This week, I had a phone meeting with a potential wedding photographer. She was kind and soft spoken and asked me a million questions about our wedding and our relationship and our life.
When I got off the phone, I told Shawn I always had a hard time describing how we met. He gave me a perplexed look and said "You were friends with my little brother. We met at his engagement party on New Years Eve…can't get much simpler"
That's Shawn. Concrete and solid and forever reasonable. Logical and even-keeled in a way that is sometimes maddening, when I just want him to be outraged in solidarity.
But for me, our "love story" is made up a million smaller but significant moments. We "met" at an engagement party, but we often marvel at how often we were in the same place at the same time with minimal interaction. There were countless parties where I was sober and he was decidedly not, serenading me with a spirited version of "Call Me Maybe". At the engagement party, I was heading down the stairs into the basement when he asked me what was going on down there. I quickly replied that it was just some people playing games, nothing too special. Shawn looked directly at me (something I have always found disarming) and told me that he thought I was pretty special. I muttered some nonsensical rebuttal and walked down the stairs with a rather violent accompanying eye roll, lamenting to my best friend that "Isaac's older brother was at it again". Yet somehow, by some combination of tequila and New Year's Eve magic, we shared our first kiss at midnight.
We didn't exchange numbers or make any future plans then. I breezily decided (contrary to my nature) that if he really wanted to see me, he'd figure out a way.
The next day, my universe disintegrated. My parents and daughter got on a plane to Mexico and before they had even landed, I was on my way to the ER with my grandfather. What followed was a nightmarish tangle of hours that trickled by in hospital waiting rooms and then at hospice. This gave me a lot of time to sit a talk with my aunts and eventually, when we had exhausted every other available topic, we began dissecting my dating life. As if on cue, my phone buzzed and I received a Facebook message from Shawn, thanking me for a fun New Year's Eve and giving me his phone number. I agonized over whether or not to respond, worried that it would be uncomfortable if it didn't work out. With the not-so-gentle prodding of my aunt- accompanied with the accurate assessment that my normal way of doing things was not exactly producing any results, I texted him.
Shawn became this gentle constant from that moment on. He acknowledged everything I was going through, offering support but keeping a respectful distance. I could have set a clock by his text messages and I came to rely on that daily buoy (turns out, he wasn't sure when I got out work so he waited until 5pm to text me so that I wouldn't be bothered during working hours--- see what I mean about that maddening yet admirable logic?).
We had our first date late in January, when I panicked at the mention of actual dinner reservations (my previous forays into the "adult" dating world involved "meeting up for drinks" and other noncommittal nonsense). We spent that entire date inventing background stories for other groups of people at the restaurant and giggling and ended the night with out first sober kiss, on the roof of a parking garage just as it was beginning to snow.
The next day, my best friend stated very bluntly that this was the man I was going to marry. I called her insane (probably along with some expletives) while driving to Shawn's for Chinese food and a movie, with the warning that I refused to wear "real pants" on a Sunday. Yoga pants, crab rangoons and a Boston Terrier who was a little bit uncertain about my arrival on the scene- and it seemed just as swathed in romance as that rooftop kiss.
A few weeks later, Shawn came to my parents house, with a bottle of Portuguese wine in hand, for dinner with my family. My aunt and mother pulled me aside in the kitchen and stage whispered "Not to freak you out or anything…but you're done. You're marrying him". I hadn't brought a boy home in years, so I allowed them their obscene optimism.
But it's not the falling in love part that is worth documenting. Falling in love is decidedly easy. It's the being in love part that floors me.
Being in love is kisses on the top of my head, it's about the first time spent with my daughter happening to correspond with valentine's day and Shawn bringing her her own box of chocolates (but asking me if it was ok first). It's about watching Shawn be enchanted by all the things about Grace that I take for granted like how she sings along to every song on the radio and having that amazement make me fall in love with them both, all over again. Being in love is looking forward to Sunday morning trips to Target and becoming known on a first-name basis at our favorite breakfast spot. It's learning how to act as a team...it's dissolving into angry hot tears face down in my pillow- assuming I'm alone but suddenly feeling a steady hand on my back. Being in love is rolling my eyes at his inability to navigate a grocery store, but appreciating that he remembered to pick up Grace's favorite kind of cereal without me having to ask. It's trying to remember to push the dresser drawers closed when I'm done with them, but failing almost every time. Being love is about saving the corniest jokes to tell me and delighting in making me laugh until tears stream down my face. It is about demonstrating self-restraint and not throwing something at him when his phone rings at 3 am due to some sort of donut emergency. Being in love is slow dancing around the kitchen after a very bad day while your five year old sings "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"….and then later, underneath the stars beside our fire pit, being promised forever, with the same dance moves and same background music. It's about a diamond engagement ring- not in its size or clarity, but that it was custom made to look just like my grandmother's and uses stones from her setting-- so that I carry her love with me always. It's about including Grace in that moment, presenting her with a bracelet of her very own and asking her if he could officially become her "other dad".
More than just love Shawn, I admire him. He is one of the very best people I have ever met and he pushes me to be better just in an attempt to keep up. I admire his roots, where he came from. I am so grateful for the way his family simply accepted Grace and I as part of his story, and then proceeded to fall in love with Grace automatically and without question. I am equally grateful that Shawn respects how much my relationship with my family has framed our world and how he has seamlessly fit himself into that equation.
I understand enough about the universe to know that the adrenaline of love is not the thing that marriages are made of, but I believe the respect and admiration I have for Shawn, for the partnership we have built, will be enough to carry us through the hard work and harder times of forging a life together and choosing each other every moment of every day.
So this is why a simple "we met at a party" and got engaged "at home, just the two of us" seems insufficient somehow.
There was a lot of time in my life spent convinced I would never marry. That I had somehow missed out and would just have to watch from the dock as my coupled friends sailed off into their sunsets. I was less concerned about that as I was never truly alone- always with a miniature hand grasping and tugging on mine. I didn't admit this out loud often because I knew how ridiculous and self-pitying it sounded, but it was my truth.
Now, my truth is different. Both of my hands (and my heart) are full. I've been given my happy ending. And I suppose it's not about the wedding I am frantically trying to plan or the "meet-cute" story my inner writer is desperately attempting to create. It is about the waking up every morning, filled with gratitude for the unexpected joy of being here, with him.
And then realizing that what woke me up was, in fact, his other-wordly loud snoring, a Boston Terrier trying to hijack my pillow as if she were human, and a lanky limbed 6 year old clambering into our bed and planting her bony knees directly into the small of my back.
Life is not at all perfect. But sometimes it feels pretty damn close.