This, of course, is both where the story starts to get good, and where it starts to get messy.
Honestly, things grow a little blurry here, but instead of simply going to the movies every week, the pattern became something more like Movie-Dinner-Discuss Why We Can't Be Together. That sounds so stupid written down as a sentence, but in fact it is true. We'd go to the movies at the theater in Liberty Tree Mall, and often go to dinner at Uno's (which has since closed) on Endicott St. (I guess we had lots of money then).
So, I'm sure you are asking at this point: How are you married, if you constantly said no to this girl? Well, it's because of her loyal and loving heart, but that doesn't really answer your question. Why was I saying no? Two reasons.
First of all, the Christian thing. I had been taught or brainwashed- call it what you will- from a young age, that Christians should not be 'unevenly yoked'. I'd also been told I was some sort of exceptional Christian- mature in "the faith" for my age. This was- obviously- bunk. Not the uneven yoking- that's a sound principle. Two people who are completely different should NOT get together. It won't work. But what I couldn't see then, is that in fact Kathy and I are absolutely perfectly matched- it just took awhile to figure that out. We couldn't be more evenly yoked if we'd been born as twins then separated at birth. But like so many pat Christian answers, this was never really explained to me. Either way, faith was an issue and Kathy, God bless her, wouldn't just call herself a Christian and be done with it. And it was important to me.
But secondly, I really was under the mistaken impression that I had to wait for the absolutely perfect person to come along. How was I so blind to my own imperfection? I don't know- can't say. But by perfect I mean that I'd had romantic break-ups before, and was determined that this time, I would wait until just the right person came along. Kathy had a lot going for her and we were like best friends- but she wasn't the exact person I pictured myself with, and so I said no. I thought I was doing her a favor, being brutally honest. After a few weeks or maybe months of this, Kathy gave me a final question: was this going to work, or not? I said I didn't see how it could. It was our break-up.
Unfortunately, just after this breakup, I got tickets to see Neil Finn, an artist I knew Kathy would want to see. We were grown ups, weren't we? So I asked her along. We had a great time. It was just before Valentine's Day, and it was confusing for both of us. Then we went back to being broken up.
Events were quickly now approaching the time when the universe- explain that how you'd like- was growing tired of our (my) little games and was ready to bring things together.
My grandma Kristoff was in the hospital in PA, and was expected not to last long. I went back there. I saw her in the hospital and made awkward faith talk, but she was unaware. She passed away shortly thereafter. Then began the funeral proceedings. During this time, sitting in the extra room of my Uncle Ashley and Aunt Bonnie's house, I read emails from Kathy- the only person I remember from MA that contacted me or seemed to care what was going on. I appreciated this, but it didn't change anything.
Now, just before I'd left, I'd asked another girl out on a date. There's no need to name her, though I suppose if she reads this she'll recognize herself. If she does, I'd just like to say thank you, for reasons you'll soon see.
I met her for this date, and she was the opposite of Kathy in some ways: we'd met at a mountain bike race, she even liked singlespeeds like I did. She was tall, acceptably Christian, and musical, too. We met for dinner, and then went to a movie.
I had fun, and I hope she did too. But while I talked to her, I was noticing things I'd wish to change about her. It doesn't matter what those things were, and I can't even remember them, but suffice to say that like anyone, I was listening to her voice with 3/4 of myself, and the other 1/4 was computing whether this could go somewhere. This happened all through the movie- or at least half of it.
Because halfway through that movie, I realized something: the closest thing I've ever experienced to a lightning bolt. I wanted to change this girl in different ways, but with exactly the same spirit that I wanted Kathy to be different! IT WASN'T THEM, IT WAS ME. (Have you seen the movie Finding Nemo? Of course you have. There's a scene toward the end when Dorey meets Nemo in the ocean after Marlin has sadly swum away, and the whole movie flashes before her eyes when she realizes who Nemo is. This is what was happening to me)
But if that was true... if I'd wish to change any girl I'd encounter then the problem (the one who needed to change?) was me... and that meant... that meant... I already loved a girl, and she loved me. Those things I'd change would always be there, for anyone I'd ever meet. So why not accept that and get back to Kathy, quick?
And now, a pause. I'm sorry to that other woman. She's happily married now, so I don't feel sorry that way. And who knows if she was all that interested in me, anyway? It doesn't matter. But in the relationship that ensued with Kathy, I never really did end things clearly with her. If you read this: I'm sorry. But I had some important stuff going on, and besides, how could I say: 'Thanks, you made me see why I needed to date someone else"?
Back to Ms. Skarmeas- I went to work the next day (I think) and it was a closing shift. I asked her if we could go out after. She reluctantly agreed (and who wouldn't be confused and reluctant?). When we got to dinner and I told her that I'd gone on a date the night before with another girl, her reluctance must've made her heart skip a beat. (In fact, I know it did, but let's stick with the spirit of the narrative). I told her about my lightning bolt, and that I thought maybe I was ready to try this thing... just a little bit. One step at a time, with no commitments and no promises. I felt inspired by a song we were both listening to at the time by Split Enz, called "Stuff and Nonsense".
"And you know that I love you
Here and now not forever
I can give you my present-
I don't know about the future- that's all stuff and nonsense"
The next day, I was scheduled to be the replacement preacher at a friend's church plant in southern NH. I asked Kathy if she wanted to come with me and she did.
And here's the miracle of our relationship, where words pretty much sputter out and fail: From that morning on, despite all my pleas and promises and hedging my bets, and stuff and nonsense, we might as well have been married. Like all the tumblers in all the locks in the world falling into place. It was so clear and obvious we never really even discussed it again. The drama ended. We laugh and marvel now in equal measure at all the conversation we had that brought us to that point. It would be awhile before I proposed in July of 2004, and we got married that September. And that did open another new chapter. But there was no plot twist- we had friends go through various relationship dramas around us. But Kathy and I were simply together.
And honestly and truly, it has been that way ever since.
All of this story, though, simply explains how we got together. It doesn't really explain that title. Or the song that inspired it. It's a strange thing, as many of you who are married will know. My heart resonates with that line: I don't know how I survived life before Kathy, I truly don't. There were months when I don't think I was touched (literally) by another human being. There were times that I thought were fun, that were so deeply lonely that it pains me to think of them. One particular time comes to mind when that feeling came to a head enough- and I couldn't understand it enough- that though I knew I loved life, I wondered if I also felt suicidal. Looking back now, I'm sure I was simply sick of being alone. So sick of my own company and my own selfishness that I both longed for something new and worried myself to the ragged ends of my nerves about anything that came along. It wasn't that I actually felt those dark things, it was that I had no one and nothing to distract me from any thought that came along. Combine that with a dose of Obsessive Compulsion, and you've got a recipe for nearly having a mental breakdown. I'm sure many of us have felt that way, and you shouldn't worry about my particular case. But you see what I mean-
"...I don't know how I survived those days- before I held your hand".