One cool summer night, Mr. Brown Eyes and I embraced outside his house. It was nearing my curfew (or past my curfew--sorry Mom), but we always stretched out our goodbyes as long as we could.
As Mr. Brown Eyes wrapped me in one of his wonderful hugs, I heard him murmur into my hair, "I love you."
Whoa. My whole body froze. Was he really using the l-word? We'd only been dating a couple months. What was he thinking?
I hugged him tighter, not sure what to do. I wanted to say it back. The natural thing would be to say it back. But...I couldn't. I liked him. A lot. He was my best friend. But love? I could say it, but would I mean it?
Several awkward minutes ticked by. Or at least it felt that long. Maybe it was only a few seconds. I finally pulled away from our hug and looked into Mr. Brown Eyes' face.
"I want to say it back. I do," I told him. "But I want to be sure I mean it when I say it. And right now...I'm just not sure."
He took it like a trooper. Apparently he loved me enough to patiently wait for me to know my mind. Looking back now, I'm so glad he did.
Weeks passed. We continued dating, but our relationship didn't progress much. I loved Mr. Brown Eyes' company, but a fear of committment grew inside of me, causing me to fluctuate back and forth between wanting no one but Mr. Brown Eyes, to feeling like maybe we should break up and date other people. He was my first boyfriend, for goodness sake, and you're not supposed to marry your first boyfriend? Right?
Toward the end of the summer Mr. Brown Eyes invited me to Oregon to visit his family. My instinctual response was a resounding, "Yes!" but then I thought harder about it. Meet his family? Wasn't that something engaged couples did? I didn't feel like our relationship was serious enough for the frightening step of meeting the family.
I voiced these concerns to Mr. Brown Eyes and he laughed.
"I go home to visit every summer," he said. "It's just a fun trip, nothing serious."
"But will your family think..."
"They just want to meet you. They don't think we're engaged or anything."
I breathed a sigh of relief. "Ok."
I don't know why I was so afraid of his family thinking we were engaged. I had a fear of committment, ok?
As the date of the trip approached, I became more and more uncertain about our relationship. I decided that once we got back from Oregon, I was going to break up with him. There was no specific reason why I decided that. I guess I was just convinced I needed to date other people. As if there was a long line of "other people" waiting to date me. As if there was any one else I wanted to date.
As soon as my mom dropped me and Mr. Brown Eyes off at the airport I forgot about my worries. Mr. Brown Eyes has a way of making even the most mundane activities--like waiting in the airport for your flight to board--fun and adventurous. We laughed and took pictures and kissed enough that the people around us were probably all rolling their eyes. We didn't notice though; we were enjoying each other too much. We arrived in Oregon on time, but our luggage didn't. Yet even having to borrow clothes and buy toothbrushes didn't spoil our fun.
His family accepted me warmly and I loved them from the start. We camped on a dazzling lake and spent our days sunbathing, jet skiing, and hiking through the cool green forest. I loved seeing Mr. Brown Eyes interact with his family. I could tell that he loved them and that they adored him. I found myself wondering what it would be like to be a part of this family. It felt natural, like I belonged with them.
Faithful Mr. Brown Eyes still told me he loved me on occasion, even though I never said it back. But suddenly--or maybe not so suddenly, as the feelings had been working on me for a while, I just didn't know it--watching him in the light of our campfire, I knew that I loved him and all I wanted was to be with him. It didn't matter how scared I was, it didn't matter that he was my first real boyfriend. I wanted him and no one else.
I didn't tell him about this revelation until my last night in Oregon. I was flying back to Arizona a week earlier than him, so while he watched TV in his mom's living room I was upstairs packing my bags. I must have taken a long time because by the time I crept downstairs Mr. Brown Eyes was asleep on the couch, his toothbrush in his mouth. I touched his cheek and he popped awake.
"Oh, hey," he said, blinking the sleep away from his eyes. "I thought you went to bed."
"Without saying goodnight to you? Why would I do that?"
He drew me into his arms and kissed me. "I love you," he murmured, expecting me, like every other time, to respond with silence.
"I love you, too," I said, and you'd better believe I meant it.
He was so surprised he made me say it again. And I could literally see his eyes light up with joy as I said it. We laughed and kissed and hugged--I'll spare you the details. Let me just say I'm so glad I waited to say those three little words until I absolutely meant them.
It was a sad and lonely flight back to Arizona and I cried most of the way. A week without Mr. Brown Eyes seemed like an eternity when I was used to spending almost every day with him. But I could detect an extra bounce in my step as I walked down the terminal to meet my family. I was a girl in love.
And I still am,
The Brown-Eyed Girl