We were honored by the presence of friends and family who joined our marriage celebration on September 6, 2014. Still glowing, we’re not quite ready to retire this little ode from our wedding website. Go ahead, get mushy with us!
November arrives hard in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Historically the snowiest part of the state and the furthest away from the sunny stasis of the equator, by the time that people put away their warm versions of risque Halloween costumes (mine included a poncho) and approach what’s colloquially known as “stick season,” autumn is fast receding and summer seems far more than two months distant. Indeed, had it not been for the excitement of my first year as a full time teacher, I would have fast been approaching what Melville famously termed “a damp, drizzly November in my soul.” So when a chance discussion with my hair stylist (yes, I had a hair stylist) garnered me an invite to her upcoming “Birthday Bash” on November 6, 2010, I jumped at the opportunity to leave campus and perhaps throw a few ping-pong balls into solo cups. I grabbed a case of Molson Canadian–in honor of the Habs, of course–and my friend Chris for moral support, and headed out into the Vermont countryside.
I’ve never been much for reading the stars or silly superstitions. Who has the time, and surely there’s better things to do with it. It was that attitude that beckoned an amateur reader to bring forth what she called my Return of Saturn over a chance dinner with acquaintances making small talk one late summer night. And then I watched it unfold before me.
Turns out, I’m a bona fide interloper. I didn’t aim to be. But in a string of wondrous good luck of late, I thought I would remain open to suggestion, even if, or especially so, when it surpassed my comfort zone. My dear friend Marie invited me back to The Kingdom to spend the weekend with her parents and attend her friend’s birthday party. I wondered, ‘will there be people there I know?’ and hesitated at the unknown. After all, I never went back there.
A funny fact about “Birthday Bashes” in Vermont I was unaware of: everyone is invited. Not that I’m one for extreme exclusivity, but I never would have guessed that a party centered around drinking games would also have grandmas present. Or aunts. Or eight-year-old nieces. Or uncles spinning Chuck Berry records on the turntables. Or celery, carrots, and french onion dip. Fortunately, after the first few minutes of awkward hovering, I learned that the people “more my age” were out by the bonfire. I stowed the fine Canadian imports I had brought and headed over to a sizeable blaze fed by disused pallets, where I was kindly welcomed into the circle of people standing around it by a friend of a friend. But I quickly lost track of what he was saying (it was about water quality maintenance, I think) when I saw across the way, her face aglow from the fire and cheeks rosy from the cold, what I can only describe as the perfect manifestation of beauty as it had always appealed to me. Somehow, the smoke kept getting in my eyes after that, until I had moved around to her side. I introduced myself with a slightly irreverent interjection into their conversation, and by the time she laughed at my nerdy-as-hell Gettysburg Address reference, I realized that I was very quickly falling for this girl.
Turns out, the party was full of old girlfriends I was really pleased to reconnect with, and share silly memories, remember loss and exchange banter over the dozen or so years that separated our youth from the moment at hand. I was just so pleased. Next thing I knew, Honey entered my life. It’s funny looking back and trying to explain, since it felt so natural from the very first moment. There was never a doubt, insecurity or apprehension toward the unfolding of the history that lay ahead.
And so we snuck into the dorm,“The Barn,” of my alma mater where Connor was working, tending to the minds and wellness of teenagers. Blasphemy! We cuddled and watched “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou,” before the sun arose and I could see in full daylight, the most charming man I had ever set eyes on, and he’s increasingly charming still.
Of course, Bro-Law requires one to wait several days before texting a girl who gives you her number. But after eking out Jen’s digits–in true Communications fashion, she had first suggested e-mailing–I realized that she was well worth breaking the rules for. Fortuitously, we were going to both be in Boston the next weekend, and I did my best to seem casual about meeting up. Thankfully, Jen secured me a cheap block rate at a fancy hotel, and I secured her a ticket to a fancy comedy show thanks to brother and best-man Sawyer, and so we were able to civilly negotiate around the feelings I was developing, which might be succinctly summarized as “this girl is incredible and witty and funny and beautiful and I want to spend much more time with her.” But by the time I drove back north on Sunday, I was smitten something fierce and even broke my hitherto held ban on pink shirts upon learning that she liked them. Nor did I ease my way in with a few small stripes or accents of fuchsia–this thing was full-on salmon.
He texted the word “fortuitous” to me and for this logophile and childhood spelling bee buff, such syllables sent via SMS was downright sexy.
At this point, you may well be wondering if we intend to narrate every weekend of our relationship. Though tempting, we shall not. Suffice it to say that the next weeks and months were an incredible series of firsts for me. The first time I cut a vacation in New York short (“sorry, but I’m hoping to stop and see my friend Jen on my way back through Vermont”), the first time I brought a guest on the annual ski pilgrimage to Mont Tremblant in Quebec, and the first time I purchased a wetsuit as a Christmas present–but after all, a girl’s gotta swim in October. After fate turned a demoralizing cancellation of a solo flight west from Newark on December 30 into an incredible night with Jen in Montreal on December 31, I was pretty positive that I loved this girl, and even spent some time consulting with groomsman Nick on the subject whilst driving to see Jen at Jay Peak. Yet I kept searching for the right time to tell her, determined to avoid the kitsch and archetype of Hallmark moments. All my determination was for naught, though–when we found ourselves atop Mt. Philo on Valentine’s Day at sunset overlooking scenes of pastoral snow, I simply couldn’t quell the feelings rising up in my heart, and I told Jen how much I loved her. Trumpets don’t occur in nature, but the sound of the wind through the trees as we embraced that night sounded to me like a symphony that could rival any of the masters of old.
Mount Philo is the state’s first state park, donated to the state by a woman intent on preserving the land and sharing its beauty for all Vermonters. It’s a destination I often cycled to solo, a lovely walk I made a point of enjoying every month of the year when I lived in those parts. I’ve spent many memorable afternoons with my sisters, Mom and the Lewis kids on Philo. Tending to exuberantly share my favorite places with Connor, it was quickly becoming a place we would frequent. It’s windy trails, Adirondack sunsets and chairs – and most importantly, the unhurried time together that it provided us, to hold hands and meander down one path together, provided an increasingly solid foundation of love.
And so it was apt that we confessed our love for each other one wintry day on Philo. Honestly, you’d have to be cold as the very granite on Philo to not have seen it all over our faces anyhow.
And it was in these tender moments that I nearly killed us. In our glow of love revealed, sunset had passed and we began our walk down the trail with the moonlight glowing on diamond snow. We were chatty and I had such a skip in my step, I’m not sure how much time had passed when I started wondering why familiar landmarks for distance along the trail were not presenting themselves. As ‘guide,’ I didn’t want to worry Connor, and so we forged on; I rationalized it’s often the case that the trail looks different on the way down. It was the snowmobile that came barreling toward us that confirmed our detour — but we had hiked down an intersecting VAST trail and were on the other side of the mountain! Thank goodness for a couple bars of battery left on a rapidly freezing phone, we were able to see our way to a road that could lead us back to the other side within a few miles. The stars were aglow, the road full of opportunity and I felt warm to my very soul.
The months–and indeed years–afterwards grew only more incredible. In addition to the routinely phenomenal fun we felt from simply playing cards, cooking dinner, or going for a walk, the time was punctuated by even more happy firsts for me; with Jen’s encouragement, I rode my first road bicycle, struck my first Yoga pose, embraced apple-picking and tried my first bite of mock duck. This was also the time when we truly became parts of each other’s lives–meeting friends and family (i.e., all of you!), building memories, and travelling to favorite places together. Prior to meeting Jen, I had often treated the term “soul mate” with derision, convincing myself that such things were inventions of Hollywood. But I quickly came to realize how truly perfect of a match Jen was for me, from our shared love of terrible puns to our mutual penchant for singing bad pop music when we’re happy. I quickly abandoned any feigned indifferences I still performed out of perfunction, and before long was finding ways to spend every weekend–and many weekdays too–with Jen, despite living on opposite sides of the state. Every mile was well worth it, and I soon discovered the power that love and the occasional large cup of Hypercaf™ coffee can have in keeping your wheels moving down the road. By the time that we moved in together last summer, it felt like the most natural thing in the world.
The real, natural, uninhibited, joyful love and friendship, support and unyielding devotion that true love fosters is the most powerful and important gift in life. So blessed, we found it. Also, you should see Connor’s crow; he’s become one Hell of a yogini.
And so I found myself driving to Burlington on October 4th to pick up a ring that our friend Alina had pulled every string to get finished so that I could propose to Jen at Philo while there was still some warmth in the air and foliage on trees. I had wanted to propose for some time, but in waiting for Jen to leave town on business to prowl Perrywinkle’s shelves, I had unwittingly left little time for the ring to be made before the first snow, let alone autumn. But it all worked out: Jen planned to film sunset at Philo for work, and I discreetly negotiated a passage in their car to the top. A blazer, blanket, bottle of champagne, and gift-wrapped headlamp (see prior Philo experience above) were all in a tote bag, and nothing was going to stop us. That’s not to say that no obstacles occured–indeed, traffic, park closing, Jen considering canceling the shot, and impending weather all presented themselves–but serendipity was on our side. Cars raced, coworkers stayed late, rangers obliged, clouds cleared and I kneeled down. I proposed to Jen halfway between the Adirondacks of my youth and the Green Mountains of my present; halfway between Middlebury where I matured and Burlington where I had been welcomed into Jen’s family, at the spot where we first said “I love you,” a place that was as geographically central to my life as she was spiritually central to my soul, and I told her…well, pretty much what I just wrote.
That morning, I put my Grumpy Pants on when I asked Connor to pack the soup I had made for our family dinner with Shelly, Chris and the kids in Shelburne. The plan was that he would meet me at Philo after I got done work; we would walk down and spend the night at my sister’s. Back to the soup; his reply was, “Well… I guess…. I can.” So in my finest Grumpy Pants, I huffed about the kitchen and packed up the soup, asking if he could please bring it in the afternoon, versus me keep it in the car all day. These are the 7:00 a.m. moments that fairy tales are made of, right? Little did I know what was in store!
Much later on, we had some daylight left to enjoy and for me, Crow Soup to soon savor. I had no idea, still. I didn’t think twice about the location – I was onsite for work and it’s a place we frequent often. I didn’t draw conclusions from the excessively large tote; Connor does tend to pack on the precautionary side, for which I am grateful. So when I saw him somewhat shakily pull out a blazer, I was floored. The headlamp was clever, the earnesty real, and our happiness together — endless.