by Julia Buckley
My husband and I were married twenty-three years ago this weekend, on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. We are rather surprised to find ourselves at this milestone, since we like to think of ourselves as still youthful. But time doesn't lie, and neither do our growing children, so here we are.
In honor of the day, I'll tell the rather odd story of how Jeff and I met.
In 1986 I was a junior in college and dating a guy named Bob. My boyfriend and I had been having some rough times, mainly because I think we were realizing we weren't "meant to be," if you believe in that sort of thing. So it was only partly surprising when Bob, who attended ISU, called me in Indiana and said that the formal dance he'd agreed to attend with me--the one for which I'd already purchased expensive tickets and persuaded my mom to alter an old prom dress--was something he could not now attend. He had to work, he told me.
In a cold voice I told Bob that would be just fine. And then I plotted my revenge. I would find a guy--any guy--to go to that dance with me, and I would have fun. I was thinking, at that point, of just going to a random store and approaching all males with my dance proposition, but then I had a brainstorm. My brother, eight years my elder, worked in Chicago in a big glamorous office building (or so I thought at age 20). He had often told me tales of his humorous co-workers. Surely one of them could be persuaded to go out with a cute college girl?
So I called my big brother and told him of my idea. He sounded skeptical. "Uh--I don't really know," he said. "I guess I could ask Jeff Buckley."
"Sure! He sounds great," I said.
"He's very funny," my brother assured me. This, I assumed, was a euphemism for ugly, but I didn't care. I told Bill to go ahead and extend the invitation.
I called that evening to find out the result. "Is he going?" I asked.
"Uh--he might. He has a list of demands."
Pause. "A list of demands? Like . . . a terrorist?"
"You have to know Jeff's sense of humor," he said. And then he read me the demands, which Jeff had scrawled on a piece of paper in his terrible handwriting while he was supposed to be working. To be honest with you, I can't remember them all, but one of them was "You must refer to me as 'Bronco' for the entire evening" and another was "write a five-paragraph essay entitled 'Why I must be accompanied by Jeff.'"
I actually thought this was pretty funny, and I was an English major, so I tossed off the essay in no time and had it ready when Bill and Jeff arrived on the dance day (there was no e-mail then, and I didn't have time to mail it).
Jeff told me later that it was a longshot that he showed up at all; he regretted telling Bill he'd go out with his little sister (he'd been told I was funny, which he assumed was a euphemism for ugly), and was going to call in sick. However, he had so much respect for my brother (and still does) that he didn't want to disappoint him. So he made the one hour drive to my parents' house in the suburbs, then another hour-long drive, with Bill, to Valparaiso University, where we met in our cumbersome formal clothes. I have attached a photo which chronicles forever the awkwardness of our meeting (and the exchange of the essay). (It also shows that on my dorm room wall I had, inexplicably, a poster for CATS and a picture of the "Hey Vern" guy. Go figure.)
Anyway, Jeff and I hit it off quite well, and when he decided to kiss me later that same night, he prefaced it by saying, "Let's get this awkward moment out of the way." That made everything seem pretty inevitable, which I guess it was.
I never did call him Bronco, though. Maybe after forty years.
(Note: This is a slightly-altered version of an essay I wrote a few years ago on my twentieth anniversary).