It began at a crosswalk, I think.
In high school, half of our school was on one side of the street, and half was on the other. So to get from class to class, often you'd cross back and forth multiple times a day.
My husband Joel said the first time he ever saw me was on that crosswalk. He was driving there to pick up his brother (in my same grade).
"Who's that?" said Joel.
"Sarah." said his brother Neal. And off they drove.
A few weeks later, Joel asked me out on my first real date. Sure, I'd dated other guys before him, but it was different. Those guys said things like "Do you wanna hang out?" and then we'd end up in a group at some friends house with chips and salsa and pizza and we'd all sit on the couch and watch television. Not really a date, but what more do you expect from a 16-year-old guy? To them, "lets hang out" was pretty romantic.
Not for Joel. Joel was 18 when he asked me out, I was 17. He took me to a Sonics game. I didn't have the heart to tell him basketball bored me to tears. Instead I saw a guy who drove a cool car and had cute dimples and he was asking me somewhere and the words didn't begin with "uh, do you wanna hang out?" Instead, it was something more proper, like, "Hi Sarah. I'm Joel. Can I pick you up on Friday and take you on a date?"
My heart skipped a beat.
Joels mom and dad raised him well. Joel was homeschooled (yes, I tease him about it sometimes, but honestly I think it has shaped him to be the amazing man he is today) and he seemed more mature than other guys his age. He was polite. He opened the car door. He made casual conversation that wasn't awkward. He offered to buy my concessions at the game. He made even a hot dog and a Diet Coke romantic, simply because he ordered, paid and brought it to me. He anticipated my needs. Other than my father, I'd never met another man that did such things. And we were only teenagers!
Joel and I only dated a few times in high school, maybe three real dates or something. One night, he walked me to the door to say goodnight and leaned in and kissed me. I remember him walking back to his car and I walked through the door, only to close it behind me and lean back against it and smile one of the biggest smiles I'd ever known.
As much as I liked him though, I was only 17 and I was interested in playing the field. (If I only knew then what I know now!) After those few dates in high school, Joel and I lost track of each other completely. Years went by.
Sometimes I would think of him when I'd come across an old note I'd saved, or when a shiny black Honda Prelude would drive by. Sometimes I'd accidentally run into him at Nordstrom (where he worked) or I'd see him from a far. Our social circles would cross every now and then, and through the grapevine I'd hear what he was up to. And then I'd remember that kiss...
Flash forward a few more years. I found myself at some worship service at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle. To this day, I can't for the life of me remember who I went with or why I was there, but I saw Joel's brother Neal in the pew and someone whispered to me in a low tone: "Did you hear? About their mom?"
Kathy had been diagnosed with cancer. My heart broke in that instant for their whole family. I'd remembered Kathy from high school days. She was an excellent quilter and had made some amazing quilts for our class and for the auction. My mom had even worked with her on some and commented on how great she was. Although I didn't know Kathy well, I knew enough to understand that she was an amazing wife, mother and friend.
I didn't know if I should say anything to Neal. Would the words "I'm sorry" even do? Should I call Joel? I stayed silent, but prayed whenever their family crossed my mind.
Then the day came in October (months and months later) and an email showed up in my box. Kathy had passed away.
In an instant, I felt this surge of compassion for their family, and although I hadn't seen them in YEARS, I knew I wanted to attend that memorial. I called my mom and asked if she would go with me. "Of course," she said.
The church was packed. Family from out-of-town, dozens of firefighters from Snohomish County where Joels dad works, all there to honor Kathy's life. Her quilts were hung on display up front and around the church, including a Sonics quilt she'd made that Gary Payton (her favorite) had offered to buy from her. She said no. :-)
My mom and I found a spot in the back row and took a seat. The picture on the cover of the memorial handout was of Kathy and her first grandson, Griffin. I am so thankful she was able to see her first grandchild born. I know he brought her such joy in that last year. He was actually born at the same hospital where she was receiving chemo. I can almost picture her, getting done with that dose and then heading down the hall to see Griffin enter the world. Pretty much the only thing to take your mind of cancer is a new grandchild! And God knew it!
When the service was over, I found Joel through the crowd. He looked so handsome in his suit, and yet there was no reason to celebrate being dressed up on this day. For one moment, I became incredibly self-conscious. What right did I have to come to this memorial? I didn't know Kathy very well, and I hadn't seen any of her kids in years. Are they going to be offended that I had the nerve to come? I dismissed the thought and trusted that God had me there for a reason. I thought the reason was simply to show support to their family and honor Kathy's life. I didn't realize that in that moment, as I walked toward Joel, we were being reunited and this time, it wouldn't fade away.
I don't remember what we said to each other. I don't remember if I hugged him or not. I do remember exchanging phone numbers and I do remember him calling.
"Hi Sarah. Its Joel. Can I pick you up and take you out on a date?"