Saturday, February 14, 2009

I See... Love and “Bagels”

Love and “bagels” go together in our house. Not the food itself, just the word “bagels.” Hearts are bound simply by what the word represents in the 20+ year relationship with my wife.

Over 20 years ago you could find me hunting the halls of BYU and surrounding student apartment complexes for a pretty, spiritual girl who would laugh at my jokes. Seeking a degree in Korean studies and international relations was an excellent cover- innocent bystanders could easily mistake me for a serious student preparing for a career.

After roughly about two years into the hunt I pounced on my future wife. I started spending time with her because 1) it was great for my own ego to be seen with a pretty girl, and 2) she laughed at my jokes. What made her even more enticing and pleasant to be with, however, was that she would chuckle in response to almost anything I said. One memorable early evening I experimented on her to confirm this analysis. I blurted out random words like “banana!” “stool!” and “pizza!” She responded each time with a lighthearted giggle. I pretended she was laughing WITH me, and since then, during some of my more obnoxious behaviorial periods during our wedded bliss, she has insisted that she was laughing AT me. Regardless of the motivation, my most vivid memories settle on how personally inspirational and uplifting it was for a woman as beautiful and engaging as Deon to thoroughly enjoy a financially destitute, academically overwhelmed, and socially awkward Richard.

As our relationship deepened, an internal struggle ensued on how to express my feelings for her. I knew I loved her, and I suspected that she loved me, but in the mating game it is dangerous to show your cards too early; you could get hurt, embarrassed or look plain silly. I needed words that were almost scriptural in nature– seemingly innocent terms that possessed deeper meanings only for true believers. My hope was that the exact words selected to express how deeply I feel would either carelessly roll off the waterproofed heart of a girl who considered me as just fun to hang out with, or gently touch the romantic heart of a woman who may have desires to be with me for eternity. After intense emotional and morphological anguish, I could settle on only one general requirement: they had to be words I had never used before, because I had never been in a situation like this before.

Armed with this knowledge, I spent what had become another traditional Saturday night at her apartment watching an old classic movie on the late show. I found out much later, years later, that she was there primarily for me; she really didn’t care for old movies that much. As I got ready to leave and make that long walk up 9th East towards home, mental preparation was underway to say something special, something more meaningful than goodbye or goodnight, but not as risky as “I love you.” The world stopped turning for a moment and the word blurted out, the word I had never used before, the word that would inexorably and eventually bind two humans together and create a familial dynasty. I replaced my predictable “goodnight!” with a sincere but unusual shocker- “bagels!”

I guess you had to be there to truly enjoy the sanctity of the moment. It is the type of short-duration event that history turns on. First she was puzzled; then an infectious giggle bubbled forth. I had seen both of these responses to my off-the-wall humor before. Beyond the look and behind the giggle, however, was a twinkle and a light in her eyes that penetrated barriers of common sense and opened the door to her heart. From then on, I think we both knew we had a future together.

There is no way to make sense of that moment. No logical reason. I don’t even like bagels! I had never even eaten a bagel before! Maybe that is what made the word so mysterious, provocative, and inviting. An ultimately silly, humor-laced man with a fragile heart had found the perfect word to express his true love for his true love!

Since that pivotal moment over 20 years ago, the secret to keeping the “bagels” fresh in our relationship has been to use the word sparingly but strategically, at times when the situation warrants a resurrection of that surprisingly intoxicating mix of silly, stupid humor and an indescribable yearning for each other. Now I reserve its use for sappy cards and flowers sent to Deon during my aperiodic business trips. In fact, my greatest fear is that I may have cheapened the awesome power it holds to cement our marriage by commenting on it at length in this story!


  1. I smiled the whole time I read this story! What a great memory! Though I am still thoroughly confused on how the word "bagels" was chosen, it is great nonetheless.