It isn’t a coincidence that “Stand By Me” and “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” are two of my favorite songs, not necessarily for their musicality but for their meaning. Both speak of loyalty. I grew to love the second song sometime after I moved to Harrisburg and decided that my sister Andrea was one of the single-most important people in my life. The first song, I dedicate to my boyfriend Jon.
During the decade (123 months) that I have dated Jon (if I’ve calculated correctly), we’ve spent more than 1/3 of our relationship apart. 17 months have been spent on separate continents. 33 months in different cities. Two months or so in different states.
During those 123 months, I’ve been a deli worker, an undergraduate student, a high school English teacher, a freelance journalist, a grad student, and a college French instructor. Jon has studied politics, worked night shifts in warehouses, worked days in manufacturing, and sold craft beer for two different companies.
Of all people, Jon has endured me at my worst: when I’ve been huddled over tea while wrecked with the flu. When I called from France and forgot his birthday. When I come home from Pittsburgh after not having seen him in weeks and talk only about the work I should be doing. When I’m crying too hard to speak for reasons that I don’t even know. My moments of least triumph.
But Jon has also been there for my last ballet performance and my first academic conference. He was there in Trinidad when I learned I was white, in Belgium when I tasted my first lambic. Jon asked me to have a voice and was there when I gained it. He loved me with make-up with without it, with curves and without them. He taught me to find the beauty in otherness.
I owe so much of these lessons to him.
What astonishes me about the song “Stand By Me” is more than just this loyalty. It’s also the equality of it. The lyrics ask that one stand — there’s such a tallness and pride in this word — by — not behind or before — the other person. It’s a song of asking. It’s a song of vulnerability.
In the past 147 months, Jon and I have cooked together, grown together, laughed hysterically together, and grieved together. I look for Jon’s face in every crowd on every continent. I see Jon’s smile after getting off of every plane.
Jon’s taught me what it’s like to be accepted without deserving it. To be loved without having earned it. And the lesson of my life is to love that way in return.