hand to have the tiny, gold circle placed upon it.

We were married a few months later, two days after he finished army basic treating. Tony, our first child, was born during his two-year tour with the army.

For several years, I stayed busy with house and babies, office job and the P.T.A. And my writing career was slow to be launched. Our third child (we had four but lost the second one after two days) was in second grade before an editor decided that a manuscript on his slush pile from a little housewife in Alabama merited publication.

Ken had been proud of my accomplishment, and in intervening years, he had been very helpful and understanding when I left housework or typed way into the night, rushing to meet a deadline, while he went to bed alone.

Why, then, after all this time, I wondered, is he challenging me with this Love me or love your writing bit? And how am I to answer?

Actually, I have no decision to make tonight as I lay in my husband’s arms. I made my decision years ago, when I accepted his ring.

And, so, I tell him, “Yes, I love my writing. To me, writing is really living. But being able to spend all my days writing would not have near as much meaning for me if I did not know that you would be coming home to me at night. Writing is a part of me -- but not nearly as big a part as you are.”

Smiling, he pulls me close to him again.

I think of the night he placed his ring on my finger to stay.

“Remember the day you chose me to be on your ball team?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say, “I thought you really hated me for that because you disliked girls.”

But he protestes, “No. I was afraid of girls, and especially of you. You tried to act like a boy, but I could never forget that you were a girl. And after you chose me first for your ball team, I knew that when we grew up you were going to be my girl.”

And just as I won a lot more than the game that day I chose Kenneth Nivens for my ball team, I’m still winning because I continue to choose him first -- for now and always.


P.S. Today after fifty-five years of marriage, I still choose him first, and I’m still winning.

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