Okay. So... here's where it all began. (Go ahead and grab some popcorn and a Mountain Dew... this could be a while.)
Also, my only great regret for this post is that the two oldest pictures I have of the two of us together... including one where we're 12 and 13... are missing and I almost didn't finish the post due to my grief over this fact but I promise the moment they're found I will update.
I don't remember actually meeting Jonathan for the first time. Our parents went to college together, he grew up with my cousins, and I just kind of always remember hearing his name and just knowing him, without ever really meeting. (Keep in mind that I was in Washington and he was in North Carolina so it's not like we rubbed shoulders all the time.) I do remember our first encounter (that I was aware of) happened when I was about eleven. I was walking through my Mamaw's neighborhood with my cousin Kailyn, who was in Jonathan's class at school and one of his good friends. For some reason, I remember feeling "cute" that day, probably because I was wearing something of Kailyn's (she has always generously shared her awesome clothes with me =) and with my armor of Gap clothing, what was so scary about meeting a boy? We (intentionally) walked by Jonathan's house, where he was (intentionally) outside shooting a basketball. We stopped to talk and ended up playing basketball for a little while (I may have won and been super pleased by that.) Anyway, we were both really young and dorky and I probably thought he was cute but it wasn't love at first shot or anything.
That year, though, we (brace yourselves for this dose of vintage) IM'd each other (littleangel421? mcnugget88?) every now and then (heaven knows what we talked about... I genuinely don't remember. Probably baseball as this was the peak of my Mariners obsessions.) I think a little email may have been involved too. Then, the next year while I was in NC for vacation, we ended up hanging out with my cousin Stephen on a youth group day trip to the coast (boat ride, aquarium, etc.) We talked A LOT that day and I remember making him laugh (which was and is my litmus test for how much someone likes me) and I had a good time, but I was 12 soooo.... still not the top of my priority list. Plus we lived SO far apart that it didn't really occur to me that anything would ever, ever happen.
WELL... the next couple of summers are a little fuzzy in my memory but I think he was gone when I came to visit or something... but fast forward to 2004. Oh, that glorious summer when I walked into Faith Church on a Sunday morning and looked across the sanctuary and BEHOLD... that handsome boy in a brown pinstriped suit with his spiky hair and tan and braces. I was smitten, instantly, like... what happened to the dorky kid with buck teeth and crew cut? (He was adorable too, but this was like Jonathan 2.0 or something.) AS SOON AS we finished lunch at Mamaw's, I dragged Kailyn out the door to
"Um, so, first of all... Jonathan McNeese is hot!"
"OH MY GOODNESS, ASHLEY... I TOLD YOU! YOU ARE SO MARRYING HIM!"
Then teenage girl pandemonium set in and we began discussing the matter as if something could very well come of it (while I'm living on the opposite side of the country.) Even though I didn't really believe that he'd ever date me (or even think about it!) I could dream and my crush on this guy was full-blown. Of course, I went home a few days later (I don't even think I talked to him during the trip) but all of a sudden those California boys were lame compared to this dreamy guy in Goldsboro. Again, it didn't really matter with the geographical situation and all, but still... didn't hurt to daydream.
Well, a few months later (January '05) our family unexpectedly had to make plans to move away from Santa Clara, California... and where should fate land me but Goldsboro, in the SAME NEIGHBORHOOD as the guy I've been in love with for months! Years! (Okay, it wasn't fate... it was God. Duh.) Anyway, my parents told us we'd be in North Carolina and I immediately (amid all the grief of moving half-way through the year) thought: "Maybe Jonathan McNeese will finally notice me." (I was a deep teenager, obviously.) I hadn't heard from him in a while, but since what we were going through was sort of traumatic to say the least, he even emailed me to tell me he'd be praying for our family and was looking forward to my moving to town. (!!!) I was thrilled. At the very least, I hope we could be friends. You know, friends who went on dates and got married.
Much, much later I was told that as soon as he heard we were moving he decided he would be dating me. Ha... I would have loved to be let in on that little piece of information a lot sooner.
Over the next few months, we did become friends, but not like I thought we'd be. We talked a little at school and church, but for the most part it was kind of a "pal" thing (which I was coming to realize just seemed to be my lot in life... the "cool friend who's a girl but never a girlfriend" zone. I was its queen.) I thought, when we moved to Georgia that summer, that maybe I'd get over him since it was pretty obvious he had no interest in dating me (silly boy.) We'd been gone for over two months when our family gathered for Papaw's birthday party and I saw him working at the church and he looked up at me and smiled and... well, all the lofty plans I'd had to "move on" came crashing back down. It was no use. Those blue eyes? Stop. (I know, you all hate me right now. Whatever.)
SO... that fall we hung out at camp (ah, camp romance) and kind of hit it off (again) and started emailing. (Oooo... I know. So archaic. I'm a dinosaur over here.) He'd send me rambling emails about school and basketball and church and I'd print them (because I'm a loser) and read them over and over and analyze ever word and smiley face and poorly placed punctuation mark. (Even back then, he needed me... he just didn't know it yet.) Then I'd painstakingly agonize over every word of my reply (is this funny? or cute? or clever? is it friendly but kind of flirty but not too much because the boy doesn't even like me and seriously I need to know!) And the cycle would continue.
Before Christmas he sent me a game-changer... something to the effect of "I need you (NEED!) to come to Mid-Atlantic (a youth conference) with me (WITH ME!) because there's no one to hang out with (gee, thanks, but I'll totally take it!) so see if you can come...." So of course the begging ensued and my mom agreed and I got on the bus for the trip in late December and we were inseparable for next three days. Bus, services, meals... it was the J and A show. And on Friday night at Frankie's Fun Park (I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried!) we were playing putt-putt golf. It was really late, probably close to midnight, and freezing cold and my hands were turning blue but I was hanging out with Jonathan McNeese! And no one else! This is worth frostbite, okay? Anyway, we're out there and all of a sudden he says, "I need to ask you a question," to which I very graciously replied, "Okay... shoot," or something equally ladylike. And he said...
"Will you go to Junior Senior with me?"
Okay, if you didn't go to a Christian school... Jr/Sr is a banquet in the spring where everyone dresses up in formals... it's like prom. Without the dancing. Or a lot of the other stuff, one hopes. Anyway, I finished silent screaming to myself (since his back was turned) and then very casually replied, "Um, yeah, that would be great." (This being interpreted, "Why, yes, I will marry you and be your wife til death do us part."
Still, though, I'm thinking, "He doesn't really like me. There's just no one else he'd have that much fun with at the banquet." I really didn't think he wanted to be my boyfriend. At all. Just friends, and since he thought I was cool and funny (not pretty... I was sure) I would be a decent date. (Obviously he DID like me but apparently thought putting me through a few more months of inner turmoil would be a good idea.)
So, we kept emailing. And then, miracle of miracles... he called. In March. And for the next month or so we talked maybe once a week. I STILL thought we were just good friends and he enjoyed my company. But the emails started getting a little more, say... personal? "I'm excited about seeing you." "Only 8 days until you come up here." "I had so much fun talking to you last night," etc.
Vaat? Me???? You say these things to me??? Hmmmm.....
In April, when I was out in California visiting friends, I got another game-changer... it was as round-a-bout as he could make it, but the email plainly stated "I like you and I can't wait to see you." Well, there it is. I could no longer convince myself it wasn't true... he really did like me. I was shocked but clearly not displeased. After all, this crush had been going strong for about two years now (really longer, if you count the awkward childhood years). We saw each other a few times before the banquet and each time was a little more "date-like." And of course I was as nervous as could leading up to this blessed event that I'd been worrying about for the past five months. (He's a real go-getter in the planning department.)
Our very first "official" date was on my 17th birthday... April 21, 2006. I wore a blue dress and way more makeup than I ever wear and a bunch of hairspray and bobby pins and hoped that I didn't make a fool of myself. Of course it was awkward and all the witty conversations we'd had over email for the past several months escaped our memories and we mostly just stared at each other (not used to being in the same room very often), and it WAS a formal banquet so frivolity wasn't really appropriate... but still. It was unforgettable. And for my birthday he bought me a guitar book and new strings (for my new guitar obsession) and a card that I still have and is still so sweet and pitifully awkward. I love it.
I didn't even have that much makeup on when I got married. Airbrushed Barbie?
That weekend when I went home, he sent me a goodbye email that officially (and off-handedly... typical) referred to me as his girlfriend for the first time. You better believe I hit print on that one and probably carried it around with me for a good while, because, you know. Lameville.
I'm not sure what's crazier... the fact that I willingly posed this way or how thin I was. Memories... they light the corners of my mind. (Also, I think we can all agree that I should never agree to a profile shot ever, ever again.)
Over the summer we continued talking and visiting and he came for my sister's wedding and I went up there for his graduation, and all the while I knew. I just knew. It was probably, partially, ridiculous teenage confidence that I had found "the one," but deep down, where I wouldn't have even admitted it to anyone, I knew that if I could be lucky enough to hold on to him, I'd marry this guy.
The months passed and we talked on the phone (more once I FINALLY got a cellphone my senior year of high school, which was probably a good thing) and found ways to visit each other. (The "L-word" entered the picture about a year and half later, in May of 2007.) When I had to go away to college (separate from him) my freshman year, it was really hard. We were in different time zones with completely different schedules (and I think Verizon had a bounty on my happiness or something because I had nothing but phone trouble all year long.) Finally, we were reunited (more like united, since we'd never lived in the same place... now 2008!) and I was able to attend college at Southeastern with him. There we finally settled into life as a normal dating couple (in that, you know, we went on dates) and got to experience college together which was a blast.
Ah... the matching society shirts.
The next summer, he joined my family up at our friends' beautiful cottage in the mountains of North Carolina. I knew the proposal was coming (we'd been ring shopping and I am not a huge fan of surprises) but we'd been there for a few days and.... nothing. (The only reason I was really that anxious was that I had bought the perfect shirt for the occasion and I didn't want to keep wearing it. Yep... materialistic to the end.) But I knew it was coming, like I said. This is so embarrassing, but remember when you could type up a text message and save it as a draft? (Maybe you still can.) I did that for a bunch of people... poised and ready to blast out "I'm engaged!" to the world. (I know... pathetic. But, be prepared, I always say.)
Finally, on August 11, 2009, he asked. (Not on one knee... I'm still bitter about that.)
But of COURSE I said yes and the planning began and with a nine-month interruption called... school, (haha, gotcha) we were married on July 23, 2010.
Three years ago. Today!
FYI: I had to wear that suit for the choir. I would not have willingly been wearing a (flannel? wool?) suit in May. Or December, but that's neither here nor there. I didn't dress that crazy...
A new (to us) car...
A first apartment...
And a second...
And a few years of a teacher's schedule and lots of church stuff and early mornings and late nights and laughs and tears and crazy days and bad days and happy days and fun days and hard days and long days and busy days and sweet days and challenging days.... it's been a long journey (12 years since our first picture!) and three years of marriage, but they're been great. Really. And while our story isn't terribly unique in that our eyes didn't meet across a crowded room or we didn't meet online after matching personality quizzes or whatever... and neither of us dated anyone else (thank goodness since I would literally be a green-eyed monster of jealousy)... it's pretty cool that we dated for so long (mostly long-distance) and never even came close to breaking up. Not that we didn't fight or anything, but none of this "taking a break" stuff. Like I said, I think we really both just knew that we were supposed to be together. And we were. And we are. Thank the Lord... He knew before we did. =) I've mentioned this before, but we really are perfect for each other. Not perfect, mind you... but perfect for each other.
So, that's our story. And three years into this crazy thing called marriage, I'd say it has a pretty happy ending. (Well, it's not over yet. We did promise "til death do us part" which guarantees our happy ending. Unless we make another Target trip anytime soon... in which case Jonathan might kill me, bringing our happily ever after to a swift end. Nothing but the truest love here at the McNeese house... just keeping it real.)
*Happy anniversary, babe! I love you. And this is your card, so... there. I saved $3.99. Let's go to Starbucks. Or Target.*