I have long maintained the belief that people fall in love with the human form of their favorite literary character.
Call it idealism, call it insensible, call it dreamy romanticism; I call it pure hard fact.
Once, to test this theory, my college roommate and I conducted a survey among our word loving friends. The results were fascinating. The Pride and Prejudice lover was in a serious relationship with Mr. Bingley. The avid fan of the Great Gatsby had just broken up with Jay himself. My roommate, Alana, was fixated on Jane Eyre, and susceptible to the allure of Mr. Rochester (And she’s marrying him in June-more on that later!).
But while the rest of my small world waited for their Mr. Darcys or Gilbert Blythes to arrive on the scene, I held to a hope so high (in my opinion) I was almost afraid to voice it: Captain Jack Elliot.
For those of you who don’t know, Jack Elliot is the star and breath of my all time favorite book: These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner. The book was given to me as a Christmas present when I was fifteen, and it took my adolescent world by storm. I’ve read it almost every year (okay- twice a year) since then. In my dating life, Jack Elliot became the standard- and I began to wonder if he’d ever exist.
To say that Jack is a man’s man is a severe understatement- it is more likely that he invented the man’s man. Living in the Arizona Territories in the late 1800s, Jack is a fierce soldier and warrior; a terror to behold on the field of battle. He is a challenger and an achiever- always in search of the next fire to put out. He is quietly sentimental; rarely one to voice his feelings. He is confident, bold and frustratingly proud. The book records his love for the fascinating Sarah Prine throughout their long, tumultuous courtship and then their beautiful marriage. The way that such a rough and mysterious man loves a woman in such a surprisingly tender way is enough to make any girl melt.
One of my favorite scenes in the book is the rosebush encounter. Jack, in his pursuit of Sarah’s heart and affections, shows up at her cattle ranch one afternoon to do some repair work for her. The price of his services? A date- with him, on July 4th, in Tucson. After Jack leaves, Sarah finds a rosebush planted beneath her corral fence, with a note from Jack. A wild rosebush. That man surely knows how to win a heart.
Well, that scene got the best of my teenage emotions. Here is an entry from my journal, summer 2007:
“A rosebush… what a thoughtful gesture, to buy Sarah something lovely that lasts, something so beautiful that she would never think to get for herself. I wonder if anyone will ever think about me like that- to buy me a rosebush. Cut roses are wonderful, but a rosebush, a constant and forever reminder that you are loved and thought of….”
I started dating Andrew in the spring of 2008. It wasn’t long before my roommate began pointing out Andrew’s Jack Elliot-like qualities (I had given her These Is My Words as a Christmas present that year). I considered this, not yet ready to give him that kind of title. He was exceedingly handsome, yes. Spirited, yes. Bold, confident, and highly opinionated- yes, yes, and yes. Terrifying when angry, yes, but surprisingly thoughtful and sweet toward me- yes. But to call him Jack Elliot? That would take a rosebush.
So you can imagine how I felt when Andrew showed up at my door in February of our senior year with a rosebush in hand. I had never mentioned the importance of a rosebush to Andrew- he never could have known how deeply it would touch me. So you must also be able to imagine how confused he felt when I stood there in tears and unable to say a word.
We got engaged that same season. I had found my Jack.
Because of my post college nomadic lifestyle- three moves to three states in as many months- that rosebush was reluctantly planted at my parent’s house. When Andrew came home a few days ago with another rosebush for me, I was overjoyed. I potted it and painted on it quotes from the first book I ever loved. Every time I look at it, I am reminded of the man between the pages who first won my heart, and the man between these apartment walls who wins it every day. And, Andrew, I’m finding, is better than Jack- because, with each new dawn, I relearn that he’s real. Jack may be the star of my favorite book, but it is Andrew whose stars have lit up my world and taken me on great adventures.
And so I water my rosebush as I water my love for my own Jack Elliot in the flesh, and pray that the warm rays of both sunshine and smiles will keep the two in continuous bloom for years to come.