If Ethan and I wandered outside our own neighborhood for a date, we usually ended up at Barnes and Noble at some point in the evening.
I had thought that it was the only bookstore left in the desert and I often lamented that we did not have any independent bookshops with quirky personality. But still, a trip to the bookstore with Ethan usually filled me with precisely the right amount of intellectual enlightenment and a dreamy-sort-of school girl satisfaction.
During one particular trip to Barnes and Nobles we were focused on the art of visual design to communicate story. Both of us being storytellers and graphic artists, discovering and discussing the covers that did this well made for hours of fun. It was our own kind of treasure hunt, a game that often opened up great insight into one another.
Eventually Ethan leaned down close to my ear and said, “I want to take you somewhere else. You ready to go?”
As we were leaving Barnes and Noble, just before getting into his car, Ethan caught me by the crook of my arm and in one fluid motion he spun me into a kiss as the wind whipped at my hair and dress. It was better than John Wayne kissing Marueen O’Hara in the wind of an Irish storm. Every girl should experience such a cinematic kiss at least once in her life.
We drove for about 20 minutes before pulling into a parking lot I did not recognize tucked into a quiet back lot off the main road, “Where are we?” I asked.
“Another bookstore.” He said, “I found this one last week and thought you might enjoy it.”
In a rather barren place where people often complained there was no culture and nothing to do, Ethan was always discovering these diamonds in the rough. He had a rare gift for hunting out gems like this little known bookstore. With Ethan it wasn’t so hard to love this tired old desert.
The bell over the door rang as we entered. The owner sat behind the cash register, smiling easily as we entered. Books were stacked all around her, piled on the floor, displayed on the counter, in rows leaned against the wall. A cat walked across the countertop. We turned a corner and found ourselves enfolded into the meandering maze of ceiling high bookcases.
Opening a huge, old atlas I told him everywhere I’d like to go with him in this world of ours, like we were Adam and Eve and the whole earth was ours to explore. Ethan took my hand and led me around a corner and stole a kiss. We turned another corner and began rifling through a barrage of paperback volumes. Another stolen kiss. Another corner. More books to get lost in.
Ethan bought one book that day, a little a teal book with a 1970s design written by Edith Shaffer. When we got back into his car, I asked him what made him buy that book. He said, “I saw it here the other day. I was hoping it was still here.”
“Really. What about it grabbed your attention?”
“Well, we both like work of Francis and Edith Shaeffer.” He shrugged, “I thought we would both enjoy it… here we can start now.” Ethan began reading out loud but overly dramatic, making me laugh too much to catch the meaning of the words.
Honestly, I hadn’t thought much would become it, I think I imagined that Ethan simply bought it for the author’s name and would soon forget about it. Little did I see then, the importance that book would take in my life. That little teal book would become a torment if not a promise.
A week or so later, I was at his house, and we were each working on our own writing projects. Ethan had gone to the bookshelf and took out that little teal paperback with a 1970s graphic cover, handing it to me saying, “read it, I think you’ll like,” before moving to the back of the den where his computer sat ready with a half written script.
I curled my legs up under me on the couch and ran my finger down the length of the old book pages. I opened the book, being careful with it for the binding was already starting to come undone. As I read word upon word, thought upon thought, a deep stirring came over me. It was like the stirring of changing weather, the still energy of the land before the storm. I love a good storm, the drama, the beauty, something about reading through the book that day gave me the same sense of calm anticipation. The words of the book fell on me like rain. It was a rain that would tear down and build up, rain that would destroy and bring new life.
I looked over the back of the couch to the desk in the den where Ethan sat at his computer working on his screenplay. I had always wanted this. I wanted to fill my life with a thousand moments just like this, me and my man sharing the same creative space, working, creating, writing side by side, feeding off each other’s imaginative energy. I looked back at the book in my hands.
It was the first thing that was ours. This book belonged to both of us. Regardless of the content, it would have been a sweet thing to cherish, the first possession we shared. But it was more than sweet, it was the divine communicating to me of what my purpose was in this world and once again, weaving that purpose closer, connected to Ethan.
I smiled knowing that this book was not just from Ethan.
Ethan was a chart-topping, heart-stopping romantic… but from what I gather, no one had expected this from him. That was the brilliance of his character design. He was slow and methodical, he thought about everything, inspecting from multiple angles. He had been watching, observing, studying relationships for many years in this meticulous way. What’s more, he had been studying me these past several months, taking note of my opinions, learning my idiosyncrasies, reading me carefully, watching my expression. You take all that intel gathered and you mix it with a brilliant imagination, a strong grace unconcerned with offense, an eager hunger for adventure, and a genuine love and it added up to a more thrilling romance that I had ever imagined… but still there were some things Ethan did that went beyond what he could possibly have gathered on his own, like buying this book. God had to have been in on that decision. Even if Ethan had been somewhat unaware of the significance of his purchase, I am sure that God had been the one to first point to that teal spine on the bookstore shelf and whisper, “this one, my son.”
For God would one day, a year from here, hand me this book again and with it shatter my neatly constructed ideas of a safely vague faith in the wake of a great tragedy and with it hand me something real to write into my understanding of unwavering trust and endurance.