This is probably a good time to discuss girl number three. I deliberately left names out up to this point because I have not had contact with any of my ex-girlfriends in years and I didn’t think it would be fair to put their names out there without asking their permission or, at the very least, warning them that I was doing so. It was difficult to maintain the narrative during the last chapter (or what passed for it) without using actual names but I was able to make it to the end. Unlike girls number one and two, girl number three knows that I am writing this and doesn’t mind me using her name. I guess it doesn’t hurt that she is my wife. Perhaps that will make the previous chapter make more sense.
I said that I held on to the hope that we would one day end up together, even when I claimed to have given up on her. Looking back on it now, after nearly twenty-seven years, I am not completely sure what it was at the time that made me feel as if she was the one. Like I said, I seriously considered going back to my high school girlfriend at one point. I had a girlfriend at the time, even though our relationship was weird and fluctuated from day to day, but there was just something about girl number three, who you all know as my wife Robin, that captivated me.
I know that a lot of people believe in the idea of one unique soul mate who has been personally chosen for them by God. It is a romantic notion and helped create some of the best power ballads in history, but I’m not sure I necessarily believe it. That doesn’t mean I don’t consider Robin to be soul mate. I do, with all of my heart. I also believe that God made it possible for us to be together and that He helped us stay committed to one another when things got rocky. I don’t believe that it’s like a fairy tale or romantic comedy though. We are still together because we made a conscious decision to stay together. I do believe that God has been a huge part of it. He has helped us learn to love one another, even when we weren’t being especially lovable. I know that it would have been easy for Robin to just quit on several occasions, but she didn’t. Our relationship, especially now, is defined by grace.
It’s funny, I am sitting here trying to think back and remember the first time I met Robin. I honestly cannot recall the exact moment. I know that we were both working for the same pizza joint (Pizza Inn of Rocky Mount, NC, if you must know). I worked at the main store and she worked at the delivery unit up the road. At some point, I can’t remember when, they moved delivery to our location and most of the employees, including Robin, came along. A lot of the details are lost to time and I don’t guess they really matter in the grand scheme of things. What does matter is that by September of 1988, Robin and I were friends.
I was fresh out of high school and she was just beginning her last year. We had a lot of mutual friends through Pizza Inn and many of us hung out together. Robin was in marching band so she spent a lot of time doing that. Me and my buddy Keith would to go to football games on Friday nights so I could see her. I didn’t get to spend much time with her there, but she did see that I was interested in her. There were a couple of other girls at work that I liked but it soon became clear that we were never going to be more than friends. With Robin, I felt like I had a chance.
I started a new job in November of 1988 and left Pizza Inn. I would go back several times over the next decade but at that moment, I was starting a different phase of my life. There really isn’t much more to say about that particular time. I’ve already described my life then. I worked a lot and I drank a lot. All of the romantic confusion I discussed last chapter took place during that first year working there. Robin was busy in school and I was busy doing other things but she never left my mind. I continued to call and write letters, even when it felt like my chances were slipping away. I know that she went out with a couple of different guys during that time too. I didn’t like it at the time, but I can understand it.
As much as I believed differently, I really wasn’t ready for a serious relationship at the point either. I was still dealing with things that went back to my high school girlfriend. There were two or three other girls who I briefly flirted with and then there was the girl I was dating when Robin and I finally decided to pursue our relationship. I am not proud of some of the things I did then. As I mentioned earlier, I drank a lot back then. I don’t blame the alcohol for my mistakes but it sure didn’t help things. I do regret getting involved with two of the “other” girls, even though those relationships never got intimate.
I met one of them through a mutual friend. I didn’t know it at the time, but she was living with her boyfriend. We went out a few times but it ended rather dramatically the night he showed up while I was sitting in their living room. He tried to fight me but I left and never looked back. She called me up the next day to assure me that he was gone, but I was too. Looking back on it now, I was fortunate that he wasn’t armed. He could have easily killed me. After all, I was in his house. That’s one I would definitely take back.
I hesitate to mention the other one, but for the sake of honesty, I will. Out of all the hiccups in our relationship, this is probably the one Robin had the hardest time dealing with. I know she still harbors some bad feelings when it comes to this topic so I will be as brief as possible. During one of the stretches when Robin was seeing other guys, I grew real close to one of my friend’s younger sister. I admit that she was too young for me to even be talking to, but I did. I stress this next fact. Our relationship was never sexual. Even then, with all that was going on, I understood that crossing certain lines wasn’t right. I didn’t cross them.
I did try to remain friends with her after Robin and I started dating and that was an absolute nightmare. In retrospect, I should have ended any and all communication with her. I wasn’t thinking clearly and I didn’t feel like I was doing anything wrong at the time. I now know that I nearly destroyed my marriage before it ever began. If there is anything in my life that I would change, that is it. I regret having a sexual relationship with my girlfriend in high school and I wish I could take that back too, but this one was worse. This is the one thing I truly wish had never happened and that is all I am going to say about it.
All detours aside, Robin and I did end up together. In fact, we officially started dating on September 3, 1989, which was her eighteenth birthday. We had gone out on one date earlier but I still had to end things with my girlfriend. That wasn’t the most pleasant experience but I managed to get through it. She ended up marrying one of the guys Robin dated. How is that for irony? I lost track of them years ago so I don’t know if they’re still together. I’d like to think that they are though. It makes an interesting side note to our story.
I proposed to Robin in March of 1990. I picked her up from work (she was working at the mall) and we drove out to Battle Park for lunch. She had been having a bad day and didn’t know what I was planning. We had been talking about getting married and she knew I had been looking at rings but I really do think I surprised her. You would have to ask her though. We were engaged for a little over a year before we got married on June 29, 1991. I consider that the most important day of my life. It marked the beginning of journey that we are still on and every year I stop and think about all of the things that we have experienced together.
I confess, it hasn’t all been good. The first two years of our marriage were chaotic. There were many factors contributing to the madness. Even though we all get along now, there was a lot of animosity between in-law at the time. Some of it was unjustified but I would guess that some of it was understandable. There were also a too many friends in the mix. I was playing in a band and we were the only married couple in our little group. Most nights there were people hanging out and crashing at our place. When you consider all of the alcohol that was being consumed, it’s no wonder that things were rough.
We also took in people who had no place to go. It may have been a noble gesture, but it wasn’t healthy for two newlyweds who were trying to learn how to live together. It sounds crazy now, but we were married for nearly three years before we truly lived by ourselves. We actually had to move back in with my parents for a while. That was the low point for me. I was drinking to the point where it negatively affected my life. I lost my job. I lost my apartment. I started to wonder if I even wanted to be married at all. I am not proud of that. It is only by the grace of God that Robin stayed with me and that I eventually came out of the haze I was living in.
We moved to Elizabeth City and enrolled in Bible college in the fall of 1994. At the time, I thought we were doing the right thing. We had both been raised in the church and we felt like God was leading us there. Truthfully, I think I was running away from all my problems at home. I saw the move as a fresh start and a way for us to be alone. I wasn’t ready. That became clear almost immediately. The folks I graduated with in 2008 would not have recognized the school in 1994, even though it was the same place and had most of the same professors. That is different chapter though, so let me finish this one first.
We were in Elizabeth City for one year. We moved back home after we discovered that Robin was pregnant. I went back to work at Pizza Inn and we moved into a little house in Nashville, NC. For the first time since we got married, it was just us. Things were still a little shaky but that was to be expected. I had huge issues with God and the church (I’ll get to it) and my only concern was to get ready for the baby that was on the way.
We did reconnect with some of our old friends but for the most part, we stayed to ourselves. I worked a lot and I drank a lot. It didn’t take long for me to go back to that particular habit. It was one of the few things that I excelled at. We spent a lot of time trying to sort through things. It took a long time for Robin to be able to truly trust me and that was entirely my fault. I still believe that God was the one there, holding us together. In spite of all my anger and doubts, I still believed in Him. I still believed that certain things were true. Robin and I had promised to stay together, no matter what. I was determined to do that and so was she.
I have had people ask me what I was thinking about on the day I got married. I almost always tell them the same thing. As I was standing there at the front of the church, in front of God and all those people, I looked at her and told myself, “You better make sure she’s the one but you are stuck with her for the rest of your life.” A lot of people groan and tell me that is the most unromantic thing they’ve ever heard. While that may be true, I believe that the manufactured romance you see in movies and hear in pop songs is fake. It’s not real. The movies and songs don’t show you real life. People still shake their heads and tell me I’m wrong, but I quickly remind them that I am still married to her.
The truth is, I am a romantic. I was in the beginning of our relationship, just ask Robin. I may have lost it there for a few years but I feel like I’ve come full circle. I don’t know why it is, but when I look at her now, I feel just like that eighteen year old staring at her across the parking lot of Pizza Inn. I still make her “lovey dovey” mix CDs for our anniversary. I still look at her as if she’s the same girl I met all those years ago because in my eyes, she is.
I love her more and more with each passing day and as we watch our kids grow up and start their own lives, I look forward to the rest of our years. I still have plans. I still have a few tricks up my sleeve. Lord willing, we’re going to make many more memories that we’ll look back on and cherish for the rest of our lives.