Three years ago today, on a frigid evening at a winery in western Illinois, I married my best friend.
And Monday, we came home after spending the past four days celebrating — in Des Moines.
We’ve celebrated all three of our anniversaries in Iowa’s capital city, actually.
Yes, it sounds a bit lame, and it’s no Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., or Nashville, Tenn., or Chicago, but we enjoy it, and it’s a town I actually feel comfortable driving in, see my fear of interstates.
Though I will say, this year we arrived during rush hour and drove right into the teeth of wall-to-wall traffic, a fine way to reintroduce ourselves to big-city driving.
My nerves were on edge, of course, but I somehow made it through with the trusty Google Maps app delivering instructions.
When we were finally in the clear, I took a series of deep breaths and uttered something in the realm of “Holy crap.”
“If you were nervous, you did a good job of hiding it,” replied Megan.
It could’ve been worse.
Anniversary trip drama
When we took our first anniversary trip, we again drove into rush hour traffic — perhaps we should time our arrivals a bit better. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the cooling system in our car was going out.
I knew it, but my wife didn’t.
Having worked for years for my father at an oil-changing shop, I knew the smell of the various fluids, and this had the unmistakable whiff of coolant.
There are few worse feelings than having car trouble away from home. I always feel bad for those poor saps stuck on the side of highways, but I take a certain amount of pleasure that it’s not my problem.
“Tough break, buddy,” I think to myself.
Then, it happens to you.
After making it to the hotel, I got on the horn to trusted loved ones to figure out my next moves, and we all came to the conclusion that I should just continue to monitor the coolant level and fill the reservoir as needed. This also meant, of course, that we couldn’t venture too far from the hotel, just in case.
But we made the best of it. After all, we had a room with a hot tub and a huge mall just down the road.
The next year, having learned our lessons from the past trip, we had our car — a different one, mind you — checked before heading out. With a clean vehicular bill of health, we hit the road.
We got to our destination with little to no drama. We checked into our hotel room, and all was well.
Until about 4:30 a.m. the day of our anniversary when our room phone rang.
A call that late/early is never good. My thoughts centered on family.
“Was everyone OK?”
Thankfully, it had nothing to do with that.
No, someone’s room flooded, which caused flooding in a series of other rooms, ours included. I got out of bed and felt my socks soak in the water from the carpet.
We hurriedly gathered our things as we wiped the sleep from our eyes and took to the lobby to find many others dealing with the same unfortunate circumstance.
A somewhat panicked clerk — who could blame him — moved us into another room.
To make it worth our while, the hotel gave us a free night’s stay. I was happy with that, once I woke up enough to fully realize what was going on.
Thankfully, this year’s stay was drama free, once we got there.
Both my wife’s newspaper and mine recently sold, leaving our futures, long and short term, in the air.
Though we made reservations at least a month prior, we weren’t sure we could afford it.
Megan and I talked endlessly about it.
Should we shorten our trip? Should we go somewhere else more affordable? Should we just stay home?
It was maddening, to be sure. It never feels good to have unforeseen circumstances strip from you something you’ve planned, something special, something you’ve looked forward to, especially after you’ve scrimped and saved and sacrificed to make it possible.
But we waited and watched a few more events unfold in the sales’ aftermath, and we were confident we could make it work.
And it was a lovely time. We took in Jordan Creek Town Center, the Des Moines Art Center, a movie and even the famous RAYGUN T-shirt shop downtown.
And today, we celebrate three years together.
Was I ever going to meet someone?
There was a time, however, when I wondered if I was ever going to find someone.
In fact, I even wrote a couple of columns about it, expressing the plight of an aging single person the best way I knew how — through writing.
Perhaps my low point came when I turned 30, and eight days later celebrated Valentine’s Day alone. I wrote a rather sad, lonely and pathetic piece about it (believe it or not, I actually got a date out of that one). I was trying to be funny, but inside, I was miserable.
Shortly after I wrote that, I gave up. I was tired of waiting. I was tired of getting my hopes up. I was tired of the endless disappointment.
A 10-hour date
Little did I know that 10 months later, on a blustery December day, I would meet my future wife in a parking lot near the Fort Diner, a little eatery in Fort Madison, Iowa.
Actually, it started a bit before. And I wrote a column about that, too. Here’s a sample:
I was in the office one night when I listened to a fellow editor talk about this girl who used to intern at The Hawk Eye (the newspaper at which I’m employed) a few years ago. And the more I heard about her, the more there was to like.
I decided to do some Facebook stalking — don’t judge me, you know you’ve done it at some point — and, again, the more I learned, the more I liked.
The next step for me was to friend her. So I did.
But then it occurred to me, “This girl doesn’t know me from Adam. How much of a creep am I?!”
As it turns out, that consideration was right on, as she thought the same thing.So, I introduced myself by way of Facebook messaging, which I hoped would mitigate any of the situation’s weirdness.
“I hope this isn’t too incredibly creepy, but I wanted to introduce myself,” went the first line of my first message.
Thankfully, she looked past all that, and it took off from there.
We messaged for a while, then we texted and talked on the phone for a bit, and, a few weeks after that initial message, we decided it was time for a date.
Listening to her version of the story, she was just as nervous as I was, though I couldn’t tell. Personally, I was concentrating on keeping my heart from beating out of my chest.
As we sat down to dinner, I was taken in by her beautiful brown eyes as we talked. And talked. And talked. For hours.
Now, at some point, with a date that successful, you don’t want to push things. The idea is to get out of there with as little damage as possible and see what happens on date No. 2.
But neither of us wanted the date to end, so we made our way to Westland Mall (in West Burlington, Iowa), where we talked some more — if that was even possible — and took in a movie.
Ten hours later — 10 hours — the date was over, and I was left wondering at the awe of it all, at how blessed I was.
After that 10-hour date on Dec. 16, 2012, I knew she was something special.
She was so beautiful. So kind. So caring. So smart. We were both journalists, working for competing newspapers, so we could talk shop and know exactly what the other was saying.
Apparently, she had taken a liking to me, too, though, to this day, I’m not sure why.
A week later, we made it official. We were a couple.
Fast forward a few months to April 26, 2013. Megan and I already were talking about our future. We both knew what this was heading toward. We both had that feeling.
What I was about to do was a mere formality, but you want your engagement story to be something you can share with your kids and grandkids when they eventually ask.
And I knew how to pop the question.
Megan, her parents and I were headed to Tennessee to spend time with her aunt and uncle and beloved grandparents. I knew how important her family was to her, and I wanted them to be a part of it all.
So, before we left, I wrote a column in which I proposed to her. It was to be published that Friday.
To keep the surprise from reaching her too soon, I came up with some bogus story to get her cellphone out of her hands for one day, which proved to be easier than I thought.
After getting up and nervously getting ready at the hotel, we headed for her aunt and uncle’s place, where her grandparents also lived.
Once we arrived, I grabbed a laptop, pulled up the column, and I had her sit down to read it. For all she knew, she was reading just an average piece.
But it wasn’t. And she soon began to realize that.
After what seemed like forever, she got to the last line.
Turn around, I’ll be the guy down on one knee.
And there I was, the ring box sitting in my hand. It was perfect. Just perfect.
Worth the wait
Soon, the day was set. Plans were made. And the day arrived.
After less than a year of dating, we were married in front of 300 of our closest friends at Lake Hill Winery in Carthage, Ill.
I’m still blown away by our whirlwind story. After I had given up hope, God continued to work behind the scenes, piecing our story together as He placed this wonderful woman in my life. He knew what He was doing.
And it was so worth the wait.
To this day, she’s still my best friend. My partner in crime. And the woman with whom I want to raise a family and spend the rest of my days.
Happy anniversary, sweetheart. I love you. And I always will.