Kierstin and I have been dating for 42 months to the day, as of yesterday. To us, that’s a pretty significant number. It’s 15% of our lives, and that fraction increases daily. We’ve spent this substantial portion of our lives together, sharing crazy, incredible, exciting experiences. It’s remarkable to reflect on the events that led to our relationship and the adventure that it’s been. This journey began the first day we met.
Kierstin and I both grew up in Modesto, both went to the same high school, but were a year apart. This age difference apparently gave us blinders that caused neither of us to have any recollection of each other. She says, for that, she’s thankful because, “I don’t think I would want to know you when you were in high school”. This is her go-to reply to my descriptions of my awkward adolescent years. I typically agree with her, acknowledging that my teenage angst was not advantageous to my dating success. Our first interaction was a few years later, when I happened to be working at the local sporting goods store with a few of her friends. She was a smoothie-barista at the mall across the street so she would sometimes come by and bring them drinks. I was working a shift with her friends, and she brought smoothies for everyone except me. So, naturally, I initiated a little harmless flirting, teasing her about her neglect. Although this brief connection was our first, I don’t believe that this technically counts as meeting. I didn’t know anything about her at the time – not even her name – and this initial engagement was evanescent. I didn’t see her again for nearly 4 months.
She eventually joined her friends and me and got a job at my work. I remember our first day working together. She came into the back of the store, and we ran into each other. I officially introduced myself, improvising a joke to help ease the awkwardness of first introductions. She laughed – whether it was genuine, or a pity laugh, I don’t really know. I like to think genuine. This seemingly miniscule event began our tumble into our now flourishing relationship. We got to know each other over the next few months; our conversations at work eventually continued into the night through text messages. I was in a deteriorating relationship at the time, and I started considering how happy I would be with Kierstin. I eagerly anticipated working with her, checking my schedule beforehand to see when we’d be on the same shift. I would innocently ask her to help me with something, like fixing my wristwatch just so we could spend time together. I enjoyed hearing her voice over the intercom system, even if it was often directing me to some menial task. I sought out her advice, like when I asked her which university I should attend (she prudently recommended UC Davis, which is where I went). My relationship ended, and I began wooing Kierstin while understanding I’d be leaving Modesto for college in a few months.
She first invited me to Santa Cruz with a group of friends. It was a day before her birthday, and we drove over the serpentine hill to Santa Cruz. Everyone played volleyball and sumo-wrestled on the hot sand, and we dove into the waves on the beach. We ventured downtown to the local pizza hotspot. The day was well-spent. I took every opportunity to get to know her. We played games while we drove up in her car, flirted on the beach, and splashed around in the ocean together. I cherish the memories of that day, and I know there were other people that went with us, but I don’t really remember as much about my interactions with them. Kierstin and I started hanging out more and more after this, and I could see that she was reciprocating my feelings. We would play basketball at the park at 9 PM with her friends, Channy and Chad. Then, we’d go back to my house to play Super Mario or Rock Band until an ungodly hour. One enjoyable evening, Kierstin and Channy stayed over at my house until 4 AM, and we extended our night with a trip to Denny’s. Unbeknownst to me, Kierstin and Channy ended up sleeping in their car two blocks from my house. Apparently, they were too afraid to go back home, even though we hadn’t been doing anything illicit. After a couple of weeks with antic-filled nights like these, Kierstin and I finally spent time with just one another. It was a long summer night and neither of us had plans, so I nervously asked her if she wanted to come watch a movie. This was a bold proposition, since we hadn’t been alone together – or even made a suggestion of being alone together – this entire time. We’re together now, so of course she said yes, but the short time from when I hit “Send” on my phone to when she replied was a drawn-out, nervous, sweaty, heart-racing moment. She drove over to watch Taken, but we were so engrossed in conversation the whole time, getting to know one another, that we missed the entire movie. We also shared our first kiss later that night, a sweet cherry-on-top to the rousing success that was our first date.
This was the beginning of summer vacation, and with college on my horizon, I would be leaving in a few months. We were just having fun is what we’d say unwittingly, half-expecting a long-distance relationship to be unfeasible. We were having fun, but we barely knew each other! Still, we spent nearly all of our time together, either working together or hanging out when we weren’t working. We visited our future home, Santa Barbara, a couple times. We traveled to Yosemite and went on camping trips with friends. We attended our first concert. Sometimes, we didn’t even do anything interesting, like one scorching summer afternoon where we cooled off by taking a nap in my air-conditioned room. Even these seemingly insignificant moments have become deeply engrained as sincerely warm memories. I confessed late one night, to her and Channy, that the summer had been the best I ever had. It’s probably still true, with the relationship forged during that summer easily trumping all other summer experiences of my life. When summer was over, we didn’t make a decision as I was expecting us to do. We didn’t sit down and say, “Should we stay together or will it be too hard?” We were falling in love and us together is what mattered. She helped me move to Davis, and we spent that year a short 2 hour drive apart (a drive that we each made frequently) until she eventually transferred to CSU Sacramento. Everything fell into place, from us meeting, starting to date, and all of our subsequent conscious decisions augmenting our relationship. These all have led us to here today: our 4th Valentine’s Day together. So, Happy Valentine’s Day, most especially to my own valentine!
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