Friday, July 27, 2012

an anniversary story.

Anyone who knows me can tell you: I’m not big on love stories. I avoid chick flicks like the plague, love songs tend to make me a little green around the gills, and love poems cause dangerous amounts of eye-rolling. Knowing this, you would expect me to be single, wouldn’t you? Au contraire: I’m going to marry a cheerful redhead named James.
This July 27th marks a whopping five years that James and I have been a couple. We are opposite as opposite can be: James is a romantic through and through. James is much nicer than I am, and he’s way less sarcastic. He is a brass player and I a woodwind, which – as any instrumentalist knows – can be a recipe for disaster. Despite the glaring differences, we agree on the really important things… and if I can think of any examples, I’ll have to get back to you.

James and I met on the very first day of college orientation: it was the tail end of August 2005. My family (Dad, Mom, brother, sister) and I loaded up the car and made the drive to Morris that morning. After unloading all of my stuff and meeting a few people in my dorm, we made our way over to the fine arts building. Why? To sign up for a concert band audition, of course!

My family explored the building a bit while I located the sign-up sheet within the labyrinth of music faculty offices. When I emerged, audition time established, I found my family talking to some red-haired guy in a baseball hat. I wandered over, and he introduced himself as James: he, too, was a freshman, and he had just finished signing up for his very own audition time. “And he plays trumpet!” said my dad, a trumpet player himself. I rolled my eyes: the last thing I needed was another trumpet player!

Well, this red-haired trumpet player named James was actually a pretty nice guy, and we became fast friends. 
Our first picture together! We look so very young.
James lived in the same dorm as me (I was on first floor, he on fourth), so he would stop by on evenings when one (or both) of us needed a break from homework. I distinctly remember giving James my phone number within the first few weeks of school: I told him to be sure and use it, because the only people who called me were my parents. If memory serves me correctly, he called me that very night.

It wasn’t long before I learned that James gave the best hugs out of anyone I’d ever hugged: even a non-hugger like me knew when to appreciate a good thing. It wasn’t long before I would summon James if I’d had an especially long day: I would simply need to call him and say, “I need a hug!” and he would appear at my door, ready to give me a reassuring hug. When I had the flu that spring, James came to make sure I was still alive. James even taught me how to swing dance: we danced for the Morris community Christmas variety show, and he would always save me a dance or two at the thrice-yearly jazz dances.
If you're not impressed, you totally should be.
Believe it or not, all of this was strictly platonic. James loved to wink at me and make me blush, but that’s as far as it got. As the school year wore on, James became my go-to for girl talk. Yes: girl talk. I had my fair share of boy trouble during my freshman year, and James was always there to comfort and/or mercilessly mock me. At one time during that spring, I was resisting the advances of a particularly loathsome character, who was a friend of my female floormates. This guy had not started out so bad: he was friendly, and I had been on a mediocre date with him. But I just wasn’t interested, which was something that he chose to ignore. He sent me scores of Facebook messages, and he left notes on my door. One evening, two of my floormates and I planned on watching a movie in my dorm room. Much to my dismay, there is a knock on the door: it’s the guy I’d been dodging for the past week. I was out of excuses, and there was nowhere to hide. He sat down next to me on the bed, and I inched away. As soon as this guy went to the bathroom, I quickly tapped out an SOS text message to James, asking him to please come save me. Not five minutes later, there was a knock on the door. It was James: my hero! I crept out of the room and quietly explained why I’d asked for him to rescue me. James could hardly contain his laughter, but he was more than glad to be of help.

Freshman year drew to a close, and the dorms cleared out. As a band member, I was required to play for graduation, which was a day after most of my friends had gone home. James, a fellow band member, knew that I was alone on my dormitory floor, so he invited me to go bowling. I’m a terrible bowler, but I went along all the same. I was touched that James would want to make sure that I didn’t have to spend my last night in Morris alone.

I don’t remember if James and I stayed in touch over the summer, but when sophomore year began, he was one of the first people I sought out. I had just joined jazz band, and I needed all the help I could get.
At the very least, I needed someone
to be in pictures with me!
I claimed James as a swing dance partner, and we had a standing date for Swing Club every Thursday night. I began music theory classes that semester, and James – who had a whole year of theory under his belt already – was on call to help me should I need it. For that whole year, my music theory class (I in the fall, II in the spring) was right after James’s jazz band rehearsal finished. Every Monday/Wednesday/Friday, we’d cross paths in the hall. Every time, James would give me a big hug, lift me up and spin me around, and set me down in the right direction.

My sophomore year was the particularly taxing year of the Hipster Boyfriend, and I needed to call upon James’s Magical Reassuring Hugs more than ever before. When Hipster Boyfriend completely destroyed my 20th birthday (which is a story for another time), I sent James a text message bemoaning my situation. Little did I know that James had gone over to my on-campus apartment to see me that evening. He even sat through an entire chick flick with my roommates in case I would come home. When I finally did return, I found a 12-pack of Mountain Dew waiting for me, along with a series of pink heart-shaped sticky notes (courtesy of a roommate) from James telling me happy birthday. Now, I’ve never been much of a softie, but this birthday gesture from James warmed even my non-romantic heart.

That summer, two important things happened: I rented a junky house in Morris with a handful of friends, and James joined a band called Funky Gumbo. While seemingly unimportant, without both of these things occurring, the summer of 2007 may have turned out a lot differently.

During the summer of 2007, I had a job in Brookings, so I lived at home with my parents. However, I was already paying rent on a room in this Morris house. That made it a whole lot easier for my friends and I to meet for a weekend in Morris. Most of James’s summer gigs were within a 40-mile radius of Morris, so he would stay at his very own college house. I called James every time I was going to be in Morris, and every time I was in Morris, he was too. (Little did I know that James would sometimes make a special trip to Morris if his gigs didn’t coincide with my visits.)

Things with Hipster Boyfriend were in a downward spiral. Hipster Boyfriend had completely drained me over the past year, and I was pretty sure a relationship shouldn’t make you feel like you’re slowly suffocating. Also, I had a lightbulb moment in early summer when my close friendship with James morphed into a devastating crush. After seeing James, I would think, “If only Hipster Boyfriend was more like James. James treats me so well, and he seems like a lot less work than Hipster Boyfriend. If only I could just date James.” (This is where the lightbulb turns on.)

Good friend that he was, I think I spoke on the phone with James almost every day that summer. I confided in James about Hipster Boyfriend: I knew I had to break up with him, but I didn’t have the guts. James gently encouraged me, and he was pretty easy on me when I chickened out the first time. I did succeed the second time – over the phone, shame on me – and James was right there to help me celebrate my new single life. My new single life didn’t last long: James and I began dating on July 27 of that year.
James's debut as my boyfriend. See how excited I am?
Fast forward almost five years. It’s June of 2012, and James and I had planned a long weekend in the Black Hills. It was going to be fantastic: our plans involved nothing but tourist traps, and that’s the way we like it. We arrived in Rapid City on the evening of Saturday the 23rd, and we spent the better part of the night strolling around downtown Rapid City. Shortly before the sun went down, I decided that we should book it to Dinosaur Park. If you are unfamiliar, Dinosaur Park is a group of huge cement dinosaurs atop a hill overlooking Rapid City. It’s been around since the 1930s, and it was my must-see of the trip. James happily obliged, and we made our way to the top of Dinosaur Hill just as the sun was beginning to set.
Turns out Dinosaur Park is a popular destination, no matter what time of day it is. The place was all but overrun with small children. For once, I didn’t mind. I was in such a good mood from 1.) the beginning of a long-overdue vacation, 2.) the fact that we had found the almost all of the state license plates in the Wall Drug parking lot, and 3.) WE WERE AT DINOSAUR PARK. I know what this says about my maturity level, but I love dinosaurs. Earlier that day, James bought me a little stuffed stegosaurus at Wall Drug. I told him, “James, the way to my heart is through dinosaurs.” He already knew.

We lingered at Dinosaur Park for quite a while: the hill overlooked Rapid City, so we sat and watched the city light up. I took about a zillion pictures of the dinosaurs, and James gladly took pictures of me with said dinosaurs. 
Look how cute the stegosaurus is!
Off the beaten path, there was a small rock formation that extended out and gave you an even more spectacular view of the city. James really wanted to go out there, but he didn’t want to share the space with the guy who had been standing there for the last half an hour. The guy had a high-strung wife and three unruly kids waiting for him down below, so I certainly couldn’t blame him for wanting some time to himself. James, however, wasn’t having it. “I just wish that guy would leave!” said James, glaring uncharacteristically. “You know, there’s room enough for us up there, too,” I said, wondering what the big deal was. “Why don’t we just go up there?” At that moment, the Defeated Dad responded to his wife’s shrill calls and trudged back down to his family. James wasted no time in getting up the overlook and claiming the best seats/rocks for optimal city viewing.
Worth the wait.
We hadn’t been there two minutes when James said, “Well, Calla,” and stood up. I looked at him a little weird: after all that waiting to get this very spot, he wanted to leave already? When James said, “We’ve been together for almost five years,” that lightbulb in my head flickered… and suddenly turned on. Was this a proposal? THIS WAS A PROPOSAL. I’m sure James said some very nice things after that, but for the life of me, I can’t remember them. James dropped down to one knee and asked me to marry him. I may be stating the obvious, but I accepted.
This probably goes without saying, but James is one hell of a guy to put up with the likes of me. I'm sarcastic and snarky, and James is hard-pressed to say a mean word. But here's what really takes the cake: James knows me better than I thought was ever possible. He knows exactly what to put on my sandwiches, and he knows what goofy greeting cards will make my day. Best of all, he knew that I'm not the kind of girl who would swoon over a candlelit dinner proposal. James knew that the place to do it was Dinosaur Park. My friends, it's tough to find a guy who knows you that well.

You know what else? We’re getting married on July 27th, 2013: six years to the day after we first began dating. It’s bordering on romance overload, but honestly, it’s too perfect to pass up. Even my romantically-challenged self can’t deny that.


  1. What an adorable story, my friend! I love that he charmed your parents before you. That's how Joe and I met, too. This is some of the best writing on your blog yet, too--wuv, twoo wuv, I suppose.

    Do you remember when we met up at an IHOP in Sioux Falls during our freshman year of college? You had a big photo album and I was looking through it, and I remember pointing to a picture of a red-headed guy who was pretending to play an instrument--for some reason I think it was a saxophone (but it may have been a trumpet). I asked you who that was, and you said it was James and proceeded to tell me how awesome he was.

    I remember that night I went home to see my parents and they asked how you were, and I told them, "She's good, she's dating some guy whose name I don't remember, and she doesn't seem to realize that she's really in love with a red-headed trumpet player named James." My mom asked how I knew you were "in love" with him, and I told her, "I don't know, but she's totally gonna marry him."

    True story. Now, the real question is, when am I gonna meet him?

    1. I do remember that day at IHOP, and I know exactly which photo - you're right, it is a saxophone! I know exactly which photo album I brought to IHOP that day, and I know its exact location in a closet at my parents' house.

      You must be some kind of marriage psychic. I can't believe that you remembered that after all these years!

      We need to set up a dinner date so you can meet James. He's not imaginary, I promise!