Monday, July 21, 2008

Forever Changed

Ten years ago on this day, my life was changed forever. Doug, the man I was to marry in four days, was killed when a car crashed into his motorcycle. But, today I don't want to be sad. Today, I just want to remember the amazing man he was, the love that we shared, and all the happy memories we made. I started writing a book about my experience, but never finished it because it was too painful, but I am including the part about our first date.

...There are so many reasons we could have never met, so many “coincidences” that worked out in our favor. The day we first met was no exception. Doug lived in Grove City, about one hour north of Pittsburgh, and I lived in California, about one hour south of Pittsburgh so with a distance of 2 hours between us, we decided to just meet at the building the dating service was in, since it was about half way. When the day came, I was nervous, but excited to meet him. I think I arrived at the building about 10 minutes early and I figured I better stand at the entrance so we wouldn’t miss each other. I had seen his pictures, but I figured he could look totally different than he did in the pictures. I wasn’t sure what to expect and I was anxious to find out what he looked like.

Ten minutes passed and he hadn’t arrived. No big deal - I usually don’t mind if people are late if it’s 15 minutes or less. But, after 15 minutes had passed I started to get annoyed. What kind of guy would be late for a first date? I had been standing there for 25 minutes and I’m not a very patient person. The more time went on, the more annoyed I got! I told myself, “I’m going to give him 15 more minutes - then I’m leaving!” I thought maybe he stood me up which really pissed me off! I started going over the conversation we had on the phone, trying to think of what I could have possibly said that turned him off. While I was doing that, he suddenly came through the doors! From inside the building! He looked as annoyed as I’m sure I did.

These were our first words to each other in person:
“Hey!” (me)
“Hi!...Did you know there is another entrance to this building on the other side?” (him)
“No Way! No! I thought you stood me up! I was giving you 10 more minutes and then I was leaving!” (me)
“I was thinking the same exact thing!” (him)

Luckily, a woman had been walking into the building, and it had suddenly occurred to Doug that there might be another entrance, so he asked her! That woman made our love story possible! I wish I could thank her.

I was very pleasantly surprised as I looked him over, (subtly of course!) He was dressed casually, not stuffy, like in his pictures, and his hair was longer and looked much nicer than in the pictures. He had a nice, athletic, build and was 6 foot tall (one inch taller than me). The two things that struck me the most were his amazing, light green eyes, and his smile. We left my car in the parking lot and got into his - he opened the door for me, which was already a point in his favor! He asked if I minded if he stopped and got something to drink because he was thirsty so we stopped at a convenience store. I was going to wait in the car, and he asked “Did you want anything?” I replied , “Oh, yeah, thanks. Could you get me some Bit O Honey?” “That’s some kind of candy, right?” he asked, before going into the store.

I have to confess that I did that as a test. I knew that it is hard to find Bit O Honey and that not many stores carry it. I figured it would tell a lot about him to see how he handled the situation. I was laughing to myself as I saw him go up one aisle and down the next, searching the place for the Bit O Honey. He eventually found some and I was definitely impressed that 1. He took the time to search the whole store, and 2. He didn’t complain about it when he got in the car. He passed the test with flying colors! I can still picture the huge grin on his face when I told him months later about “the test” and how well he had done! It seems he had a “test” for me, also. When we got in his car, he had the windows down since it was a warm, sunny day, (May 18, 1997). He left them down, waiting to see if I asked him to put them up, or if I complained that my hair was getting messed up, etc. He didn’t want a “princess” or high maintenance, prissy girl who would be afraid to mess up her hair or break a nail, etc. I passed his test. He later told me he liked that not only did I not mind the windows being down, but I noisily chewed away on my sticky candy and licked my fingers afterwards! How ladylike, right?

We had a nice conversation on the way to his house, and I was surprised to find that I was really enjoying myself! First dates are usually awkward, but I felt really comfortable with Doug right away. When we got to his house, I was impressed by the neighborhood. It had a nice feel to it, with the houses close together, but far enough apart to have nice yards. The houses and yards were well maintained. You could tell it was a neighborhood where people waved hello, knew their neighbors by name, and stopped to talk when they saw them in their yards. When I saw Doug's house, I was pleasantly suprised by two things. One, how clean the house was, and two, how nicely decorated it was. I figured with him being a bachelor that the house would be messy and would have unmatching, ratty, hand-me-down furniture, and maybe a picture of a girl in a bikini on the wall?! Instead, the house was spotless and he had nice furniture and even matching accessories! I figured maybe he told his mom he had a date and she came and cleaned for him and put a few things out!

After he gave me the tour, he asked if I would like to go for a ride to McConnells Mills on his motorcycle. I had never been on a motorcycle before, but it was always something that I wanted to do, so I jumped at the chance. I was a little nervous, so he told me, “I’ll squeeze your leg if we’re going to go over a bump, so it won’t surprise you.”. It took a while to get there, and I noticed that each time he would squeeze my leg, he would leave his hand on my leg a little bit longer than the previous time. At one point, we came to a stop sign and he turned around and asked “Do you mind my hand on your leg?”, and I replied, “I didn’t tell you to move it, did I?” Let me interject here and remind you that I have never been good at flirting. I have no idea how to flirt. I answered the question that way because it was the truth, but I later found out that my answer was a huge turn on for Doug!

We arrived at McConnells Mills, which is a wooded area, with streams and small waterfalls. We walked down by the water, sat on a huge rock, and talked. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I remember that the conversation was flowing nicely, with no awkward moments. We suddenly realized, though, that the sky had darkened, huge clouds had rolled in, and the wind had picked up. We quickly walked back to the bike, and left, but not soon enough, as we got caught in a downpour! We were both soaked by the time we got to his house. Doug gave me a t-shirt, and sweatpants of his to wear while he put my clothes in the dryer. Later, when I told one of my friends about this date, she teased me, saying, “Wow! He got you to take your clothes off on the first date!” He changed out of his wet clothes, then we talked until mine were dry. Then he drove us somewhere for dinner.

I’m not sure if he had even been there before, but when the waitress put an appetizer tray on our table that apparently came with our meal, neither one of us could figure out what it was! There was some kind of cracker or wafer with a big scoop of something pink in a dish.
I asked Doug, “What is the pink stuff?”
“I dunno. What do you think it is?”
“Maybe yogurt or sherbert? Why don’t you try it, Doug?”
“Me? Why don’t you try it?”
“Chicken! Fine, I’ll try it!” With that, I took a big spoonful and put it all in my mouth. He couldn’t stop laughing after I made a face and spit it out, (ever so daintily), into my napkin, exclaiming, “Eww! It’s cheese and it’s gross!”

After we ate we went back to his house and he asked if I wanted to watch one of the movies he had taped. It had been a long date already, starting around 2:00, but I was having such a great time, I didn’t want him to take me back yet, so I agreed. I looked through his movies and picked “Outbreak”, since I had never seen it. It was an exciting movie, and I was totally engrossed in it, when suddenly, it stopped and a motocross race appeared on the tape! Doug had taped a race over the end of the movie! He was so apologetic, but I just laughed and said, “Well, I guess we’ll have to rent it sometime!” He had already asked me out for a second date halfway through the first, so I knew we would be seeing each other again.

He said , “Well, I guess I better take you back”, and I replied, “Yea, it’s late”. You could tell by our tone, that we were enjoying the date so much we didn’t want it to end. As we drove back, Doug started talking really fast, and suddenly seemed nervous, which I didn’t understand until he reached over and took my hand! He held my hand the whole way, and I thought “How brave! I love that he had the guts to do that!” All the other guys I ever went out with had been too afraid to make any kind of move on the first date, and to be honest, I’m not sure I even wanted any of them to. But with Doug it was different. I felt so comfortable with him right away - it was if I had known him a long time - and he was so sincere, warm, and down to earth that I felt like I could trust him. That was also rare for me. After the Bozo, I found it hard to trust anyone.

When we got back to my car, I said, “I had a great time today! Thanks!” and leaned over to give him a hug. He replied, “Thank you, Jen”, and as we pulled away we locked eyes and kissed. A wonderful, perfect first kiss - soft and sensuous. That was the first, and only time in my life I ever kissed a guy on a first date. I was on cloud nine the whole way home! I was staying at a friend's apartment for awhile, so I was headed there. She knew I was going on a first date and that I would probably want to talk about it when I got home, so she tried to wait up for me. However, it was so late, (2a.m.), that I found her asleep on the couch. I sat down and stared at her, willing her to wake up, which she finally did. I excitedly told her all the details, and she asked, “Do you think you’ll see him again?” I replied, “Definitely! He asked me out for next weekend!”

My dad called the next day to ask me how the date went. I told him, “Dad, I really like this guy!” He later told me that he was shocked for me to say that because I’m usually pretty aloof at first, but I was hooked from the start...

Today, I would like to thank everyone who sent me a letter about their friendship with Doug. I enjoyed reading them so much, and I know that Doug was very lucky to have all of you as friends. I would also like to thank Doug's family, for treating me with so much compassion, respect, and love at a time that I so desperately needed it. I want to thank Nan for the way she has always treated me, since the first day I met her - like family. I want to thank Marsha, for taking my hand at the perfect moment, and for being a wonderful friend for the past 10 years. I want to thank Sharon, for being an example of strength and warmth - I admire you. I love you all.

Most of all, I want to thank Doug for choosing me. I miss you, Babydoll!


Anonymous said...

Oh, Jen! That was BEAUTIFUL and so wonderfully written. I had actually saved your last e-mail with this date in it because I wanted to send my thoughts to you . . . I am sure that on some days 10 years feels like a lifetime ago, but that on today in particular, 10 years feels like yesterday. I so admire that you can look back and not be as sad as you no doubt deserve to be, and that you can be so thankful for the times that you had together. Doug was a very lucky man for having met and loved you - but Jim and Dylan are even luckier. I hope your day is filled with wonderful memories and that you are surrounded by love. Big hugs!

Jennifer H said...

Thank you for sharing this story. I can't even imagine how devastating the loss of your fiance must have been for you. What you wrote here is such a lovely beginning to a love story.

Julia said...

My heart is breaking for you, but I'm so glad you found happiness twice in one life.

Julia said...

My heart is breaking for you, but I'm so glad you found happiness twice in one life.

Kristi said...

Such a sweet story. Very sad ending, but glad you were able to move on :)

Burgh Baby's Mom said...

Beautifully written, Jen. You are amazing (and I'm not writing another word because I'll start bawling).

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

What a lovely memory and beautifully told.

Kellan said...

What a beautiful memory of a special first date and a special man! I'm sorry you lost him.

Take care - Kellan

JCK said...

What a great date and such special memories. You told it so well. Thanks for sharing this day with us. I'm so sorry for your loss. And yet, if all of this hadn't happened you wouldn't have the life you have now. And it's good, right? :)

And NO.....I will not forget you. Are you kidding!?

Janet said...

That was a wonderful story. And as some said, it was tragic, but what you have now is also wonderful. Not too many people get that twice in a lifetime.

Betty Morgan said...

I still remember the call from your dad to tell us the horrible news. I couldn't believe it, nor did I want too. I had been to the lovely shower and was planning on attending the wedding.
It was surreal! Such a sad,sad, time.