I have to take a short minute to say Happy Anniversary! to the sweet boy whose love has inspired this entire series. Six years ago this Saturday, we were standing at the front of a church, blushing like mad and high-fiving like idiots. Taylor James, the past six years have been a beautiful mess and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. Thanks for loving me and for being so darn loveable yourself.
This post is part of an ongoing series about how Taylor and I met and fell in love. To get back to the beginning, click on the handy-dandy image in the sidebar labeled “Our Story.” And thanks for following along!
With the tables turned the fall of my Sophomore year, I was magically free from the all-consuming daydreams that had monopolized my time the year before. Free to enjoy living with my best friend Jaime, another year of basketball and my newly selected major. But more than that, I was free from the idea I was actually running my own life. And because I believed that, a few amazing things happened.
The first was a bible study/prayer group called Coremdeo. That may sound totally weird to anyone who didn’t grow up in a Christian culture, but it really wasn’t all that weird. Basically, every week 10 of us would gather in someone’s dorm room or apartment and share what was going on in our lives. Girls from all walks of life, studying different disciplines, with all kinds of varied experiences, in one room bearing their souls. People I might not have even said “hi,” to had I passed them on the sidewalk. But in time, it became clear we were divinely assembled.
I hadn’t had high expectations when I’d been invited to join the group the year before, never having had great female friendships in the past. I figured sooner or later, pettiness, jealously and competition would drive us all apart. But what actually happened was far from it. In addition to being one of the most formative experiences I’d had in my young life, those ladies became sisters, women who I had the pleasure of standing by through love, loss, new relationships and breakups, depression, financial hardship, and mental health issues. Engagements, marriages and now, babies!
Thanks to those beautiful souls, I learned to be vulnerable. To let my true self peek through now and again. To have empathy and show compassion. To put my own worries aside and help other people carry their burdens for a while. To let down my blunt, sarcastic guard and speak kindness and encouragement to other people. And in turn, to allow myself to be known and lifted up by people I’d never even expected to be friends with. It was beautiful.
The second, was a specific night, early in September. We’d just had a particularly intense Coremdeo gathering, and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the heaviness of the things my friends were dealing with. We’d planned to gather with the male counterpart to our group, Radcore (of which my beloved was a founding member) to sing some songs and have a worship time. Again, this might sound totally weird to anyone not from a religious background, but it’s really not as strange as it sounds. We sang songs, a couple guys played guitars and we had some quiet reflection and meditation time. A couple people prayed out loud for our school, and campus, for specific things going on in their lives. And then Taylor, whose presence I’d been doing my best to ignore, pipes in with this simple, humble prayer that took my breath away. Even though I knew him pretty well at that point, it was like I was suddenly seeing him for the first time.
As I watched him, with his eyes shut tight, instead of a dark, handsome face with chiseled features, I saw this beautiful, earnest soul. Longing for wisdom and understanding. Seeking to be a better man. With a humble, quiet spirit, yet absolutely undeterred from being boldly vulnerable. Instead of the typical
lust attraction I felt in his presence, I was filled with this pure, overwhelming admiration and respect. He was genuine and unashamed. Free from all the things I wished I was- fear of what other people thought, fear of revealing myself, fear of letting down my guard. And in that moment, I got a glimpse of what my life might be like spent with a guy like that.
More than I’d wanted his affections, craved his attention or enjoyed his presence, I wanted a taste of that freedom. In him, I saw a path to the person I wanted to be, and I knew I had to have a front row seat to the way this guy lived his life. After the music ended, filled with the joy of my new discovery and armed with determination, I marched right over and wrapped my arms around his waist. I hugged that beautiful soul as hard as I possibly could, and stood up on my tippy toes to whisper in his ear,
“Thanks for being you.”
About five minutes later my nerve wore off, and I broke into a cold sweat thinking of what I’d just done. But as Jaime and I walked back to our apartment, we both agreed, it would be a night to remember.
Looking back, it’s pretty easy to see a theme. Learning how to open up to other people, trusting them with my heart and embracing the freedom to be myself. All good things, sure, but more importantly, all perfectly preparing me for the third amazing thing that would happen that fall.
As we neared October, things started to heat up between Taylor and I. We’d finally exchanged phone numbers during a friends’ birthday party, and I was getting more and more knocks at my front door. We spent a lot of late nights on opposite ends of the couch, downloading more country music than I knew what to do with and watching dozens of movies. Braveheart. Never Been Kissed. Reruns of Friends. We’d meet up on Sunday mornings for church, and make late night runs to McDonalds for sodas. We’d also spent a night dancing our butts off with our friends at the campus 70’s dance, me looking convincingly like a mullet-wearing construction worker. Sexy. We followed the dance up with a rousing game of Girl Talk, since the guys had missed out on that treasure in their adolescence. The image of Taylor and his friends covered in those red “zit” stickers will not soon leave my mind.
Despite all our time spent together, he still wasn’t sure. He’d instant messaged me late one night, saying he was too tired at the moment, but that we needed to talk. I let a day pass before finding out he was headed home for the weekend, and calling him up to demand he clear the air. It was an awkward conversation. He liked me, but he wasn’t ready. He was confused. The timing didn’t feel right. It was all I could do not to roll my eyes.
I told him not to worry and forget about it. It was a little annoying to be constantly reminded of his hesitation, but I believed things would happen in their own time. And I was still pretty content with the way his name looked when it popped up on my phone. He had a hard time staying away for more than a couple days, and that fact alone was enough for now.
As we moved into November though, my frustration grew. I wasn’t exactly frustrated with him, I wasn’t upset that we weren’t dating- I truly felt it would all work out when the time was right. I guess the best word to describe it would be, “tension.” Things were just unresolved. We had all these feelings and all this quality time spent together, but it was undefined. From the outside looking in, we weren’t really anything to each other. I struggled to put it into words in my journal entries, but there’s a lot of quotes and verses about burdens and expectations. Tension.
Three days before we left for a basketball road trip (Nov. 15 to be exact), my teammates and I were all gathered at one of their houses watching The Hills and trashing the sketchy behavior of Heidi Montag. My phone buzzed and I saw my favorite name in red at the top of my missed calls list. I listened to his voicemail on our way home from the girls’ house and unconsciously transferred it to my saved messages box. Old stalker habits die hard.
In his message he said he’d really been jonesin’ for some Aladdin and wondered if I’d be interested in watching it with him. When I got home, I logged onto AIM and wrote that I needed to take a quick shower, but he could come over after.
I hopped in the shower, washing away the sweat (and probably tears) from the day’s basketball practice, and thought I hadn’t seen Aladdin in a while either, and how fun it would be to re-watch. I wrapped my hair in a towel, threw on a plain, old, red crewneck sweatshirt and a pair of ratty navy blue sweats my Mom had bought me at the state tournament my senior year of high school. They had “Ramey” written across the butt. I wasn’t exactly a vision, but I’d made a sincere effort to be “real” with Taylor from the beginning, and I thought it would look a little fishy if I did my hair and makeup for a late-night cartoon.
Settling into the couch, I waited for him to arrive, unwinding my wet hair from my towel and giving it a toss. He knocked on the door while I shook the excess water from my head, and quickly throwing my soggy towel in my room, I opened it up and let him in. I plopped down on my usual side of the couch while he got the movie all set up, filling him in on the earth-shattering events of The Hills episode we’d watched as a team.
Much to my surprise, instead of taking his usual seat on the far end of the giant, squishy green couch, he sat down right smack dab in the middle, dangerously close to touching me. He’d always kept his distance so he wouldn’t give me the wrong idea, so I wasn’t sure what to make of this, but I was quickly drawn into the movie and forgot all about it. Prince Ali has that power.
But slowly, verrrrrrry slowly, throughout the course of the movie, he began to inch towards me until our shoulders were side by side. He kept sighing and slapping his hand down on the small space of couch that remained between us. I was aware of his every move. Despite my refreshing shower, my body suddenly felt hot all over and my stomach filled with butterflies. What was happening?
I’d had plenty of guys “put the moves on” me before. The fake yawn arm wrap in the movie theater. The pinky trick. The slow crawl of their hand from the seat beside you, to your knee, to your own hand. But I was still so surprised that he was even sitting near me, my mind turned fuzzy and I couldn’t figure out what he was doing. I figured he must have injured his hand at practice and it was bothering him. He couldn’t possibly be putting the moves on me.
His twin brother Andrew, and my future sister-in-law Melissa, stopped by during the movie, smiling at us like idiots. But they were pretty googly-eyed in general, so again, I didn’t make much of it. We finished the movie, they took off, and we settled in to watch the special features like we always did.
As the magic behind the making of Aladdin played on the screen, Taylor finally mustered the courage to reach over and grab my hand.
As he opened my fingers with his and slid them between each of mine, my stomach flip flopped and I prayed my hand wasn’t clammy. My hand tingled with electricity and all the blood in my body rose to my face. I silently thanked God we’d turned out most of the lights for the movie, knowing my face was 50 shades of red. I was so absolutely shocked, but he just kept talking like normal and flipping through the special features. Convinced that my voice would be too shaky to say anything, I kept mostly quiet, and eventually we found ourselves in a moment of silence.
“So…how are we going to do this?” he asked.
I couldn’t breathe. This was it! This was my moment. This boy I’d spent a year and a half starting at, loving from near and afar, getting to know slowly and deliberately, was sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with me, holding my hand. I’d never wash it, I told myself. My heart was on fire. It was the culmination of so many of my hopes and dreams in this one moment. He’d made the move, he was ready, he couldn’t possibly resist me anymore. I swooned. I think the word, “swoon,” might be the understatement of the century.
He continued, saying that he was glad we were already such good friends, but that he was ready for something more. Still unconvinced that all this was actually happening, I sat silent and dumbfounded, forcing him to continue. He said he was looking for a good buddy, someone to be close with. But at the same time, he wanted to take it slow, keep our hands to ourselves and be careful not to invest too much, too soon.
“There are things about me that you’re not ready to deal with. And things about you that I’m not ready to deal with,” he explained. He said he would be a little bit guarded at first, so we didn’t get ahead of ourselves. And he wanted things to progress casually and naturally. He wasn’t ready to be serious and he didn’t want to be like some of the other couples in our friend group, mushy and intense.
Listening to him talk about what would be “our” relationship, I felt a goofy grin creep across my face. In his mind, he was giving me a stern talking to, but his words were music to my ears. He was wise and considerate and I knew my heart would be in good hands. I mean, here we were, after all the ups and downs, after all the change and growth I’d been through, after all the lessons learned and hard choices made. Here we were at our own perfect, new beginning.
“You know what’s nice about this?” he asked as he got up to leave.
“What?” I finally spoke, following him over the sliding door, still holding onto his hand like my life depended on it.
“I don’t have to worry about falling asleep on the way home, like I did with past girlfriends,” referring to the fact that he now lived in an apartment just a short walk away. And suddenly, as he turned around to look at me, the same goofy grin I’d just had, spread across his face.
“Weird…are you my girlfriend?”
“Well, it’s looking like it, huh?” I said coyly, recovering a fraction of my wits, but grinning back just as goofy-like. He slid open the door, finally dropping my hand and took a step out to leave. Stopping, only to turn and say with a smirk,
“Well, goodnight girlfriend.”
To be continued…