Eight years ago tomorrow, I stood at the altar, watching as my wife crossed the courtyard toward the church. I remember smiling so much my cheeks hurt; I remember the pride and appreciation I felt knowing I was about to be her husband; and I remember a momentary breeze lifting a strand of hair away from her face, like God’s finger gently brushing it aside as she entered the chapel.
As with any rare occasion when we don’t enter a room together, our eyes found each other immediately. So much was said to each other during that long walk to the altar, not in words, but spoken between our two hearts — in a language we had been fluent in from the moment we met.
Oct. 28, 2006:
My search for a red rose after making the hour-long drive to Salem for our first date had put me behind. Coupled with the fact that I hadn’t been on a real date in nearly 20 years, had lost 23 pounds since my divorce several months earlier, and was driving a Plymouth Voyager mini-van, I technically had four strikes against me already. Plus, after several weeks of chatting together on Match.com and long evening phone calls, she had finally posted her profile picture. When I saw it, I realized I wasn’t only in danger of striking out before our date even started:
Heck, I was batting out of my league.
Fortunately for me, her shift at the Wachovia Bank call center was running late as well. This allowed a quick stop in a nearby Denny’s to freshen up before meeting her in the bank parking lot a few blocks away. I literally sprinted inside the restaurant, past the hostess desk and into the restroom carrying a small sack of toiletries: cologne, toothbrush, hair spray, razor, etc. When her text arrived telling me she was clocking out, I scooped everything back into the sack, rushed out the door and jumped into my mini van. I’d like to say I then “sped away,” but as I mentioned, it was a mini van; a slap of the emergency brake and defiant groan from the power steering was about as close to Tokyo drifting as I could get. To this day, I still wonder if the night manager at Denny’s thought I’d planted a bomb in the men’s room.
A few minutes later, I pulled into the Wachovia parking lot and quickly spotted the blue pick-up truck she had asked me to park next to. Killing the engine I took a deep breath. We had talked for more than two hours every night the past few weeks, discussing our single parenting challenges, our families, favorite movies, what we’d learned from our failed marriages, why mayonnaise is superior to Miracle Whip… but would it be the same in person?
Or perhaps more importantly, why didn’t I rent a cooler looking car?!?
My phone vibrated with her latest text:
Taking another deep breath, I stepped out into the parking lot with my single rose and stood in front of the Voyager. Do I cross my arms? Put one foot up on the bumper? Lean back against the hood? Did it even MATTER since — let’s be honest — there’s no way to look the slightest bit debonaire standing next to a mini van?
I opted for the one-footed lean-back, with one hand holding the rose, and my free hand stuck in my pocket, being careful to avoid nervously playing with the keys in my pocket because it could be misinterpreted as playing with something else. From across the parking lot, I saw two figures exit the front doors of building. One had her head dipped low as she carried a basket of something. The other, a fiery black woman I came to know as Charleta, held her head high as she blatantly scoped me out. I later learned my wife was too nervous to look up, so Charleta did the looking for her.
After sizing me up, my wife said Charleta whispered, “Oh, he is definitely fine for a white guy.”
As they approached, I thought it smart my date had decided not to come unaccompanied into a dark parking lot to meet someone she only knew from phone conversations and emails. I also realized the basket she was carrying was full of…
Was her ex-husband trying to win her back? Who could blame him? Or maybe they were sent by someone else? A different date! Bastard!
As they got closer, my wife glanced up and we met eyes for the very first time. To this day, I can honestly say I have never looked into a more beautiful, warm and enticing pair of eyes. And when she smiled? It was all over for me.
I handed her the rose. “I have to say, I’m feeling a little inadequate right now.”
Handing the basket to Charleta, she took the rose as if it was an entire bouquet and breathed in its fragrance. “This rose means more to me than any of those. They came as a gift from the office. It was my birthday earlier this week, so I was bringing them home for the weekend. But this? This one is special.”
We instinctively reached to hold hands and, when our fingers met, it was like the final two pieces of an unfinished puzzle coming together. A perfect fit crafted just for each other. We were both smiling and couldn’t stop. Something magical was happening and we both knew it. Neither of us remembers exactly when Charleta left because, in that moment, time literally seemed to stop. We were alone. In the parking lot. Possibly even on the planet. As we stood gazing at each other, there were no words because we didn’t need them; our hearts had recognized each other and were speaking for us.
And I knew — absolutely KNEW — I was exactly where I was supposed to be for the first time in my life; this place; this moment; with this woman. Squeezing her hands, I leaned forward and whispered…
Aug. 6, 2008:
“You were so worth waiting for.”
Smiling, my wife looked up at me as I took her hand, guiding her next to me on the altar. She leaned in and whispered, “It felt like forever until I could get down the aisle to you.”
“I know the feeling,” I whispered back. “Now we are finally where we were always meant to be.”
Eight years ago tomorrow, I became the man I was meant to be by marrying the woman I was meant to be with. The moments we have shared since then are more than memories — they are carried within each pulse that beats from my heart; like a constant and steady flow of warmth and wonderment inspired by her presence. We came into each other’s lives as parts of a fractured whole, survivors with scraped knuckles from time spent trying to repair broken marriages with parts from ourselves. Perhaps because of this it was easier to recognize one another when our hearts met that first time. And perhaps because of our past experiences we were able to appreciate even more the rarity of what we felt.
Or perhaps what we felt was simply knowing we had arrived at a destination that had been set into motion long before we met.
Who’d have thought that a green Plymouth Voyager could help get us there…
(Thank you, Dear Readers, for allowing me to share tomorrow’s meaning — and my wife — with you. And just so we’re clear, I’m sharing the meaning, not my wife…)
(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation.)