Last Saturday was the 29th anniversary of the party when Richard Cabe and I met. We were graduate students at the University of Wyoming, he in the PhD program in natural-resource economics and me working as the director of the University Women’s Center, and trying to knit together the disparate disciplines of writing and field science.
One of my volunteers–still a dear friend–kept trying to fix me up with Richard, her fellow econ grad student, who was, she insisted, perfect for me: he was the smartest of their bunch, helped all the other grad students, was a dedicated dad to his three-year-old daughter, loved to hike and watch birds and collect rocks… Blah, blah, blah.
I was divorced, I said. I wasn’t interested in men.
That December, she threw herself a birthday party at a local restaurant. I arrived late, and the only remaining seat was next to… Richard. (Molly, said three-year-old, was playing happily under the table.) By the end of the evening, I was hooked.
Then came winter break and travel: to New York for him, Tucson for me. He called after we both returned. I invited him over for dinner. If he got a thumbs up from my housemates, I figured, we could try a date.
He did, and we did.
We headed over the Medicine Bow Range to Saratoga, Wyoming, for a soak in the hot springs followed by dinner at the historic Wolf Hotel. By the end of the two-hour trip on snow-packed mountain roads, sitting elbow-to-elbow in the cab of my Datsun pickup, it felt like we’d known each other our whole lives. After a soak in water so hot I swear the snowflakes sizzled when they hit my skin, dinner and a drink, I let him take the wheel of the truck I never let anyone drive, and fell asleep on his shoulder.
We moved in together. That August, we married in a Quakerly ceremony on the front lawn of my house, followed by a yard party.
The next day, we left for West Virginia and Richard’s first faculty job. Two semesters later, we moved to Washington state, where Molly learned that if you lick a slug, your tongue will go numb, and her daddy and I worked in state government for three years. Until he decided to finish his PhD and try academics again.
We moved to Boulder, Colorado (I wrote my first book, Pieces of Light, there). After Richard finished his degree, we moved again, to Ames, Iowa, where he had a post-doc fellowship.
Two years later, we moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where Richard joined the faculty of New Mexico State University. We stayed seven years, while Molly went through middle school, high school, and started college; Richard got tenure; and I wrote books two through six. Then I got homesick for sagebrush, he took a leave of absence from teaching, and we moved to Salida.
We never went back. Richard’s work as an expert witness took him around the country, and we settled first in a tiny but charming historic duplex just off downtown, and then built a new house on blighted industrial property across the alley we bought for its huge but decaying brick shop building–Richard’s studio.
When the consulting work ended, Richard cast around for another career until I convinced him to follow his heart into abstract sculpture, working with the rocks he called “ambassadors of the earth.” In that at last, he found his vocation.
Through those almost 29 years and all the moves (nine in our first 15 years together); through Molly’s growing up, her graduation from a small Quaker high school followed by a liberal arts college; through Richard’s career migrations and my writing challenges; as his hair turned silver and receded while mine went from red to sandy with white threads; as we weathered life-challenges including Molly’s thyroid cancer, Richard’s father’s death, my mother’s death, and then Richard’s brain cancer; two things stayed constant:
Richard’s smile, the outward expression of his spirit,
and the love we discovered at that birthday party 29 years ago, love which carried us through a journey both more beautiful and more difficult than we ever imagined.
As I walk on without Richard, I intend to share those two gifts: the smiles of a bright spirit and unwavering love. The world can surely use more of both.