When Brucie Met Shonnie

Shonnie Lavender turns 50 years of age on December 28, and we’ve been together for approximately half of those five decades. In honor of Shonnie’s milestone birthday, I’m reposting my personal essay “When Brucie Met Shonnie.” And I’m inviting you to help Shonnie celebrate her 50 spins around the sun. Message me, and I’ll tell you how.

***

One day in August of 1995, while reading the sports section of the Austin-American Statesman, I spotted an ad for Austin Fit, a marathon training group. Austin Fit was sponsoring a weekly workout for runners who wanted to train for the 1996 Austin Motorola Marathon. The ad said, “Show up next Saturday at the pedestrian bridge under MoPac at Town Lake (now renamed Lady Bird Lake) prepared to start.”

Between twenty to thirty runners in the intermediate-level Green Group met early each Saturday morning at Town Lake. It was summer, and as usual, hot as Hades in the capitol city of Texas—highs in the upper 90s to lower 100s. Of course, Austin runners (approximately ten percent of the city’s population at that time) were accustomed to being thoroughly sweat-soaked by the time they hit the quarter-mile mark during the summer. With the encouragement of our coaches, we ran increasingly long distances on the trails around the lake (ultimately up to twenty-plus miles) in preparation for the marathon that would take place on February 18, 1996. For the record, there were also beginner-level runners in the Red Group and elite runners in the Blue Group that also trained on Saturday mornings.

After running together week after week for longer and longer distances, the size of our group dwindled to seven runners. My initial impression of the single remaining female member of our group was of a very attractive, assertive woman of indeterminate age who looked pretty damned good in running tights. Her name was Shonnie Lavender.

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 eventually learned Shonnie was in a relationship.

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 half the race due to injuries that had limited their conditioning.

The Green Group!

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, an athletic gear outfit. On Tuesdays we did speed workouts at the local track, and on Thursdays hill we did repeats, though in Austin finding a decent hill was not a simple task.

During the summer of 1996, I’d been out of town for several weeks, 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 I was being invited to something else entirely.

In August 1996, after picking up a few new runners, including Bobby Bennett from my men’s group, we regrouped and began our marathon training in earnest. We also began to hang out socially as well, almost always heading to nearby Magnolia Cafe for pancakes after our Saturday morning runs.

In February of 1996 I invited my running buddies to attend an introductory presentation about The More To Life Weekend (a program about waking up and living life fully); Shonnie, Jesus, Tim and his wife Christie all decided to attend. Senior trainer Ann McMaster led the interactive session. 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 twenty-five-year-old, and my perception of Shonnie shifted significantly in that moment.

Everyone in the Green Group planned to go out for a few beers and to listen to some music one Saturday night in early September. But that morning over pancakes after our long run, everyone backed out—everyone but 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 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 fifty-three at the time.). The woman taking our money said, “Yeah, I see a little gray on you, pardner, but I’m not so sure about your daughter there.” Somewhat embarrassed, I chuckled self-consciously, not then aware that the basis of my relationship with Shonnie was beginning to shift.

We enjoyed the music and most of the poetry, and as the evening progressed, the excursion seemed more and more like a date than just 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 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 we might be moving too fast. Somewhat puzzled and certain that I’d never fully understand women, I told her OK and figured that was that.

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

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

“Can I come over?” Shonnie asked.

Pamela was OK with it, so we invited Shonnie to join us. The three of had an enjoyable evening dining on Pamela’s famous sesame noodles and watching Apollo 13. After Shonnie left, I found myself a bit confused. I asked Pamela, “What do you think she wants?” “It’s pretty damned clear, big boy; she wants you,” Pamela drolly responded.

After attending a breath workshop on the University of Texas campus, I looked into Shonnie’s eyes and told her I loved her for the first time. “I love you too,” came the tender reply. We kissed and held each other on that balmy summer afternoon, totally oblivious to anything going on around us. Yes, we were in love!

We fell into a pattern, spending a few nights together each week, sometimes at my place, sometimes at hers. Even in the early days of our relationship, Shonnie and I knew we didn’t want our intimacy to be based solely on physical attraction. And we spent hours revealing our pasts; sharing our greatest hopes, dreams and visions; and delving into the depths of our emotional and spiritual essences.

When my Dad suddenly died on November 29, 1996, I was shocked and dismayed . And despite the fact that our relationship was new, I asked Shonnie to accompany me to my old hometown, Tullahoma, Tennessee, to be with me in my grief. When we arrived, she met my entire family, except Dad, for the first time. Shonnie was a real trooper, caring and empathetic with everyone, especially Mom. Perhaps borne out of her mother’s death from breast cancer only three years earlier, I saw maturity in Shonnie that I hadn’t perceived before.

Don’t mess with Texas runners!

For me, the trip to Tennessee with Shonnie was the clincher. After a deep conversation, Shonnie and I decided to fully commit to one another and take up residence together in Shonnie’s condo beginning January 1, 1997. In the process of doing so, however, we dealt with some chatter in our minds, especially about our age difference (approximately twenty-eight years)—Me: “Yikes, this will never work; she’s younger than my daughter!” Shonnie: “My parents will never go for this—when I’m fifty, he’s going to be seventy-eight!” And so on. The vast majority of the babble proved to be bullshit, of course.

Because we wanted to be intentional about our relationship, we wrote our intention for our relationship and made commitments about how we would be with one another. And so on January 1, 1997, we read our intentions and commitments aloud to one another, gave the kitties (my Chocolate and Shonnie’s Kaali, Aurora and Attabi) some space to get to know each other, replaced Shonnie’s coffee table with mine, expanded a bit on Shonnie’s usual diet of cereal, salad and baked potatoes, and eagerly settled in to our life together.

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