So, thanks to the amazing When Mike Met Mariska post written by a friend (seriously, if you haven’t already visited it, I highly recommend Making it Up as I Go – all you parents will laugh, cry, and generally commiserate with the smart, funny, tongue-in-cheek Mariska), I realized I have not written much about how I met my husband, Nick. Most of my friends know the story because, heck, they were there. Or have had to endure Nick and I making cutesy faces at each other for the last 16 years.
Anyway, the first time I met Nick was in my Sophomore year at high school. He transferred into my Biology class. I remember sitting in the front row of Bio, reading my horror novel carefully hidden in the pages of the Bio book, hoping not to catch anyone’s attention. For some reason, Nick was up at the front of the classroom, chatting comfortably with the instructor laughing and holding a french horn case, with his impeccably straight hair running past his shoulders. He glanced at me with a quick smile – and all I could think was: “What a jackass.” I don’t know what offended me so immediately. Perhaps it was his confidence and his shiny perfect hair (as compared to my ragged, frizzy hair that I kept in a bun 90% of the time to hide its unruly nature). Given my extremely shy personality (mind you, at this point, I went by “Raven”, my hair was fading from dyed black, and I tended to wear combat boots and tight black jeans with turtle necks), I was prone to think anyone who called attention to himself was a jackass. Or maybe it was because he was talking so loudly that I couldn’t focus on my horror novel. In all honesty, it was probably his confidence that I found unsettling. Until I met Nick, I had never really known what it was like to talk freely.
Nick went on to be generally disruptive the rest of my bio class that year. He was always causing a ruckus and getting sent across the room by Mr. S. He would complain that it wasn’t his fault, that P was doing something horrific to him (I think hitting his knee through some kind of martial arts helmet was his complaint at one point), and he would voice this complaint from one side of the room to the other. The whole time I would think to myself “What a jackass… ” In retrospect, all I can think is that I was really horrible. I like to think I’m not judgmental, but scaredy-cat Raven was incredibly judgy. Especially when people interrupted her very precious reading time.
Of course, according to Nick, his recollection of me from Sophomore Bio was the chick in the black jeans with the nice ass. So, maybe on some level, I was right?
Flash forward to my Junior year. I was still petrified. I thought that by interacting with people, they would somehow see how weak, stupid, or generally lacking I was, so I spent most of my lunch period outside on the bleachers behind the school – you guessed it – reading. At some point, a group of guys headed by my friend and neighbor Stu descended on my bleachers, and forced me to put the book away. At first, I thought the whole thing was a coincidence. It was random chance that they had appeared on the bleachers to hang out. They had probably included me in their friendly banter just to be nice. When it became clear that my reading haven had become the hang out for Stu and his group of friends, I found a new place to hide. It took no time at all before they found me again. After one more location swap, I gave up trying to find new places to squirrel away and read. These guys made me laugh. And Nick, with his much shorter hair and easy smile, wasn’t nearly the jackass I thought he was.
At that point, these guys invited me almost wholly into their midst. I succumbed to new levels of nerd-dom I had never known existed. D&D, RPGs, Boffing, oh, how my nerd-dom grew!
On my “study” period, I would often roam the halls, thinking, daydreaming and trying to pass the time until my next class. At some point, I started running into Nick in the halls. Being the generally clueless hermit I was, I thought it was funny that Nick happened to roam the halls connecting to the IHS wing to South. Especially since he wasn’t enrolled in IHS. We would chat about, hell, I don’t know what. I just remember feeling really at ease with him. I never felt that awkwardness when you don’t really feel like you have anything to talk about with someone. I never felt like I had to pretend with him. He seemed to accept me as I was, not questioning how broken I might be on the inside.
Then there was role playing. A friend of ours ran a few RP games, and Nick was one of the frequent members. At one point, Nick came late to a session having jogged to the house from a martial arts test. He was bold and plopped himself right in front of where I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, announced he was tired, and laid his head in my lap. I was completely taken aback as he seemed to doze in my lap, and looked up at my other friends, who seemed just as startled as I was. Stu made a “WTF? Are you two an item?” gesture at me, at which I replied with a wild “Help! I don’t know what to do!” gesticulation. This was apparently hilarious. But it was the start of something amazing.
Within a few days, I received a telephone call. Mind you, I didn’t give my telephone number lightly, so not many people had it. You can imagine my surprise when my mom told me it was Nick who had it, who had apparently gotten it from another friend. He had been holding onto my phone number for weeks, apparently, picking up the phone, before his nerves died and he placed the phone back on the receiver. Our friends were apparently ready to kill him, they were so tired of hearing about me from him. So, he gave in and called me. We talked for about 4-6 hours, until we both almost lost our voices and Nick’s mom came down and found him still on the phone well after midnight. Then, he quickly asked if I would like to see him. Just him. He asked if he could pick me up, and terrified, I said I would rather walk. I didn’t want him to come to my house and see how poor I was. He would maybe meet my mom, and depending on her mood, she would either seem lively, vibrant and funny, or terrifying, unpredictable, and intimidating. So, I walked to his house. When I got there, he commented on my medallion. He attempted to pick it up several times and kept fumbling and dropping it, so I took it off my neck, and that’s when I noticed how badly his hands were shaking. He was so nervous that he dropped the medallion underneath his fridge. Little ol’ me was making this seemingly confident guy tremble? I was stunned.
We went on a walk and continued to talk. I remember feeling nervous and happy all at the same time. After a while, he dropped me off at my house and gave me a quick hug, after letting me out of his car (mind you, he had to let me out of his car – the car wouldn’t open from the inside – this was mostly hilarious, because my mom had thought Nick was such a gentleman until her car broke down and he gave her a ride. Then she found out, and said she hadn’t realized she was letting her daughter ride around in a date-rape car, and politely asked Nick to fix it, which he politely ignored, until the car blew up and he got a new car).
Anyway, it’s difficult to convey the awkwardness and awesomeness that went into this dating process. I was relatively new, and hadn’t had any dating experience outside a couple of REALLY awkward experiences from middle school. Someone asked me if we were boyfriend and girlfriend, and I said I didn’t know, because, hell, I didn’t. I liked him. He seemed to like me. We went on a couple of walks. We would talk at boffing sessions, but we had barely held hands, so what did that mean?
I asked Nick later that day, trying to play it off, so I wouldn’t show how nervous I was that he might say “What?! No, we’re just friends.” Luckily, playing it cool, he said we could be if I would like us to be. I said only if he wanted us to be, to which he said, “Sure.” Not quite the commitment I was looking for, but it was close enough. I went distractedly through the rest of the day, alternating between a state of excitement and nervousness.
In the next few days, I found myself opening up to Nick in ways I had never opened up to anyone. I told him everything about myself, and he accepted it with calmness, encouragement, and sympathy (but not pity – I would never have forgiven pity).
Two weeks after our “boyfriend/girlfriend” conversation, at the very end of a date, Nick leaned in and kissed me for the very first time. It was a simple kiss, but magical all at the same time. At the very end, he leaned back, looked into my eyes and said “I love you.” He turned, after dropping the bombshell, and started to trot down my front stairs. I blurted out an “I love you, too” and was horrified that the words came out, as (if you know me), I HATE lying or saying things that might be even slightly untrue. As I watched him drive away, though, I felt a sudden rush of emotion and realized that even though I may have blurted out the words, and even if we had only been dating briefly so far, the words were true. I did love him. He was kind, thoughtful, funny, and spirited. Later, I would learn that he was crass, compassionate, loyal to the end, timid on occasion, and the most amazing man I had ever met.
My family has always been a relatively small unit (my mom and siblings against the world!), so when Nick committed to me, he took on the whole messy shebang. And he loved us all – my amazing, wonderful, beautiful, roller-coaster family. He was my rock through the custody battles my mom went through with my dad (and he’s the one who posed the innocent question to then 17 year old me “If you’re so terrified of your dad, why do you have to go see him?” I had never questioned it. Dad calls, we go. I had never thought of the situation where: Dad calls, I say “I don’t want to see you. I’m not going.”) And life got better.
There are so many different ways in which Nick’s simple questions instilled me with a new lens to look at myself. I used to write him notes and that would say “You saved my life.” And it was true. I have a family, accomplishments I wouldn’t have dreamed of when I was a kid, and the life I have today because he loved me and taught me to love myself.
Yes, I am who I am because I persevered, but life would have been a helluva lot cruddier if I had to muddle through it all on my own. It’s been a rollercoaster, and it hasn’t all been pretty, but damned if I am not still in love with that wonderful (snoring) man.