At the end of my senior year, I wasn’t looking for love. I was looking for a diploma. That magic piece of paper with important names illegibly scribbled on lines, which meant I could get a job. My Samford experience was full in the best possible way--being an RA, traveling, working, volunteering, singing, writing, working out in “the cage,” and taking all kinds of classes that stirred and challenged me. But as Spring semester of my senior year rolled around, I was caught up in the dual desires of investing in places and people that had become home and looking to the next step of finding a job and moving and living on my own. After years of casual and awkward dating, I’d come to accept what the Samford girl-guy ratio meant for me: the love of my life was not at Samford. And I was okay with that.
Good things happen around Christmas, though. Romantic things. Magical things. Things you don’t expect. At least that’s what the movies taught me. My thing wasn’t exactly magical. It was a thrift store maybe-date with a guy I’d been acquaintances with since freshman year, but it was the beginning of something magical.
When we were freshman, Phil Johnson had dark, curly locks to his shoulders, parted down the middle--hair that flew in the wind behind him as he rode his razor scooter to class honking the clown horn he’d attached to the handlebars. Not exactly babe-magnet material. The hair and the scooter made him memorable, though, and the tiny post-911 American flag on the back waved at me unabashed, as if it knew it belonged there and I was the crazy one.
The hair and the scooter didn’t do it for me, though. We were “hi” friends, people who would wave across the quad and say hello and be fine to leave our conversation at one word.
He was nice.
I was nice.
We were not for each other.
End of story.
But then he cut his hair.
He went to London for a semester and came back with those black curls cropped short and it was then that he landed on my radar. But he still rode a razor scooter outfitted with a horn and flag, so I kept him on my radar with caution.
A year later, we found ourselves in one of the most unlikely places on campus for a pre-med student and an English/Language Arts major: a theatre classroom in the belly of Harrison Theater. I was in a required play directing class and he got roped into auditioning at the last minute for one of the annual Ten-Minute Plays. While I didn’t cast him in my play (he wasn’t exactly an actor), I was intrigued by why, at 7:30 p.m. on a Thursday night in November, he was in that theatre classroom at all.
Over the next month, we both clocked more hours in that building than we ever had in all our years at Samford combined. He was rehearsing for the play he was cast in and I was rehearsing with my cast members for another play. We finally had a point of connection that could move us beyond the one-word conversation.
Christmas break approached and my best friend roommates encouraged me to invite him to a Christmas party we were hosting after exams. I wasn’t sure. Do we know each other well enough for that? Would it be awkward? Would he know enough other people? Am I reading into things? I did it anyway. And he agreed. And somehow from that Christmas party, we planned to hang out later in the week since we’d both still be in town a couple of days after everyone else had gone home. Because of a shared a love of thrift stores (an unwritten requirement of any college student), we planned to go thrifting with a couple of his roommates. Thrift store, roommates, off-hand, last minute plans—definitely not a date.
But then his roommates backed out at the last minute and it was just the two of us riding in his Crown Vic (affectionately named “Boss Hog”) and it suddenly felt very datey. Except we were still going to a thrift store. And we never had a lull in the conversation. And it felt comfortable and easy and light and innocent. And when it was all over, I wasn’t sure if I’d just gone on a date or spent time with an old friend.
We spent January sending emails and postcards from across the pond (he was in London again for Jan-term), and February finding excuses to hang out every day—smoothies and walks around the quad on a rainy day, studying together in the library, Monday movie night with his roommates, RUF, picture swapping from our various travels over the holidays, game nights and three weeks worth of similar shenanigans.
At the end of February, I ended each day thinking, “I loved spending time with him today and hope I get to see him again tomorrow,” but I wasn’t entirely sure what we were. Friends? Dating? God-forbid, something in-between? So when a friend offered to set me up on a blind date, I agreed. I liked Phil, but I wasn’t tied to him and he was being relationally vague, so why not? On Monday night, Phil called me and said, “I’d like to take you out on a real date and wondered if you were free on Thursday.” Of course he wanted me to go out with him on Thursday, the day I’d already agreed to go on the blind date. I did some silent screaming and face-making on the other end of that phone call and then calmly told Phil that I had other plans that night but would love a rain check, so we rescheduled for Saturday.
Thankfully, the blind date was a disaster after about 15 minutes in, so when Phil took me to Chez Lulu on Saturday and said the words I’ll never forget: “I’ve enjoyed spending so much time with you lately and I’d like to take steps toward doing that on a more regular basis,” I was in.
It was the beginning of 13 months of dating and nine months of engagement and nine and a half years (and going!) of marriage. And now, two kids and a lot of sleep deprivation and laughter later, I’d like to thank Samford, the barber in London who cut Phil’s hair, the theatre department, Laura Brost who talked Phil into auditioning, thrift stores everywhere, my persistent roommates, the lame blind date guy whose name I can’t remember, and, of course, God for orchestrating the details of me marrying the man I never dreamed of, who became the man of my dreams.
P.S. When he saw the long-haired Phil picture, my 3.5 year old said, "Was Daddy a mean guy?" "No, buddy. He was nice. He just thought it was cool not to smile in pictures."
|The man I never dreamed of.|
|The man of my dreams.|