• ISO: 400
  • Shutter: 1/3 sec
  • Camera: NIKON D1H

Northport, Alabama

When Nicholas and I first met, I was only 19 years old. On the night that I wandered into the restaurant where he worked, my high school boyfriend was marrying someone else. I was lonely and sad, hoping to lose myself in the noise and confusion of a typical Thursday night in a college town. As frat boys downed Goldschlager and Jagermeister and sorority girls hitched their skirts higher and higher, I sat drinking coffee in the corner of the room, not old enough to drink, not belonging in this seething mass of raucous hilarity and raw sexuality. As he touched my shoulder to refill my coffee, our eyes met and I knew — knew that he knew that this wasn’t my crowd, that it would never be my scene even once I was old enough to participate. The coffee was hot, the bar was smoky, and the music was loud — it was a good place to get lost. It was a good place to be found.

I became a regular customer, appearing every night around 9 p.m. and staying until 2 or 3 a.m. While the other students got trashed, I read philosophy and filled notebooks with page after page of thoughts, random snippets of conversation, brief vignettes of my life. Because he was the manager, he was able to save a table for me each night, ensuring that I would always have a quiet corner to observe my peers. He began saving my favorite newspapers like New York Times and USA Today, often paying for the 89 cent coffee that he knew I couldn’t afford. Sometimes he would ask about my day. Other times he would just keep my coffee filled, perhaps bringing a sandwich to go with it, touching me lightly on the shoulder or hand as I hunched over my books. His gentleness was a balm to my broken heart, his undivided attention a river to my parched soul. I started going to his church; he started walking me home at night. I was in love.

A few days after my twenty-first birthday, he invited me to his apartment to help him organize his vast library of books, and the rest as they say is history. We had a very sweet, very old-fashioned albeit brief courtship before becoming engaged on Dec. 23, 1994. We planned to get married that spring, but my family didn’t react well so we moved in together instead. Time passed and we were happy. He was 10 years older than me, but it didn’t matter. He became a graphic designer and I became a photographer. Slowly we began building the life that we continue to share today, 10 years later.

We have had our share of difficulties. The early years were especially hard as we learned to merge our very different personalities. He loves Star Trek, I don’t like television much at all. I love hard alternative rock; he prefers Celtic music. I stay up all night; he wakes up at 5:30 a.m. every day without fail. Somehow it works, although I think I get the better deal.

In the middle of the night, when I wake up screaming from a nightmare, he trudges to the kitchen and makes me a cheese sandwich, stroking my hair until I fall back asleep. When I’m taking pictures for the paper, he’s usually right beside me, carrying the 25-30 pounds of equipment that I drag with me. When I needed a new computer last year to be able to process RAW files for the paper, he’s the one who secretly came up with the $2,500 to buy my PowerBook, miraculously selling one of his personal books, a limited edition of Katherine Kurtz’ Codex Derynianus, on eBay for that exact amount. When I sell a photo, he is the one telling the world about it. He makes little notecards out of my pictures, uses my photographs for his desktop patterns and screensavers. When I was about to give up on making a calendar, he designed an awesome one for me, printing it at his job and distributing it to the president of the Chamber of Commerce, director of tourism, and other local people he thought should see my work. He celebrates my successes and wipes away my tears. He holds my head up when I vomit and stays calm when I go off the deep end.

And last night, when I was crawling over him with a macro lens at 2 a.m. to take the photo above as he was sleeping, he just softly smiled and murmured, “I don’t think other people have to go through this.” Truth is, he probably could have had an easier road had he picked a less complicated girl than me, but for some reason he adores me with a purity of love that I have never known. And that makes me a lucky girl indeed.

Music of the day: Closing Time by Semisonic

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