Wednesday, June 07, 2006


So Daddymatic isn't sold separately this time. I'm back, and the big DM agreed to come with me this time. It's our wedding anniversary today, so we decided to each write a version of the same story and post them. His is better, so mine goes first. Enjoy. It's way too frigging long for a post, but think of it as my way of making up for lost time. (oh, and yeah, the pic is a digital picture of our wedding photo, because I'm too cheap to buy a scanner. I have no idea who those young'uns in the photo are--he looks like somebody's date for Shelly Silverstein's bat mitzvah party, right?)

Mommymatic's version:

I went on a study abroad program to Oxford in 1993. I met Daddymatic my third day there--I had traveled alone, but he arrived with the rest of the group, and we started talking when he decided that learning to play croquet would be a good remedy for jet lag. He mimicked the headmaster so perfectly that I just knew we were going to have to be friends. After a few days of hanging out, playing spades and drinking tea, we were inseparable. He and our friend Candy and I went everywhere together--we made fun of each other crying at Les Miserables, told as many Monty Python jokes as possible during a long weekend in Scotland, drank tea in every scone-and-clotted-cream-serving establishment in England, and discovered that malt vinegar is as addictive as crack for those who eat fish and chips on a daily basis. But he had a girlfriend, so when the trip was over, I wrote him a cheesy letter and said goodbye.

We kept in touch over the next three years; he was the first person to ever e-mail me (yes, Virginia, there was a time before e-mail. It's called half my college career); he called to tell me he was going to propose to his girlfriend, and he called me when I was living in Baton Rouge to ask what I thought of his decision to leave law school. I remember this call as being odd--he asked what I thought and I asked what his finacee thought and he confessed he wanted to know what I would say because he knew I'd be honest and think primarily of his needs, whereas said finacee was more, how to say, interested in having her lawyer-marrying needs met. He did leave law school, and she split before he even took his last exam.

I didn't hear from him again until May, when he called to tell me about a job he'd been offered with his alma mater. We talked about the job, his ex, my by-then ex, and the conversation took what I thought was a "whimsical turn down What-if Lane." To whit, he told me we should "go out sometime" when I was back in North Carolina. I remember scoffing at him, only because I'd crushed so hard on him when we were in England only to find he was dating a girl that Candy nicely referred to as someone who "would probably do pretty well on a multiple-choice test, but not someone you'd want to let loose on an essay question." Well, that and the fact that we were separated by, oh, say 1200 miles.

A week went by. Another friend visited me en route to his new home in Colorado and I remember telling him I was never getting married, and he laughed and said he was sure I'd have a big Southern wedding within a year. [This is what's known in the writing world as "foreshadowing", kids]. We came back from a quick trip to New Orleans to a call from my dear Daddymatic, demanding to know how I could just ignore such an important letter as the one he'd written me. In my typical eloquent fashion, I think I said, "Huh?" He asked if I'd gotten a letter he'd sent and when I said no, he tried to end the conversation with a hearty oh-I-got-ya-that-time chuckle. Nothing doing, I said. And so then he confessed that he hadn't been kidding when he'd made the crack about getting together, and how he was sure that it was Providence that had kept us in touch for all these years and didn't we owe fate this chance?

I was floored. I mean, he wouldn't have had to do much to look good against the Parade of Losers that was my love life up until that point, but here was the funniest, cleverest, cutest guy I'd ever met, and he was actually interested in me? I, ever witty, made some crack about his coming down to Louisiana, seeing as he'd never even visited the Other South, and he took me up on it.

The month between that phone call and his actual visit was possibly the longest of my life. We sent each other reams of email every day, heavily pun-laden cards a few times a week, and I think I even sent him flowers at work. On one level, I was so sure something stupid would happen and he'd end up a psycho like all my other boyfriends, but in my heart, I knew This Was It. By the time he got off the plane on that sultry July morning (are July mornings any other way in south Louisiana?), I was a smitten kitten. He was The One. He'd been my friend so long I had no idea how to move the relationship to another level, but apparently, he knew just how--we got to the car and he kissed me so hard my watch fell off (that should be an expression, shouldn't it? to kiss you so hard your watch falls off?).

That night, I made him crawfish etoufee. Twice. (we were, ah, 'busy getting reacquainted' while the roux was simmering the first time and it burned). That night, he told me he wanted to see the sunrise over the levee, despite my assurances that levees are nothing more than grassy hills and certainly not worth getting up at 5:45 AM for. So we woke before dawn and crept two blocks to the levee, where he proceeded to recite FROM MEMORY my favorite John Donne poem. I ask you. The rest of the weekend was kind of a blur--Driving the 90 minutes to New Orleans. Sharing bread pudding. Sweating in a no-A/C-having apartment in July. Drinking iced coffee. Other, perhaps more scandalous, activities. Falling in love.

Within a month, I was driving back to NC, where he would propose to me in a mushy moment as we spooned in a tiny twin bed. As I recall, I was telling him how much I wanted to go to the Peace Corps, but how much I did NOT want to leave him. He suggested we go together, and I wistfully noted that only married couples were eligible. He said, "Well, right." We decided later that this was not nearly romantic enough for a proposal story, so the Official Version is the one about his coming to Baton Rouge again in August with the ring and doing the whole schmear during dessert at the Creole restaurant. The ring, he said, had four rubies: one, because I was born in July, two, because we met in July, three, because we fell in love in July, and four because--at that point--we were getting married in July.

Turns out we couldn't wait that long, so we were wed on June 7, 1997. I was 23. He was 24. Since then, we've braved the US Peace Corps in Poland, getting a mortgage and buying a house TWICE, grad school, traveling to Italy, Spain, the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, the Badlands, Zion and Arches National Parks, and, of course, bringing an amazing little person into our lives. And now I'm living the dream. Marriage and certainly parenthood is harder than I thought, but it is the most transformative, transcendant experience. I feel like I'm not just a person experiencing these things--the person I am is continuously shaped by them, like a mountain range (only, on fat days, bigger) being molded by larger forces. I hope it ends up making me a better person; it has certainly made me a happier one.

Daddymatic's version:

I arrived at St. Benets Hall, Oxford, UK, in early July 1993. I was part of a group of students from UNC-Asheville and NC State who were doing a "summer" (really a month) at Oxford, taking a couple of classes and traveling around England and Scotland. I had never been out of the country before, and I had certainly never experienced jetlag. So Father Henry Wansborough--headmaster of the hall at the time--tried to keep us active during the first (very long) day. One of the things he suggested was croquet.

Now, not everyone who was part of the group came over on the same flight. A few people had arrived in Oxford a few days before and were already used to the time difference. One was a girl who introduced herself to me in the dining hall: she extended her hand and said, "I'm Stefanie." A few minutes after that, Stefanie and I were on the croquet pitch behind the hall. Or croquet lawn. Or field.

Anyway, I beat her. The trick was to get used to the idea that you hold a croquet mallet in front of you and tap the balls (or hedgehogs or whatever the British call them) using a kind of pivoting motion. You don't hit them like golf balls. It also helps if you're competitive, because it works a little like shuffleboard or curling: you win when you move through the course and keep your opponent from doing the same. That involves knocking your opponent's balls out of the course. One of the first things I learned about Stefanie was that she was not as competitive as I was. I debated in high school, and that experience stayed with me in a bad way. Stefanie did speech events, too, but she apparently still had lots of good humor left afterwards: she was into the croquet match, but she laughed at my impressions of the impossibly English Fr. Henry.

It was a short hop from croquet to shopping, having tea, visiting London, and taking the train to Edinburgh. Stefanie and I got to know a third: Candy, from Asheville. The three of us were joined by a desire not to do what everyone else was doing: taking advantage of the lower drinking age in the UK to go to pubs as often as possible. We were more interested in making sure we had enough Earl Grey to get through the afternoons (you miss tea right around 4:05, and you have to find a tea house at that point) and in finding actual, authentic Doc Martin shoes. (The pair I bought stayed with me until long after Stef and I were married. By the way, this story turns out well.)

With classes, shopping, and travel--including a Stefanie-organized trip to Scotland that included the most run-down hostel ever that was very close to the best deli ever--the month went by fast. You were expecting more scandalous details, right? I don't really have any. I was attached at that point. Granted, I was attached to someone who would NOT have laughed at my Fr. Henry impressions, but I was attached nonetheless. And I was smart enough to know even then that you don't go creepin' on your girlfriend with someone else in an attempt to make the someone else your girlfriend, because new girlfriend will end up wondering if the scenario will repeat itself. And, frankly, for most of the time in England, I didn't think of Stefanie that way. There was the time she came to dinner in a white dress that I hadn't seen before. That was a little awkward, because the Stefanie I had gotten to know was more into floppy hats and pack jackets (it rained a lot that month). THIS Stefanie made the white dress look good.

But it was traveling companion/sister-Stef I stayed in touch with after the month was over. At least, tried to stay somewhat in touch with. I spent way too much time my last 2 years at UNCA trying to repair relationships that were beyond repair or just not worth it. And I spent the semester after I graduated from UNCA going to law school. Not a bad place if you want to be there, but the trouble was that I didn't. The trouble also was that my fiancee really, really wanted me to be there. Or at least, she wanted me to finish and make $$$. I knew that because I saw $$$s in her face when she looked at me most of the time. That vision kept her somewhat happy--happier at least than my sense of humor did. This fiancee was the same one who appeared in an earlier paragraph as "girlfriend"--the one who wouldn't have appreciated my British accent in quite the way Stefanie had.

I don't think that was what made me decide to tell Stefanie I was leaving law school before I told her, though. I remember thinking at the time that my fiancee would be upset with my decision in any event but that she would be even more upset if I didn't have a plan. And I didn't yet. So, I called Stefanie, who was in grad school in Baton Rouge by now. She and I had exchanged email messages (which still felt novel then) and an occasional phone message, but we always ended up at opposite ends of NC when we traveled. Stefanie would come see Candy in Asheville, but I would be down east. Still, we had become such fast friends that I wanted to tell her. And I wanted her advice. I don't know if I've ever told her this, but I knew something in me changed when she said without hesitation that I should leave--and go do whatever I wanted. That's what my parents said, too, even though I was afraid of disappointing them. They loved me unconditionally. Stefanie seemed to be acting the same way. My fiancee was not.

The problem was--even though I didn't see it as a problem just yet--Stefanie had found someone. Serious, that is. Right about this same time, she told me over the phone exactly how serious it was, and I replied, "hmm. Err." That's what hesitation sounds like. I hesitated because there was a very, very small part of my brain that told me Stefanie's reaction to my decision to leave law school meant that I needed her. At that point, I didn't know HOW, but I did know THAT. And her clear attachment to someone else posed a problem. I couldn't very well say that; she was excited about her guy. In fact, it's only as I'm writing this that I'm able to find words for expressing what that feeling was like. I didn't want to intrude on her relationship, but I wanted a relationship of some kind. Being gay might have been convenient, but only while I was with her. It WAS the south, after all.

I did leave law school. My fiancee, strangely, left right around the same time. I became a kind of human placeholder for several months: oddly, I worked in a lawfirm back home. One day, I wrote a friend at UNCA to ask if there was anything to do there, and she wrote back that there were students to recruit in high schools and tours to lead. So, I became an admissions officer. Not before, mind you, talking to Stefanie about it, who by this time was most likely wondering if she should start charging me for career consulting.

At this point, the pace picks up. Not because things happened appreciably faster during the first half or so of 1996 than they usually happen in a six-month period, but because so many bad and good things happened that it's hard to keep them straight. And the bad was bad enough to make me forget things like dates and timelines, which I have an otherwise freaky recollection of. Here's what I do remember:

March/April: a couple of phone conversations with Stefanie. Also, I get Internet access for the first time. The vast universe of information is mine at 2,400 bps.

June: UNCA job opens up. I tell Stefanie. We joke that my moving to Asheville would mean she could visit me, too, when she visits Candy. I half-joke that we could even "go out." Stefanie laughs.

June 8 or so: I send a letter to Stefanie letting her know that I was actually less-than-half joking about the going out thing. I write that we were able to maintain a friendship over 3 years with occasional messages, so it just might be worth it to try. The letter is held up at Louisiana customs for payment of Napoleonic Code taxes and is delayed.

June 11 or so: I call Stefanie and ask if she was planning to reply to the letter. She responds, appropriately enough, by asking what I'm talking about. I distill 8-10 pages into a fumbling attempt to ask her out from 800+ miles away. She says, come to New Orleans.

June 12: since 1996 predated the ability of most airlines to offer online services, I drive to Raleigh-Durham International Airport and buy tickets to Baton Rouge for mid-July. I apparently calculated that Louisiana is in the Southern Hemisphere and that July would be temperate there.

June-July: Stefanie and I account for slightly more than 60% of the total email traffic for LSU and She sends several mix tapes. As in MIX TAPES. Not playlists. Not favorites. Not iTunes gift certificates.

July 12? (we'll check this): I arrive in Baton Rouge. Stefanie is there at the gate (back in my day, you could go to the gate if you weren't a ticketed passenger) wearing a purple dress and holding purple flowers. She had sent a recent picture of herself (as in a photograph. Through postal mail), but I was still surprised at how I could at once remember her as a fast friend and be amazed at how beautiful she was when I looked at her for the first time in 3 years but in an entirely different way.

In the parking lot, I kissed her, and her Goofy watch fell off of her wrist. I still maybe think she staged that.

August (I'm skipping details here for the sake of the kids): I'm in Asheville, and Stefanie is visiting. I tell her I want to spend the rest of my life with her, and I wasn't even less-than-half joking this time. Yes, it WAS fast, but it's also been pretty fast for several of the people who told us, "you're moving too fast." With my fiancee, going to dinner sometimes felt like we were going too fast, because we were so particular about keeping our lives separate. She and I had gotten out of other relationships that smothered us. We overcorrected: we made so much space for ourselves apart from each other that it took us a while to notice that there wasn't really anything in the center anyway. No chance of that with Stefanie. We never spoke about the risk we were creating for our friendship--maybe because we thought, even though on paper we barely knew each other, we wanted to know each other even better.

June 7: the big day. It was fun, but so many other things with Stefanie have been fun that I can't pack but so much into our wedding day. I have her to thank for that--especially for the first few years when things happened that made me tough to live with. Poland was a challenge. So was working in a very vanilla job that made me feel like less than I was. Stefanie has always made me feel like MORE. Grad school has tried sometimes to make me a specialist. Stefanie has insisted that I be many other things that are more important: a friend, a husband, and a father among them. Now, she has Davis to help her.

I can't tell her how thankful I am, and I can't begin to tell her how much I love her. I used space above on what may look like little details that don't matter much, but those details are landmarks in an amazing history. They help me remember a word, a look--all of the things that populate my memory of my wife and my best friend.