Once in a while, my wife and I get asked how we met. We both love to tell it. It shares themes with many love stories–politics, prestige, perseverance, admiration, and hearts that went pitter-patter.
Our story begins with music. Jennifer and I both played instruments in the band at West Mid-High in Norman, Oklahoma. She played the flute and I played the tuba. She sat on the front row and me on the back row. Ninth grade passed without any interaction that I remember. Other, she was just one of the nameless gaggle of giggly flute players on the front row.
But I did something in tenth grade that changed that and changed both of our lives forever. Bands, as do many organizations within a school, elect a student government–a council. I can only really guess what a band council actually does. I know they have something to do with fundraisers and with presenting the band director with some sort of award at the end of the school year, but beyond that, I do not know and I frankly did not care. Nevertheless, when the time came in the fall to elect such a council, I decided to run for Band President.
Why? Because I wanted to serve an organization that had become very important to me and which was important to the life of the school and the community at large? Not really. No, I wanted to be seen as a leader. I wanted to gain popularity–something which was in short supply in my tenth-grade life. I wanted to be admired. Many leaders have been seduced by similar selfish desires, but not the effective ones.
I had one major opponent, a trombone player with a high degree of popularity within band. He put some energy into his campaign. He brought in a campaign manager. And he went negative immediately. I walked into the band room one day and someone directed me to his campaign poster. On it was written, “David Burns’ mom wears Army boots!”
It was fun and silly and everybody got a big kick out of it but me. I don’t recall campaigning at all.
The one bit of preparation I made was writing a speech that was to be given on election day. With it, I selected music to be played when I walked to the podium. I believe it was “Fanfare for the Common Man” by Aaron Copland. I intended it to be comic–an overblown setting for a silly band president election. My speech was also intended to be funny in the same way.
On election day, everything went as planned except that my opponent gave his speech first. I do not remember exactly what he said, but it got a lot of laughs and several at my expense. I could have played along. I could have slung some mud back at him in good fun, but I was not socially adept enough to recognize the game…because I truly was an intense band nerd with an ego problem.
I set my portable cassette player up, punched play, and moved grandly and pompously to the podium. There were giggles. I gave my speech. There was laughter, but my comedy was not hitting as hard as I had hoped (at least not as hard as my opponent’s), so I forewent the end of my speech, asked for their support, and took my seat on the back row.
The voting was to be progressive. The band would vote with secret ballot for each office directly after the speeches so the results came before the vice-presidential candidates spoke. Even at that moment, I still believed I had a shot. My opponent was clearly not taking this seriously. Did they truly believe he would execute his duties effectively, whatever they might have been? But I lost.
I was both disappointed and resentful. But I recovered my pride when our director called for the vice-presidential candidates to give their speeches. After they had done so, I threw my hat into the ring. I did not play the music, nor did I give much of a speech. I just asked them for vote for me and returned to my seat.
Once again, I lost. And once again, I ran for the next office: Treasurer, then Secretary. My losing streak continued. The final office was Band Manager. No one volunteered to run, so I got up once more. Running unopposed, I won by a landslide.
After rehearsal, the newly elected council members were called for a brief meeting. I learned that the sole duty of the Band Manager was to put up the chairs after school so that the janitorial staff could vacuum and then come in early to put them back out. I did it one time and did not do it well. The band director assigned another boy to be “co-manager.” I resigned, thus ending my brief political career.
What I did not realize until many years later, is that one of the flute players was paying very close attention to me. She watched as I ran for every office, never giving up–willing to humiliate myself. She admired me for that, and she thought I was cute.
My best friend asked that flute player to a school dance soon after. We were all hanging out together outside the gymnasium/snack bar after we had eaten our chili-cheese nachos and chili dogs. And that’s when I truly noticed her. She had taken off her glasses to reveal sparkling blue eyes. She smiled and laughed so openly, perhaps even flirtatiously.
But my friend did not take her to the dance. I think her somewhat forward nature was a turn off to him. He was a quiet, modest boy. But it was not a turnoff to me.
I noticed that she was in my geometry class and became increasingly attracted to her, so much so that I eventually mustered the courage to send her a note in class asking her out on a date. She said yes and our love affair began.
We dated for about ten months, a lifetime for a teenager. It ended in emotional turmoil. There were other boyfriends and girlfriends who followed, but I never could shake her completely. We ended up back together in college and I rushed in to ask her hand in marriage, which is an entirely different story.
Jennifer will likely remember variations of this, but this is the way I tell it.
On July 30th, we will celebrate twenty-six years of marriage. God has a way of creating such beauty out of our imperfections, such as the selfish political aspirations of an insecure teenage boy, and for that I’m am profoundly grateful.