Monday, December 30th, marks the 21st anniversary of the day my life changed forever. It was a normal day like any other. I was at the grocery store where I worked as a bookkeeper, going about my daily tasks. I was in my mid-twenties with dreams and aspirations that didn’t include that store or this town. The grocery store was just a stop in my path to success, and I was anxious to put it in my rear-view mirror.
All was progressing according to my carefully laid plans, and then it happened. It was straight out of a movie or a cheesy TV commercial. I received a beautiful bouquet of roses from a man I had never met. I’d never even heard of him.
The card, which mentioned a mutual friend, said he would like to meet me and listed his phone number. I would never have called him had he not mentioned our friend. True to my cautious nature, I called our mutual friend first. I peppered her with questions, anxious to know how this unknown man had learned about me and what he knew.
My friend assured me he was not a stalker, crazy, abusive, or an ax murderer. She emphasized that he had a good job, which was important. While having a job should be considered normal, my dating experience had proven that it was rare among the men of my generation at that time. She went on to say that he was a good man, hard worker, and the recently divorced devoted dad to two young children.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted a relationship at that stage of my life, let alone with a man who had kids. That’s a huge responsibility that I wasn’t keen on contemplating. However, I felt the need to thank him for the flowers at the very least. I attempted calling him that evening, but he didn’t answer. Instead, he came into the store where I was working the next day, and I came face to face with my future.
I stopped breathing when I saw him. He was a giant red-headed mountain of man who towered over me with kind blue eyes and a mischievous smile. I could feel my face getting hot. My voice became high-pitched and wobbly. My hands shook as I scribbled down my phone number for him. I’d never had a reaction like that before, and I felt like my feet didn’t touch the ground for the rest of my shift.
We started dating in January. We were engaged on Valentine’s Day and married in October of that year. I went from being a single woman trying to conquer the world to being a wife and step-mom with my hands full of simply surviving in a short span of time. My new husband worked nights, so I faced many challenges in my new life.
I found an office job where I actually used my college degree and was home with the kids every night. The schedule, pay, and benefits were much better than I had ever previously enjoyed. My time at home was spent cooking, cleaning, helping with homework, giving baths, settling fights, reading bedtime stories, and dealing with a whole bevy of people who didn’t think I was doing any of it correctly.
I soldiered on and put my family first for several years until the kids were old enough to take care of themselves. Then I finally reached the point where I could think of myself and what I wanted.
I started writing again. My passion had been put on the back burner for far too long, and I’d forgotten much of what I’d known. I joined writers groups and began attending conferences. I even took a writing for publication class, which was amazing, to help me figure it all out. My husband supported my return to the pursuit of my dreams and did everything he could to encourage and support me.
I found a job that I love where I help low-income people live a little better. Having struggled so fiercely myself, I relate to the plight suffered by many of my clients. My job isn’t what you’d call a great paying one, but it’s rewarding. My husband shoulders more of the household expenses, so I can continue working at a place where I feel I make a difference.
Through it all, Jim and I maintained our relationship. We’ve had some great times. There were also a lot of really difficult times, especially during the kids’ teen years, but we made it through. Our relationship is stronger today than it’s ever been.
It’s difficult to believe that we’ve been navigating this adventure called life together for 21 years. I never made it to Kansas City or applied at Hallmark. I chose to stay here and raise a family instead. As I look into the faces of my step-children and grandchildren, I know I chose well.
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