As Valentine’s Day fast approaches, I am reminded of why my expectations for love are so high.
My parents met in the 7th grade, when two rural junior highs were combined into one. On the first day of English class, they were called on to recite The Odyssey, my mom playing Penelope and my dad reading for the titular Odysseus. My mom remembers sheepishly shuffling to the front of the room and watching in admiration as my dad strode through the crowd like a ship parting the sea. My dad just remembers her eyes.
Fast friends, they spent their afternoons biking down dusty roads in the tough Texas sun. All the while, he pined after the sharp girl who cried tears of joy when she laughed.
As if following scripts in a rom-com, my mom became cheer captain and my dad became the formidable football player. But instead of ending up as prom king and queen, they were salutatorian and valedictorian. “I always knew she was smarter than me,” he confessed years after his second place finish. “That’s why I love her.”
When exactly they fell in love is a mystery. They say it was like leather worn with time, no pivotal eye bat or declaration of love, just a mutual understanding formed from five years of friendship. Of course, the moment they let each other know, it was time to leave for college. But my dad was certain that nothing — not even what ended up becoming eight years of long distance love — would come between them.
He made her name the password to all his locks (this is true!), saved money from his three jobs to call her whenever possible (this is true!), and sent his Southern belle love letters every day with quotes from poets and playwrights and philosophers (this is perhaps apocryphal).
After school, to celebrate their continued love through years of changing landscapes, they set off to backpack the world, seeking more stories. They missed flights, slept on cobblestones, and were gassed and robbed on the Trans-Siberian Railway.
Their final destination was Fiji, its waters home to the 180th meridian line, also known as the International Date Line, where time zones reset and each new day begins. My dad secretly packed my mom her one nice dress, which she wore as they rowed out into the dark waters in a dinghy. He carried with him two things — a precise digital clock, which slowly ticked towards midnight on New Year’s Eve in 1999, and a small velvet box. When the clock struck twelve and the new year began, he proposed, becoming the first man in the millennium to do so. My mother’s shouts of “Yes!” were heard by no one, her face illuminated only by the moon.
And thus comes my name — Meridian, the destination of devotion, the birth of their new life together. My middle name is Barrett, after the poet my father quoted in every letter to my mother during their time apart. My name means love.
It’s hard to have realistic expectations for romance when I was raised in a Homeric epic poem. Except this tale is not fiction.