I can pinpoint the hour and minute I fell in love with Gabe. We’d been dating only a short time, and it was easy and comfortable and SO MUCH fun. Still, I didn’t want a serious relationship with anyone because I was still processing the end of my marriage to my ex-husband Billy, and everything that went along with that. A relationship with Gabe was further complicated by the fact that we’d been friends for nearly fifteen years. Loving anyone felt risky, and loving Gabe especially so. To avoid that, I was moving slowly. If this new relationship got too messy and tangled and hard I wanted to be able to make a quick, safe exit.
Falling wildly in love with Gabe wasn’t the plan, but I couldn’t help myself. He gave me chickens.
In the event chickens are not the direct route to your heart, let me explain.
Growing up, I spent nearly a month each summer on my grandparents’ ranch. Those dry, hot days were filled with Nancy Drew novels on the side porch and the muffled murmurs of grown-ups talking late into the night on the back patio. When I wasn’t reading or eavesdropping, I was in the fields with the horses or the pen with the goats, usually (and inexplicably) barefoot and in a bathing suit. The summer I turned twelve, Mimi gave my sister and me each a chicken. There had always been a flock of chickens on the ranch, but these two hens belonged to us. I named mine MTV (yes—really), and loved it instantly. Because I carried MTV with me everywhere (on my hip, as I later would my babies), she became quite tame. She came when I called, cooing and clucking, and hopped eagerly into my lap. Watching, Mimi told me her mother used to send away for exotic eggs and hatch them in a warming drawer, and had kept chickens as pets all her life. Chickens were in my blood.
My love for chickens started on the ranch, but never developed further. It didn’t seem at all practical in my adult life. I had a busy corporate job, three little babies and lived in a neighborhood with a swim team, for goodness sake. Who lives that life and keeps livestock? Still, every year I’d fall in love with the baby chicks at the state fair and spend time on Pinterest researching elaborate coop plans. Chickens, like beach houses and Ryan Gosling, were a favorite daydream.
As the urban chicken movement began to take shape, I’d occasionally think about keeping chickens more seriously. I reasoned that they were wonderful pets and could teach the kids about where food comes from without lifelong scarring or spurring them to become vegetarians. Still, I was always overwhelmed by the logistics of it all though. Researching permits, setting up a coop, feeding and watering every day for the up to ten years a chicken could live? Much too much.
I think it was over an early dinner date that I told Gabe the story of MTV and how I loved her like normal little girls loved their kittens (note that even on a date I couldn’t pretend to be normal). He asked why I didn’t have chickens now, and I explained the chicken logistics problem. Our conversation meandered onto other topics, and I soon forgot about it altogether.
A couple of weeks later, Gabe called and said he had a surprise for me. He explained that he’d found me two chickens and a coop. He was calling to make sure I wanted them before arranging to pick them up.
I’m not good at surprises, and my anxiety kicked into overdrive. What kind of chickens? What did that even matter—I know nothing about chickens, not really. What did they eat? Where would we put the coop? Could I really spend the next 10 years caring for these birds when I couldn’t be counted on to reliably schedule dentist appointments for my children? Speaking of the children, what if the chickens were mean? This felt like a gift that involved a lot of work and commitment and really, who has the time for that? It was a hard no.
I realized Gabe was still talking. “I know you’re worried about logistics, so I’ve saved the best part for last. I am renting you these chickens. We will pick them up, with their coop and food and the number for a 24-hour chicken care hotline. I’ll help you set everything up. You and the kids can keep them for as long as you like. The minute these chickens feel overwhelming, we’ll return them.”
Temporary chickens? Chickens I can love with no responsibility (just like MTV when I was 12)? Someone to help me figure out the things I didn’t know? I was thrilled and all in.
We hit the highway in Gabe’s old pick-up the next weekend, headed to get our girls. When we arrived, we talked with the farmer. He asked how often I wanted eggs, and how old the kids were. He let me choose my hens, making sure they were soft and tame and could be hauled around on a hip. Gabe took care of all the logistics, loading the coop and confirming the hotline number (I know—I didn’t believe it was a thing either, but it’s the new millennium, people).
Riding home next to that tall handsome guy, with the hens clucking and cooing happily in the coop behind us, I was the happiest I’d been in a long time. Gabe listened to what I wanted and knew what I needed, and delivered on both. He’d heard and seen me, and shown up next to me. It’s a skill he’s demonstrated often since then, but that first time is still my favorite. That was when I knew it was safe to love him.
This post originally appeared on This Life In Progress. It has been reprinted with permission.