Twenty-one years ago, in March of 1987, my junior year of college, I got a job at a Taco Bell in Greeley. I was reluctant to accept the job, and was actually advised not to accept it by several friends, because the week before I had started another part-time job at the university housing department.
For reasons I’ve forgotten, but probably related to the fact that I was broke, I decided to take the job at Taco Bell and work both part-time jobs for as long as I could.
Either the week before or the week after, I’ve forgotten (but Renee would know), a 16-year-old junior from Greeley West High School, named Renee Dougherty, also started working at the same Taco Bell.
For nearly six months, Renee and I, along with our mutual friends shared that tiny space behind the counter of an old-fashioned Taco Bell, chopping olives and onions, shredding cheese and lettuce, stirring the beans and meat, and building Burrito Supremes with the perfect weight in under 45 seconds for a drive-thru order, and we seldom spoke to each other about anything personal.
Then, in August of 1987, Renee and I shared a shift, and with a gleam in her eye, she told me she had a question for me. She was playing the messenger for Tonya, her best-friend, and our coworker. Tonya wanted to go on a date with me.
I laughed at Renee. She had to be kidding, I thought. I was a senior in college by that time, and she and Tonya were only seniors in high school. I had plans, dreams, a future outside of Greeley, and neither of those two little girls could be part of my horizon.
Renee was persistent, though, and by the end of that shift, I had agreed to Tonya’s request, but with one condition: Renee would have to join us. I thought that 3 would be a crowd and provide enough of a safety zone for me to check Tonya out without having to actually date her. Renee agreed and the date was set.
We went to a movie, something starring Madonna, then to the park on a warm summer evening for a walk and a talk. Somewhere in the darkness of that park that night, Tonya decided I was not the man for her . . . and Renee and I became best friends.
Though I continued to resist a romantic relationsip with Renee for another 6 months or so, we spent all of our spare time together – between our classes, my two jobs, and her job and paper route. Before long, I couldn’t stand to spend a day without seeing her, and I started saying things like, “Who needs to sleep? I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” My college buddies thought I was crazy, but I didn’t care. Gradually all of those relationships have faded to memories, but Renee is still here.
According to my plan, I left for California dreams in September 1988, and cried my eyes out listening to Renee’s tapes of Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, as I drove with my car loaded with all of my earthly possessions to Los Angeles.
Within a matter of weeks – the number is still a point of dispute – I was telling Renee that I couldn’t live without her and she needed to come to California. She said that wasn’t going to happen unless we were married. It took me about 30 seconds to make that decision.
A few days ago, Renee said that she felt like I had been acting like other things were more important than her. She confessed to having crazy hormone activity which was obviously affecting her judgement, and she wasn’t thinking rationally, but she felt that way, nonetheless.
Sometimes our schedules run side by side for several days but don’t really intersect. Sometimes, I’m not as sensitive as I should be to the people who mean the most to me. Sometimes, I’m a bona-fide jerk.
So let me clarify this issue, here, among many of the people who are important to me, and to whom I devote much of the time I spend away from my family:
Renee is only as important to me as the blood that courses through my heart and provides sustenance to every part of my body. I can go a long time without thinking of how much it means to me, but in its absence, I would crumble into nothing.
If any of you, in the last 20 years or so, have ever thought of me with gratitude or admiration, or even thought I was a decent person with some positive traits, I want you to know that you owe that affection to Renee. She has been the foundation of the man I am. The shortcomings are my own, but anything positive is hers.
For me, Renee is the closest thing to Jesus in this world – not because she’s saintly, or perfect, or any sort of miracle-worker at all, but because she loves me without condition. That love makes me certain I can handle whatever life brings to bear.
With all of my heart, I love you, Renee.