EDDIE AND ELLIE: A LOVE STORY
It’s been more than thirty years now, and I still remember vividly the exact moment that my crush got crushed. I was pressed into the passenger seat of Eddie’s customized Chevy S10 pickup truck. It was early morning. Extra early. We were headed full throttle to Gold’s Gym.
Eddie and I were fairly-regulars at the gym back in those days. In our earlier childhoods, we spent a lot of time on tennis and basketball courts, or football and soccer fields, playing anything with a ball or a goal. We were tireless back then, even in the unyielding heat of Florida’s yearlong summer. Eddie was an honorary member of my family, staying for dinner, game nights, watching movies, as well as all that athletic stuff. We had a lot of pizza, a lot of laughs, a fair number of bruises. Three years my senior, Eddie was stronger, more muscular. Better hair, better looking, better sense. I probably should have been envious, but I had only admiration for Eddie, and gratitude for all he did for me.
When I was a freshman in what many called “Country Club High School,” I did anything but fit in. I was skinny, bespectacled, and my Brylcreem-slick hair had an ill-advised part and unconquerable cowlick. The part of my face that my glasses didn’t cover was perpetually dotted with acne. As I began high school, Eddie was finishing. It was 1984. Seniors ruled, freshmen were scum – Everyone knew, and no one forgot. Except Eddie. He was one of the popular guys, but never too cool to stop and talk to me, the poster boy for uncool. He was a friend that stuck closer than a brother. After he graduated, I had three years of high school suckiness.
Bullying and ridicule helped inspire my interest in weightlifting that continued after high school. Eddie was a good friend, and lifting partner, and trainer. He helped me build muscle and a bit of self-esteem. I learned a lot about discipline and consistency and proper form.
Eddie also taught me how to dance – almost. A mutual friend of ours was getting married and asked both of us to be groomsmen. First time in a cummerbund. I somehow managed to look sillier than my graduation picture. The bridesmaid I was paired with was a stranger to me. A girl! She was pretty tall; that’s pretty, and tall. Intimidating. Any confidence I might have built over the summer failed me. I felt like every monarch butterfly that year migrated to my stomach instead of Mexico. I was going to have to walk Carmen down the aisle in front of a crowd, and if I survived that, the worst was yet in store. I didn’t tell anyone about my fear until it was too late. Eddie and I were sitting in a cramped room off the huge reception hall, waiting for the bride and groom to arrive so the entire party could make a grand entrance. And then would come the impossible part. “Eddie,” I squeaked. “I can’t slow-dance.” It had been on my mind from the time I’d agreed to be in the wedding.
This is the kind of person Eddie is. Immediately, he stood up. He wasn’t even laughing at me. “I’ll show you,” he said. I brought my arms up like he showed me, we took a step toward one another, and my very first dance partner was going to be Eddie. But no. At that very moment the door opened. “They’re here!” He couldn’t save me now. I was doomed. I exceeded all expectations of awkwardness. It was the longest song I’ve ever heard on the slipperiest floor with the brightest hottest lights all pointed at me. The defining moment was hearing Carmen say through clenched teeth, “You’re supposed to lead.” As if I knew what that meant. There’s not much else to tell about that night except Carmen pawning me off to some poor girlfriend of hers so that she could dance with a guy who actually could dance. I never forgot that Eddie had my back, even though I probably forgot to thank him.
The time I spent with Eddie in my late teens taught me a lot of practical lessons; about friendship, about taking family and worship seriously, about life. I wasn’t ready to part with my immature ways, but I did tuck a lot of nuggets away for future use.
Then Ellie came into the picture. She moved from Ohio to Florida with a couple of girlfriends. One of them ended up marrying one of my brothers. I liked Ellie; it was impossible not to. She was pretty, smart, outgoing, friendly, and a dozen other superlatives. She laughed easily, laughed a lot. What a great laugh, it was insuppressible and contagious. I had a chance to get to know Ellie, she showed up at every social event and every family gathering. Looking back, I realize she showed up everywhere that Eddie was.
I hadn’t yet given much serious thought to my future. I was honing my storytelling and grocery-bagging skills. Eddie had ambition and drive. He was successfully running his own automobile customizing business. We were still “gym rats,” as our friends would teasingly call us. We’d oblige them with our impression of the muscle heads from the Saturday Night Live skit “Pumping Up with Hans and Franz.” “We want to pump you up!” we’d say in silly accents. Everyone would laugh, and our silly muscle pose downs would get more and more ridiculous. You could especially hear Ellie’s laugh, it was the kind of laugh that made you feel like you did something special. It gave me more confidence than any bulging bicep could. Eddie for his part, wasn’t just about lifting heavy weights. He realized the value of building a person up spiritually and not just physically. There was a lot worth of imitation.
Ellie wasn’t just out of my league; she was lightyears from my reach. I was nineteen, naïve, my head filled with silliness and my wallet with moths. I also wasn’t especially good at paying attention. I had no real chance with Ellie, but I sure had a solid crush. That smile and that laugh made me dare to dream dreams that never crossed over to reality. My strategy was to not make a move (as if I had moves) and spare myself having to feel the embarrassment of rejection. I must say, it worked brilliantly.
“What do you think about Ellie?” The question caught me off guard. This was that moment, the crush-crushing moment on the way to the gym. I realized in an instant why Eddie was asking. Suddenly I could feel nothing. Except pure joy. Of course, Eddie and Ellie, of course! They really were perfect for one another, how had I missed that? Like I said, paying attention wasn’t my strong suit. I had tears of happiness in my eyes and a lump in my throat when I gave my honest opinion. “She is really great, Eddie.” I’m sure I must have babbled for a solid ten minutes, forgetting to breathe, about all the things that made Ellie so lovable. I knew how I felt about her in the small amount of time I had been around her. I can only imagine how deeply Eddie must have fallen in love. I was proud of him, he was ready to be the man in her life, the one she deserved.
I would not have missed their wedding for the world. It was in Ohio, where many of Ellie’s friends and family live. Out of state, no problem, I’d have gone to the moon if I had to. I was already halfway there, truth be told. Eddie and Ellie asked me to play their music at the event, and I was ecstatic. For both of them, and for the fact that I wouldn’t be expected to dance. The drive to Ohio there was eventful and had many challenges, but it was quickly a blur in the rear-view mirror.
People often speak of storybook weddings, of fairy tales and dreams come true. Stuff that makes you roll your eyes a bit, but in this case? All true. It really was. The wedding was beautiful. Ellie looked like an angel. It’s a special kind of wonderful to know that two people you love will make each other happy for the rest of their lives. At the reception, I was completely over the moon. I lip-synched to songs, cracked corny jokes between them, and generally made a bigger fool of myself than my silly moustache already had. I was happy, goofy happy. At some point, Eddie offered to take over my musical responsibilities (as if he could ever match my dorkiness) so that I could dance, if I wished. I refused, mostly because I still didn’t know how. But there was only one girl I would have wanted to dance with. Instead, I watched her dance with Eddie, tears of joy in my eyes. I was achingly happy for my brother, my friend. And for Ellie, because I knew she was in the best hands: Eddie’s.
Some sparks diminish beyond that truly special first day. That was not the case with Eddie and Ellie. I am grateful to have been nearby as the two started their new lives together. I was taught in childhood that God is love. And that we are in His image. That means that we can also be love. I saw that when I saw Eddie and Ellie together. They were love. I shared their joy when I learned that they were going to have a baby. Sierra was the perfect daughter for the perfect pair. I fell in love all over again when I held that adorable wriggling and giggling baby for the first time.
With some kids, it’s like Mom and Dad’s DNA decided to make an exact 50/50 split. Sierra was the best of both parents. When she grinned, you could see equal parts Eddie and Ellie. That smile, so big it couldn’t help to spread to other faces. Little Sierra was sitting on my knee, grinning that grin, when I met my future wife.
Eddie and Ellie and Sierra gave the word family a good name. I never heard a harsh word or rebuke, only encouragement and support from each one to the others. You would rarely see one without the others, or only two of the three. Inseparable. If one was asked to choose which family member was the glue that held everyone together, the answer was Eddie. And Ellie. And Sierra. Always doing for one another, and for others, even strangers. Giving. The greater happiness.
Ordinary occasions spent with the three gave me some extraordinary memories. Sunday service together, Chinese take-out for lunch, watching football or playing video games in the afternoons. I got to watch Sierra grow up. I was introduced to the equally excited doggy addition to their family, all slurping tongue and wagging tail end. You remember the silly little things, especially when you realize how much they matter.
Our families moved apart without growing too far apart, at least, not at first. We kept up with each other as much as we could, and life kept happening, in good ways and bad. I failed to keep my marriage together, but they did all the things, small and large, that kept theirs strong. It was always Eddie and Ellie. Together, forever.
When I heard that Ellie had cancer, I was shaken. I cried for Ellie, and for Eddie, and for Sierra. It was so unreal, so unfair, so very cruel. I felt so helpless; how must they have felt? What could I do? What could I say? Not enough, never enough. There was some comfort in knowing that Ellie would receive the best care possible. She was truly in good hands: Eddie’s, and God’s.
Eddie and Ellie and Sierra had one another, their families, their faith, and close friends throughout the worst of times. Ellie battled bravely for five years. Incredible. I should have been there for the family. I could have, should have written and called much more often. I foolishly trusted that there would be time, and plenty of it. It hurt deeply when the end came.
There should have been more. Eddie and Ellie deserved so many more sunsets together. Quietly enjoying the company of one another, the swirl of beautiful colors, hearts swelling with joy and contentment. Sunsets never last long enough, then the sky turns into darkness.
I cannot begin to fathom how great the pain of her absence must be for Eddie. For Sierra. For the many close friends and family members. It should have been Eddie and Ellie forever; we all know that. We know something else, though. A comforting truth – That Ellie is still in the very best hands she could ever be in: God’s hands.
To truly believe is to believe that this is not the end, any more than the sunset, any sunset, is ever the end. There will be a sunrise. Many more sunrises. Eddie will see Ellie again. And they will dance, will they ever, to a song nobody has ever heard but everybody knows. Surrounded by colors that have only been seen in dreams. None of that will matter. They’ll just dance. Circling slowly, folded into one another, faces so close, whispering words for them and them alone.
I hope that I see the two of them together again. Maybe I’ll have another chance to dance with Ellie. Again, I’ll refuse. Eddie still hasn’t finished my lesson.