I get asked a lot, "So how did you two meet?" Usually this question is asked upon finding out about the age difference between my husband and I in an attempt to rationalize a way in which our relationship could have been innocent and benign. While it is true, our age difference is large, especially given the age when we met, there are multiple factors that caused our unconventional relationship to be benign. One of these factors being that we grew up in a culture where age didn't matter, every age of a student was able to mingle with one another and no one batted an eye. Every love story has a twist, and ours just happened to be our ages.
So, how did we meet? We usually answer with, "At church." Its quick, honest, and easier than explaining how our relationship came to be and progressed. Many relationships begin on a happy, fairytale-like note. Ours, simply put, was the opposite. On the night we met, my husband was about to lose a relationship that he'd dedicated himself to for nearly a decade. I watched from the little church kitchen as he spoke with our pastor, informing him that he couldn't stay and have a pre-Thanksgiving dinner with us, because he had to go and have Thanksgiving with a friend's family. I was elbow deep in mixing stuffing for the next day as he made his exit.
The weeks went by and I noticed his presence more. He started coming to extra activities like history study. I began running into him at the grocery store too. I was just gutsy enough (or perhaps crazy) to run up to him and say, "Hi." while wearing a purple santa hat with a jingle bell attached to the end during one such occasion. He seemed different than he had the day before Thanksgiving, but I couldn't place my finger on how. Maybe a bit gloomier, in his self-proclaimed "Eeyore" sense. We talked a bit, mostly small talk, after church and history study sometimes. I was cautious because I didn't really trust many men.
I watched him interact with people, who had nothing to offer him, and waited to see him slip. I was waiting for him to lash out, or be disrespectful and take advantage. He never did. He was different from everything that I was used to. One day, after church in the late spring, I asked him if I could talk to him about something important. We stood outside, under the shade of one of the trees that were planted between the side-walk and the parking lot. It was there that I made one of the biggest decisions of my life.
As I spoke, I shook, and my knees were a little wobbly. He was wide-eyed, motioning me to sit down in the bed of his truck. I took a chance and trusted him. I told him everything. That I'd been starving myself, that I needed help, that there were people who had hurt me, and that I didn't know what to do. We sat there and talked until dark. In the weeks to come, we talked every time we saw each other. He gave me a BMI formula that I could easily use whenever I wanted, a book to begin healing, and a listening ear. He nursed me back to health by persuading me to eat a handful of raisins each time we visited.
He told me that I didn't deserve to be treated the way I had been by other men. He showed me how I should be treated, and protected my reputation while we were together by always making sure we were in public, and never engaging in physical contact. He started telling me about his relationship that had ended the November before. I soaked everything up and looked forward to each time we talked. Then, one day, he said he had to leave early because he had a date. I tried to act happy for him and remind myself that we were and couldn't be anything more than friends.
As I walked home with tears in my eyes, I was forced to confront the reality that I had let him in, because he was the only one who didn't force me to, and now I might be losing him to someone else. I withdrew a bit, but we still talked. He went on a few more dates and I was preparing my "I'm happy for you" speech. All of a sudden he stopped talking about her, or what they'd been up to. He got quieter and I asked him what was wrong. I have never been so happy to hear, "We broke up." in my entire life. Admittedly, I felt guilty about being happy to learn of this development, but he seemed to be unusually at peace with it.
Not long after this, I was rushed to the hospital with a severe allergic reaction that affected my breathing. I begged for someone to call him on the way there. I thought I was going to die and I wanted to talk to him. I didn't know what I was going to say until the words tumbled out of my mouth, "I'm sorry I didn't tell you before. I love you." He paused and said, "I love you too." before we hung up. He arrived at the hospital before we did. We didn't talk about what had happened or what we had said for a while. Eventually, I told him that I had meant what I said. He said that he had too. We agreed our situation was unusual and despite our efforts to avoid it, we had fallen in love. We began dating on my next birthday, with blessings from our families. I started college and he walked me to class my first day and told me that I would do great. He helped me move into my own apartment and celebrated with me when I got my first full-time job.
Then one day, just after I got off work, he told me he really wanted to go to a park we visited quite often. I told him I was kind of hungry, but he insisted on going right away. I don't know what I suspected him of doing at the time, but I was quite sure he'd lost his mind. I dug a package of crackers out of my truck and agreed to accompany him on this abrupt trip to the park, as long as he would let me eat on the way. We pulled in and he told me he wanted to go for a walk. I grabbed the crackers to take with me and informed him that, as usual, his shoes were untied. He told me, "That's okay." and continued walking. I was puzzled, but still hungry, so I shrugged and continued eating the crackers, and I trailed behind him. We walked in circles (yes, actual circles) around the park for a decent amount of time and then he abruptly stopped and tied his shoe. We were on the very top of a hill with the sunset behind us. I, with a mouth full of crackers, asked him why he was fixing his shoe now when I had told him about it when we got out of the car.
"So I can do this!" he replied, while happily reaching into his pocket. I watched as he tugged at the obviously stuck object in his pocket. How I didn't realize what he was doing, I will never know. He finally freed the object, a little box, from his pocket and opened it to show me. I believe my exact words, complete with cracker bits falling out of my mouth, were, "Oh my gosh, you are proposing right now?" followed quickly by, "Wait, let me swallow, okay?" He blinked and tried to hide his smile, but it tugged at the corner of his lip. I was in shock, and now very mad at myself for skipping lunch that day because this would be forever remembered at the time he tried to propose while I was eating crackers. "Okay, I'm ready!" I told him.
He opened the box and the ring fell out. I closed my eyes so it would still be a surprise and picked it up to give it back to him and he frowned, not realize it had fallen out. I gingerly got down on my knees, in a dress, and waited for him to put it back and show me again. He decided it was time to start over, so he put the ring in the box and back into his pocket and tried the whole thing over again. The ring was a beautiful silver-colored base with two sapphires, because I wanted a stone to match his eyes, and a diamond in the middle. I looked at it and grinned, forgetting to tell him yes, because I thought it was kind of obvious. He said, "You didn't have to kneel too." I told him I didn't want him to be below me, I wanted to be on the same level. Our entire relationship had been based off of us being on the same level, so it seemed fitting and appropriate.
We headed back to the car, all the while he joked about the crackers, and I stared at my new engagement ring. We called family and friends to tell them the news and then went grocery shopping (because really, what is more romantic after a proposal than grocery shopping?). We began making preparations for our wedding and picked a date less than a year out. I had already purchased the dress on a "just for fun" school break. The first one I tried on happened to be my favorite, and I couldn't bear to part with it. We started premarital counseling, choosing wedding colors and our wedding party. We hired a photographer and a baker to make the cake. We chose a playlist for the wedding and selected the song that we would use for our first dance as a married couple. Everything came together, all we had to do was await the day.
We went to the court-house and got the wedding license a couple of days before the wedding. We had small bachelor and bachelorette parties consisting of going to the movies and going to Walmart to buy bubble wands to play with. Honestly, it was the best bachelorette party ever! That night, the day before the wedding, we swapped apartments so that I could unpack my things and be moved in for when we came home. We decided to not see each other the day of the wedding until the ceremony began. I missed him the entire day. I got ready with my bridesmaids in the section of the church that had been deemed "man free" with the exception of our pastor. The excitement could be felt as we were told it was nearly time to go, and I put the finishing touches on my makeup.
Walking down the aisle felt weird, kind of like being in a dream. Everyone kept asking me if I was nervous, but I wasn't. We had waited to get married for what felt like an eternity, and now that it was finally happening, I felt like the world was falling into place. I remember his face as my father walked me down the aisle, we were finally done waiting and it was sinking in for the both of us. The ceremony went quickly and we were pronounced man and wife. I can only think of a few times in my life that I felt like I was doing exactly what I was meant to, and this was one of them. We walked towards our future together and away from the pain of the past, firm in the belief and knowledge that if we could take the past on together, we could handle what the future would bring us.