Sorry for getting mushy, but it’s Valentine’s Day.

I remember the first day we “met.” I think I was 12. Mama told me to watch out for girls ’cause they’d break my heart. Dad told me that one day there’d be a special girl and I’d know her from the rest. Don’t waste your time with the other ones, he said.

That was when I started to pray for you, and to prepare my heart for you.

I remember the first day we met: 7th grade homeroom. I didn’t know it was you.  I was crawling around on the floor like a wall-eyed whistlepig, and you and Liz told me the men in white coats were coming for me.

We somehow kept in touch over the years. Internet friends, even if we never actually talked.

Our friends aged, and most of my buddies were going through girls like cheap commodities.

I refused to compromise, because you were out there, whoever you were.

I knew I wanted to love you in a way that I would never love anyone else–that you were simply worth fighting for. I wanted to make my life a sacrifice for the woman I eternally valued.

In the summer of 2009, we talked on the phone. You were in Jersey; I was in Georgia. Worlds apart. I still didn’t know it was you.

In the summer of 2012, back in New Jersey, I was going to have one of my big ol’ bonfires out at the sand quarry. I invited ten or eleven people.On a whim, I invited you. It would be a good way to reconnect.

For some strange reason, everyone declined. All except you. What are the odds? And when you saw my text, you left some poor loser at the bar, never to see him again! Because some things are just…right.

Don’t waste your time with the other ones, he said.

So you and I went swimming in the river instead, which turned out to be illegal, and we almost got arrested! What a great first date.

Then we went back to my  porch and waited for the “opossum” to show up.

There was no opossum.

But we sat there and talked until the sun came up, and I began to realize that you were the one I had been looking forward to my whole life.

In 2016, I had a catch in my throat when you came walking down the aisle, fire and ice, with a dignified grace that has inspired me every day since.

Thank you, Stephanie, for everything you are, and all that you contribute to the world. I love you, forever and always.