When Brucie Met Shonnie

I first laid eyes on Shonnie Lavender in 1995 when we both joined the Austin Fit Green Training Group for the Austin Motorola Marathon. It was August, and as usual, hot as Hades in the capitol city of Texas—highs in the upper 90s to lower 100s. Of course, Austin runners (about ten percent of the city’s population) are accustomed to being thoroughly sweat-soaked through and through by the time they hit the quarter-mile mark.

Between 20 to 30 intermediate-level runners in our group met early each Saturday morning at Town Lake. With the support of our coaches, we ran increasingly long distances on the trails around the lake (ultimately up to 20+ miles) in preparation for the marathon that would take place on February 18, 1996. For the record, there were also beginning and elite runners groups that trained on Saturday mornings as well.

Austin Fit Green Group

Austin Fit Green Group

After running together week after week for longer and longer distances, the size of our group dwindled to seven runners. Shonnie was the only remaining woman. My first recollection of the single feminine member of our group was of a very attractive, assertive woman of indeterminate age who looked pretty damned good in running tights. Our group’s theory was if we were running too fast to chat, we were running too fast. So after many hours on the trails around Town Lake, we got to know a bit about one another, and I soon learned Shonnie was in a relationship as I was at the time.

Marathon completed!
Shonnie, Jesus, Tim, Tall Bald Larry, Medium Bald Larry, Jack and I all became fast friends over the months of training together and most of us completed the marathon, though a couple of our members each ran a half of the race each due to injuries that had slowed their conditioning. Actually I was injured too. A week or so before the marathon I suffered a shin splint after a misstep during a nocturnal run. But I was determined to finish what I’d started, so I took a handful of Advil, put my head down and completed my first marathon in 3:52:21.

Our tight little band of athletes continued running together, though not as regularly or as far. And in addition to our long runs on Saturdays, we began participating in the Tuesday and Thursday afternoon training sessions sponsored by Run-Tex. On Tuesdays speed workouts at the local track, and on Thursdays hill repeats, though in Austin finding a decent hill was not a simple task.

The plot thickens
I spent a good deal of the summer of 1996 in New York City with my girlfriend Carolyn, a time of deep learning about relationships for both of us. And upon my return to Austin in July I had several phone messages from Shonnie inviting me to rejoin our training group in preparation for the 1997 Motorola Marathon. Little did I know at the time she was really inviting me to something else entirely.

In August 1996, after picking up a few new runners, we regrouped and began training again in earnest. And we began to hang out a bit socially as well, usually heading to nearby Magnolia Cafe for pancakes after our long run on Saturday mornings.

I was involved in the Life Training program (a personal growth program later renamed More to Life), and I invited my running buddies to attend an introductory presentation. The interactive presentation was led by Ann McMaster, one of the program’s senior trainers. At one point during the evening, attendees had an opportunity to ask questions, and Shonnie stood up, made a comment and asked a very perceptive question. Though I don’t remember what she asked, I do remember thinking “Hey, this is not just some ditzy blonde.” There was a depth and wisdom that I hadn’t anticipated from a 25-year-old, and my perception of Shonnie shifted significantly in that moment.

The Green Group all planned to go out for a few beers and some music one Saturday night in early September. But that morning over pancakes after our long run, everyone backed out . . . except me and Shonnie. Whether the Universe conspired that day, you’ll have to decide. For, despite the fact there were only two of us, we decided to go forward with our plans. We chose on a small venue that offered music, poetry and cold Shiner Bock. I’d pick her up at 7:00 p.m.

As we were paying the cover, I lightheartedly requested the senior discount (I was 53 at the time.). The woman taking our money said, “Yeah, I see a little gray on you, but I’m not so sure about your daughter there.”

We enjoyed the music and most of the poetry, and as the evening progressed, this excursion became more and more like a date than merely two running buddies out on the town. And it seemed even more so when my hand on Shonnie’s knee was favorably received. I think there was merely a simple “good night” hand squeeze when I dropped Shonnie off at her condo. I don’t really remember. But I do know that my interest had been piqued. And I’d discovered that Shonnie was no longer “involved.”

At Shonnie’s suggestion, we went to a play together the next week—a dramatized version of “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” After the play, Shonnie said she wanted to slow things down, that she was concerned that we might be moving too fast. Somewhat puzzled, I told her that was OK with me.

A few days later Shonnie called. “What are you doing?” she asked amiably.

“Getting ready to have dinner and watch a movie with Pamela (my housemate),” I replied.

“Can I come over?” Shonnie asked.

Pamela knew and liked Shonnie, and we invited her to join us. We three had an enjoyable evening together, and after Shonnie left, I found myself a bit puzzled. I asked Pamela, “What do you think she wants?” “It’s pretty damned clear, big boy; she wants you.” Pamela drolly responded.

Love walks in
Events progressed in no way slowly after that. Seeing which direction this budding romance was heading, I called Carolyn in NYC. I told her of my attraction for Shonnie and asked if she saw any chance of a future for the two of us. Carolyn’s answer was “no.” So we acknowledged one another for how together we’d become more artful in the ways of relationships and for the other undeniable benefits of our time together. At the conclusion of our conversation, we vowed to remain steadfast friends.

Over the next few weeks, it became apparent that Shonnie possessed the most important attributes I wanted in a significant other—she was compassionate, honest, authentic, committed to personal/spiritual growth, physically attractive, athletic, passionate, vegetarian, willing to make 100 percent commitment to our relationship . . . the list goes on. After attending a breath workshop on the University of Texas campus, I told Shonnie I loved her for the first time. “I love you too,” she tenderly replied. We kissed and held each other on that balmy summer afternoon, totally oblivious to anything going on around us. Yes, we were in love!

Don't mess with Texas runners!

Don’t mess with Texas runners!

Subsequently, we began spending a few nights a week together, sometimes at my place, sometimes at hers. Later in the fall of 1996 we decided to fully commit to our relationship and to move in together on January 1, 1997. In the process of doing so, however, we got to deal with some mindtalk, especially about our age difference (approximately 28 years): “Yikes, this will never work; she’s younger than my daughter!” “My parents will never go for this—when I’m 50, he’s going to be 78!” And so on. The vast majority of the chatter between our ears proved to be BS, of course. The truth was that we loved one another, and that was what mattered most.

Committing to a life together
Because we wanted to be intentional about our relationship and living together, we made commitments about how we would be with one another (treat one another with love and respect, tell the truth, practice forgiveness, keep our personal space clean, etc.), how we would live together (create a warm and inviting space that works for both of us and reflects who we truly are) and how we’d treat the feline members of our new family—Attabi, Aurora, Kaali and Chocolate (love and protect each of them and treat each as our own).

On January 1, 1997, we read our intentions and commitments aloud to one another, gave the kitties some space to get to know each other, replaced Shonnie’s coffee table with mine, expanded a bit on Shonnie’s usual menu of cereal, salad and baked potatoes and enthusiastically settled in to our life together.

* * *

This post was written in honor of Shonnie’s 38th birthday (12/28/09) and the 13th anniversary of our life together.

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