It was 2002. I was a sophomore in college at Clemson University. Majoring in Elementary Education, partying with my sorority sisters, living a messy dorm-room-life, ordering pizza at 3am. I was a little chubby-ish (25 lbs heavier than I am now… see “ordering pizza at 3am” and “partying” – oh, and I also had an attractive walking boot on my left foot due to a stress fracture…) – but I was living life as a college girl, truly single for the first time in years, and a relationship was not on my list of to-dos.
He was a senior in college at the University of South Carolina-Aiken. He was two months away from graduating, and came up to Clemson to visit his friend Clay (who happened to be dating my older sister).
It was a Friday night.
My parents were in town for a big football weekend. We were part of a crowd at a place called Explorers for a big oyster roast. It sounds so cheesy, and so cliché, but I will honestly never forget the first time I saw him. He had his hat on backwards. Big brown eyes. Eyelashes for days.
We talked briefly… Interestingly enough, Clay was meeting my parents for the first time. T was there by happenstance, and was introduced to us rather nonchalantly. I remember thinking he was incredibly cute, but, as I said earlier, I was not in the mood for boys.
Fast forward to the next day. Football Saturday. The plan was to tailgate in front of my sister’s apartment complex, The Ridge, right across from Bowman Field. I may or may not have put a little extra effort into my appearance and wardrobe choice, even though I swore boys weren’t on my radar. Though, looking cute with a big black boot on your foot isn’t an easy feat.
I remember hoping he’d join us at the tailgate. I was so excited when I saw the dimples again! We talked, and maybe flirted a little bit. I mentioned to Clay that I thought his friend was cute.
Skip ahead to the post-football-game-fun and somehow we all ended up at Clay’s apartment. T and I spent quite a long time on the front porch… talking… flirting… me sorta kinda trying not to be seduced by the brown-eye-long-lashes-dimples combo. But I eventually gave in… especially when he asked me if he could kiss me.
I was a goner.
There was more talking, laughing, kissing. Totally innocent, nothing inappropriate or 50-Shades-of-Grey-ish.
And then he called me Kristen.
It was funny, actually. I, jokingly and out of nowhere said, “So, what’s my name?”
When he paused, I thought – oh crap – he’s already forgotten.
He guessed Kristen. I was – I don’t know – disappointed? He was, too. But, I laughed it off, figuring he didn’t even live in town, this was just an innocent night of flirting and kissing, no big deal.
When my friend Brooke and I left the apartment, I remember her telling me, “Jessie, he doesn’t even live here. Don’t get your hopes up!” She wasn’t being mean… just realistic. She knew me – knew how my feelings get the best of me – knew that I didn’t know how to dip my toes in the water, only how to dive in head first.
The next morning – er, early afternoon (it was a late night) – Brooke and I were enjoying Zaxby’s, lying in our dorm room beds, when my phone rang. It was my sister, asking me to come over to Clay’s apartment before T left to go back home. I decided to give it a go, just to see if there was any chemistry that existed now that we weren’t caught up in the moment of the 2am moonlight.
And there was.
There was something about that backwards hat and those big brown eyes.
He asked for my number, and wrote it in pencil on the torn off corner of a piece of newspaper.
That was Sunday afternoon.
I didn’t hear from him that night.
Or all day Monday.
Or Monday night.
Or all day Tuesday.
I started to get mad at myself for even considering that this could turn into something. Like Brooke had told me, he lived 3 hours away!
But then, he called.
It was a cold-ish, rainy Tuesday night.
We talked for almost three hours. I don’t even remember what we talked about. We didn’t even care. Looking back, I now know that neither of us were looking for someone or even wanted to get into anything serious. He had just recently gotten out of a very long relationship and I was learning what it meant to be single. But it was like we couldn’t help it. Something was just… there.
He told me he was going to come back into town for the NC State football game with his friend Charlie. I think my heart skipped a beat. I was so excited, but equally nervous. Would the attraction still be there? Would we still have that chemistry?
Would he remember my name?
This is where it gets a little scary – or maybe I’m being dramatic. But, my friend Brooke and I were at the football game, waiting around for T to show up. We were standing outside the stadium, and I was smoking a cigarette. Disgusting, yes. Like many college-aged girls, I dabbled in this disgusting habit, but it was more of a social, what-the-heck kind of habit rather than an I-have-to-have-one-addiction. The way T tells the story is that when he spotted us, and saw me smoking, he was thisclose to walking away and I immediately became a lot less attractive. Smoking disgusted him. His heart dropped.
And my heart drops when I think about how I could’ve lost it all in that one moment.
But, he decided to give me the benefit of the doubt. (Thank goodness!)
We had yet another awesome weekend, with hours of conversation, instant chemistry, and everyone remembered everyone’s name.
He may or may not have spent the night in my dorm room. (Again, totally innocent!) He may or may not have had to pee in a Mountain Dew bottle in the middle of the night because we were too scared he’d get caught if he went out to the hallway bathroom. He may or may not have had to jump out of the window in the morning to avoid the front desk get-caught-walk-of-shame.
Again, may or may not have.
From this point forward, there were lots of weekend visits between us. Me traveling to him, him to me. Our very first official date was dinner at a Chinese restaurant (Jade of China) and the movies (Jackass… classy, I know).
A relationship that was intended to start slowly took off with warp speed. There was no denying what was between us. All day long I’d look forward to our nighttime phone conversations. This was before everyone in the world had cell phones. He did not. So, we only talked once per day, at night, right before we went to bed. All day long I’d think about things I’d want to tell him, share with him, ask him. I’d always have little lists, notes scribbled on various post-its so that I wouldn’t forget all the things I wanted to talk to him about when my phone finally rang.
And I remember the exact minute I realized I loved him.
We were on the phone…
T: “Have you looked at the moon tonight? It’s awesome!”
Me, lying in bed: “No, I haven’t…”
T: “Go look at it!”
Me: “Ok” --- “Wow!”
T: “You’re not really looking, are you…”
Me, caught: “Nope, ok, I’ll get out of bed and really look...” --- walk over to the window, look at the moon, which looks great and all, but…well…looks just like a plain old moon to me. “It is pretty!”
T: “Look down.”
I look down, and there he is, standing in front of my window.
And in that moment, I fell in love.
He had driven up to surprise me (and gotten two speeding tickets on the way).
And that night, he told me I was beautiful for the first time.
For the first time in my life, I FELT beautiful.
And two months later, on a December night, after we’d finished watching his favorite movie of all time (Shawshank Redemption) and scraped the bottom of our Chinese takeout containers, he finally told me he loved me.
We spent the next two and a half years long distance. We didn’t know any better, so I think that’s why it worked for us. We spent a lot of money on gas, put a lot of miles on our cars. But we were happy. So happy. Right before my Senior year, he got a job offer from Wake Forest, and took it. We were already long distance, so it really didn’t matter.
During my last day as a student teacher, he spent hours at my apartment, packing my things. As soon as I bid Pendleton Elementary adieu, with both of our cars full of my life, we drove the all-too-familiar-drive to Winston Salem and moved me into my own apartment. I went back to Clemson for my graduation, of course, but we wanted to be in the same town as soon as we could. I didn’t care that I didn’t have a job yet. I wanted to know what it was like to be able to drive 5 minutes to see him, rather than 3 hours. I wanted to know what it was like to run errands together, grab a quick bite to eat, go to the grocery store, make spontaneous plans.
What was it like? There are no words.
There’s a simple, somewhat unimportant memory that sticks out. We were hanging out at his apartment, watching tv, on a random Thursday night. It was getting late, and I was just about to drive back to my apartment to go to bed. And he said, “I want some donuts.” “Me too!” I said.
So we went out, in the pouring down rain, and got a dozen donuts and a box full of donut holes. And I remember thinking it was so fun to be able to live in the same town and do things like that whenever we wanted.
I got a summer job as a gymnastics coach, and found a teaching job at a great school. I had broken pretty much every rule I’d ever established for my independent, headstrong, stubborn self and followed a boy, moving to a town where I knew no one but him.
And I was loving every minute of it.
I won’t document the ins and outs of the rest of our relationship. As I said in the beginning, we’ve been together for almost 10 years now… which is a lot to try to blog about!
But there are a few highlights from our lives together…
The time he surprised me by taking me out on a canoe and giving me a graduation gift – a cruise! (No need to mention the fact that I thought he was going to propose then, right?)
Our bike rides around Salem Lake, our first child Bailey J, lots of beach trips, tailgating and college football games, playing softball together, many rounds of competitive putt-putt, movie theatre dates, running and working out together, me getting baptized, snorkeling, trips to Atlanta and Braves games, skiing, him using my third grade students to propose to me in my classrooms, buying our first house together, getting married on Trunk Bay in St. John, honeymooning in Jamaica, celebrating our first anniversary in Cabo, months spent trying to get pregnant, getting pregnant, meeting our daughter, and now our adventures as a family of three…
I know our love story has only just begun. I envision a house full of kids, and a happily chaotic life as husband and wife, dad and mom. I’m so incredibly fortunate to have married my absolute best friend, my soul mate, my favorite person on the planet.
It’s not always easy… but the things in life worth having never are.
To be continued…