Love Story

I can’t even begin to tell you how unexpected our meeting was. I couldn’t have guessed – as far as I was concerned, it would be forever until God chose to bring another man into my life. I was done. I had asked him to spare me the heartbreak. I was sick of dating, only to find out yet again that this guy wasn’t the One. Don’t you dare bring another man into my life, I ignorantly shouted to God, I’m so over it! The next man I find interest in better be my husband, dangit!

Little did I know, eh?

It was Wednesday night, near the beginning of December in 2003. I was in my room packing. Suddenly, my mom burst through the door, looking disheveled and tired.

“They lost our reservations,” her voice shakily exclaimed, “we don’t have flight reservations!”

“What do you mean? How is that possible?” I asked, incredulous.

“I don’t know,” she sighed, “but they’re not there. I know I made them. I don’t know what to do.”

I just sat there, confused as ever and not sure if I should start emptying my suitcase. It took a few moments for me to respond.

“So…what now?”

“Well,” my mom said, “I guess I’ll call someone at the airline. I’ll let you know what happens.”

She walked quickly from my bedroom, down the hall, and through her bedroom door.

I considered the situation. It was close to midnight. We were scheduled to leave early the next morning on a flight from Orange County to New York City, where we would spend a long weekend with my brother, Sam, whose worship internship was coming to a close after 3 months. The plan was that Sam would fly home with us at the end of the weekend – to stay. My mom had been completely thrilled during the previous few weeks. Her son! Coming home! She couldn’t wait, and honestly, I was missing him, too. Our end of the hall seemed so lonely. Sure, I had the luxury of using his room for whatever I wanted – but I missed the teasing. I missed pounding on his door early in the mornings to wake him up. I missed turning on the hot water while he was showering. Oh, and maybe I missed the companionship, too. Maybe.

Whatever it was that I missed, I knew my parents were dying for Sam to return home. We were also excited, of course, to visit New York City. It would my first time. We had plans to stay with some good family friends and my mom kept telling me that we would be getting a total “New York experience.” I was definitely anticipating lots of shopping, catching up with Sam, and yummy homemade Italian food.

The thought that all of our plans might fall through just didn’t seem right. I decided to keep my suitcase packed. I puttered around until I thought I heard my mom finishing up a phone call. I went immediately to her room.

“So? What happened? Are we still going?” I asked impatiently.

My mom let out an enormously huge sigh of relief. “Yes,” she breathed, “We’re going. I called the airline and spoke with someone in reservations. I told him what happened and I explained why we were going in the first place. I told him we had to make this flight.” She paused. “And he gave it to me. He gave us the reservations. We’re on the same flight and we’re paying the same amount!”

I was amazed. “Well, great! Whew! I’m going to bed!”

We made it. As we walked along the tunnel that led us outside the airport, I could feel the biting chill creeping into my pants and shoes. We only had to wait a few minutes before Char pulled up in her Audi. We exchanged lots of hugs and kisses, loaded up our luggage, and headed for Brooklyn. Everything was just as the pictures portrayed – the bridges, the skyline, the gloom of winter. I could feel myself beaming.

Later that night, we decided to visit a pub in Brooklyn for dinner. Sam, along with Matt, whose family he lived with, planned to meet up with us there. I also heard that “one of Matt’s hilarious friends” was going to come along, but I didn’t make much of it – I only noticed the fact that Char definitely appreciated his sense of humor, whomever he was.

It seemed like we waited for hours before Sam showed up, although realistically, it was more like 20 minutes. When he arrived, we were greeted with greasy hair, a nose ring, dirty Converse, and a loud cough announced his entry. Soon after, Matt walked through the door, accompanied by his hilarious friend.

I turned to look when Char mentioned they had arrived. Oh, there’s Matt, I thought to myself, His face reminds me of his dad’s. Oh, there’s………………..WHAT?! I just know I blushed. It was as if time stood still for a moment or two. You need to know him, I heard a tiny voice say. Get to know him? No problem!

I can’t quite explain what I saw. It wasn’t as if there was anything flashy or particularly noticeable about his countenance. He was just….different. I knew it immediately.

All three of them sat down and Char began to introduce us. “This is Ryan, the guy I was telling you two about,” she said as she pointed to the man who shone like a light in the middle of that dimly lit pub. He wore an army green jacket and a New York Yankees beanie. He had a bit of stubble on his face, and…his eyes. They were this gorgeous combination of blues and greens, but the blue was more prominent that evening. He didn’t seem to take any special notice of me, but I had to constantly remind myself to quit looking at him.

At some point during our dinner, Sam, Matt, and Ryan took out their driver’s licenses and compared photos. Being 17, I had only just recently acquired my license and therefore hadn’t received it in the mail yet. I felt like a little, ignorant girl. Nevertheless, I took a look at their licenses.

Perfect, I thought to myself, now I can see how old…….uh-oh.

July 11, 1981, it read. He was 22. That was 5 years older than me. Not to mention, I had also heard he was currently attending college in Tennessee. Who was I kidding? For a few minutes, I had allowed myself to entertain the thought that maybe someday, I could be his. I was dumbstruck – where did that thought even come from? I knew I had to get it out of my mind – fast.

Later that night, my mom, Char and I were standing in Char’s kitchen, chatting about our day.

“So,” Char began, “what do you think of Ryan?”

I looked at her, curious. Why was she asking me this? “He seems cool. I thought he was nice.” I responded, hesitantly.

“I thought you would,” she smiled.

We went to bed, but for me, sleep did not come. I was angry.

God, I told you not to bring another man in my life! I mean, not like it matters, he is way too old for me. But…why do you have to make it so hard? I just want to be done! I’m so tired of this! I just worked things through with Jason. I was screwed over by Kyle. I just want to be DONE. Help….please!

I slept fitfully that night as I wrestled through my mysterious emotions.

The next day didn’t prove to be any better. We ended up randomly running into Matt’s family and Ryan on the subway at the end of our shopping trip. Ryan, of course, sat next to me. I noticed he had lots of holes in his jeans. “I have jeans with holes in them, too,” I said. Wow, I was smooth.

We had plans to do dinner with the whole gang at Mike and Char’s house, so we all got off the subway together to walk the couple of blocks. For some reason, Ryan and I ended up walking faster than everyone else, and we got to making small talk while everyone else walked behind us. I was torn – yet, inevitably, I was drinking in every moment with him.

After a fantastic home-cooked Italian meal, the women began to clean up. Mike brought out his harmonica, Ryan picked up a guitar, and they broke out into several different Bob Dylan songs. I was sitting next to Ryan at the table, and as they played, it occurred to me that Ryan’s knee was touching mine, ever so slightly. I was in heaven (of course, this is a fact that, to this day, that he “doesn’t recall”).

As I listened to them sing, play, and laugh, I couldn’t believe where I was. I couldn’t remember ever having fun like this before. It was such a new, exciting experience. I was enjoying myself so thoroughly, and I was completely ga-ga over a man I didn’t even know – a man who was five years older than me. Occasionally, WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?! would pop up in my brain, but I stubbornly pushed the thought away. Leave me alone, I told myself, I’m having fun.

The next night, my mom was scheduled to play a night of worship in the city. At the last minute, she asked Ryan to play guitar and piano for her. We went early for rehearsal, and I sat in one of the rows of seats, bored and tired. Ryan walked by me and shoved his bag under my seat. “Watch this,” he’d said with an ornery smile on his face. I have no idea how I hid my embarrassment from him – I was so smitten, I could feel my face blush fiercely each time I looked at him.

During the worship session later that night, Sam and I sat behind a curtain on the side of the stage. Eventually, we both laid down at different corners.  I was exhausted and Sam was sick with a nasty cough. We dozed until we heard the piano. If I remember correctly, we sat up simultaneously as the notes flowed through the room.

“Wow…” I whispered. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard.

I peeked out of the curtain to get a good look at Ryan as he played, but the piano was positioned in a way so that I couldn’t see him. There was something happening. I could feel God’s power pulsing through the room. It was a beautiful, heavy feeling. I wanted to stand up and sing and lay down and sleep all at the same time. As the notes rolled on, I felt so peaceful and alive. It was truly breathtaking.

After the session was over, we decided we needed to eat. Char, my mom, Sam and I all walked together and Ryan told me he wanted to come with us. He planned to meet us, along with Matt, when they were finished packing up. We arrived at the restaurant and ordered our food. Each time the door opened, I looked to see if it was Ryan and Matt, but they never came. I knew it shouldn’t be such a big deal but I was thoroughly disappointed.

While standing in the kitchen with Char and my mom that night, Char asked again.

“So, what do you think of Ryan?”

“He’s nice,” I responded, still hesitant, “but he’s 22. I’m 17. So…yeah, he’s nice.”

“Well, five years isn’t that big of a difference when you’re older, don’t you think?” She asked.

“No, that’s true. But…my mom thinks he’s too old. I know that for sure.” I felt dejected as I realized how unrealistic my hopes were.

“Ohh…yeah, I guess if I was your mom, I would feel a little funny about it. But maybe later, when you’re older!” She seemed to have some kind of agenda, but I didn’t mind.

On Sunday, we went to church in the city. Ryan was playing guitar along with Matt for worship. We arrived in time to hear just a little bit of their rehearsal. I sat in my chair and watched as they wrapped up. They were trying to decide who would sing what on a specific song, and Ryan said, “Hey – I’ll just sing harmony.” They quickly ran through the song as they sang together – Ryan had a beautiful voice. I was impressed by the fact that he had offered to sing harmony – most guys I knew didn’t even know what the word “harmony” meant!

Worship was sweet and powerful that morning. I felt the Holy Spirit and I also felt a lot of peace. I did my best to focus on God instead of Ryan, but for some reason, it felt right to think of Ryan. I didn’t feel like I was thinking outside of God. I felt like there was something important there – I felt like I was thinking about something significant and purposeful. I was worshiping God for creating someone as obviously unique as Ryan. I was worshiping him for his goodness and his power – and for the fact that he had made me light and carefree and capable of reflecting on his majesty in the midst of the confusion I felt about meeting Ryan that weekend.

We went to lunch after church. Somewhere along the line, Ryan managed to take my mom’s camera and I saw him take a picture of his backside. So he’s funny, huh? Just another thing to add to the list, I guess!

After lunch, I planned to walk around the city with my mom and Sam. My mom, however, backed out at the last minute, and Sam seemed to want to do the same. Ryan piped up and said he’d go, but I couldn’t imagine going all by ourselves. Sam eventually decided that he’d come too, to my relief, and we were off.

We walked everywhere – in the freezing, cold slush. We went to FAO Schwartz, we walked through Central Park, and numerous other places. We walked for so long that by the time we were done, we headed for the building in which the night church service was held because it was almost 6pm. As we neared the building, we decided to go to Starbucks first. Sam didn’t want coffee so he went on ahead – and that left Ryan and I, all alone. For some reason, it really struck me when he opened the door for me at Starbucks. It was such a simple, polite courtesy but it just drove up my respect for him.

When we arrived inside the church building, we realized just how cold we were. Our shoes and socks were soaked through, and half of our pant legs were wet, as well. We all stripped off our wet shoes and socks and hung them on a rack outside of the room where the service was held. Ryan was in a goofy, happy mood. The more time I spent around him, the more I liked him. He played at that service, too. As he played, I watched his face. He was truly at home with a guitar. There was something about the way he played and sang – I could tell he was in his element and I respected him so much for knowing and doing what he loved. I could see that there was a lot of depth to him and I just wanted to know him more.

Our group stayed after the service to clean up. Before we left, Ryan gave me a business card with his cell phone number written on the back. We briefly discussed the idea that he would drive us to the airport, but we weren’t sure if it would happen. We had a few errands to run the next morning before our flight, so we said we’d keep in touch.

The morning of our departure, we ran by Dean and Deluca to grab some truffles for my dad – my dad had recently begun to cook ridiculously delicious meals, and my mom knew he’d love to try cooking with truffles. We went to a few more places and then headed to Char’s house, where we packed the rest of our belongings. I don’t remember if Ryan and I texted or called each other, but one way or another, we finalized our plans and he came to Char’s house to pick us up.

I packed, rather reluctantly, and as I did so, I could tell I was going to mourn that place. I was about to leave a part of my heart in New York City. Something significant had happened that weekend. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but I knew that I would never be the same.

I zipped up my suitcase, put on a comfy sweatshirt and brought all of my things to the front door. Ryan showed up in his green ’94 Honda Accord, wearing his New York Yankees beanie and that same army green jacket. He helped my mom and I as we loaded up the car with our belongings. We said our sad goodbyes to Char, took one last look around, and got in the car.

We had only been in the car for about 5 minutes when my mom pulled out her camera.

“Turn around, you two!” she demanded.

She then took our picture – our very first picture together.

We were headed to the JFK airport, and in what seemed like no time at all, we were driving up the on-ramp onto the BQE. Suddenly, my mom’s phone rang.

“Rissa!” she exclaimed, “It’s Char! She says you forgot your shawl!” I had bought this great pink shawl at one of the outdoor markets one day. I wore it all weekend and couldn’t believe I forgot it.

“Oh no!” I cried.

“Do you want me to turn around?” Ryan asked.

I looked ahead. We were almost at the end of the on-ramp. The off-ramp was right next to us, but I couldn’t see how Ryan could possibly turn around. “Well,” I began…

“Yes or no?!” he hollered.

“Uhh…YES!!” I replied.

In one quick, seemingly near-death experience, Ryan flipped a complete 180 degree u-turn and drove right down the off-ramp. I could barely believe what had just happened. We drove back to Char’s house in near-silence, except for a few “I can’t believe you just did that” under-my-breath chuckles from yours truly. Char met us outside her house with my shawl, and we were off again.

We had almost arrived to the airport when I noticed one of my own stray hairs laying across the shoulder of my sweatshirt. I picked up the strand between my thumb and forefinger and proceeded to tie it into a bow on Ryan’s rearview mirror. I told him I was doing it so he wouldn’t forget me. What a goof, huh?

My heart broke as we pulled into the departure area of the airport. I didn’t understand why it mattered so much, but I didn’t want to leave Ryan. It didn’t feel right. He helped us pull all of our luggage out of the car and then he and my mom said goodbye. I stood there, unsure of what to do. Do I shake his hand? Can I hug him? Oh, Lord, don’t make me leave him! He turned toward me, and in an instant, I threw myself into his arms and we hugged. It was the best hug I’d ever received. I said goodbye and we began to walk toward the entrance. It felt surreal. Am I really doing this? Am I ever going to see him again?

By the time we met up with my brother and boarded the plane, I was unable to hold my emotions in for any longer.

I turned toward my mom. “What if I never see him again? I think that maybe I’m supposed to marry him!” I couldn’t believe what I’d just said. Marry him? How could I possibly know that? I burst into tears as I poured my heart out. My mom did her best to console me, and in the end, I knew I had to trust God to bring us together if it was his will. It would do me no good to worry.

As our plane took off, Sam handed me his discman. “Listen to this song,” he said. I put the headphones on and waited.

Soon, I heard the peaceful melodies of Fire Theft’s Heaven. I felt like the song fit in perfectly with my feelings.

Heaven
Are you really waiting outside the door?
Never thought I’d hear the words before the road

Sever
It’s the simple things that are so hard to grasp
Can’t find myself in all the days that passed
But I can feel it when it shines
Nevermind, I’m falling in love with you
Can’t find the road that runs through
Falling in love with you

Heaven
Are you really waiting outside the door?
Never thought I’d hear the words before the road

Sever
It’s the simple things that are so hard to grasp
Can’t find myself in all these days that pass
But I can feel it when it shines
Nevermind the way they shy
Turning round along the trail
My whole world is falling in love with you
Can’t find the road that runs through
Falling in love with you
Can’t find the road that gets through

And that’s how it began. Little did I know, we would end up here in less than three years!

4 responses to “Love Story

  1. Lindsey

    Oh my goodness…I just love this story and you my dear are an excellent writer! It’s a beautiful story! BEAUTIFUL!!

  2. OKay…. that is the sweetest story! And I agree with Lindsey, you are an excellent writer! Thank you for sharing! I love LOVE stories!

  3. What a wonderful story! {and, so well-written I might add!} It is obvious that God had this planned!

  4. Melissa

    We have the same wonderful friends in common, Jane and Joy…I read your story, and it literally brought me to tears. This is one of thee best love stories, and you do write terrifically!!

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