Stephen was the redheaded kid on the block. The middle child of a family of six, Steve was friendly, polite, and even somewhat shy when he was in my sister's presence. He was a typical boy, outside doing chores or playing whatever game of the day in the street, not to mention teasing people (me!) constantly. Yet, he'd be the first to stand up to a bully if there happened to be one around. Even though I knew that the tables could turn on me and I could soon be his object of torture, I felt safe when he was around.
I'm not sure exactly when it all happened, but he fast fell in love with my sister. He was 13.
I remember him bringing her flowers all the time, and the beautiful jewelry gifts she'd get for birthdays and holidays. Precious Moments were "in" back then and Tracy had at least 20 from him alone, all cutely displayed in her room as a testament of his love for her. While they dated, I learned a lot about the kind of man that I wanted to find by the way Stephen treated my sister: one that would fight for me, romance me, love me with total and utter abandon.
We all knew they'd get married, it was just a matter of time. It took almost 2 years to plan the wedding and in May of 1996, Tracy and Steve said their vows to love, honor and cherish one another no matter what.
12 years of marriage, 5 houses, 4 kids and 2 dogs later, they are still going strong.
Here are a few stories about Steve that I cherish.
While nannying in CT, I decided to take a trip to visit he and my sister where they were stationed in MD. After the funniest of travel stories (of which I will spare you during this post), Steve picked me up at the Baltimore train station. It was around 6am and he took a wrong turn. So, here we are, driving around in the purple minivan dubbed the "Plumvee" (Humvee, get it?) in the middle of the ghetto. And I mean the ghett-0. I could sense Steve was a bit lost--and nervous, when I spotted him out of the corner of my eye looking frantically around for some familiar route. I asked him, "Do you know where you're going?" "Kel, we're lost. We're in the ghetto. We gotta get out NOW." Did I feel safe then? Not so much. But, the the feeling returned once we arrived safely home.
Fast forward a few years. I'm living back in NY in my own home, pre-marriage days. I just cooked a scrumptious meal and had leftovers to take care of. Wait, did I say scrumptious? OK, not this story. This story's meal consisted of meat that was eaten (because, perhaps it was scrumptious),and a side dish of cabbage completely raw after hours of cooking. I'm not quite sure what I did wrong, but it doesn't matter. I put the cabbage, raw cabbage, down the toilet, because I remember my Mom sending us to the toilet with leftovers to flush down when I was young. Don't ask me why we did this, because it's not a practice that I'd recommend. Ah, I digress... So I flushed down my lousy meal's leftovers and ended up clogging the toilet. I mean, really clogging the toilet. Jeff and I both tried to fix it and it. wouldn't. budge. I called Steve, the master fixer upper of all things screwy, and he reluctantly came over after about 10 minutes of phone coaching to get the darn cabbage down! I can't quite put into words the looks that I got when he arrived--or when he left, but I can say that he and Jeff were able to help the cabbage along and the toilet was in working order again, less a few scratches from the 30 minute snaking. I am laughing just writing this.
Then there are the countless times he threw me into the swimming pool, fully clothed from my nicely styled hair down to my shoes...
But my favorite memory of my brother-in-law is this one:
After quite possibly the most crushing time in my family's life, Stephen offered me a sense of protection that still lingers to this day. I was sitting in my brother's living room, and the day was nearing an end. My Mom and siblings were present and red-eyed from crying, and Stephen walked into the room. He walked right up to me, whose head was down because I was afraid and embarrassed and stunned, and gave me the biggest bear hug ever. He cried and told me that he was sorry for what had happened, and that it would never, ever happen again. I believed him. I felt safe again. I felt as if my fears were gone because there was this man holding on to me so tightly, who loved my sister more than life and loved me just by association, and he wouldn't let anything happen to us ever again. By his simple gesture of a strong embrace, I felt so loved and cared for despite the turmoil surrounding us.
And today, I can say that I continue to feel loved and cared for by him despite the turmoil surrounding us all.
Steve is at war, in Afghanistan, right now. Today is his 35th birthday. And though I'd rather he be here in the states enjoying normalcy with his wife, boys and newborn daughter, I know that he is over there serving his country with honor and pride.
I look forward to seeing him soon, to introducing his namesake and my son, John Stephen, and to knowing that he is far from battle in the Middle East. But until then, I pray that God will keep him safe and keep him strong.
Happy Birthday, Steve. We miss you and we love you. Jeff reminds you to "Keep it between the ditches!"