“So This Guy Walks Into a Bar…” or Happy Anniversary Babe

Today is my 19th wedding anniversary and I thought it was high time to share the story of how Tim and I met. I’m not talking about the standard one we tell at cocktail parties. That one sounds like the set-up to an old joke, “So this guy walks into a bar…” In our version, “This girl walks into a surf shop…” and the punch line is that we fell in love and lived happily ever after.  It’s a good story and there’s an element of truth to it. But it leaves out everything important, everything that explains why I fell in love with Tim in the first place. In the standard version, guy meets girl; in the real version, guy meets pregnant girl.

In the summer of 1991, I was a pregnant teenager, living in San Diego with family friends, going to summer school at UCSD and preparing to give my child up for adoption. I was doing my best to correct a mistake I made on a night where I had a fake ID and a lot of alcohol. I won’t lie to you. That summer was sad and hard and lonely. Everyone was very kind, but ultimately, I was the one carrying this child, loving her, wanting what was best for her and knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that it wasn’t me. I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to be what was “best” for anyone, ever again. Deeply steeped in my Catholic tradition and my favorite Victorian-era literature, I carried my scarlet letter with me like a badge. I was convinced that even if I did the “right thing,” I would never be “right” again, never be who or what a young man wanted, or deserved.

All that changed the day I walked in to Clairemont Surf Shop and met the man who would become my husband. I had stopped by to see my neighbor, the one friend I had made who was close to my own age. Jimmy introduced me to Tim, the manager of the store, who was busy putting grip tape on a skateboard. Tim came around the counter, cleared his throat, nodded his head and said, “Hey, what’s up?” It’s still his standard greeting when meeting someone for the first time. I smiled and thought, “Wow, he might be nice – IF I WEREN’T PREGNANT!” We chatted for a few minutes and that was that.

But that wasn’t that. Though I had never seen Tim on my street before, suddenly my neighbor’s house became his second home. They played basketball, went swimming, watched movies and I would wave at them from my driveway. And when my neighbor was out one evening, Tim showed up at my house with his favorite book, The Catcher in the Rye.We talked books; we told stories; we laughed. Two days later, we went bodysurfing at the beach together; I was 8 months pregnant in a ratty, two-piece bikini.

Demi Moore, in all her pregnant glory.

This was the very month that Demi Moore made pregnancy sexy on the cover of Vanity Fair, but let me be clear here, I did not look sexy; I was just being me, incapable of being anyone else, and I was falling in love. But I was certain that it was one-sided. I dreamed of coming back to San Diego six months later, with my body, mind and soul healed. I thought that maybe, then, Tim might fall in love with me too.

Tim, however, had other plans. Tim, at 23-years-old, saw past the big, white belly. He saw past the fear and the pain and the struggles that I carried inside of me, along with my unborn child. He saw the girl I had been and the girl I wanted to be and he thought she was worth it. For some reason, he thought I was worth seeing through the heartbreak and the tears and the long struggle with grief and loss I had ahead of me.

And so one evening as we walked together, just a few weeks before I delivered my first-born daughter, he took my hand in his and he kissed me. He still loves to tease me that my belly touched his, before our lips even got close. After 21 years, he has never let go of my hand. He was there when I went into labor. He was there 15 minutes after Sarah Moses was born. He was there when I signed the adoption papers, letting her go. He was there as my mother drove me away from San Diego and all the painful memories it held.

September 18, 1991

Tim thought I might never come back. He was afraid that he had been a crutch, someone to lean on during a difficult time. He was afraid that he had been a distraction, something to keep me occupied when I had too much time on my hands, like a human IPad, or a hangman game. I was going home to a place where no one knew what I had been through and I could pretend like it never happened. My scarlet letter was gone.

But anyone who has ever carried grief and shame and loss knows that it is never gone. You carry the scars with you forever. You heal; you laugh; you love and you hope again, but you are never the same, which is why Tim never had anything to fear at all. He saw me at my best and my worst in the first eight weeks of meeting me and what he saw, he loved. And what I saw, I loved and love to this day. I saw a man of vision, of hope, of integrity. I saw a man with the courage of his convictions and a desire to overcome everything for me and with me. I saw a man who could see the truth of a person, beyond present circumstances and the masks he, or she might wear. I saw all that 21 years ago in a 23-year-old boy and I still see it each and every day. No one has ever earned my respect so quickly, nor worked so earnestly to keep it.

That is what gets left out every time we tell the standard story of how we met. We omit the part that embarrasses me, even though it’s also the part that makes him look good. But he doesn’t need anyone else to think he’s a hero. He just wants to actually be mine. He was my hero then and he still is to this day. Tim doesn’t rescue me from anything, but he steps up time after time to be strong, to face challenges, to stand for what he values and to love me, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, not even in death will we part. I am pretty sure we will find each other on the other side.

So on this day, 19 years after we said, “I do,” I wanted to tell the real story of how we met, so you could know the kind of man I have the privilege of being married to.

Happy Anniversary!

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25 thoughts on ““So This Guy Walks Into a Bar…” or Happy Anniversary Babe

  1. How well I remember this day 19 years ago, it was such an awesome and fun wedding. I remember how happy everybody was, but most of all, the bride and groom. Ali, you write so beautifully and this blog is just fantastic, off the chart I love it, I have cried and I just want to send both you and Tim my love today and to tell you what a strong and fabulous example you set to the rest of us women! As for Tim .. always has been a favorite of mine, he has a gift for loving people and making them feel so good. When you get to be my age, you realize that a lot of people have other things to do with their own families, never has Tim ever made me feel that way he IS special . YOU are incredibly special. Enjoy your beautiful day together and know that you are loved, Gretchen.

  2. Oh Ali, What an incredibly beautiful story. I am not surprised in the least that the qualities that I’ve so admired in both you and Tim were present back when your were both just out of your teens. Your Characters are the solid foundation, present early, that you’ve both built upon when raising your wonderful family and doing so, so much for the other children in Tierrasanta. Happy, Happy Anniversary. Your writing, again, has moved me to tears….

    • Aww Genni, thank you so much for your kind words. I’ve been thinking about you and am so glad that I gave you another reason to cry! Just kidding. 🙂 I know how much you and Tim enjoy each other’s company, so I am glad to have given you another reason to like him. There’s just so many! Sending love your way…

  3. ALI, I LOVED THIS SHARING AND THE WALK AFTER THE RAIN. BLESS YOU FOR YOUR UNLIMITED GENEROSITY IN OPENING YOUR HEART TO YOUR FRIENDS. LOVE, BEV

  4. I remember sitting in the back of the church on this day because my mom and dad let me come for just the ceremony and at 13 years old I wanted to have a love just like yours. I also wanted a wedding at SSJ too, because I remember it being so pretty and magical. Happy Anniversary Ali and Tim!

  5. Thank you for sharing your LOVE story… We all have them but this one was different and special and it made me realize how open and honest you are with all of us and it made me appreciate and admire you even more. Yes, I also had tears rolling down my face… Thank you again!

  6. I’ve heard this story many times, but reading it again my eyes welled up with happy tears.It’s the cinderella story I wish I’d been told as a young girl. It’s a beautiful love story and we are blessed ( in the real sense!) to have you both in our lives. Thank you for the reminder that our stories are continual, going on through the years- regardless of what is left out of the telling at the time. We celebrate you and Tim and your love story. It is way better than a disney happily ever after.
    Tash

  7. Ali,
    There are readers who have never met you, some who have heard the story, and then some who were there to see it from the beginning, but ALL have equally adored this post. Like I said in my first comment, it is so beautifully honest. Even knowing the story, seeing it written out so beautifully is like looking at a beautiful piece of art. You truly have a gift for making your stories more like opening a present. Thank You.

    Love,
    (Little) Allison

  8. You both look like little children in that photo. 19 years, wow. I love you both so much and am so proud of what you have built, the love you share, the parents you have become. There is so much more the future holds for you two star-crossed lovers. Keep showing the rest of us what love is. Kristin

  9. Hi Alison! I wanted to thank you again for coming to the St. Greg’s MOMs group in the fall. Your story, this story, really opened me up to start writing. Your words are so real, so genuine, so sincere. Thanks again for sharing your experiences and keeping it real! Blessings!

  10. Still one of my all time favorite stories shared at Family Retreat. My daughters after that knew the kind of man to look for. A Tim. We love you guys and love that we are part of your lives.

  11. Though crying an hour before I’m teaching my Jesuit Rhetorical Arts class probably wasn’t the best idea, I’m so happy I read this today. :’) All my love, Ali, always.

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