You, Me, & John Cusack

My friend Melissa writes the best love stories. Her tales are enchanting not just because they’re real and true, but because her wonder of Love seeps through every word. For her birthday recently, she asked all the humans of the Internet to send her their love stories. Seriously- she really did that.

My sentimental, nostalgic heart jumped at the chance to write a love story of my own so I took her up on her offer. Husband and I went out that night, and over drinks we sat in a booth for hours recalling and retelling our own version of what happened between us 15 years ago. It was quite possibly the best date we’ve had in years.

I rushed home, typed it out, and sent it off to Melissa. She wrote me back at 5:30 am to say that she was crying on an airplane somewhere, because this story was beautiful and she thought that I should share it. I decided to leave it here for you guys because I think she’s right.

I think all love stories are important and worth sharing.

Here is what I wrote her:

“Dear Melissa,

I suppose if I’m going to tell you my love story, I should start by telling you that I too, have always been a lover of Love. I was a hopeless romantic with big ideas about what my story would look like, but one thing was for sure: I always took Love very seriously. In high school when my friends were trying on different loves like they were outfits, I was always too cautious to let myself go all in.

I dated, but I never mastered the art of dating casually. It all just meant too much to me, you know? Maybe it’s because I valued myself and I believed that only Big Love was worthy of my heart. Maybe it’s because I was raised as a pastor’s kid in a purity culture where it was ingrained in me to wait for The One and not to peddle my heart or my body in the meantime. (Okay fine, that’s probably why.)

But also the first thing.

In spite of all my high standards and caution I still managed to experience my share of romance and delight and devastation. I dipped my toes in the dating pool long enough to experience Unrequited Love and Misplaced Love and to break a few hearts in the process. But I never fully let my guard down. I was breezy! I was fun! I was never fully vested.

I was waiting.

After high school I ventured out on my own to attend college in California. I was actually still in the throes of Unrequited Love for someone else when I met him. It’s funny how you can be fully yourself around someone when you aren’t concerned with a romantic involvement. We became instant friends. He had a quiet confidence and strength of character that drew me to him. He was funny. He thought I was funny. We inadvertently had a lot of fun together when we weren’t in class.

One weekend he invited my best friend and I to visit his hometown with him. He had a girlfriend there. It took me all of 5 minutes to be sure she wasn’t right for him. I couldn’t figure out if it was the way she insisted on calling him “Nathan” instead of “Nate” or if it was the way she held his hand AT ALL TIMES, but one thing was certain: She was all wrong.

He must’ve known it too, because at some point during that weekend he walked her to her car, a conversation happened, and she never came back. I caught myself watching them from the kitchen window, holding my breath. They spoke quietly and her shoulders slumped. She nodded slowly and they hugged. She left. He had broken up with her.

My little heart lept.

I realized I was crushing. Hard.

He would later tell me that he’d also had a crush on me, but as fate would have it, our timing was never right and our feelings were never spoken. Plus I think we each secretly liked the tension and the flirting and the never having to actually risk much.

Time passed.

We stayed friends.

On the first day of our second semester we hugged and chatted and he casually mentioned that he might go to Europe. He knew it was crazy and last minute, but he was considering finishing the term abroad. Two days later he was just GONE. He had made up his mind and gone after his Europe dream.

He was the kind of person who did that. Who knew his own heart and had the gumption to follow it.

I reconciled myself to the fact that we may never cross paths again. I knew it wasn’t likely that we’d keep in touch, what with him being in another country and all. Mind you this was the year 2000, the days just before everyone had a cell phone. So I knew I would miss him, but I decided I was too young and carefree to dwell on it. I moved on.

I finished school, moved back to home to Oregon, and reluctantly dated a guy who was a little too earnest for my liking. I broke it off as soon as I realized his feelings exceeded mine, (which was basically 5 minutes into the relationship). Then one day after a year without a single word, I came home from work to find a message on my machine from Nate. He had just gotten back in the country. He wondered how I was doing. He was breezy. He was fun. He was BACK.

Once again, my little heart lept. We talked on the phone that night for hours, and things were palpably different between us. Who was this person? It was like he had gone away as a GUY and come home as a MAN.

He felt new and exciting, yet familiar and safe.

We were states apart so we talked nightly for hours. We emailed constantly (because- olden days, remember?) Through honest conversation and ready wit, the spark had been lit. It was flirting at it’s best, but also more than that. It was the beginning of Big Love and we knew it. We were both fully aware of it.

We free fell into the possibility of each other.

I think that’s the thing that made him different. I didn’t know how to hold back with him. He just always felt safe to me. Not in the boring kind of way, but in the solid kind of way. For the first time ever, I was completely unafraid.

Things happened quickly from there.

After a month of speaking long distance, we made arrangements to meet up in Vegas for a mutual friend’s wedding. It was an unspoken test- to see if the spark between us would translate to chemistry in person. After all, it had been a whole year since we’d laid eyes on each other.

The chemistry was there and it was as magical.

I just sat for five minutes trying to think of a less annoying word than “magical”, because it implies that our story is somehow extra, or more, or better, which I don’t think is true because all love stories are magical in the realest way. But in the end, it’s the only word that feels right and rings true for what hung in the air between us that night.

We walked and talked until the sun came up and there was a moment sometime between midnight and dawn, while we were standing in front of the water show at the Bellagio when I knew.

I loved him.

Sometimes the biggest things in life happen in one quiet, small moment. A moment of knowing, but also choosing.

We said goodbye that weekend, full of hope and questions about how we might move forward.

He pursued me. I liked it. He had made up his mind about me and he was going for it. He made grand romantic gestures. He wrote me letters. The BEST letters. (I still have them all). He made videos and mailed them to me. Like, old-school camcorder videos of him being funny and cute and vulnerable. I loved every bit of it.

Every night he would call me at 8pm and one night as we were talking I heard something outside. He told me to go look out my bedroom window. I opened my curtains and he was there, in Oregon, in my backyard, holding a boombox over his head while it played our song, just like Lloyd in Say Anything.

As friends, Say Anything was the first movie we’d ever watched together and during that scene we’d looked at each other and agreed that Lloyd was the man. He had remembered that moment and he was recreating it. It was maybe the most romantic thing that had ever happened to me.

One month later he picked up his whole life and moved to Oregon to be with me. We had only been together for a couple of months. I remember thinking that I should probably be nervous about such a big step but somehow I wasn’t.

This was my person. I just knew it in my knower.

He must’ve known it too, because just a few months later he proposed. He took me to a secluded grassy meadow late one spring night and in the glow from the headlights of our parked car we slow danced to our song. He got down on one knee and made a beautiful speech of which I cannot remember a single word because all I could hear was the thundering of my own heart. I said yes, without hesitation.

Five months later we were married. We were young- 20 and 22 years old. Practically children. But we were sure of our Big Love. In the small, quiet moments we had known and we had chosen.

Photography by Traci Buck

Photography by Traci Buck

In the 15 years since then our love has grown down roots and weathered a few storms. It has become more than just a feeling. It has multiplied in the form of little humans.

It sounds like a neatly packaged story, but everyone knows that nothing about Big Love is really neat. At times it’s been messy and painful and complicated. The feel of it has changed 1,000 times over.

We’ve had to fight for it and trust in it and choose it over and over again.

But it has never left us. He is my person.

Every once in a while we go back to that grassy meadow, or slow dance to our song in the kitchen, or write each other a letter. Those are the small, quiet moments that keep our story real.”

Photo By Richelle Photography

Photo By Richelle Photography


5 thoughts on “You, Me, & John Cusack

  1. Jodi Jansen

    I almost burned our dinner, I was so engrossed! I love how reading your Love story brings back all the small and quiet moments of my own. Thank you.

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