Time for love
Couple finds each other more than 35 years after teenage crush
She didn’t say anything, but just hoped — that she’d catch sight of him in the hallways, that he’d glance her way, that he’d somehow learn her name and say something heart-fluttery like “Hi, Nina.”
It didn’t happen, though.
Not because of any intentional unkindness, not wanting to make the crush more crushing, but because it was high school. She was FHA, he was FFA. She was quiet, he was rowdy. And he was a year older, which makes a difference in the high school hierarchy.
“Oh, I knew who the Davids were, I knew of her brothers, but probably not Nina,” Bill admitted just the other day, and only because of everything that’s happened since did it not sting.
But decades passed and with them the spun-sugar feelings of teenage infatuation. Life, as it does, happened, with Nina’s and Bill’s trajectories arcing out from Montrose on divergent, faraway paths. He couldn’t have thought of her, and she stopped thinking about him.
And then one day…
That’s how this story really begins, not with dramatic stage lighting and a velvet curtain rising, not with conflagrations of fireworks, but one day several years ago when the phone rang: “Hi, Nina.”
This is Bill Ayers, he said, would she like to get together for a drink?
The 37 intervening years fluttered away like scraps of tissue paper and Nina David agreed that yes, she would like to get together with Bill Ayers.
So that’s what they did, but perhaps this is getting ahead of the story.
It started, as it has continued, in Montrose, where both of them grew up, Nina in a family of six children and Bill with his brother. They both attended Montrose Junior High School, now Columbine Middle School, which is where Nina first noticed Bill. She thought he was cute. She liked his energetic attitude.
Montrose back in the day was a small town, or what felt like a small town, where everybody knew everybody else, or at least knew of them. Circles overlapped and blended, though perhaps not as much as Nina might have liked. They moved on to Montrose High School.
“During that time you’d be going to this party, that party, just your typical teenage stuff,” Bill explained. He had girlfriends off and on, nothing really serious, but never the shy blonde girl in the class below his.
“I never really dated in high school,” Nina said. “I was always insecure about my weight.”
She was, however, nominated for FFA sweetheart one year, and even though she didn’t win it was flattering to be nominated. But still Bill wasn’t aware of her.
Then came the Sadie Hawkins dance — maybe she was a sophomore and he was a junior? — and she decided that was it, she was going to take charge and take action. She paced and fretted and then picked up the phone, dialing the Ayers’ number.
“Hello?” Bill’s mom answered.
“Is Bill there?” Nina asked.
“Who’s calling?” she said, and Nina told her. She went to get him.
It was too much. What would she say? How would she get the words out? What if he said no, or worse, “Who is this?”
She hung up before he got to the phone.
And that was it. He graduated in 1977 and married his high school girlfriend a year later, around the time Nina graduated. He and his first wife were married for 14 years and had three children together. Nina worked in Montrose for two years, then moved to Houston to help her sister after she had a premature baby.
Bill got divorced, a devastation that ended up happening one more time. Nina met a man when she was 40, married him at 42 and was divorced a year later when he took up with another woman. Their hearts were a little battered, a little worse for wear, but though they didn’t realize it, still open.
Nina lived in Texas for 29 years and never knew that for some of the 25 years Bill lived there, too, he was a mere 120 miles away. She moved back to Montrose in 2009 after talking with her mom on the phone and recognizing something wasn’t right. Her mother has since been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Meanwhile, Bill worked around the country and around the world as a loom operator and building scaffolding. A constant, though, were his regular trips back to Montrose to do auctions with Jim Flowers at Jim’s Auction Service.
In 2012, when he was living in Wells, Texas, he flew back to Montrose for five or six days for an auction and Nina’s friend Karen Sutton, whom he also knew, mentioned, “Oh, Nina’s back in town.”
Through osmosis, through Montrose still being a small town at heart, through some sort of adult intuition that thankfully supersedes teenage self-absorption, he knew she meant Nina David. However, he was in town so briefly he didn’t call her.
A few months later, in February 2013, he was back in Montrose for two weeks and this time Karen said directly, “Nina wants to see you.”
Nina admitted that she was curious, that she wondered whether he was still the same rowdy, hard-working guy she remembered from high school. How had time changed him? Would he recognize her?
Karen gave him Nina’s number and on the next-to-last day of his visit, he dialed: “Hi, Nina, this is Bill Ayers.”
Did she have time that night to meet at the RnR Sports Bar? She did, and they talked for hours.
It’s funny, because they met as old friends, even though they never really had been. They’d never even talked before. But that night, they could talk about anything, and they did.
The next day, Bill went back to Texas, and they talked almost every day on the phone. Months passed, they saw each other occasionally when Bill was in Montrose, they both admitted they had become best friends.
In the interim, the company Bill was working for transferred him to Cheyenne, Wyoming, but then in September 2014 he was told he would be transferred back to Texas. So, on his drive back to Houston, just after getting back on Interstate 25 after an oil change in Wellington, he saw a sign for I-76 that said “Grand Junction.”
It wasn’t just a sign, he figured, but a sign. I’m not going back to Houston, he decided. Instead, he pulled over and dialed Nina: “How would you feel about a visitor?” he asked.
“I’d love it!” she replied.
Almost at her house, he stopped at City Market in Montrose and bought two bouquets — one for Nina and one for Karen Sutton, who had planted the richly blossoming seed.
And like that, they were a couple, going out to dinner, visiting family, just spending quiet evenings together watching TV.
It was barely five months later, a Sunday morning the day after celebrating Nina’s mother’s 80th birthday, that Bill got up at 4 a.m. to head to work as a baggage handler at Montrose Regional Airport. He kissed her good-bye and got a text from her brother several hours later: We’re taking Nina to the hospital.
Because nobody knew how serious it was, he finished his shift and got to Montrose Memorial Hospital that evening. She was in the ICU.
“My back had been hurting,” Nina explained, “but I’d had so many back surgeries over the years that I didn’t think much of it.”
It was a kidney infection so mystifying that for a week and a half no antibiotic would touch it. Nina got sicker and sicker, and Bill slept in a chair beside her. A day into her hospital stay, around midnight, doctors asked Bill to leave the room so they could put her on a ventilator.
They loved each other, they said it all the time, but right then Bill knew he couldn’t live without her.
“I said if this ol’ girl makes it through, I’m going to marry her,” he remembered.
But on day 10 in the ICU, doctors informed Bill and Nina’s family that she wasn’t getting better. The best thing to do would be to take the ventilator out and see how she responded.
Bill still cries when he remembers that night.
“We didn’t think she was going to make it,” he said. “I spent the night with her, just held her hand, and the next morning, 5 or 6, she wakes up.”
“They found the right antibiotic,” Nina added.
“The word of prayer was answered,” Bill said. “Cross my heart, hope to die.”
During those 10 awful days, none of which she remembers, when she would fight the ventilator or thrash in pain, all it took was Bill’s voice to calm her down.
All it took was the sound of his voice.
Five months later, on July 3, 2015, under a bluebird sky, two of Nina’s brothers escorted her down a grassy path on her family’s Lake City land toward the man she loved. She was dressed in white satin with a crown of flowers on her short hair. He was tidy in a plaid button-down and khakis.
“Nina,” he told her, “there’s so many things that’s so beautiful about you.”
But the most important, he said, was that he loves her and she loves him.
They’ll walk this world hand-in-hand, she told him, and never need to be alone again.
Now, side-by-side on the couch in their comfortable living room, the dog capering around their ankles, the cat slinking around nearby, he holds her hand and she holds his.
“You’re the best thing that’s happened in my life,” he told her.
“Me, too,” she replied.
He’s a workaholic Type A and she’s a calm Type B. She proposes an impulsive picnic anywhere down the road and he grabs the keys. They balance each other.
“We can sit and talk, or sit and not talk and know what each other is thinking,” Nina said.
Bill never leaves the house without giving her a kiss, “because you never know in life, do you? Nothing is a given so you have to appreciate every day.”
They’re not silly kids and haven’t been for a while. That first pink blush of love is more a mature, rich glow of summer rose, made deeper for the lives they lived separately and the life they now live together.
But still the butterflies flutter, because the boy she had a crush on dialed her number.