I am one of those people who always, always believed in fate and fairy tales and true love. My husband and I are celebrating our five-year anniversary this week, so I thought I would share the beautiful and amazing story of how we met as children, lost each other for many years, and then reconnected as adults.
When I was a kid, I used to put on my mom’s wedding dress and parade around the house, carrying a bouquet of obviously plastic, yellow roses, pretending that I was marrying some great-looking man who would take care of me forever. I am a serial monogamist– as my dear friend Sheri once called me– the kind of person who sees love everywhere, in everyone, and lives inside her own head, imagining people to be much better than they actually are. Every boyfriend, every date, was a potential happily-ever-after (which explains why I became well-aquainted with disappointment by time I hit adulthood).
When I was still very young, and had not yet had the chance to become disillusioned, I met my future-husband. I was barely a teenager at the time and had traveled fourteen hours in a van packed full of relations to Salisaw, Oklahoma for our family reunion, which always takes place on Labor Day weekend in order to coincide with the gathering at Stokes-Smith Stomp Grounds (due to my family being of Indigenous heritage and also wanting to kill two birds with one stone because we’re very cheap when it comes to hotel rooms and gas).
My family reunion is always held at Sequoyah Home Memorial Park because Sequoyah (George Gist/Guess, or Ssiquoya, as he spelled it– the man who created the Cherokee syllabary) is home to my family cemetery, as well as the log cabin owned by Sequoyah, which he purchased from one of my ancestors, who built that shit with his bare motherfuckin’ hands. (I’m an encyclopedia on this shit, ya’ll– I love my family history.) After attending the obligatory family gathering, where we ate an obscene amount of barbecue and potato salad (lotsa diabetes there), everyone headed to the stomp grounds to celebrate our fire, the fire that has not ever lost its light, despite being removed from our original homes by the army almost two hundred years ago and deposited on some crappy-ass land that we didn’t want.
So there I was, wandering around the stomp grounds after dancing around the fire for a couple of hours. I was enjoying myself, taking in the stars and the chilly, night air, when I happened to look down from the sky for a moment. My eyes immediately locked with those of the most beautiful man I had ever seen (seriously– this dude was hotter than anything else on earth). He was staring very intensely into my eyes, like he could see every thought I’d ever had and ever would have. I was not shy with the boys, but this guy made me quiver like a bowl of still-kinda-liquidy Jell-O. He had black hair that swept around his waist as he walked toward me and the most sincere eyes I had ever seen. I stopped mid-step as he passed me and looked down at my little cousin, who was tagging along, and said, “Let’s sit for a minute,” scared that my legs were about to melt right out from under me.
We sat down on a bench about three yards away, and I looked around, hoping to catch another glimpse of this intriguing gentleman. There he was, walking past me again, still staring at me like he knew everything about me. I had no idea how to react, so I looked at my feet. Suddenly, there was a pair of feet directly across from mine, nearly touching my toes. I slowly brought my head up to see the very mysterious gentleman standing not a foot from me and looking right down into my eyes. And because we were kids, he said, “What’s up?” His voice was so deep. It felt like golden molasses rolling through my ears. And because I was a very nervous girl, instead of actually responding to his question, I just parroted the “What’s up?” right back at him and immediately felt dumb as a box of rocks.
I knew, in that moment, that my life was going to be impacted forever, that I had taken a fork in the road that couldn’t be reversed. And though in the years after, when I sought, and imagined I had found, real love in many different places, I never found anyone who made me feel so much with so little effort. That moment made me believe in love at first sight for much of my life. Though we had only a few hours together, my future-husband and I made it matter. We walked up and down the starlit, dirt road, holding hands and talking and just enjoying being near each other. As I grew to adulthood, it remained one of my fondest memories. We stayed in touch for about six months, despite living a thousand miles apart, and it broke my heart when we had what I knew would be our last conversation for a long time. But I always hoped that I would find that amazing, overwhelming feeling again. I knew it existed because I had experienced it.
Unfortunately, I grew impatient and impulsive and married someone else, because I thought if I tried hard enough, I could will that feeling into existence in any relationship. We divorced after twelve years, the vast majority of which were quite miserable. Any kind of hope I had for love or for a fairy tale or a happy ending had died. I no longer believed that anything was real or lasting, that heartbreak was inevitable and was the only real thing I could depend on. The weekend my first husband moved out, I was digging through the closet, packing up his stuff, when I came across a letter my beautiful gentleman had written me exactly seventeen-and-a-half years earlier. It was creased and faded and a little torn from all the times I had read it, all the months I had spent carrying it in my pocket. I remembered taking it out and reading it many, many times a day. So many times that, nearly two decades later, I still remembered it line-by-line.
I thought, “I wonder what ever happened to that guy?” And honestly believing that he would not remember me, I looked for him online. And I found him. So I sent him an email to see if he could even guess who I was. His reply was instantaneous and ecstatic. I couldn’t have hoped for more. He was the first person to show me how intense love can be, and that love came back and saved me in the worst moment of my life. He told me how he had searched for me over the years and had never given up on finding me. His voice, when he called me, was just as I remembered, rich and deep, making my heartstrings vibrate.
I will never forget what it was like, walking off a plane in Burbank, and seeing him again after what felt like a literal lifetime– because it really had been. And he looked the same, as he wrapped his arms around me and held me until my luggage came out on the carousel (which, if you’ve ever flown, you know takes a good half hour). I knew then that, though I had not had a choice in letting him go so many years ago, I would never let him go now. This week we celebrate five years together. Those five years have made me a far better and stronger and wiser person than I ever thought I could be. We have walked with each other through some real shit, and being together has made the difference. It’s not always pretty, and that’s okay– life isn’t pretty. But it’s real, and it’s strong, and it has overcome the very worst life has thrown at us. That’s something to believe in.
I love him more today than I did five years ago, more than I did yesterday, and I will love him more tomorrow. That’s worth believing in and fighting for. That’s what I was dreaming about, staggering around the house in my mom’s wedding dress nearly three decades ago– the fairy tale, the true love, the happily-ever-after. And I got it.