I just put my runny-nosed toddler down for a nap. There are hand prints and dog nose smudges all over the patio doors and I should Windex them. There are toys scattered across the living room floor and blonde dog hairs stuck to the carpet and breakfast dishes in the sink and I should go clean them. But there is iced tea in the glass next to me, a cooing baby in a bouncer at my side and a fat cat buried in a box of blankets at my feet. And so, all the chores can wait.
For now, in honor of the (belated) 5-year anniversary of my first date with my husband:
I want to write a love story.
(Hold on, the littlest one just spit up)
OK, I’m back. Now what was I saying? Oh yes, a love story…
Only a year out of college, I lived in an apartment about 45 minutes from my good friend, Stephanie.
It was a nice little “Melrose Place” pad with granite countertops and patio doors that opened to a courtyard peppered with palm trees. I visited Steph often, making the long interstate drive to her neck of the woods where we shopped and dined and chatted about jobs and boys and our new lives, just starting out. Near her apartment was a trendy downtown square. Newly renovated, the square was lined with hip restaurants, cafes, corner bars and bookstores – all within walking distance from each other for a perfect evening of entertainment.
On a chilly Friday in December, I made the usual drive to visit Steph for a weekend of play. We had a lot planned. Toenail painting, brunching, watching movies and perhaps an evening out and about. But on my drive to see her, I had a strong, peculiar urge come over me. I wanted to go downtown. And not just anywhere downtown, but to this very specific yuppie corner bar with live music and a funky ambiance that sat atop a hole in the wall sushi restaurant. We had visited there once before and it was a fine time, but for some unknown reason (which I’ll call destiny), I felt moved to visit again. And so I shared my thoughts with Stephanie and her then-boyfriend (now hubby), Dave, when I arrived.
“Can we go tomorrow night?” Dave pleaded. It was Friday night and he was tired and suggested we go see The Chronicles of Narnia instead.
“No, let’s go tonight!” I urged, energetic and ready to dine and dance.
But in the end, Dave won. And I’m glad he did. We bundled up and headed out for an evening of buttery popcorn, soft drinks and a blockbuster movie.
And then… Saturday arrived.
There was a chill in the air. Not too chilly — where you don’t want to leave the house or get out of your flannel pajamas. But just cold enough for a great pair of high-heel boots. We decided on dinner in the square at P.F. Chang’s and I was looking forward to a savory plate of almond and cashew chicken, preceded by some sea-salted edamame, of course.
The wait was long. Two hours to be exact. So we sat and talked and made friends with strangers and sipped fun drinks out of cocktail glasses.
And finally, the table was ready. We ate quickly. Before I knew it, the bill had arrived and off we went to discover the next adventure. I like to think about those hours – those precious moments before I met him. Before I knew he existed and had only the romanticized dream of who my future husband would be. I didn’t know the color of his hair or the curve of his shoulders. I didn’t know the sound of his voice that is now so familiar, so second nature. It’s hard to remember that girl. It’s as if I’ve always known him.
We skipped down the foggy streets, lined with streetlights, and arrived to the crowded bar. At the time, nights like this were exhilarating and full of possibility.
The band played. The crowd packed in. Girls laughed. And men high-fived next to the pool table in the corner. And at some point, close to closing time, I noticed a tall, clean-cut chap standing near me. His eyes were piercing blue and he held a blue jacket over his arm. I don’t remember what compelled me, but I wanted an excuse to talk to him. So I asked if I could use the chair standing in his proximity.
“It’s your chair,” he replied. And then I realized that, yes, it actually was the chair that belonged to my table.
I was a dork.
But he must not have minded.
He simply said, “I’m Matt.” And we struck up a conversation.
We talked about our jobs, about how he wished that he hadn’t carried in his jacket – and how he had a friend who was playing in the band. He had almost decided not to come that night, but made a last minute decision to stop by.
I asked if I could see his college ring (one of his most prized possessions). Then I accidentally dropped it into the sea of feet on the dark, sticky bar floor. Heads bumped as his friends bent over to help him find it.
And on my way out the door, I had no expectations when he casually asked for my phone number. After all, it was a bar. And who meets the love of their life in a bar? I hugged him goodbye and away I went, ready for a good night’s sleep.
The next morning Stephanie and I had brunch at Einstein’s Bagels.
I figured he was but a memory. Just a supporting character in a weekend story that a young, fresh-out-of-college girl gossips about to friends at work on Monday.
But then my phone rang on Monday evening.
I didn’t recognize the number, so I didn’t answer. I sat at my computer desk, my cell phone cradled in my hand, staring at the unknown number as the phone rang, and rang, and rang. And then it stopped.
A minute later, the voicemail alert sounded. It was him. The blue-eyed man with the blue jacket from Saturday night. His voice was friendly, polite. He sounded like he had a good family. Not like a bar fly. Or a sleaze ball. Or any of the other stereotypes us girls tend to associate with cute guys in bars. I waited 20 minutes – and then I called him back.
For the next week, we talked every night on the phone for hours. We emailed all day long at work. I still have our first emails, tucked away in a folder in my inbox. And it turned out that this man-from-the-bar was great on paper. He loved his job, God and his mama. He was passionate, driven, and humble. I was smitten with his spirit before we even had our first date.
And once we had our first date…