The Story of Us

30 Dec

I was sitting in my new dorm room with a phone number in hand. “Call Patrick Mason at this number,” the man I talked to had said. After some lost in translation with a Sierra Leonian (?) roommate, Patrick came on the line. I briefly explained that I had just gotten back to campus for my sophomore year and needed a way to get to my new church on Sundays. Patrick said he’d arrange a ride for me and we hung up. Rarely did Notre Dame students show up at the Mormon church, so Patrick was intrigued. I think mainly he was wondering if I was cute.

The first picture I have of him in my head is him catching my eye at the end of sacrament meeting and coming down from the front to introduce himself. He was wearing a blue and gold striped tie. Several Sundays later, I remember looking for him and being disappointed that he wasn’t there.

Over the next weeks, I hung out a few times with a larger group of students from the church, including Mike and Kennan who would become great friends. Years later, reading through Patrick’s journals, I discovered that a few of these get-togethers were orchestrated by him because he wanted to get to know me better. Still, we moved in our separate worlds of undergrad and grad student life and only bumped into each other occasionally.

***

Sometime in the fall, we met for a casual lunch on campus. I was wearing my extremely tall black sandals that day and my feet were exhausted by the time I sat down. Anticipating awkward small talk, I was surprised when Patrick asked me off the bat if I thought we should invade Iraq. The debate was all over the news and no one knew what was going to happen. As we talked, I realized that Patrick was one of those rare people who can really see and argue for both sides of an issue, even if he really feels passionately one way. We talked politics and peace throughout the lunch. Then talk turned to music. He told me his favorite band was Pearl Jam. My eyes widened.

***

On our way to our first date, I noticed a small llama on his parking brake. Her name was Dolly. Dolly Llama. He took me to a Mexican restaurant where he discovered I was a terrible Mexican-American, shunning onions, peppers, and everything spicy. At the end of dinner I excused myself to the restroom. When I came back, he said his old roommate had called and was in town wanting to get together. In his boy-mind he though it was perfectly logical that the date could continue with this surprise roomie plan instead of going to the agreed upon movie. In my rational girl-mind I figured this was his way of getting out of the rest of the date. I declined, we split the check, and he dropped me off. In his journal that night, he noted that there were no sparks flying on the date.

***

The semester passed, we both got busy in our own worlds. He was working hard and getting burned out in his very intensive program. I started dating another guy and decided to switch minors and apply to study abroad. We saw each other occasionally. Around Halloween, he sent an e-mail to about two dozen friends, including his entire MA program, inviting them to a local haunted house. At the end of the e-mail he wrote “if anyone, i.e. Melissa, needs a ride, let me know.”  He had mentioned to a few of his program buddies that there was a girl he was interested in and was hoping she’d go. I didn’t reply to the e-mail. Another girl from church did and all night long, his friends kept trying to leave them alone together, thinking that this was the girl he was talking about. Unfortunately, he and this particular girl didn’t get along at all, so it was an awkward evening of enduring winks from friends and finding themselves constantly alone. He would later claim that my not responding to the invitation was clearly a rejection of a second date. Life went on.

***

Patrick was packing for his early morning flight home for Christmas when he heard knocking outside. He was surprised to find me and a friend bearing Christmas cookies. Hope rekindled. I had unknowingly brought what was apparently Mormon dating code for “I like you.” He thought about me all through Christmas break. I thought it was kind of jerky that he didn’t try a cookie while we were over there, not knowing of his fear of eating something with nuts and dying painfully in front of us. When we got in the car and drove away, my friend surprised me by asking “so….what’s going on between you and Patrick?” This got me thinking.

***

We exchanged Christmas cards and e-mails through the break. He called on my birthday and we had a fantastic conversation. The night I got back to campus, he called and invited me out. We started dating.

My friends jokingly referred to him as “the old man” because twenty-six was an unfathomable age to us. He quickly won them over. That semester was a happy one. We went to Chicago to go to the temple and saw the Blue Man Group perform. They pulled me up on stage as part of the show and Patrick thought I was the cutest thing. We drove hours to see a Pearl Jam concert and had our first argument in the parking lot.

In the spring I found out I was going to London for the fall. We were facing a long separation in what was still a young relationship. We decided just to go with the flow. I stayed with friends in South Bend and worked that summer. I said it was for the extra London money, but really it was to be close to him.

We argued a lot and almost broke up once. He stood me up on the 4th of July. I picked fights over nothing. At the end of the summer we started talking about forever. When he drove me to the airport to catch my overseas flight, I bit my nails the whole way, trying not to cry.

***

We rented a car in central London and despite how much we had missed each other over the last few months, we argued the whole way up to our vacation in the Lakes District. His driving terrified me and my nagging drove him crazy. We bickered all the way up and down a mountain the next day. When we got back to London, we drove in circles for hours looking for the car drop-off place and when we found it, it was closed for the night. That did not help our relationship. We were catching the EuroStar to Paris in a few hours and left the keys with another couple we ran into trying to return their car as well. Not one of our wiser choices but it worked out.

Paris was lovely. We strolled along the Seine, looked at amazing art, watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle and ate some of the most delicious food of our lives. One day we decided to go to Versailles, where we inexplicably stopped speaking for the entire day. No reason. We got back to Paris and I remember seeing a couple walking in front of us kissing and holding hands and I felt bitter. To this day, neither of us knows what got into us. But we laugh about how silly we were that day.

***

Back on solid American ground, our relationship started to really take off. The uncertainty and bickering had disappeared. Patrick met my family in Texas and we road-tripped back to campus in my new car. I could not help but love a man who sang the Old 97’s at the top of his lungs and with a twang. He showed his devotion by walking me back to my dorm room across a huge snowy field night after night, then walking the long way back in the below freezing temperatures. I’d like to say he never complained, but that would be lying.

***

In April, Patrick invited me out to Lake Michigan. It was still a little chilly, so we strolled along the beach watching the sunset. After a while, I turned around to walk back and realized Patrick wasn’t with me. I looked back and he had gotten on one knee and had taken a ring box out of his pocket. I started crying. I can’t remember what he said. I just remember saying yes and hugging him so tight. He had brought his camera but had forgotten to put a battery in it. As we were leaving the beach, we ran into another couple who was celebrating their engagement. They took a picture of us with their camera and promised to e-mail it to us. To that couple: if you are reading this, I’d still like that picture. Thanks.

To be engaged as an undergraduate at Notre Dame was unheard of. To be married was completely unfathomable. I looked at my transcript and realized I could easily graduate a semester early if I could finish my thesis and take a mini-course. So I wrote like crazy and joined a Chicano art survey led by a professor who showed us slides of his militant days in the Chicano movement. Someday I’m going to cross-stitch “we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us!” into a nice throw pillow. In the meantime, Laura dutifully let me drag her from store to store trying on bridesmaid dresses and my mom started putting together a wedding that would meet our three requirements: 1) simple 2) elegant and 3) one heck of a party.

***

Five years ago today, on December 30th, at South Padre Island, a flamenco guitarist started playing Canon in D as I walked up the short aisle to where Patrick waited. We were surrounded by friends but I only saw him. Our good friend and bishop, Miles, performed our ceremony and with kids playing on the dunes behind him and people watching from their balconies above us, Patrick and I were married overlooking the ocean. We said “I Will” to each other and when Miles announced us as husband and wife but forgot to tell us to kiss, we very vocally reminded him. With a kiss, we sealed our lives to each other and looked ahead with only an inkling of the happiness and adventure that lay before us.

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9 Responses to “The Story of Us”

  1. e. del mar December 30, 2009 at 10:17 pm #

    i’ve never heard this story! i mean i know it happened but not all the lovely details! i’m so endlessly happy for you!

  2. Lora Sharp December 31, 2009 at 1:51 am #

    Melissa, thanks for sharing! It was great to read a real love story with all the ups and downs. Miss you guys!

  3. DaD December 31, 2009 at 3:50 pm #

    Uuhhh…… Happy Anniversary!!

  4. mom December 31, 2009 at 5:07 pm #

    You forgot to add that one week before your wedding, it snowed in South Texas on Christmas Eve for the first time in over 100 years. It remaining cold, wet, and dreary pretty much until the morning of your wedding. I was so worried that the weather would ruin your beach wedding. And then I heard your and Patrick’s song “Question?” by the old 97’s for the first time as I walked through the hotel lobby that morning and then the sun broke through and gave us one gorgeous December 30th. Just another detail to your beautiful story. Happy anniversary!

  5. DaD December 31, 2009 at 5:27 pm #

    BTW CONGRATS !!! On 5 years and 1 & 14/9ths children. : )

  6. Stacy December 31, 2009 at 11:42 pm #

    LOVED reading this post and being satisfied that we had a tiny little part in it. Happy Anniversary! Love your family immensely.

  7. Nancy January 4, 2010 at 10:45 pm #

    Beautiful! I’ve never heard such details of your courtship! 🙂 Happy Anniversary!

  8. Kirsten Christensen January 10, 2010 at 9:34 pm #

    Hi Melissa — just logged onto your site to see how you and your babes are doing. You are beautiful and your posts are great fun.

    When I was reading your story I remembered a time back at ND sitting in some classroom in DeBartolo Hall during a lunch hour for what I guess was a sort of institute class, which Patrick taught and which you attended. I didn’t know you yet, and you couldn’t have been dating yet, because Patrick introduced you to everybody. I remember that you seemed very quiet.

    I also remember thinking to myself that Patrick should probably date you and you should probably date him (he taught on church history that day and was smart and faith-promoting, as always, so I imagined you thought the same…).

    I also remember thinking that if you did date and then got married, the resulting red-headed progeny would definitely be something the world had been waiting for.

    It’s good to have my prophetic musings comfirmed lo these many years later.

  9. Eve Burch December 30, 2014 at 7:27 pm #

    I loved reading your story! Life is grand.

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