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.
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.
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.