Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Valentine Story

Today marks the tenth anniversary of my first date with Chris. Ten years ago today I waited in giddy anticipation for my friend, the one I had shared so many late night college talks with, to pick me up from a cinder-walled dorm room and whisk me away for a romantic Valentines date.

We had known each other for almost two years and had become good friends; spending time together over the summer between semesters and working together on the college newspaper. What began as hanging out together in groups of mutual friends became long evening talks on the Biltmore wall overlooking Butterfly beach, just the two of us, sitting long into the night while the waves crashed out of sight below us and provided the background to conversations about life, love (or lack thereof), the future and other silliness that I can't now remember. In a story much like many others at our little Christian college (where most of the girls joked about going to get their Mrs. degree), friendship grew into something more, culminating in a "DTR" (define the relationship) talk over milkshakes at a Carrows downtown. We were new to this dating business and nervous, worried about ruining what had become a familiar and comfortable friendship.

So it was with slight unease and nervous excitement that I waited for Chris that night. I remember that feeling so well, though many of the other details have been lost. I knew whatever happened, things were changing, and I've never been great with change.

As I hopped into his car we exchanged shy smiles. We drove the familiar route to the beach with the heat on, mitigating the California version of a cold winter's evening. Chris had the trunk packed with picnic blankets and an assortment of goodies including warm wassail and I was impressed by his thoughtfulness and planning. After getting everything arranged on the beach he announced that he had to go get one thing and would be back in about 10 minutes. He had ordered dinner at a nice Italian restaurant up the road and wanted to bring it back piping hot. I was a tad disappointed to be left alone on the beach for even a few minutes, but the backdrop was beautiful as the sun began to set so I waited alone with my thoughts for him to return with the food.

a beach sunset

As I sat there watching the ocean waves chase one another back and forth across the sand, I felt happy and hopeful. I waved to a woman walking her little terrier by the water and was content with my thoughts, all the while periodically looking out for Chris to come back with dinner. The sun sank lower in the sky, surrounding everything with a pink glow. The air felt a little colder and my head turned with increasing frequency in the direction of the road, looking out for the familiar black car. The sun dropped lower still and the woman with the dog walked back up the beach nodding to me again. I caught her shaking her head slightly as she walked away and realized what I must look like to her, sitting alone with a picnic at the beach on Valentine's Day. I was getting worried now, and feeling a little sorry for myself to boot.

It was around this time that Chris returned, chagrined and blushing, boxes of food in hand. Apparently his order had been lost and in the midst of the Valentines rush he waited quite a while for it them to re-make it. We dug into the food as the sun slipped away beyond the horizon, and sat together under a quilt as we watched the last pink clouds fade into the indigo of night. As we packed the car to head back to campus, any nervousness I felt had dissipated with the clouds and I returned back to my dorm with a feeling of assurance that this was all going to work out. In fact, I told my stunned friends later that night that I was pretty sure Chris was the guy I would marry. Naive as that statement was, and as influenced as we probably were by the Christian college dating ethos (which has many, many flaws), eight and half years later I'm still absolutely sure that we made the right decision.

Us after our honeymoon in 2003, wearing more red than anyone should - ever.
Looking back, I can see how this first date was the perfect beginning to our almost nine years of marriage. As much as we try to plan our lives down to the last detail, unexpected situations arise that throw our plans off course. In a marriage as in life, I've found that our expectations of one another can be unrealistic, influenced by books or movies or a culture that flaunts stories of fairytale romance and happy endings. The fact that our picture perfect picnic had a hiccup was a perfect precursor to life together as flawed human beings doing our best to love one another in the midst of and in spite of those flaws. I would much rather have the reality that brings us closer together through the hurdles than the fantasy that denies such hurdles exist. And of course I am learning that the reality is the fantasy if we open our eyes to the miracle that is our choice to love another person through it all - the good the bad and the in between.

Our first Valentines Day as husband and wife, February 2004
Happy Valentine's day to my love, and to all our family and friends! Hope you enjoyed hearing a bit of our story :)


meg said...

Oh what a great story! I loved reading and getting to know such a sweet couple a little bit better. I think you two are a perfect match!

Katherine Willis Pershey said...

This is lovely. It reminds me of the time I waited on the beach for Ben, in Cape Cod, before our first anniversary. He thought he was walking on a path that circled around... It didn't. By the time someone drove him back, I was sunburned and furious, and meanwhile he had blisters from walking so far! A little grain of sand stuck in my engagement ring and to be honest, that's one of the things I miss most about my engagement ring (I have a replica replacement). An imperfect memory we actually enjoy remembering, because we have come SO FAR since then.

Sorry to write a book. But this is lovely. And I wish, again, that we lived in the same place. :)

Solange, Nik and Caitlin said...

Such a sweet story :)

Suzy Home Made said...

Congrats! I love all of your pictures :-)