I wish I could tell you a story about our first kiss or the magic moment under a bowl of stars when fate made itself known to Us.
I wish I could paint a portrait of me brushing the hair behind her ear as she first looked at me with those eyes and that smile that change my life every time she graces me with them.
I wish I could describe the precise moment when I first heard her say “I love you” in a way I had never heard her say it before.
I wish there was some way I could capture all those fireworks and butterflies that come in the moments before that first kiss that changed our lives…the kind of kiss that changes anyone’s life really.
But I don’t have those stories to tell. Ours is not one of “new” love or of flames so passionate that their heat carried us into the sky.
Our story begins in a musty sophomore geometry classroom. We were bound together by the alphabet and its influence over Ms. Grissom’s seat assignments.
Unencumbered by the kinds of promises kids so often make though they are too young to know they can’t keep, our friendship was instead marked by our social awkwardness, our misfit friends who inhabited the land of broken toys that was our classroom, and shenanigans. (Well, the shenanigans were mostly mine.)
She was beautiful though she won’t acknowledge it. She was funny and smart with an air of cool that again, she’ll deny. Her self-image is much different than my view of her. I suppose the same is true for me.
I was shy and insecure with a sense of fashion that could generously be described as ridiculous…except for my black trench coat. I’d like to think it was the first step in wooing My Love.
Sometimes the class clown, other times desperate to melt into the faded paint on the mid-century classroom that incubated us, I was never quite comfortable in my own skin.
She had my eye even then. She doesn’t believe me but it’s true.
Somehow despite my often crippling awkwardness I summoned the courage to write her a note. Clumsily folded with a little tag that had the word “pull” and an arrow, it was my first attempt at telling her how I feel. She denies this too but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Then as now, every word was a piece of my heart.
Whenever I made my clumsy attempts at humor she would look at me with a tone in her eyes that seemed to embody both a sense of dismay and approval. She tried to keep a straight face and sometimes she managed to but more often than not that smile would not be denied.
Through circumstances unique to adolescence we were pulled apart and lost touch despite always being in the other’s orbit.
It seemed like we were always five minutes and two miles away without even knowing it. We visited the same friends’ apartments always just missing one another. One night in particular I left our mutual friend’s house about 10 minutes before she arrived.
We didn’t even realize we knew the same people.
For a time we lived almost exactly across the street from one another.
She worked at the restaurant directly across the street from
the pub I frequented. I ate at her restaurant with some regularity too.
Evidently it was always her night off.
I’m serious. You can’t make this up.
For years we circled one another, never knowing just how close we were. So close yet so far away.
Enter Facebook and a simple friend request I received one afternoon.
It was Kristin Benninghoff.
I won’t even attempt to deny that my heart skipped more than a beat when I saw the “alert” nor the fact that I stared at the screen for I don’t know how long waiting to see if she would send me a direct message.
When friends reconnect after time apart they often say they “picked up where they left off.”
Kristin and I did not.
We picked up right where we were.
We slipped into one another’s life both as if we were never apart but also with all the miles, scars, tears, laughter, and experiences gained over the years we spent in orbit.
That time carved and molded us into more than just old friends catching up.
The first time I saw Kristin in person after all those years she spoke to me as if we had never spent so much as an hour apart in our entire lives.
She knew me so well, our conversation so fluid and intimate that I asked if perhaps she had reached out to my then-wife to inquire about various details.
She had not.
She just knew.
She just knew.
Since then, every step we’ve taken has been taken together.
We became inseparable despite seldom having the opportunity to even grab coffee.
We became each other’s biggest fans, boldest champions, most caring confidantes, and loving supporters.
The good, the bad, the awkward, the triumphant, the failure, the loss, the joy, this life, the universe, and everything have been experienced together.
We have spent these years supporting one another through heartache and the stress of building the lives we always envisioned but seemed unfathomable to that point.
We’ve celebrated too.
She cheered me as I performed on stages large and small alike.
I cheered every milestone achieved as she, Jakob, and Olivia moved through life.
She embraced the birth of my son with a passion and tender love that continues to humble my soul.
And together, we walked across the stage, her in Houston and I in New Hampshire, to receive our Master’s degrees. We spent the day texting back and forth as we sat waiting for our names to be called.
She is the first person I want to tell about anything that happens throughout my day.
Someone cuts me off on the road? Call Kristin.
Oliver said “SEGA!!!” I must call Kristin.
Exactly how does so much laundry appear in the hamper? Kristin will know.
I’m struggling to maintain a grip on my life. Kristin can help. Kristin will understand.
Whether inconsequential or monumental, Kristin is my first instinct…and always has been.
Yet, we were never single at the same time.
Being together as we are now was never even on the radar.
Perhaps a fleeting curiosity or the proverbial “what if” would cross our individual minds but it was never outwardly acknowledged. We never spoke of such things.
What could have come of such talk or consideration?
What would the point have been?
We thought of it in the same way a child may think of what it would be like to fly but without the naivety that youth provides to allow them to believe they have wings to spread.
We were in long term relationships and we had our friendship. What more could we ask?
But things change.
Several months ago I made the very difficult decision to end my marriage after 14 years. That marriage gave birth to my darling son and taught me more than I can describe about sacrifice and compromise, about love, and about what it means to fill the measure of my creation.
It was not a decision taken lightly. There was no singular moment or action that led me to that decision but it was one that I came to believe was the only and best choice to make for the family. It was an inevitable and in many ways unfortunate choice to make but no less essential for the lives of everyone involved. As I made my way through the maze of divorce settlements and trying to reconcile my beliefs about family and individual fulfillment, I came to understand what life would look like. Maybe I’d have an apartment somewhere or maybe I’d spend time with my parents planning the next chapter of my life as a divorced father.
But then, something happened on the way to the rest of my life.
I’ll resist the temptation to frame the way Kristin and I became Us within the context of destiny though the manner in which we went from “us” to “Us” begs for such otherworldly poetry.
What I do know is that we were collecting all the photographs and memories, joyful mornings and mournful nights, wisdom and knowledge, that have all led us to this moment…to This Right Here.
They say timing is everything and I suppose it is.
We had in fact never been single at the same time.
We had in fact never spoken of any sort of life together beyond what we had always enjoyed.
And then we did.
And when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life together with somebody you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.
And so it has.
We turned Our new life over and in doing so we found Our Love.
This is why I cannot tell you a story of a singular moment when Kristin and I became what we are today.
Our story is one of Choice.
Our story is about the choices we’ve made as both
individuals and as Us.
Some of the choices we made while apart, unfortunate though some may have been, were essential in shaping us into the individuals that have become Us.
So too are the choices we made to craft the lives we wanted to live, lives we thought impossible until we had the audacity to believe in ourselves and in Us.
We made choices to earn degrees and to further our careers.
We made choices about family and faith and all the while
challenging and inspiring one another as we took those steps together in hopes
of building our lives. We didn’t realize it but we weren’t just building our
We were building Our Life.
So too have those choices involved others.
She chose Oliver.
Oliver chose her.
Olivia chose me.
I chose Olivia.
Olivia chose Oliver.
Oliver chose Olivia.
And while Jakob is already building his own life, growing into a man anyone can be both proud and humbled to know, he too made a choice.
He chose to open his mind and heart to Kristin and I and to stand with Us, his own beloved at his side when Kristin and I make the most natural and obvious choice of all: to be married.
We all chose to come together and build something new.
Our story is not defined by any one moment.
Our Life was not born in a whirlwind. There is no story of falling in love, of courtship, or dropping to one knee.
Rather, Our Life is defined by moments sewn so tightly together that I struggle to find the seams that join the separate pieces.
I’ve no concept of a life without her…not one that I would ever want to live.
God Only Knows what I’d be without her.
The fact that we are now We is a testament to, and confirmation of, what I have always known to be true but was too afraid to allow myself the chance to consider as ever being possible.
Kristin, It Had To Be You. It could not have been anyone else and I’m so glad it’s you.
Kristin you are my best friend. We Can Do Anything. We have. We will.
I love Kristin Benninghoff.
She is My Love, from Here On Out.
Always and Forever and Regardless.
Be Well and Kind,