It's been – um,
several weeks a few months over a year?! – since the last time I've written. I feel a little bad about that, but in my defense, my life has been pretty busy since I published my review of Marlins Park last May. I missed the usual “top five movies of 2017” post (Dunkirk, The Lego Batman Movie, War for the Planet of the Apes, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Spider-Man: Homecoming, in that order), as well as my usual MLB preview (Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, Astros and Angels in the AL; Nationals, Mets, Cubs, Dodgers, Rockies in the NL; Yankees over Cubs in the World Series), along with a handful of other topics I've thought about but haven't written down.
It's been so long, and so much has happened since the last time I wrote, so I'm going to do something I rarely do and simply write about my life. There's really no other way to say this: since last May, my life has almost completely changed, pretty much entirely for the better. So bear with me, just this once. Here's what I've been up to since then.
I wrote my last post from Hawaii, during a visit to my sister Katie. Katie is in the Army and is currently stationed in Hawaii, while her husband Nick, also in the Army, was at the time stationed in Washington, DC. That doesn't seem like an ideal situation, you might be thinking, and you'd be right. That's without me mentioning that Katie was six months pregnant at the time. I was one of many family members and friends who made the voyage out to Hawaii under the guise of “supporting her in this challenging time” but really because, you know, Hawaii.
Katie had the baby a couple months later, with her husband at her side. Aloiya Karmen – we call her Allie – took her good old time coming into this world (for full details, and I mean full details, see Katie's blog). But we love her a lot already, even though she pooped on me once.
The day Allie was born, I had an interview at Red Ventures, a company with whom I was already familiar. Five years ago, I had interviewed with them, been offered the job and briefly accepted before reconsidering and opting to stay in Columbia.
I've told this story a lot over the years because I consider it a major turning point in my life. I had no complaints with my job at the time, but my personal life had stalled and I thought it was time for a fresh start somewhere new. It was my friend and co-worker Dan who convinced me to stay in Columbia at the time, offering to take me to his church and connect me with a community. It was at that church, Hill of the Lord University Church, that I met some of the finest people I've ever known, including Paul and Jessica, a couple whose eventual importance in my life I couldn't even fathom at the time.
Last August, five years after I ultimately declined their initial offer, however, Red Ventures reached out to me again and this time pitched me with the chance to write Go every day. Now, however, the situation was reversed: I felt like my growth and development had stalled at my current job, and was excited about a new challenge, but I had grown to love living in Columbia and was hesitant to leave. Eventually I figured the worst thing that could happen by my interviewing with Red Ventures again would be that I'd get some valuable interview practice and be more prepared when the next opportunity came along.
But as I've told everyone about Red Ventures, there's a difference between Red Ventures on the phone and Red Ventures in person. When I arrived at the campus that day, I felt an energy that I wanted to be a part of. The interviews also went really well, so by the time I got in my car to drive home, I knew I had a tough decision ahead of me.
A little over three years before the day Allie was born and the day I interviewed at Red Ventures, my friend Paul invited me to come with him and his wife Jessica to see the fireworks at the Village at Sandhill, an outdoor shopping center in northeast Columbia. I drove up by myself, and when I got there everyone else was already there: Paul, Jessica, our friend Chris and Jessica's friend Sara. That night – July 4, 2014 – was the night Sara and I first met.
I'm ashamed to say I didn't know that night that I had met my future wife. We didn't really talk much, and didn't really talk again until 2016 when Sara – via Jessica's invitation – joined a small group that Paul, Jessica and I were in. I found that the more I talked to Sara, the more I liked her, and after the four of us visited the South Carolina State Fair in October, I knew – hoped – there was something between us.
All I needed was an excuse to ask her out. It came shortly after Thanksgiving. I had decided to adopt a family for Christmas that year, and after receiving the list of items to buy, I realized I had no idea how to buy clothes for a little girl. I asked Sara if she'd come with me to help, and promised to buy her lunch afterwards. So after a productive shopping trip to Target and Walmart, I asked what she wanted for lunch. In a response that I might later label “predictable,” she answered “Panera.”
The rest is history. If I had suggested getting ice cream after Panera, we might have been married six months earlier.
The weekend after my interview, offer in hand, Sara and I drove up to Charlotte so Sara – we'd been dating nearly eight months at the time – could see the campus and I could scout out the area to see if it was somewhere I might want to live. We looked at a half dozen apartment complexes, ate at a really good pizza place in Plaza-Midwood, and were on our way home when I asked Sara what she thought. She replied that'd it would be really hard for her if I moved away without a clear plan for our relationship, and asked if such a plan existed.
It was a fair question, and one that I had already done a lot of thinking about recently. Sara had just returned from a ten day trip to Greece to work with refugees, and while I was immensely proud of her and the work she was doing, I missed her terribly while she was gone. It only took about 24 hours of her being away for me to know for certain that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.
So my response to her question was: “I'm currently trying to figure out how to ask your parents for permission to marry you.” It was definitely the truth, but my mindset until that moment was “in a few weeks” or “maybe in the fall.” And I realized this wasn't something worth putting off. I texted her parents two days later (on Eclipse Day, no less) to ask for some time to chat. The day afer that, I found myself driving to Florence, South Carolina to meet her parents at a Mellow Mushroom for lunch. Mellow Mushroom's logo is a cartoon mushroom and the design of all their restaurants has a sort of sixties/hippie vibe, which made it the perfect place to have a serious discussion about mine and Sara's future.
I kind of knew it then, and I really know it now: I'm incredibly blessed to have the in-laws I have. I'm sure they saw I was nervous going into the conversation, but they calmed my nerves quickly and I barely got out the words “I'd like to ask Sara to marry me” before they gave me their blessing.
A week later, on August 29, 2017 at around 7:30 PM, on the steps of the South Carolina Statehouse, I proposed, and she said yes. I gave her my paternal grandma's engagement ring to wear while we waited for the one that we picked out together to arrive, and we sat on the steps for a little while, watching the city below us, keeping the news of our engagement just to ourselves, just for a little bit.
(Also, I accepted the job at Red Ventures. It's been awesome, I've learned a lot and met a lot of amazing people. But that's possibly another post.)
When I initially moved up to the Charlotte area to start work at Red Ventures, I found an apartment in the Madison Park neighborhood to live in until we got married, hoping that in the meantime we could find a neighborhood we both liked to settle into. Turns out it didn't take that long. One weekend around Christmas, while Sara was visiting me in Charlotte, we took a drive through some neighborhoods to see what they looked like in person.
One of them was a neighborhood called Riverwalk, south of the state line in Rock Hill. We both loved the neighborhood: it had beautiful houses that weren't too cookie-cutter, it was close to the freeway but far enough away that it was quiet, and it sat right along the Catawba river with a picturesque running trail next to it. We found a couple houses for sale, and after the holidays, made appointments to see them in person. We settled on one, and just like that, we had bought a house.
I moved in in February and slowly started to settle in. Sara wouldn't move in until after the wedding, but I let her visit the house (and me!) any time she wanted.
Finally, on April 4, 2018, I left our new house in the morning and headed to work at a job where I suddenly had six months of tenure. After work, I drove to Marion, SC, to meet my family as they arrived in town for my wedding.
On Saturday April 7, at 11:00 in the morning, Sara and I were married in the church she was raised in. We held the reception following the ceremony at a bed-and-breakfast nearby. After all the planning, dreaming, and waiting, the actual wedding day was a little surreal and went by in a blur. It rained a little, but it was perfect.
It's hard to pick a favorite moment. I've heard people say that your wedding day goes by so quickly that you barely remember it. That's not quite true, at least not for me. I remember the whole day vividly but in that disconnected way that you remember a dream. Years from now, if I'm fortunate enough to have kids, I'll tell them: “it was in this bed-and-breakfast in South Carolina, and your grandparents were there, and your Aunt Katie and Uncle Nick were there with your cousin Allie, but she was still in diapers. And your Aunt Becca, and but she was only a little crazy then. And my friends from high school were there, and my friends from Columbia were there, and everyone kept staring at me…”
I remember getting up at 5:30 AM to go on a “calm the nerves” run with my best man Dan – yes, the same Dan that convinced me to stay in Columbia six years ago and introduced me to the people who would introduce me to Sara. I remember nervously standing in the Sunday School building across the street from the church, trying to stay as calm as possible. I remember standing in the back of the church with Dan and our pastor Lisa as they helped to keep my nerves from getting the best of me. And then I remember walking out in front of the church to wait while the congregation stared at me with the expression of “aren't you forgetting someone?”
I remember watching my sister Katie and Sara's sister Rebecca walk down the aisle. With everyone standing, I wasn't able to see Sara at first, but I remember seeing her for the first time and trying to keep the tears out of my eyes and the smile on my face. I remember simply standing at the front of the church, staring at Sara and trying to commit every detail to memory while Lisa spoke. I remember feeling relieved when I got through my vows without stumbling on any words, and then again after I managed to get Sara's ring on her finger without too much trouble. I remember when we turned around to face the congregation as husband and wife for the first time, and pulling Sara back to tell her we needed to wait for the music to start before we walked out. I remember walking out of the church with a big grin on my face. I remember my parents and Sara's parents greeting us first outside the church with their congratulations and big hugs.
I remember riding to The Grove Bed and Breakfast in the back of my new mother-in-law's SUV, hand in hand with my wife. I remember walking through the back door of the house, then walking out onto its enormous wraparound porch where virtually all of our guests waited for us. I remember trying to come up with words to say “thanks for coming” to everyone who came. I remember the brunch buffet (because brunch is the best) and that I really liked the shrimp and grits.
I remember the toasts, first from Sara's dad, and then from Dan, including a hair ruffle (speaking of changes, last time I wrote in this blog that wouldn't have been possible). I remember making the rounds and saying hello to everyone again. I remember sneaking away to take some pictures in the rain, and that eventually we just stopped worrying about the umbrella. I remember cutting and sampling the cake, expertly baked by Sara's friend Autumn. I remember the “fake” send-off, walking through a tunnel of people who seemed really intent on throwing lavender at us (which I remember washing out of my hair later that night). I remember coming back up to the porch and hanging with my niece, Allie, for a few wonderful minutes. I remember getting into Sara's festively decorated Honda CR-V and slowly pulling out of The Grove, driving towards Columbia and towards the rest of our lives.
After the wedding, Sara and I went to Charleston for a few days before coming home – to our home – to finish our mini-moon Rock Hill style. For a couple more months we lived about an hour apart but spent at least one night a week together and every weekend. After the school year ended, Sara finally moved into our house, and then we went to Germany for our big honeymoon. We saw pretty much the whole country in a whirlwind twelve day tour. Our favorite parts were Berlin, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Schloss Neuschwanstein, and the ice cream on every corner.
It's safe to say our lives haven't quite settled down yet. I've loved my new job so far, even though it can be stressful at times. Sara's looking forward to starting at an elementary school in August. Owning a house is a lot of work but the more we live here the more we love it. (Ask me about my smart thermostats or my grill sometime.) And although we're back from Charleston and we're back from Germany, I still feel like I'm on my honeymoon.
Anyways, that's where I've been for the last fourteen months. Thanks for your patience and thanks, as always, for reading. Back to your regularly scheduled programming next time.
The only thing that's gotten worse since last August? My commute, which has ballooned from a leisurely fifteen minute walk to a stressful half hour or more drive. Oh well.
Thanks to Sara Sawczuk (!) for reading a draft of this post.