Our Love Story – Q&A

A couple months before our wedding, which was yesterday, our officiant Blake Jenkins emailed us a list of questions to answer, which he planned to use to tell our love story to our wedding guests. Below are my full responses.

Thank you to everyone who helped us celebrate yesterday, in person and in spirit.

When was the first time you met your future spouse?
I first saw Tyler across the worship room in the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) house on Georgia Southern’s campus a couple weeks into my freshman year. He and my roommate Allison had been talking and a mutual friend pointed him out as he passed by the stage. I met Tyler a few days or maybe a week later when he and Allison wanted to watch a movie at our dorm room. I had the biggest movie collection of my roommates, tucked into rows in a big black footlocker under my bed.

Please describe your first impression of him.
Tyler’s curly hair bloomed from beneath his worn, blue Atlanta Braves hat. He was clean-shaven and wiry. As my friend pointed him out to me, safe behind dozens of people and the din of their conversations, I thought, “Remember this. This is important.” I thought it was because he and Allison would start dating. I wanted to be able to recognize him on campus and seem in-the-know when I did finally meet him. I also felt a shot of jealousy. He was cute and nice and the first time I met him, he picked out one of my favorite movies, The Count of Monte Cristo, to watch. (I’ve since read the unabridged book and it lowered my opinion of both the book and the movie considerably.)

Please describe in detail your first date and what you thought afterwards.
We’ve had two first dates and a Looney Tunes almost-date that Tyler probably wishes I hadn’t brought up. First came Looney Tunes. At some point in college—Tyler could better tell you when but I’m guessing my second year/his third—we got to talking at the BCM and realized we both loved Looney Tunes. I boasted that I had the Looney Tunes: Golden Collection on DVD, and he suggested I bring it over to his apartment so we could watch Looney Tunes together. I didn’t know if it was supposed to be a date, or if he liked me, or if this was just Looney Tunes. I was nervous. I gave more thought than I probably should have as to what Allison would think if Tyler and I started dating, even though Tyler and Allison had never actually dated; I decided I’d tell her only if something came of it. I arrived at his apartment and there were entirely too many places to sit. In my memory, the room was full of couches. Full. With a huge sectional that wrapped around the back of the room and bean bag chairs taking up everything that would normally pass as walking space. Tyler assures me there were only two couches, no sectional, and a reasonable number of bean bag chairs. Still, there were too many options and I didn’t know where to sit so I panicked and sat in the corner. I figured if he sat by me he liked me. If he didn’t, he didn’t. My choice to sit in the corner was weird to Tyler because it was not the sofa directly opposite the TV, obviously the best choice in seating. He didn’t want to crowd me, and figured if I didn’t want to sit by him then I definitely didn’t like him, so he sat opposite the TV on the other couch and neither of us spoke for the next three hours. I left after the DVD finished with a headache and the conviction that we would never date. I still have that DVD collection, and no, we have not watched it since.

Our first actual date was at the Starbucks on Forsyth around Thanksgiving in 2012. I remember what I wore (black turtleneck with buttons down the sleeves, skinny jeans, back flats, and peacock earrings), where we sat (at the second hightop from the trash can with my back to the window). I don’t remember much about the date itself, though. Prior to moving to Macon to work as a ministry intern at Mercer’s BCM, I knew Macon as that interstate exit with the Five Guys, the place my Dad’s cousins lived, and Tyler Cummings’s hometown. I’d been living and working in Macon for about 4 months when Tyler, getting ready to graduate from Georgia Tech and move back home, ran into a former roommate of mine (not Allison) on campus and looked me up on Facebook to see where I was. We dated for a few months after that first date, though at the time I wasn’t sure if it was a date or just coffee, until my internship ended and I moved back home to SC for a few months.

We both had really rough autumns in 2016, gratefully got through Christmas, and found each other at church the first Sunday of the new year. Finding him sitting a seat over from my roommate (and bridesmaid) Morgan that Sunday felt like such relief. By that point, we’d known each other for over 9 years. We’d once dated. We’d both traveled and grown and worked on our careers while keeping in touch. I knew him. And I trusted him. He’s always treated me incredibly well. Morgan would like me to point out that she suggested Tyler and I try dating again after that Sunday. Our first date was on his birthday that week. His sister Rachel had been ill that day, and Tyler told me about it when I texted him to wish him a happy birthday. I figured any plans he’d made with his family for his birthday had probably been postponed. That night, he went to the first night of a Bible study series at church, taught by (our officiant) Blake. I offered to meet him afterward, in case he wanted a “buddy” (yes, I used that word) to have dinner with. I’d heard he was dating someone (from my bridesmaid Nicole), so I figured he’d have made alternate dinner plans with her. But Tyler said he’d like to have dinner with me, if I didn’t mind waiting. While he was in Bible study, I made break-and-bake cookies—the only kind of sweet I had in the house—and hid them in my purse. We met up in the Ingleside parking lot, and he drove us to Metropolis on Riverside for dinner, where we stayed until we noticed the staff closing the blinds and putting up the chairs for the night. I could tell by the way he treated me and listened to me that he wasn’t dating anyone else. I was pretty sure he was interested in spending more time with me, too. When he dropped me back off at my car, just before I got out of his truck, I gave Tyler the tupperware container full of cookies, feeling badly that he wouldn’t have actual cake on his birthday. He just sat and looked at them for a minute, but I could tell it was a good kind of silence. Wednesdays after he got out of Bible study became out regular date night.

When did you know you were falling in love?
Not long after we started dating in 2017, I asked Tyler to take me to his favorite restaurant. Unfortunately, we arrived at Medi’s on Bass Road right at closing time. We offered to come back another day, but DJ and Darshawna insisted on serving us. So we insisted on taking our dinner to go. Tyler’s apartment was closer than mine. He hadn’t had time to clean or tidy, and I could tell he was a little embarrassed about the dishes in the sink and his unmade bed and the piles of books and receipts on the table. He had exactly one candle, for emergencies if the power went out, and lit it for us. After dinner, he gave me a tour, and we sat on the floor of his spare room as he showed me coins he’d collected from all over the world and his Lego sets, some of which were the same ones my brother David and I had played with as kids. He had a home I felt comfortable in. It was cozy. His earnestness about the things that interested him was so endearing. That night, I knew I could fall in love him. And I knew part of me had already started.

What is the most embarrassing/awkward moment with your partner? One of those moments when you knew it must be love if this person still loves me after this.
There were a lot of awkward, embarrassing moments, including Looney Tunes. (If he could still want to date me, and I him, after that, it must be serious.) The one that comes to mind, though, happened on March 10, 2018, the day Tyler proposed. We were visiting my parents in SC for the weekend and I’d known Tyler had procured my parents’ blessing the night we’d arrived. We’d designed the ring together months earlier, but I hadn’t thought he intended to ask me to marry him that same weekend. I had suggested the beach, after all! I was the only one who brought it up. My parents didn’t let on at all as they handed us bottles of water and encouraged us to have fun. Hunting Island, the beach we went to that day, had experienced massive damage during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017. Sand had been pushed into the parking lots in some areas and swept out to sea in others. Hundreds of trees had been snapped by the wind and bleached white by the salt water in the air. The blue sky of the morning had grown overcast as we pulled into one of the recently cleared parking lots. I zipped up a thin jacket and we took off down the beach. I told stories and pointed out features like the lighthouse and the campgrounds. On the way back, we were walking into the wind. My ears ached and my nose ran because of the cold. Between the lighthouse and the parking lot, Tyler suggested we head up into the trees. He wanted privacy to propose, but I thought he might be trying to give me a break from the wind. We trampled up the little sand hill, emerged into the trees, and stopped. It was a dead tree cemetery. White, bark-stripped trees lay in rows as far as we could see. Many were the tops of the dying trees around us. Tyler said, “Well this is kind of depressing.” I answered, “Yeah, but it’s kind of cool, too,” and tramped on ahead. After warning Tyler about snakes and mud—so romantic—he caught up with me and hugged me. His face was so full of love, it startled me. Then he wiped the snot from under my nose and kissed me. And if I hadn’t known before, I absolutely knew then that he loved me.

When did you realize this is the person you wanted to spend the rest of your life with?
During Hurricane Irma last year, my house lost power for 4 days. Morgan, my roommate and bridesmaid, had to be at work for almost 48 hours straight. I grew up on the coast, so I know what hurricanes are capable of, even far inland. I also remember seeing my cousins’ houses after the Mother’s Day tornado here in Macon in 2008. Tyler lives in a second-story apartment. I lived at the time in a house on the side of a hill with a half-basement. Of the two, the house is far safer in the event of a tornado. But for the first time, I didn’t wanted to be in the safer place as much as I wanted to be wherever Tyler was. I would rather be in Tyler’s second-story apartment, knowing he was okay, but possibly being in more personal danger, than in my basement without him. And I knew that feeling wouldn’t change. I wanted to be wherever Tyler was for the rest of my life.

What is the most loyal / endearing / sacrificial thing your partner has done for you?
Last summer, Tyler and I went to visit his friends Colby (a groomsman) and Tina and their daughter Harper for the weekend. We all went to the Atlanta Zoo together, then Tyler and I planned to go downtown to the Georgia Aquarium and, after, to a Persian restaurant Tyler used to enjoy eating at when he attended Georgia Tech. I had a migraine that day, but my symptoms were different than usual so I didn’t realize it. I was exhausted. I had a terrible headache. I threw up three or four times throughout the day (always in a bathroom, thankfully). And Tyler was so incredibly patient and attentive. I felt so badly that our fun day together had turned into such a fiasco. I was quiet, hardly talking with his friends, who I hadn’t met since college. I kept having to sit down. The Advil I always carry with me wasn’t doing anything. Even Harper could tell something was wrong. She was only two, but she noticed I was hanging back and took my hand to lead me up to the glass at the panda exhibit. I didn’t want to ruin the day, so I said I felt okay to stay, then okay to go downtown. We braved the CNN Center crowds to get me a smoothie after I could only eat a couple of fries at Johnny Rockets at lunch. The moving sidewalk at the GA Aquarium gave me vertigo. I had to physically lean on Tyler to keep my upright while we waited to see the sea lion show. I was miserable, and sure I was making him miserable. Of course we didn’t even try to go to the Persian restaurant. The smell of my potato soup at dinner sent me running for the bathroom (and I barely made it). Tyler did not complain. Not once during the day. Not once since. He didn’t express any frustration with me or let me feel guilty. He spent the entire day focused on what I wanted and needed. He insisted that he only felt sorry that I felt so badly, and didn’t care if we went to the aquarium or his favorite restaurant or went home to Macon immediately. Anything to help me feel better. So even though it was a horrible, miserable time in a lot of ways, I have really good memories from that day, too.

What do they do that drives you crazy?
I’m not going to publicly criticize Tyler, so I’m not going to share anything he does that drives me crazy. Instead, I’m going to talk about baseball. It’s Tyler’s favorite sport and his favorite team is the Atlanta Braves. The first time I saw him and the first time I met him, he was wearing a Braves hat. Before we started dating, I’d watched exactly 4 baseball games in my entire life: two college baseball games, one Braves game at Turner Field, and the game when the Cubs won the World Series. That was it. And, honestly, I could probably go back to that life pretty easily. But Tyler loves it. Even though baseball is played outside. In summer. In Georgia. Even though there are 162 games a year. That’s a 4-hour game almost every single day for an ungodly number of the hottest months of the year. 162 games a year. One hundred. And sixty-two. Not including playoffs, spring training, or the All-Star game. For every single team. When the game is really good, it could only be 3 hours long. When it’s bad, it could be 4. Or 5. Or 6. Or 3. At least in football there’s a clock. But I’ve learned to enjoy baseball. I’ve learned to recognize the Braves players in their batting helmets and in the dugout. I’ve memorized their positions. I pretend to understand when Tyler starts complaining about the Braves’ home record. I loudly criticize the Indians’ racist logo and name and have developed an unreasonably strong dislike of the Marlins and the Nationals. I know the only place in SunTrust Park to get a funnel cake is the 300 level by the elevators. I’ve learned to recognize a balk! I take a lot of naps now. Tyler loves baseball and I love to see him enjoying it. And I’ve learned to enjoy baseball, too. Which is good, because the Braves are still in the playoffs, Tyler will be spending at least 4 hours every day of our honeymoon in the hotel room watching them play. (Don’t worry, I packed a lot of books.)

What qualities/attributes do you see in your partner that you most admire?
Tyler loves learning about other cultures and languages. He’s curious about how other people live and appreciates all the differences he finds. He’s patient. He listens. He makes me feel safe. Although I’m a words person and he’s a math person, he assumes that I can understand his work and takes the time to explain it. He’s tender-hearted and trustworthy. He makes me laugh. He’s a good cook and baker. The people he lets into his heart, he’d do anything for.

What is attractive to you about his relationship with Christ?
Tyler’s curious. He wants to learn and will go to great lengths to do so. Sometimes he focuses on learning Korean so he can better chat with his former supervisor when we run into him at Publix. Sometimes he focuses on prayer, or why the church is structured the way it is, or stories about God’s role in others’ lives. He loves God deeply and wants others to have the hope that we do, but he also wants those who don’t share our beliefs to know they are safe with him and appreciated by him. When we pray together, Tyler holds my hand and leans his head to touch mine, reaffirming that we’re a team and a family and connected, whether we’re blessing a meal or praying for our families or listening to someone else pray. He spends a long time pondering things in his heart before he acts, and I have confidence in him as a leader and partner.

Finding Comfort

The wedding is planned. We have a few odds and ends to put together, but the main thing we have left is just confirming the number of attendees for the chair rentals and caterer. (Have you sent in your RSVP yet? We really need those.)

Now, we’re focused on packing up my things from the house where I’ve lived for 5 years and moving them into Tyler’s apartment. We’re doing so gradually but making large strides. All my books and two bookshelves are already set up. My winter clothes, scarves, blankets, and boots have been sitting in Tyler’s guest bedroom for months.

Along the way, we’re doing our best to clean out clothes we don’t wear or that don’t fit anymore, books we aren’t enjoying, and knick-knacks that no longer spark joy. I find myself most prone to doing so when I first get up and at the end of the day, putting off going to bed in favor of closing up one more box.

My late grandmother and I are nostalgic and sentimental and have a talent for squirreling away letters, cards, bookmarks, and “dust catchers” as my dad calls them. This weekend, I rediscovered several birthday and Christmas cards from her. I found one my late aunt had also written in. And my late great-aunt. And friends I’ve long ago lost touch with. I’m getting rid of a lot, but I’m also grateful to have squirreled away so much. Like photos in frames that I can now use to reserve tables at my wedding reception. And a set of 4 hand-crank music boxes I bought in Paris, Barcelona, and Madrid almost ten years ago.

In college, I displayed them on my bookshelf and desk, ever ready for my fingers when I felt sad or lonely. I would take one—maybe the one whose box featured a detail from Klimt’s “The Kiss”—and sit on the edge of my bed, slowly winding the cool silver crank. At some point, perhaps when I moved in five years ago, I lined them up in a padded bag and tucked them behind the journals on the shelf in my bedroom to be organized later. And there they stayed. No batteries to corrode. No dust to taint. Just waiting, their location sliding out of memory.

Saturday night, I carried the bag to the sofa and drew them out, one at a time, keeping them in the order I’d originally packed them in. I turned each crank, remembering the tune as the notes sounded in the dark room. Then I played each again. The same solace soothed my heart as the first time I’d ever heard them, in noisy, echoing gift shops at the Palace of Versailles and the Prado Museum and the Gaudi Museum.

I had also listened to them the day I dropped my first college class. And the morning I started drafting my first book. And the afternoon I realized one of my best friends found me dispensable. And the night before the first day of my internship. And the evening my grandfather died. They were lost by the time my grandmother, and then my aunt, passed. So I played them again with those women in my mind.

Because today is September 11, I think it’s a fine day to take comfort as I remember.

Several years ago, I discovered “Boatlift,” a 12-minute documentary about the hundreds of ordinary people who brought their boats to evacuate lower Manhattan after the first tower fell. It was the largest maritime evacuation in human history.

The story reminds. It draws one in. And it focuses on goodness and courage and our shared humanity. If you haven’t yet seen it, today may be a good day to do so.

I also recommend the Broadway musical Come From Away, which tells the story of Gander, the small Canadian town that hosted thousands of passengers who were stranded when the US airspace was closed. I saw the musical in New York more than a year ago and have listened to the soundtrack countless times since. A performance of the first song, “Welcome to the Rock,” is here:

If you aren’t sure how deeply you want to wade into the painful waters today, I hope you find the comfort you need.

2 Wedding To-Do Lists

Yesterday was exactly 2 months—61 days—until our wedding. Tyler and I spent this past weekend with my family, playing games and eating barbecue and addressing, stuffing, and stamping our wedding invitations. Despite the massiveness of this accomplishment, and of how excited I am to be just 2 months away from our wedding day, I’m finding myself in a constant hum of low level stress about all the details still needing to be handled.

Here is yesterday’s wedding task to-do list:
-Address, stamp, and stuff invitations for 2 remaining wedding party members
-Address 3 final invitations
-Distribute invitations to coworkers
-Mail all invitations
-Email florist
-Email coordinator
-Fill out coordinator’s questionnaire
-Review photographer’s timeline
-Forward timeline to coordinator
-Call salon to make wedding day apts
-Email Maid of Honor re: mobility needs for hotel
-Call hotels re: mobility accessible rooms
-Visit 2 hotels to look at mobility accessible rooms
-Book hotel room
-Update “Accommodations” section of wedding website
-Research traveler’s insurance for honeymoon
-Email photos to the bridesmaid who’s designing the guestbook

And on top of all those wedding items, I went to work, went grocery shopping, cooked dinner with Tyler, and read a little. Only 3 items didn’t get done. It was a productive day and I feel good about it!

Here’s today’s wedding to-do list:
-Fill out coordinator’s questionnaire
-Call salon to make wedding day apts
-Research traveler’s insurance for honeymoon
-RSVP “no” to 2 showers that conflict with wedding events
-Order gifts for 2 showers

Honestly, despite the amount I got done yesterday, it’ll probably take me a couple days to finish what’s left on this list. I’m already getting tired and my schedule today gives me less time to get wedding-related things done.

I like to try to get a lot done early in the week, when I’m energetic and am still capable of making decisions. By Thursday and Friday—sometimes even by Wednesday—I’m asking Tyler to pick what we’re having for dinner, napping after work instead of making calls or cleaning, and telling my bridesmaids that whatever they want for the shower/dinner/art project will be fine. By the end of the week, I’m less capable of handling the volume.

In addition to the big party and big trip I’m planning, I’m moving in two months. I’m trying to enjoy the time left with my roommate and her dog, stay on top of my nutrition and exercise, maintain my close relationships, prepare for married life, make sure family members and friends feel included, get ahead on my work projects, write occasionally, read, clean, check the weather, do laundry, and not bore everyone around me by talking about all these things.

One weeknight recently, Tyler asked me if anything was wrong. I had been quiet for a while, trying to think plan for all that needs to be done. I asked him to tell me that we’re going to get everything done and everything’s going to be okay.

I thought it’d be nice, though definitely not necessary, to hear. When he repeated my words, though, so sweetly, I started crying. I hadn’t let myself feel the weight of my stress until that moment. I hadn’t meant to let myself feel it at all.

Tyler asked me to pick two things I was stressed about. I picked unpacking wedding shower gifts and writing thank you notes, and for the next hour he worked on one while I worked on the other. Then we picked two things we couldn’t work on immediately—packing and moving a nightstand from my house to his apartment—and promised to make progress on them this week.

All-in-all, there really isn’t much left to do. Everything and everyone necessary for the wedding and reception are booked. My calendar knows who needs to be paid when. It’s the details that are adding up now. Still, as my aunt told me earlier today, this is normal. It doesn’t feel like it, but it is.

The most important thing is that we are blessed with friends and family and family-to-be who love us and who we want to celebrate with. The lists will get done. Or they won’t. Lord willing, we’ll be married in two months. And that’s all that matters.

Trousseau

Trousseau (n) — the clothes, household linen, and other belongings collected by a bride for her marriage

The first and probably last time I encountered this word, I was in elementary school and reading whichever Little House on the Prairie book that Laura gets married in. She and her sisters and mother sew curtains, embroider handkerchiefs, and finish new dresses for her trousseau. They stack finished items in her hope chest, which sounded like such an antiquated concept, I was shocked when I learned that a couple childhood friends had one. For those friends, it was just a place to store things that they wanted to keep into adulthood. Opening my friend Joni’s, peeking inside with her, felt reverent. There was her great-grandmother’s quilt. Some of her baby clothes. And not much else, honestly. We were eight. Marriage, let alone having a home of my own, felt infinitely far away. I forgot about hope chests and trousseaus.

Until Saturday morning. I woke early, played with the dog, chatted with my roommate, and went to the local mall to do a lot of shopping. I had a game plan for where to park, the order in which I visited stores, and what I was looking for in each. I had budgeted and researched for the watch I wanted, the shoes I hoped to find, a new dress for an upcoming bridal shower. All the stores were having sales and I’d downloaded a number of coupons.

After about an hour, I reached Pier 1 to look at nightstands and other furniture for the guest room we don’t yet have a bed for. While there, I examined flatware we don’t need and platters I chose not to register for. Standing in front of a bread pan that said, “Mr. and Mrs. established 2018,” I asked myself, What are you doing?

This wasn’t normal behavior for me. These weren’t my normal spending habits. Yes, I tend to buy nothing for a long time, then buy a lot of needed items all at once. Yes, I like interior design and haven’t had many opportunities to enact my visions on the space I inhabit. Yes, I’m excited for a place I can decorate and arrange to suit our purposes. But I know we don’t need a 2nd nightstand for the guest room yet. That’s one more thing we’ll have to move when we move out, which may only be a year away.

I’d never even been inside a Pier 1 before. Why did I make a point to come here and look at one? Why am I looking at all these platters I won’t need, especially as I already registered for some I like a lot more? And I’ve been on a hunt for new dresses, shoes, and other clothing necessities as if I’m about to move to the middle of 100 acres. What am I trying to accomplish?

Trousseau.

The word fairly floated into my consciousness. I grasped at it, held it in my hands, and let my mind pull forward its connected memories. I couldn’t even be sure of the definition of the word at first. I hear about nesting, the stage in which expecting parents try to make their homes suitable to their coming child or children, including decorating and other, strictly speaking, unnecessary steps. But I hadn’t heard of the trousseau stage, the urge to acquire domestic items for a new stage of domestic life.

Expectations play into this. I’m about to be married. What do married people have/need (other than a spouse) that I don’t? What am I supposed to have?

Making a wedding registry was a firm step down this path. We put everything we think we’ll need on it, and there wasn’t much. So we leaned back and dreamed, thought about what would be nice or helpful. I asked myself how others’ expectations of me will change and what we’ll need to meet those expectations. I also thought about the furniture I’ll be bringing to our new home. It’s only a few pieces, but I still find myself planning and measuring and doodling a lot, deciding where things can go, how to make the rooms look more put together, more finished, and more functional long-term.

Except, I know we could be moving out in a year. It doesn’t need to be long-term functional. Just functional for a year. After that, we’ll reevaluate.

Still, it’s tempting to go after those plans and dreams now. To look at prices and measurements for that cabinet, that nightstand, and a basket for spare toiletries in the guest bathroom. On the cusp of a big life transition, long-term hopes and dreams that feel more immediate, giving me a false sense of urgency to keep working, keep buying, keep organizing.

I know waiting leaves me more options, and that future Katie will be grateful.

And yet, I’m also bringing large tubs full of blankets and winter clothes to place in that future guest room. A couple pairs of boots and both my winter coats are there are well. I’m planning which sheets to bring with me and which to leave for my roommate. What I should do with my old, raggedy towels? What items will I be bringing with me into my marriage?

Trousseau (n) — plastic tubs full of hope and plans

The Wedding Registry

As a wedding guest, I used to only buy “sensible” things like towels and kitchen utensils. Necessities. In the past few years, though, I decided to branch out to what I considered “fun” gifts. I’ve bought newly married couples Christmas movies, nice throw blankets, expansion packs to their favorite boards games, art for their walls, and 2-person floats for the river. Now that Tyler and I are building a registry of our own, though, you better believe I’m going to be as grateful to the person who buys us plates and towels (The patterns will match! I’ve been using the same ratty set of towels since college!) as the person who’ll give us a Scrabble board and posable magnet people for the fridge.

We’re really excited about all of it. We honestly don’t need much to survive, and won’t be moving into a house in need of a lawnmower or garden hose or rolling kitchen island, so at first our registry was really small. But as we’ve grown more used to the idea of receiving so many blessings at once, we’ve thought of more and more items that would be really helpful.

For example, a couple days ago Tyler realized that he doesn’t have a suitcase more substantial than a duffle bag. And in addition to the big party we’re planning, we’re also planning a big trip. I then remembered that my beloved orange monkey luggage tags, which have visited multiple other countries multiple times, are pulling loose and have my maiden name on them.

As another example, last week I took the dog for a long walk with one of my bridesmaids while Tyler made dinner at his apartment. When I arrived, the entryway vaguely smelled like smoke and the fire alarm was chirping. Tyler, who had just finished plating our dinner and scraping the burned pan, hugged me in welcome, then moved a dining room chair to the hallway to try to reset the system. He could barely reach. I knew I’d only have more luck if I wore heels, which was an exceedingly bad idea.

A lot of the items on our registry are things we’d probably buy in one form or another as we needed and could afford them: a ladle, a spatula, a step stool, a new suitcase. But because we don’t need them all immediately, we can add them to our registry. Our wedding season is a rare and touching opportunity for people other than close family to buy us gifts, and for the people we love most to help us prepare for our life together.

It also gives us a little space to dream. What would be nice to have? There isn’t much we need to get by, but what would help? We can keep using the dining room chair to reach high places, but what if we had a step stool? What if we had a couple different sizes of suitcases? What would make the sunroom and porch more enjoyable in winter? What would we like to have on this wall? What would make the next few years a little easier or more comfortable?

We’re really excited to be getting married and to be sharing the day with so many people we love. And we don’t need gifts to enjoy the day or those that will follow. Even though we know that’s also the case with the friends whose five weddings we’ll also be attending this year, we’re excited to be able to bless our friends with board games and new towels, too!

Still, in the flurry of Save the Dates and bridal shower invites zipping through the mail these days, we want to say it one more time: no gift is necessary. For every gift we receive, “sensible” or “fun”, we’ll be thrilled and incredibly grateful. (And our thank you cards have photos from our engagement shoot on them!) But we’d much rather have the blessing of your presence than the blessing of a present.

Since posting, several people have asked us where we’re registered. We are registered here. Our wedding website is here.

Fear and Marriage Planning: Death

A couple years ago, my friend Molly and I were headed to Nashville to see a touring Broadway show called “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” Honestly, I can’t recommend the show, but I’m glad we went to see it because it gave Molly and I about six uninterrupted hours in the car to catch up. We used to meet for lunch once a week, but since she married and moved, we hadn’t been able to stay in regular contact.

After a while, Molly began to confess some honest aspects of marriage that she hadn’t anticipated. We started talking about fears, and I brought up the fear that my future partner (I wasn’t dating anyone at the time) would die. Molly immediately answered, “You can’t think about that. You can’t let yourself.”

Her conviction came from experience, but also from something her mom had once told her: “If you ever get married and something happens to them, you can’t fall apart. You have to keep it together to handle things and take care of your family.”

Although I don’t particularly feel like an adult and I’m told that I won’t ever feel that way, I am aware that part of maturity is the ability to deal with the situations, particularly the bad and sudden and complex ones, that arise. It requires adaptation and leadership. It involves eating less sugar and more greens and having less and less desire to stay up late or go out after work on Friday (even if it’s just to a restaurant). It involves facing violence and loss and disappointment without losing, or letting die, the spark of hope and kindness and joy inside you.

Another part of being an adult is being reliable. As a kid, you don’t always have a lot of food-on-the-table responsibility, but you have homework, studying, friends, sports/activities, and job responsibilities depending on age, time of year, and socio-economic status. When you get to adulthood, or independence, your responsibilities are different because your safety net and goals are different.

And when you have a spouse, perhaps also children, you are part of a team. You can’t collapse on your responsibilities or everyone in your nuclear family will suffer.

In the wake of Molly’s words, I thought of friends of friends whose spouses have committed suicide, been injured or killed, or grown very sick. I understood that being in love and having children are vastly different kinds of love and are also extremely intense. So to lose a person on your team, or for that person to be in tremendous pain, must be proportionally painful and disorienting.

Molly followed up her mother’s words by telling me that she can’t let herself think about anything happening to her husband. It upsets her to think about seriously, to imagine, and so she can’t let her mind go there. Emotion rose in her voice as she explained; even this much discussion was difficult for her.

Last year, as Tropical Storm (formerly Hurricane) Irma came through Macon, I found myself at home alone about ten miles from Tyler, who was also at home alone. He lives in a second floor apartment, and the house where I live has a basement. Thinking of tornados, I deemed my house to be the safer place to be, but I still wished I could be where he was. I had a dog to care for and it wasn’t safe to be on the roads, so I stayed put, but the ferocity of my desire to be where Tyler was surprised me.

I reached my hand out, swishing it through these waters.

For the first time I didn’t care about being in the logically safest place as much as I cared about being where he was. I would rather have been in his apartment with him, knowing he was safe or facing danger with him, than being safe at my house and not know every moment if he was okay.

I watched the radar until the power went out, then I forced myself to save my phone battery and his by not texting him constantly for updates. (I also didn’t want to be annoying.)

That week was lonely. Because of road conditions, I spent a couple days at home with only the dog, candles, and the overcast sky. I checked on and was checked on by my neighbors, but I had no other personal contact. I didn’t see Tyler for two days, and sitting across from him at the restaurant where we met up during his lunch break (my office didn’t regain power until later that day), I felt the charge of built-up stress shaking my limbs and voice. And I felt relieved. I wanted nothing more than to go to his apartment and lay down on his couch with him and sleep. To know he was safe. To feel safe wherever he was. To not be alone (and in the dark) anymore.

As I drive to work each morning, I glance at the interstate Tyler takes to work. When there are backups—and often when there aren’t—I pray for his safe passage to and from work. But even that I can’t think too much about. Last night as I waved goodbye to him from my driveway, I couldn’t let myself imagine his journey, safe or otherwise. I took an extra, long hug and smiled and did not think, did not think about his night drive or the construction zones in the morning or the lonely walk back to my own door.

I kept to Molly’s example and put my fears from my mind before they spun into a monster requiring sweat and blood and sleeplessness to slay. And then I put them from my mind again. And again. Until I finally fell asleep.

Wedding Planning (and Mental Health) Tips

Last week, a friend who recently got engaged asked me how I remained so calmly attentive while planning our wedding. “Teach me your ways,” she said.

This week, two high-profile celebrities, a designer/business entrepreneur and a chef/TV host who made the world better in their own ways, died by suicide.

So here are some major things I do to help manage my anxiety in a constantly humming, high-stress, at times overwhelming season of life. And if today is hard for you, I hope this list might give you some ideas of things that might help you to feel better.

1. Don’t idolize calm. Not only calm, anyway. I oscillate between feeling calmly capable, impatiently excited, and frantically stressed. If I don’t get enough sleep or food, I’m grumpily pessimistic. Just because you see me in a serene moment, or I’m intentionally projecting calm, doesn’t mean I didn’t spend most of the day in one of the less fun emotions. And such moods are just as real, just as natural, as the cheery ones. You don’t have to be happy all the time just because you’re engaged or your life is going well by the world’s standards. You’re still a person. You’ll allowed to feel all the same emotions you felt before, including frustration, fear, anxiety, sadness, and more. Calm is not the ideal. Healthy is.

2. Build a soothing nightly routine. For me, this is a 3-step ritual. Step 1: Take a shower or bath (more on that below). Step 2: Write down the events of the day in a 5-year journal (1 line a day). In doing so, I’m acknowledging what happened that day but also closing the book on it and setting it aside. Step 3: Read a chapter in the Bible. I was already reading the Psalms when I got engaged, and followed that book with Proverbs and now Isaiah. When I read a chapter, I’m nourishing my soul. I’m engaging my mind with something outside myself, and on Someone who can give perspective on my life and struggles and experiences.

3. Hot baths. It sounds frivolous or stereotypical but for me it’s 1000% true. Hot baths can calm you and help your body unclinch from all the stress you’re carrying around. Showering and taking baths are kind of like intentional sensory deprivation: you’re warm and comfortable, the room isn’t busy or loud, you choose the smells and sensations (bubbles, bath bombs, bath pillows, etc) that you experience. Leave your phone OUTSIDE, preferably where you can’t hear it buzz or ding. Read or listen to music, or listen to nothing. I like to give myself 30 min to an hour to enjoy my bath, so I’m not constantly checking the clock or wondering how much time has gone by.

4. Mystery novels. Usually, I read cheesy romances when I’m stressed. It’s my go-to genre in TV watching, too. But lately, they just aren’t as much fun, and I find my mind wandering to my to-do lists. Mysteries, however, are engaging enough to distract my brain from all the people I need to call, all the emails I need to send, and all the kitchen mixers I need to research. They’re easy to put down and pick back up when I have the time. They also tend to be short, so finishing an audiobook a week and a paperback every two weeks makes me feel accomplished. We may still be struggling to get the guest list under 250 people, but I finished two books last week, and I feel good about that.

5. Post-it notes. I keep 2 colors by my bed. One is for daily goals (pink). The other is for weekly goals (green). I cross things off when I get them done. If I don’t get everything done in a day or a week, I just throw the post it away and write a new one. If something distracts me while I’m journaling or reading before bed, I write it down and move on. It’s a quick aside and I’m not letting myself stay distracted by it. Again, acknowledge, then put aside until a better time to deal with it.

6. Take care of yourself. I get way grumpier if I don’t eat well and on time. I get way more stressed if I’m tired. Take naps. Eat green stuff. Go home early and read. Take a bath and go to bed. Drink a glass of water. Go for a long walk or a run. Play with the dog. Watch a funny movie or a mystery and put your phone out of reach. Sit in the sunshine. Make a hair or massage or pedicure appointment and let yourself enjoy it. When you’re taking care of yourself, you’re better able to deal with the stress and anxiety and pressure. You’ll make better decisions and you’ll handle sudden problems better. Your well-being is more important than any of the details of your wedding day.

7. Take breaks. Take breaks from planning. Take breaks even from talking about planning. At the beginning of our engagement, I intentionally tried to only do and talk wedding stuff with Tyler during the week. Weekends were for fun things like visiting friends, having lunch with family, and watching baseball games. If someone else brought up the wedding, we could talk about it. If Tyler wanted to run an idea past me, he would. But I saved all my plans and phone calls, and as many meetings and requests as possible, for weekdays. Eventually, that model broke down and we had to use the weekends. Now its even more important that we take breaks to focus on other aspects of our lives and relationships. Even just a meal without wedding talk can be incredibly helpful.

8. Let go. Let go of stuff. You’re going to be blending your living space and things and time with someone else. It’s a good idea to simplify, even to cull, so you’ll have more time and space and freedom. I’m currently knee-deep in a great book cull. Yarn will follow. I’ve cleaned out my winter closet and am going to clean out my summer closet as the season wanes. Also, let go of obligations that don’t align with what you want and need right now. That will mean saying no to good and cool things, even though you don’t want to. Letting go also gives you permission to cut out things that were never good for you.

As much as you can, let go of others’ expectations for you. Someone is going to get upset with you for something that you didn’t even see coming. It’s going to be stressful. Handle it in the way that’s best for you as a couple. That might mean placating or acquiescing because family is forever and you don’t want to alienate your friends over something that isn’t a make-or-break deal to you but is to them. It may also mean trusting the people who really love you to keep loving you, even when they disagree with or feel hurt by your decision.

9. This is fun. You get to pick out new clothes! You get to figure our your favorite flowers! You get to plan a big trip with your favorite person! So many old friends reach out to you! And a registry is the biggest, most expensive Christmas list you’ll make your whole life! Put another, less bridal way, you experience good things because of this season of life. Remind yourself of those good things. Make a list if you need to. Remember them especially when things don’t feel good.

10. Marriage plan as well as wedding plan. Try to make good habits now that you can keep up later. In the end, your wedding day is just one day. And so is today. Work on your communication. Make a budget. Cook together. Learn way more about your future in-laws. Learn way more about your parents. Don’t give up your hobbies and other interests. Don’t give up your friends. Make buddies with other engaged and newly married couples. Attend pre-marital counseling. Tyler and I consider counseling to be preventative care for our mental health (especially mine) and pre-marital counseling to be preventative for the health of our marriage.

Fear and Marriage Planning: Miscarriage

Trigger warning: discussion of miscarriage (non-specific, non-graphic)

Over the next few months, I plan to write about lots of wonderful parts of wedding and marriage planning. (I’m ridiculously excited to register for our Christmas stockings, for instance.) However, I feel like there’s a lot of that in the world. And it isn’t the whole truth of my experience. There’s plenty of fear as well.

I’m an anxious person. I’ve had social anxiety all my life, but I haven’t fully understood the degree to which a more general anxiety has influenced my life until recently. I don’t have generalized anxiety disorder; however, anxiety is a low-level but persistent factor in my life. My mother—I’ve always known and she’s always admitted—is a worrier. But worrying, I believed while growing up, was learned. Learned things could be unlearned, even if my shyness could not. I prayed and unlearned as best I could, but anxiety remained.

And over the course of my life, I’ve developed a number of coping mechanisms and emergency protocols to help me through situations that trigger my anxiety. A big one is managing my expectations. But lately, I’ve noticed myself trying to manage Tyler’s too.

A couple of weekends ago, Tyler and I traveled up to Atlanta to visit my best friend/maid of honor and to go to a Braves game. At some point on the drive, as we were talking about the day, I recalled how excited my bestie’s mom had been that we were thinking of going on a cruise for our honeymoon (she goes on at least 2-3 cruises every year). I hadn’t expected her exuberant reaction. Tyler agreed, saying that’s how his mom will react “when she finds out you’re pregnant.”

Immediately, anxiety gripped my heart with both hands.

Tyler was imagining a scene in the future—real to him, though not yet realized—when I will be pregnant, we will tell his family, and his mom will scream with excitement.

To Tyler, that scene is not a possibility but an expectation.

At least, that’s what I took from his words. We’ve since talked about it and he assures me both that he’s aware of the risks and possibilities and isn’t pretending they can’t apply to us. But at the time, I didn’t know that.

I didn’t want to squash his hope or make him think I don’t hope for the same, but it’s just a hope in me, not a foregone conclusion. Relationships, marriage, good health, and pregnancy are generally accepted as will-happen situations with no complications or problems. We all I know there is a possibility that these dreams might not pan out the way we have been led to expect, but we generally don’t think other people’s tragedies and pains will happen to us. In the filing cabinet of coping strategies, in the emergency protocols drawer, is a folder labeled, “Miscarriage.”

I’ve written before about how, growing up, I kept putting off my disappointing about not being in a relationship, saying it’ll happen by this age, then this later age, until I realized I was building myself up for a disappointment so profound, so capable of embittering me, that it wasn’t healthy to defer hope any longer. I wouldn’t let myself set another relationship due date. I faced the reality of perpetual singleness. I made lists of the great things about it. I read stories of women—single, widowed, or divorced—who built adventurous, generous lives that I could admire. I grieved what I desperately wanted but may never have. I prayed and tried to choose, each day, to accept my current state and whatever future might be mine, especially the ones I found most painful and disappointing to imagine.

In Tyler’s truck that afternoon, he imagined telling his parents, experiencing his mom’s joy. I imagined Tyler having to deliver the bad news, his mom’s disappointment, how she’d look at me the next time she saw me. I imagined her, some weeks or months later, asking when we were going to try again. And if not her, than another well meaning, loving person in our lives.

Tyler’s family is large and close and many of them live nearby. Good news spreads through them like a wave and bad like fire. I imagine carrying everyone’s disappointments as well as my grief and Tyler’s. A miscarriage happens inside you; it brings guilt, a sense of betrayal. I would take the weight of everyone else’s disappointments and my body’s failures on myself. It’s a weight I’m terrified of, and everyone’s knowing would add elephants to it.

I feel horrible for being afraid of something that I have no actual evidence will occur and that we won’t be ready to pursue for years, anyway. So many struggle with infertility, miscarriage, and child loss now. Perpetually.

In Laura Turner’s essay “Missing Hope: A Trio of Miscarriages, and What Happened After,” she writes, they don’t tell you that fear, to reverse a phrase from C.S. Lewis, will feel so like grief, and so you begin to mourn what you have not yet lost, because mourning prematurely is the only way to protect yourself from hope.

“I know there isn’t a family history or anything,” I told Tyler as the stadium grew large before us. “But miscarriages are so common. I’m not going to want to tell anyone for…” we hit a bump and I stayed in the air an extra moment, wondering how many weeks would be safe enough, conservative enough, “a good long while.”

I didn’t want to bring the day’s mood down any further, so I didn’t explain. Tyler didn’t ask questions. He just said okay. My anxiety eased, and we had a really good day.

The Dress

Wedding dress shopping is not like it is on Say Yes to the Dress. Yes, you do try on a few dresses at a time and you have a dedicated attendant. But you can find a gorgeous dress under $5000 and the alterations department doesn’t need at least 5 months to tailor it to you. The store and trying on spaces are nice, but everything isn’t opulent. You don’t have a private viewing room or plush couches for your family and friends to rest on.

Trying on wedding dresses, at least at the David’s Bridal I visited one Saturday in April, is crowded and not really private at all. The dressing rooms are small, white boxes without furniture or a mirror and the remaining space is half taken up by the skirts of the dresses hanging above your head. You can hear the other future brides bumping into the walls on either side of you, the clip of metal on metal as they hang up or take down their heavy dresses. In my case, I needed my attendant Kim inside the room as well to help me in and out of each dress. I fought the skirts into the corners just so she would have a place to stand after she closed the door.

When you come out in your first dress, the platforms are so crowded that the only space where you can reliably see yourself is in the mirrored door of the dressing room you just came out of. Attendants angle the doors of the dressing rooms behind you to help you see the back of the dress. You’re looking in between other future brides, flower girls, bridesmaids, various motherly persons, and fleet-footed attendants.

The benefit to the crowds is that it makes for a very encouraging environment, with strangers complimenting you and offering to help flare you train or take photos. But it’s far from private and can feel visually and audibly overwhelming.

Before my maid of honor Kayla and I went dress shopping, I very intentionally avoided Say Yes to the Dress, bridal magazines, and the wedding dress section of Pinterest. I didn’t want my head so full of the images I’d seen that I couldn’t concentrate on what was right in front of me and didn’t want to fall in love with something I couldn’t afford. That is similar to an old shopping rule of mine: never try on something you can’t afford.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about how I found my dress.

My amazing attendant Kim looked like River Song, with curly dirty blonde hair that hung loose down her back. She wore all black, like all the attendants, and was about 7 months pregnant. I mention this because she only worked for 4 hours at a time once a week (she couldn’t stand up longer than that) but still had incredible knowledge of the store and inventory.

Kayla and I had looked around before my 12:30 appointment (yes, you really need to make an appointment) to get an idea of what I liked, and showed Kim my favorites. She pulled 4 of them and I tried them on in order of least skirt pouf to greatest.

I’ve never been one of those women who wants to feel like a princess, but I have a thorough imagination and these were the nicest, royal-est dresses I’d ever tried on. One was a fit and flare corset dress that felt like it would be owned by a Russian countess. Lace overlay the entire dress, only splitting on one hip to reveal the tulle underneath. I liked how I looked it in but I’d been hesitant to get a corset because it takes so long to get in and out of. I’d like my wedding day to go smoothly, and that requires functionality. I’ve also always been of the opinion that lace is rather dowdy. This dress looked beautiful, but it better suited another era, and another color. I imagined the countess who’d wear it would have had it made in exquisite red and gold, a matching kokoshnik, the shape of which would indicate where in Russia she’d been born.

The other dress I really liked in that first batch was a ballgown with a sweetheart neckline and a drop waist covered in exquisite beadwork. It gave my waist great shape and made me feel like I could confidently descend a staircase, Cinderella style. It also kind of felt like I had been squeezed into a very large bangle: the bodice didn’t give at all. And if this was Cinderella’s dress, I can see why she’d lose a shoe by midnight. The skirt was unwieldy and that stiff bodice would make breathing harder and harder as the hours, and dances and songs, ticked by.

Because Kim had listened carefully to what I noticed and liked about the previous dresses, for the next batch of dresses she focused on heavy detailing that would give me good shape. Among these was an a-line dress so lacy and beautiful that it felt like a trick. This one I could imagine looking great on camera in a Hallmark movie (one of the higher budget ones, probably), with the gorgeous lace loops at the bottom. But it was much too long, so those loops would have to be detached and moved up to hem it. We’d discovered that both ivory or soft white dresses looked great with my skin tone (which Kayla said was “kind of unfair, frankly”) but here we discovered my nemesis: blush. The pale, dusty pink made my skin look really red. The lace at the sweetheart neckline tickled the tender undersides of my arms, not in a good way.

The last dress I tried on was a “trust me” dress. It was mermaid cut, which I’d told Kim I didn’t want, but it had a lot of great beadwork and would show my shape, and Kim had a good feeling about it. The other dresses felt like dressing up to play a role, but this one felt like putting on something that was already mine. I came out to “Ohs” from Kayla and the various attendants, brides, and their mothers nearby, which was a good start. Kayla started tearing up, which was even better. Looking at myself in the mirror, I felt excited. I instantly knew how I wanted my hair and started holding sections up to try to get a similar effect. I remembered the lime green mermaid dress I’d worn to junior prom, the Princess Jasmine bell I’d yearned for at a shop in Disney World when I was eight. Maybe those two good memories were partly why this dress felt so familiar. Kim pulled a sash from a nearby rack and, drawing it over my waist, the dress felt complete. It felt like me. I wasn’t imagining who would wear this dress; I knew that I would.

Having a bride try on a veil is a secret trick employed by Say Yes to the Dress attendants to making waffling brides say yes, already, but I didn’t want to be that person. I didn’t want to be convinced by a square of tulle. But I wanted to see what I’d look like on my wedding day. I was still working up to asking for a veil when Kayla suggested it. And because she had, I felt relieved, like what I wanted was valid. Which is why she’s my maid of honor and best friend: she helps me trust myself.

While Kim searched for a veil and hair comb, I trotted around on the raised platform, swooshing the skirt and kicking the train out of the way, testing my range of movement, and picturing Tyler’s face when he saw me in it. When Kim tucked the veil into my hair, Kayla really did start crying, though she would call it “a little misting.” The veil was the perfect length, embroidered with beads in a similar style to my dress. It cupped my shoulders, which I hadn’t realized I’d wanted until that moment. And, looking at the full effect in the mirror, I understood exactly where all those wedding dress and veil clichés come from.

During Say Yes to the Dress’s heyday, I watched marathons while walking or jogging on my mom’s treadmill. The visuals were fun and engaging, and I didn’t need to hear the episode to follow along (that treadmill is ridiculously loud). I observed many beautiful shapes and variations of dresses, many troubled familial dynamics, many women who knew what they wanted but were afraid or unable to claim it. One evening, while watching an episode in the living room with my mom, I told her I felt overwhelmed by all the options. How would I be ever able to pick a dress? I tend to make quick decisions about what I like and don’t like, even if I had no opinion the moment before a choice was put to me, but I’m also terrified of making the wrong decision. I worried that that the uncertain, afraid part of me would render me incapable of choosing. I didn’t voice that I was afraid I’d never have the opportunity to choose a wedding dress because I feared, with exactly one short-lived relationship under my belt, that I would never marry.

Mom, however, had no such concerns.

“You will,” she assured me. “You’ll know when it’s the right dress just like you’ll know when it’s the right guy.” I felt skeptical, asked how I’d know, and didn’t much appreciate Mom’s, “You just will.” But my blessed, compassionate, funny mother knows me. And she was right. She knew it when I called that April Saturday, gushing about the dress we’d found and asking her if she could come up to see it with me when she and my dad came to visit in a couple of weekends. And, because she knows me, knows how I make decisions, knows about my under-budget-to-try-on rule, and knows I like to have a choice made and over with quickly, she and my dad encouraged me to go ahead and buy it.

TV brides exclaim their yes to their wedding dress, their eyes often shifting self-consciously at that last moment, though they can rarely hold in their smiles, and everyone claps and cheers. I suspected this was done up for the cameras, but I did feel like there should be some tradition, some spell or phrasing, to indicate that I’d made my final decision. If my attendant had asked me if I was saying yes to the dress, I would have willingly fallen into the script. However, David’s Bridal has a different tradition. When you’ve decided, your attendant brings you a big gold bell with a black handle and you make 2 wishes, one for your wedding day and one for your future. Then you ring the bell and everyone in that loud, crowded, glittering little heart stops what their doing to clap and cheer for you. It’s a moment just about you. The loved ones you brought and the strangers around you celebrate the choices you’ve made to get you to this moment and the future you’re planning.

I think that’s a much better tradition.

Read about The Ring here.

The Beach

I grew up 45 minutes from the beach on the marsh of the Broad River. Every Saturday from March-October for most of my childhood, Mom would pack sandwiches and Cokes and Little Debbies into a cooler and Dad would take my brother and I out in his 12’ aluminum johnboat for the day. We’d come back in time for dinner, giving my stay-at-home mom some much needed hours of quiet and the three of us some much needed time together. Once or twice a summer, we’d stand in the dining room while Mom slathered us with sun screen, fish out our sandals and plastic pales, load up another packed cooler, and head to the beach.

I was my mom’s sun baby. I could tan sitting by a sunny window and my hair was always bleached blonde by the sun. I loved being outdoors, loved the boat, and loved the beach and ocean. Although not a very strong swimmer, I knew my limits and important coastal skills like how to escape rip currents (swim parallel to the shore until you swim outside the current’s grasp, then swim back in; otherwise, you’ll tire yourself out trying to swim toward shore against the rip current and you’ll drown), and what to do about jellyfish stings (sprinkle meat tenderizer directly on the wound; DO NOT RINSE WITH WATER).

We usually parked on the north end of Hunting Island, a SC state park, and visited the light house before finding a good spot on the beach away from most of the crowds. As a state park, Hunting Island has no restaurants and only two stores on the island, one selling t-shirts and ice cream bars by the light house, the other selling a wider variety of those things, plus basic gas station fare, by the campground on the island’s far northern end. We took school trips to the island, looked for the alligator in the pond covered with algae by the welcome center, took photography exhibitions, and sometimes found really interesting birds or sand dollars or horseshoe crabs on the sand.

The last time I went to Hunting Island’s beach for the day—which is to say for the sake of the beach, not to show it to a friend or my brother’s girlfriend—I was in high school. Three friends and I packed up our towels and water bottles and books and sunglasses. We found a fairly barren stretch of sand on the southern end of the island near the old fishing pier. We took long walks and read and hung out and baked in the sun because, as we learned the painful way, the surf was full of jellyfish.

My best friend screamed, standing where the waves break, then screamed again, more insistent and shrilled, falling forward. We couldn’t see any danger—the water was too shallow for her to be struggling to swim or to have been attacked by a shark. Was it a horseshoe crab? Had she stepped on a conk shell? Got snipped by a crab or sting ray? We ran to her, finding big blisters on the back of her calf and right hand, which she’d used to pull the jellyfish off when, after jumping away and screaming, the waves had pushed it back into her.

“Pee on it!” She ordered as we helped her back to our towels. A friend grabbed her water bottle, twisted off the cap, and had begun to pour it on the stings before I could stop her. After another short scream and my pulling the bottle away from our friend, she pleaded, “I’m serious. It hurts so bad! I need one of you to pee on it! Please! Please!”

We hadn’t had trouble with jellyfish in so long that I’d taken my mom’s meat tenderizer out of my beach bag.

A man at the nearest catch of towels had seen the whole thing and dug out his family’s bottle, saving us all from the inevitable urination. I’d already ordered it in my mind. I was the only one who would be willing to do the deed, so the other two would have to hold towels up into a blind in the woods and my best friend would have to kneel or lay down in the brush. It would have been terrible, but stings are agonizing and this one was bad.

The rest of the afternoon, we stayed out of the water, and the man with the tenderizer went up and down our stretch of beach tending to the blistering pain of those who had been stung. Finally, no one was in the water. We roasted instead, knowing the relief of the water would bring more stings.

I told Tyler this story several weekends ago when I brought him to Hunting Island for the first time. We’d had lunch with my parents that morning, had done a little shopping downtown, then my parents had some errands to run and I’d really wanted to take Tyler out to the beach. It was March and windy and growing cloudy, so we packed bottles of water and sunglasses and windbreakers. We stopped by the welcome center to see the gator in her algae-covered pond. I gave Tyler the wrong directions, taking us to the southern end of the island instead of the northern end by the light house. But the island isn’t all that big, so we got to the sand and started walking north.

The ocean is trying to split the island. That’s one of the reasons why the rip currents can be so bad. It’s also why, north of the lighthouse, trees are lying in the waves and on the beach, dying, the bark stripped away by the salt, leaving white trunks and black branches. It looks like an art exhibit. On high tide, beachgoers in that area have to lay their blankets in the tree line and wade amongst the branches, being careful not to trip or let the waves push them into wood that will break skin. The rest of the island has been expanded with thousands of tons of sand over the years, and hurricanes several years in a row have washed much of it away.

So as we walked north and I told my story of the last time I’d been to the southern end of the island, Tyler asked if any of it looked familiar. “No,” I told him. “Not really. The shore was at least a hundred yards that way the last time I spent any time here,” I said, pointing into the ocean. But we kept walking, passed the lighthouse that had been erected in the mid-1800s after the ocean took the original brick lighthouse, the remains of which are more than a mile off shore.

When we reached the creek, I explained to Tyler how, on warm, sunny days, hundreds of fiddler crabs flee your feet as you walk. Because it was cool and overcast, I pointed to their holes in the pluff mud. Tyler asked if I wanted to walk up the creek, but I explained that it’s brackish and swampy and mostly just a mosquito hole. We walked on until we reached the campground store. The nearest bathrooms had been badly damaged in Matthew, last October’s hurricane, and hadn’t yet been restored or torn down, so we trekked inland until we found one. Then we headed south again, walking into the wind, making my ears cold and my nose run.

The lighthouse was closed by this point, so we walked around its base, looking at the brick foundation of the destroyed innkeepers’ house with some fellow tourists. We continued, talking and tell stories. I found a plant unique to the sea islands that we had a lot of at my house growing up, but that I hadn’t seen in years. It looks like a green lilypad on a stem and gross in slightly sandy soil near the water. I picked one, intending to weave it into my braid as we walked, but was distracted by the big, unbroken shells and the dogs walking with their owners, and Tyler’s hand in mine.

At one point, Tyler suggested that we head up to the treeline to look in the woods. It seemed kind of weird, but I thought he just wanted to be adventurous. When we got to the top of the rise, we found dead trees laying side by side for hundreds of feet before us and to either side. Some had been blown down from the roots in Hurricane Matthew. The ones that remained had been snapped off 20-30 feet up and the tops lay beside the fallen. They were utterly dead, many stripped of bark and white. It looked like a dead tree cemetery.

“Well, this is kind of depressing,” Tyler said.

“Yeah,” I answered, “But it’s kind of cool, too,” and tromped off into the trees, reminding Tyler to be careful of snakes, especially poisonous copperheads. “They should still be hibernating,” I told him, “but just in case.”

After a few minutes, after Tyler wiped the snot from beneath my nose and kissed me (evidence of love if there ever was any), we headed back to the beach and continued walking.

The next time Tyler wanted to look at an area with downed trees, I didn’t think anything about it. I jumped onto the smooth white trunk of an artful tree and walked along its base. I felt Tyler come up beside me and I turned to him, thinking he wanted a kiss (he didn’t) or a hug. While my arms were around his shoulders, he held onto my sides and pulled me off the tree. I am fleet of foot (ish) and didn’t lose my balance, but I was confused, and was still orienting myself when I realized that Tyler was moving away. He lowered to one knee, and he was holding the ring we’d designed.

The first thing that popped out of my mouth was, “Really?!”

I feel rather badly about that. But, as Tyler points out when I tell this bit in person, “It was a happy, excited, ‘Really.’”

I really thought it’d be a couple more weeks. I knew Tyler had, as planned, talked to my parents the night before about his intention to ask me to marry him. They had, as I knew they would, given their blessings. But for some reason it didn’t occur to me that he’d propose the same weekend. And to him, it was obvious that he would. After all, he he wanted me to be able to see my family right away. And, as my roommate pointed out, he was tired of waiting.

He told me that he loved me and wanted to marry me and hadn’t planned out a lot of things to say because he’d known he would forget them all.

Meanwhile my brain was in overdrive. I was still holding the lilypad thing in my left hand, and I wanted to drop it because I needed my left hand, but by that point it was part of the moment and I wanted to keep it, so I switched it to my right hand and forgot about it. And apparently I took the ring out of Tyler’s hand, though I don’t remember this. I do remember feeling relieved that it was so gorgeous. Part of my brain was chanting, “THIS IS IT. PAY ATTENTION. THIS IS IMPORTANT. PAY ATTENTION, PAY ATTENTION.” Another part was going, “These are the clothes I’m getting engaged in….I wouldn’t have picked these. BUT OH WELL.”

And somewhere in here Tyler asked me to marry him, and I said yes. I kind of remember the question. I don’t remember saying yes, but he assures me that I did.

He stood up and we hugged and I was holding that ring so tightly on my left thumb. The part of my brain that had been going “PAY ATTENTION, PAY ATTENTION” was now going “DO NOT DROP IT. DO NOT DROP IT.”

Tyler pulled back and I didn’t know how to get him to put the ring onto my finger in a smooth way, so I did it. He asked if it fit, and it did. “It isn’t too loose is it?” he asked. I turned my hand and shook it so he’d see that it wouldn’t, even though my hands were cold and it was a little loose and my brain was still going, “DO NOT DROP IT.”

“Oh crap,” I thought. “Now we have to plan this thing.” But I didn’t say that out loud because we were literally still in the moment and I didn’t want to put a damper on things.

I asked that we take some selfies. We took 3 or 4, most with the trees behind us, one with the ocean. The one we like the most is the one where I remembered to put my hand on his shoulder so the ring was visible. We have the best expressions in that one, and it was right before the picture where he wasn’t smiling and I was kissing him on the cheek, squishing my nose against his cheek in a decidedly unattractive fashion.

I realized then that I had a text from Rachel, Tyler’s sister, and laughed at the timing of it. Then I remembered that, that morning, I’d scheduled a text to her about Tyler’s mom’s birthday for 5pm, and she was merely texting me back. And not letting on that she knew Tyler was going to be proposing that afternoon, and was waiting by the phone for the news. We called her first, then Tyler’s parents, then my brother, and I texted the women who would become my bridesmaids.

But while we were still on the beach, after texting Rachel back, Tyler suggested we wait until we got back to the truck to start calling people. We held hands the remainder of the walk, passing the remains of the old fishing pier. When we started to get into the truck, we heaps of sand shrugged off our shoes, so we got back out to stamp our feet and shake sand off of the floor mats, which was a very mundane thing to be doing in my brand new ring, four or five minutes after we got engaged.

We drove back to my parents’ house and I got to hug my mom immediately. They’d known the plan, of course, and hadn’t let on at all. As is the nature of mothers, I didn’t start crying until I saw her. We cried happy tears for a minute or two in the front yard, then went inside so I could hug my dad, and Tyler could hug them both.

That night, we went to a local seafood restaurant with an hour-long wait, telling my parents stories about dating and knowing each other in college, tons of funny and sweet stories they hadn’t heard before. I refused to get my normal fried shrimp because I didn’t want grease on my ring and left it with Tyler on the table when I went to the bathroom, not trusting myself with it in a public restroom just yet.

I can not imagine a better day.