The minute I heard my first love story, I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.
It’s been twenty years and it feels like 2 minutes. My husband and I met four years before we were married and this is our story. A close friend from high school whom Derek was attending college with at Oregon State University identified similarities in Derek and I and called me to let me know I must meet this man. I was in and out of a relationship with my then high school boyfriend, one of those not so healthy ones that you just keep hanging onto. I did listen and made the trek down to OSU to meet this mystery man.
I was all over the place in my early college years. I had been back and forth between Oregon and Florida attending college. At the time she called I was in Oregon so I thought what the heck. I was curious, searching, and living a somewhat free life, trying to find my way. At times I knew exactly what I wanted and at other times quite depressed and insecure. I broke someone’s heart and ruined a relationship, my first healthy one, and that was terrible to live with. I was young and unsure, and hard on myself for past mistakes. I had a terrible time forgiving myself and went through a lot of pain trying. I just didn’t really know what I wanted and as a result I wasn’t able to commit to anything wholly.
Thank God when I went to visit my friend, Derek wasn’t ready yet either. He says that when he saw me he was very interested and attracted to me, but he stayed in to study. If you know Derek, this is not at all him. He hated school, didn’t do a lot of studying and felt like most of it was a waste of time. He struggled to trust professors who drove crappy cars and professed to know how to be successful. Coming from a guy raised in a car dealer family, you can see where that emanated from! I remember going to his fraternity with my friend and seeing him across the room. His bleached blonde, long curly hair was adorable and he was dressed cute. I don’t remember what exactly he was wearing but I know he was hot! When he decided to stay in to study and not go out with us that night, I wondered if maybe he wasn’t interested in me after all. I had a good time but moved on quickly after the visit. We didn’t exchange information, though he claims he tried to call me and I never called him back.
I went back to Portland and in short order became very bored with what I was doing. I had come back from Florida to find my way. I was attending a college in Winter Park, Florida right out of high school. I felt like a fish out of water. I was partying with friends, some of my friends were making decisions that were very concerning and I was also doing a bit of partying. Most of the kids at the school came from very wealthy families and had little regard for the things they had. I was convinced I was the only one driving a car not paid for by parents. I went and leased a car at a local Volkswagon dealership, an attempt to fit in. I had only had Volkswagens and this was no exception. They represented that free spirit vibe that I wanted to live, even though half the time I was scared to death about what my future was going to be. I was homesick and missed the close connections I had in high school. I chose not to join a sorority because I felt the rush experience would be fake and superficial. I so badly wanted to be free to make my own decisions, independent, and unbound but my own feelings of loneliness and not being part of a group were still nagging at me. I was struggling to let go of past relationships and my own guilt around them.
Portland didn’t help me or at least I thought at the time, in hindsight, I learned a lot. I went to Portland State University, failed an Economics class, learned I was bored and that I didn’t want to be a business major. On a whim I decided to go visit a friend from from freshman year at Rollins College, who was spending the summer in DC with the then Secretary of the Navy, John Dalton. They were close friends with my friends’ family. We had a blast adventuring around DC. One of my favorite memories was touring all of the monuments at night. It was so fun that I ended up staying that summer with The Daltons. They took me in, included me in their family and home I was invited to attend things that to this day I can’t believe I attended.
We went to a cocktail party at the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Krulak’s home to honor Secretary Dalton with a special sword. We attended a memorial service for three Bosnian Peacekeepers that died in a tank accident overseas. I sat next to Admiral Bordeau and his wife. I almost met President Bill Clinton. I remember standing with Secretary Dalton while President Clinton signed the guest book, the feeling of being a part of something greater than myself will never leave me. It was this experience that helped me see that I may have a purpose bigger than my past mistakes. I have kept that close and to this day, I don’t think I’ve expressed enough gratitude for the generosity of my friend and the Daltons.
There were many nights sitting on the back porch listening to the current events of the day, it was like a history and government lesson all in one. I listened intently and in awe that I was getting this inside look at the life of a high up government official. I remember feeling like I mattered because I was allowed to be there. There are few moments in my experience where I want to go back in time and this is one. My awareness only allowed me a general sense of reverence but I now know it was a time that infused me with confidence in myself and a knowing that I could be part of intelligent conversation and potential solutions for bigger country and world problems. That desire has never left me and has fueled much of my work as a filmmaker. The best part of all of it was the relationship between the Dalton’s and my friends’ family, the Jennings were Republicans, very much so, and The Dalton’s were Democrats. They were on total polar opposite sides of the fence politically but they were the best of friends still. They had decided to not debate politics and that their friendship meant more. In this time of polarization this example has stayed with me and left me wishing for more civil time.
As my friend prepared for her second year of college, I asked her, “What if I just go back with you?” She was all for it and was happy to have a companion to make the drive back to Florida with. The girls trip was on! I called my poor parents and let them know I wasn’t coming back, withdrew from my boring classes, took my one suitcase, and headed to Florida. Derek continued at school and also adventured to Florida unbeknownst to me. He was a wakeboarder, had figured out how to get his family ski boat to Corvallis to use during college and had started wakeboarding with his friends. He then decided to go for a term to the University of West Florida to continue on his wakeboarding mission.
Florida was the capital of waterskiing and the upcoming sport of wakeboarding with a lake almost every square mile. I was on the waterski team in my early days at Rollins College. They had me going off the ski jumps and working on trick skiing with an occasional visit by an alligator which promptly stopped our training and sent me rapidly swimming for the boat! I had been off a ski jump with skis bigger than two times my body sailing through the air with a bunch of people driving the boat that I barely knew 3000 miles away from home and I had been swimming with alligators. Somehow this was easier than forgiving myself for past mistakes. While in Florida, Derek’s story is, that he attempted to call me. I was living with two, which unofficially turned into three, my male roommate invited a “friend” to come to stay, who somehow promptly earned a shelf in our pantry. He was kosher and very serious about me not touching any of his food. Derek says he left a message a couple of times with a guy. I don’t know how much they liked me, it was an interesting dynamic there, but no message was passed and no connection made while in Florida.
The story could go on for days because it was four years until I would see Derek again. I finished up at school, began dating my boss from the restaurant I was working at and that story will be one to save for another chapter someday. Unfortunately it included the kind of heartbreak and sadness that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. The most precious gift came out of that relationship, my daughter Paige.
Never before had I ever done so much praying. When I found out I was going to have Paige I completely surrendered my life to God, asked for forgiveness for past mistakes, and began to let him lead. It was not easy.
The day I brought Paige home from the hospital was one burned in my memory forever. I was so scared and felt so alone but I wanted to be her mom and not just be her mom, but really be the best one I could be. I gave her my heart. I vowed to do better, be better, and to love her the best way I knew how. My parents were incredibly supportive. My Dad brought us home to my apartment and dropped us off. I have no idea what that was like for him to this day. I turned on music danced around holding her in my arms and said, “It’s just you and me.” I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore and held her close. I spent three months with Paige. The church had rallied around me, given me a baby shower, and most of all showered me in love. They didn’t judge me like I feared they would and a lovely older woman from church offered to watch Paige in my transition back to work. I was a single mom now and had to figure out how Paige and I were going to live. During my pregnancy, which I will expand on more later, I had worked extra hard to pay off my debt so that I could have that time with her. I had a good job and was doing things on my own. I had some back and forth with her biological dad but found that it wasn’t healthy for me to be continuing and he didn’t fight for us either. I let go and prayed to God that this was the right decision.
When I went back to work after maternity leave, it wasn’t but a gut-wrenching week of being away from Paige that Derek and I’s mutual friend called me at work. She told me that Derek was coming to Portland and he wanted to see me. I asked her if she knew that I had a baby now and that my life had drastically changed. She said, “Yes, he knows and it didn’t phase him.” He was coming to see me. I hadn’t felt butterflies like that ever. A few days later he arrived in Portland and came to see me at work, dressed in professional clothes with a briefcase. I’ll never forget the briefcase. It was sleek and silver metal, very cool I thought, but the question remained, why a briefcase and professional clothes? Was he working that weekend or maybe just trying to impress me with his grown-up attire. He claims he was put here for an auction. After all, the last time we saw each other he was knee-deep in college, rocking the bleached blonde hair and Hawaiian shirts, and I obviously didn’t really know where I was! I was dressed in my red blazer required by the leasing company I worked for. I felt like I was in a dream. As a young girl I used to love to play office with all the paperwork in my Dad’s basement office. He ran a landscape business out of the house. I think this was a sign to have a “professional” man pursuing a date with me. I served him a cookie from the hospitality area, Otis Spunkmeyer chocolate chip. In high school I used to buy them by the dough ball from our student store. There is not better cookie dough. I’m guessing it was a hit!
I don’t remember how long he stayed with me there but I will forever remember how he made me feel. I could tell he liked me but it felt pure and real and there was a connection. there was something much different about him. It felt pure, just right and I knew that he saw past any of my mistakes. It seemed that he didn’t even need to know them. I was twenty pounds or more overweight. I hadn’t had much time to focus on me as I was raising a baby daughter, nursing, pumping milk in the bathroom, trying to just survive and get into the routine of going back to work. I felt so guilty having to eventually take her off of breast milk. It was an excruciating time.
Derek and our mutual friends concocted a plan to steal me for a night out with them. My parents were very leary but I arranged for them to watch Paige while I went out with friends and Derek. I am surprised my parents agreed, we all had been through so much, but they did. Paige wasn’t much older than three months and we’d never been apart. We all met at our friends’ house and as soon as Derek arrived, I do remember what he was wearing this night, I ran into the kitchen. I was so nervous! I wasn’t sure about this or myself. I had been through so much, emotions, my body changing, separation from my child, even the thought of dating scared me to death. I didn’t know if I could handle it. I know now it would not have worked with anyone else. Derek just bopped into the kitchen following me without skipping a beat. I was basically running from him and he either chose not to notice or did not notice, which was a total blessing. He had a calming effect on me. We talked and by the time we were heading downtown with friends, he reached over and held my hand in the back seat where we were sitting. I could not believe that he did that and it felt so easy and right. For the remainder of the night we were at a bar with a big group partying, and Derek and I sat across a small table talking. We talked for hours and I don’t even remember what we talked about. I don’t even think I had a drink. When it was time to go my friend had really enjoyed her evening. I believe we assisted her in the car, finding humor in the fact that we had barely seen everyone else all night.
We decided to go pick up Paige and that we all wanted to be together that night. Derek and I laid next to each other all night cuddling with Paige at our side. He had zero hesitation about being with Paige. The mother I am now would never recommend introducing a man that soon to a child but I was head over heels for Derek, he was the man I prayed for. We began the long-distance dating. He was working for his family business in Ashland, Oregon, I was in Portland five hours away. He’d drive up for the weekend to see me. On one of his visits he gave me a card that said “I love you” in it. He also gave me a little pinky ring that had September 25-Forever engraved on the inside. For the first time, I was speechless. I struggled to utter the words back. I knew I felt it. I had said it before too many times to the wrong people and I so wanted this time to feel special and different. It did but I didn’t want to cheapen it with just words. Derek taught me that saying “I love you” was easy every time we are together. There wasn’t a rule, he was just very loving and very good at showing it to me. His love began assisting in my healing, I felt safe for the first time. I had so much pain built up inside and such feelings of worthlessness and felt so responsible for everything. The gravity of it was sometimes overwhelming. I hadn’t had time yet to learn to let it go of my past mistakes. This would take well into our marriage.
As we spent more time together we noticed we could complete each other’s sentences and would say funny things at the same time. We decided that if there were brain series for connected people ours was the C-22. It all felt so right.
It wasn’t too much longer until Derek got the best advice in the world. His Dad said, “If you love her, it’s time to make a decision because there is a child involved.” Derek shortly thereafter proposed by accidentally lighting a menu on fire at Oba in Portland. He took me to a special dinner and while asking me to marry him, he wasn’t paying attention to how his menu was set down and it caught fire on the candle at the table. It was in flames before the table next to us could warn us that it was going up in flames. We were so enamored with each other that we didn’t even notice. I’m hoping this was symbolic of our eternal flame. We chose “our song”, Crazy Love by Van Morrison. He asked me if he could be Paige’s father after two weeks of dating and we were engaged shortly thereafter.
Derek was light and funny, while we were dating back and forth he mailed me a Spaceghost CD. It was so strange and I worried that this was a little too strange. I think he was testing me to make sure I could hang with the ridiculous humor. Luckily, his jingles about butternut squash and other nonsensical songs were reminiscent of growing up with younger brother’s antics, songs, musical performances, and goofiness. I was worried he was a little too light and might not know how to talk to me about the harder things I had been through. I prayed about that and God answered loud and clear that this lightness was a necessary missing element in my current life, what a relief it was when I accepted this in my heart.
Derek and I were married three months later on December 26, 1998 with our precious daughter in our arms. Derek and I designed our wedding rings and I felt like my Prince Charming had swept me off my feet and lifted my spirits. Derek created a third ring for Paige out of the platinum that made our bands. God does answer our prayers. Today marks the twentieth Valentine’s Day that we’ve spent together and I love him more today than I ever before. Our love story continues to this day. God has added two more beautiful girls to our family and lots of animals. We live on our dream property in Southern Oregon complete with a wakeboard and waterski lake. I sometimes have to pinch myself, it doesn’t feel real. Now that my kids are older, I am spending some time on me, finally letting go of the heavy things of the past. Derek has given me the room to grow and work through things and has always loved me no matter what. I couldn’t have dreamt up a better partner. He really is my prince and I will be forever grateful for his love.