In 2005 while dating long distance, we met for a day trip to hike and hang out in Blairsville, GA. It was the geographic center of our relationship, about a 3 hour drive from both Jacqueline’s childhood home and my place in Middle Tennessee.
It was a magical day, and we capped it off watching the sunset before parting for the long drive back to our respective homes. We planned (of course) to talk on the phone for much of the trip, when she hit me with what felt like an out-of-left-field “we need to talk.”
Those four dreaded syllables turned out to be the last thing I heard before entering the Nantahala National Forest (while she simultaneously entered the Chattahoochee National Forest) where cell phone reception goes to die. I feverishly tried to dial and drive for 10 minutes before giving up.
I spent the next 45 minutes (in reality I have no clue how long it was, but it felt like about a day) stewing over what I could possibly have done wrong to get “we need to talk”ed. This was not my first time being broken up with, but I at least saw it coming a _little_ bit in the past.
“It’s got to be the long distance thing” I fussed (aloud to the empty seat beside me). I rehearsed a very long list of the reasons that we should continue trying this long distance thing. I resolved (aloud to the empty seat beside me) to drive the whole distance between us next time, or to pay (with money I decidedly did not have) for her to take a flight so that she didn’t have to make the journey by car. We could defy the odds, and make long distance work.
We had to make long distance work. Of all the things I was certain about (my mid twenties were a time of great certainty, for better or worse) I was 10 times more certain that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this woman.
So I really let the empty passenger seat have it. I channeled my inner defense attorney and made lists of the things I’d be willing to give up and do if she’d reconsider breaking up with me. I made promises to that empty seat that I knew I couldn’t keep. Our relationship was only months old, so promising lavish things would tip me over from “romantic” to “a red flag” and I knew it.
By the time the cell phone bars showed up, I had resigned to just take it like a man.
When we got back on the phone, me chugging through Chattanooga and her passing through Anderson, she said something like “we need to talk… I am really starting to enjoy where our relationship is going, and I just need to make sure that you are serious before I let my heart really get serious.”
(cue triumphant music)
It’s funny: I went to bed last night thinking “It’ll be the first birthday in our new house.” But it’s only a first for me. She’s had lots of birthdays here.
I couldn’t be happier to spend my first “Jacqueline’s Birthday” here.
Happy Birthday, my love.
Four rings (I lost one in the ocean), three kids, and lots of years later: I still also really enjoy where our relationship is going.