Humor by Mark Bazer

I don't believe in most magic, and by magic, I include fate, miracles, astrology, time travel and several major metropolitan light-rock stations.

But I do believe in love at first sight.

College, fall of freshman year, can be a lonely place. For me, it was 1991. One night, I sat down by myself at the cafeteria and arranged my bowls of Cocoa Puffs in such a way I could eat from all three at once. I looked pathetic enough that a girl I sorta, kinda knew took pity and called me over.

I sat down next to her, and across from a girl named Gina. And then immediately proceeded to bump my feet against Gina's under the table.

"Are you trying to play footsie?" she asked.

That's all it took. I fell in love -- not the common "I'm attracted to her and would like to see if our personalities are compatible, preferably after feeling her up" kind of love, but the real and true "I know, at some mysterious, deep level, that this is the one person in the whole universe for whom I was meant, and she for me" kind.

We talked for 10 minutes, mainly about how we were both adamant about not joining the Greek system that our friends had committed themselves to (and to which, yes, I would become a part of two months later).

But the topic didn't matter, beyond the fact that I didn't say anything stupid. What mattered was everything else -- her smile, generous and a little coy; her quick mind and unapologetic girlishness; her curly hair and pudgy cheeks and elegant nose.

That night I must have re-enacted in my mind our conversation 1,000 times. Then I performed the conversation for a friend -- both ends of it, complete with costume changes. Then, together, he and I plotted my next move, at some point along the way dubbing the girl I had fallen in love with "Destiny."

The problem with love at first sight is that it doesn't necessarily work both ways. I spent the night after meeting Destiny thinking -- obsessing -- only about her; she, I'd later find out, didn't go through such agony. Even though I, too, have an elegant nose.

But I persisted/borderline stalked.

My encounters on campus with Destiny (usually plotted by me based on knowledge of her schedule) were, without fail, unfulfilling. They'd start out enthusiastic ("Hi!," "Hi!"), segue into me making some pointless observation ("Look how heavy my art-history textbook is!") and then enter the 100-percent awkward, too-long finish ("OK, then." "OK." "All right." "Well, I'll see you." "Yep.")

One day I was at the magazine rack at Barnes & Noble -- and she approached me. It would have been the most wonderful moment of my life, save for the fact I was looking at topless photos of Alyssa Milano. I tried to play it off as childhood pop-culture fascination: "Check it out, it's Alyssa Milano from 'Who's the Boss?'" Then, we proceeded to have an awkward conversation.

Still, I always left our encounters with a feeling of optimism. The awkwardness, the fact we let the conversations carry on a bit too long, was proof there was something there, something between us -- and that she knew it, too.

Our story is a good deal longer -- more awkward encounters, a couple of dates at the end of college in which I blocked off a 30-minute period in each to proclaim my everlasting love. And then, somehow, post-college, there were letters (real U.S. Postal Service letters, not e-mails).

She never returned mine fast enough. But the days when a new letter came, well, there was nothing in my life that could compare. We got to know each other through the letters. We still have them. Of course, I kept hers. But she saved mine, too. We now read them to each other every Wednesday night. No, no, that's a joke.

The letters led to visits, which led to our lives together. Ten years into marriage, I don't think about "our beginnings" too often, and I think about the silly name "Destiny" even less.

But Gina gave birth to our second child last week, giving me both another person to fall in love with at first sight and reason to look back.

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