Yesterday my wife and I celebrated our nineteenth wedding anniversary. Nineteen isn’t a round number, nor a significant one, but I will say that other than “not stop breathing” I’ve done nothing else continually for nineteen years.
Depending on which website you believe, my wife and I should have exchanged gifts of either jade or bronze yesterday. That did not happen, but we went out for a nice dinner and decided to give each other deposits into our kids’ 529 accounts.
Whenever anniversaries come around on the calendar, people often ask… “How did you guys meet?” Well, today I’m going to tell the story, how the first date almost didn’t happen, and how I almost completely blew it.
It was May 1998 and I was living in Greenwood Lake NY, a little town about sixty miles northwest of Manhattan. I had recently quit my high-stress New York City job, and I was enjoying working from home as a freelance technical writer. My house was what realtors call a “handyman special” with my two dogs, Sylvia and Jodi.
The plan was to drive to my parents’ home in Rochester, NY on the 29th, to attend my cousin Allison’s wedding on the 30th. Earlier in the week, my mother called and suggested I make the five-hour drive on Thursday, so I could enjoy a three-day weekend at home. Knowing I was freelancing and working off a laptop, she suggested I work on Friday at her house. This seemed like a reasonable idea, so I called my dog sitter and made the necessary arrangements.
I arrived at the home of my youth around 5:00pm on Thursday. Since I worked from home, in the woods with my two dogs, often days would go by without any other in-person human interaction. Because of this, I pretty much limited my shaving to Sunday mornings for church. So, when I arrived in my parent’s driveway I had a solid 4-day scruff working. My mom came out to greet me and said, “um, you might want to take a shower and shave.” Mildly protesting, I asked why and she informed me that my father’s residents were coming for dinner.
Now for those who don’t know, my father was a pediatrician in Rochester NY for more than four decades. He was closely associated with the University of Rochester Medical School and one of the things he did was help train pediatric residents in his office. My parents had been hosting dinners like these all my life, so I did what I was told and went upstairs to clean up. When I came downstairs, the two pediatricians-in-training had already arrived. One was a nice gentleman name Raoul.
The other was a really cute girl named Emily.
As I said earlier, my parents had been hosting resident dinners for years, but to this point they had never involved cute, single, females my age.
The dinner was whirlwind. Emily and I hit it off in a pretty spectacular way and when it ended I really wanted to ask her out, but I wasn’t quite sure how to do it. This was technically a professional gathering to which I was just a bystander, so I kept my mouth shut and let her walk out the door.
The next day I couldn’t get her out of my head.
Now, keep in mind this is 1998, so the state of technology was as follows:
- If you had a cell phone (and not everyone did) you only turned it on to make a call
- Cell phones only made voice calls and they cost $0.10-$0.25/minute
- eMail was still fairly nascent, and I discovered through my conversations with her, Emily definitely did not have eMail (she still has a Hotmail account in 2018 if that tells you anything)
- Most people had answering machines, not voicemail mind you, but a little machine that sat next to your phone and recorded messages on a cassette tape. To access your messages from afar, you called your own number and listen for the rings. If the machine picked up on the second ring, you had a message. If it rang a third time, no message for you. After the beep you pressed a bunch of keys and got your messages
- There was no texting, nor Facebook, nor twitter, nor Instagram
Given the technology at my disposal coupled with my understanding of human nature, I did the following:
- Using the local phone book I found Emily’s number
- I called her answering machine when I knew she wouldn’t be home (she had mentioned a party she was going to on Friday evening)
- I left her a message asking her out on a date on Sunday
- I left the number of my answering machine back home, suspecting she would not be comfortable calling my parent’s house AKA the home of her mentor/teacher
On Saturday I went to my cousin’s wedding and had a fine time. When we got back to my parent’s house I called my machine back home and… (lucky me) it picked up on the second ring! I had suggested either a hike or a movie and her reply was that she’d love to get together and a hike sounded good to her. I had also left time options and she had agreed to meeting at her apartment at 1:00pm. Sunday morning I planned on going to church with my family at 11:00, quick trip home to change and then off to the date.
It was all going according to plan… which is usually when things start to go sideways.
One of our family rules for out-of-town siblings (me and my brother Doug) was when you were in town on a Sunday, you had to pick up grandma for church. My parents typically went to church early for choir practice, so this helped in many ways. Church was at 11:00 and a ten-minute drive from grandma’s house, so promptly at 10:30, I marched up the steps to her apartment.
I knocked lightly on the door, but after fifteen seconds there was no reply. I knocked a second time a bit harder… silence. My third round of knocking was approaching a pound, but alas there was no reply. My grandmother was approaching 90, so I began to get a really bad feeling.
Luckily I found the door to be unlocked, so I went in. Calling out “grandma… it’s Stephen” I slowly worked my way through the first floor of her apartment. I saw and heard nothing. Continuing to call out, I started up the short flight of stairs to her second level. I landed on the top stair, and looking to my right I saw grandma in her hallway bathroom. She was sitting on the edge of the bathtub in her underwear and was in the middle of a full-blown “neurological event.”
She didn’t really know who I was, she asked what day it was, I told her “Sunday” but she then began to argue the fact while babbling a healthy stream of nonsense. Clearly something was very wrong, and the power to make decisions about it was way above my pay-grade.
I managed to get her off the edge of the bathtub and sat her down on the lid of the closed toilet. For the second time in two days, I cracked the 3-inch thick Rochester phone book and found the number to my parent’s church. I called the number using grandma’s land line and waited for someone to pick up.
The phone rang no fewer than twenty times before someone picked up and I simply stated, “This is Steve Nazarian, I’m with my grandmother and she’s having some kind of a stroke, please go find my mother and tell her to get here ASAP.”
I previously stated the drive from grandma’s to church was ten-minutes… my mom got there in eight.
After a quick assessment, we called an ambulance. My mom asked me to ride in the ambulance with grandma so she could follow in her car. We got to the hospital, they rolled her into the emergency room and began to poke and prod her.
This whole event had taken much longer than a TV medical show would have you believe. As I paced back and forth in the emergency room I looked at my watch and was stunned to see it was already 12:45!
I turned to my mother and told her I was going step outside, call Emily and cancel our date. She grabbed the phone out of my hand and said, “you will do no such thing, there’s no need for you to stay here!” Startled by her response I said, “ooooh kay, but if I’m going to go I will need a ride to my car.” My sister said she’d drive me to my car and off we went.
I got back to my parent’s house at 1:10, already ten minutes late. I called Emily to let her know I would be another twenty minutes, but that I had a very good explanation. She sounded a tad dubious on the other end of the line, but who could blame her.
I got to her apartment at 1:30 and explained all that had transpired. As I expected she might, Emily began to argue I return to the hospital to be with my family, but once I explained I was instructed to do just the opposite, she decided it was okay to go on the hike.
We drove fifteen minutes to Power Mills Park, parked the car, and began hiking into the woods. My plan was simple, hike until we were half tired or until things got awkward, then return to the car. If things were going well, maybe we’d grab a bite to eat. If things had gone off the rails, I’d take her home and head back downstate.
Things went really well.
Now for those readers who don’t know me personally, I can be a bit of a talker. We hiked for the better part of an hour and, in my mind, things were going great… then it began to rain. We had at least a two-mile hike back to the car. We kept talking but we moved faster than we had before. By the time I unlocked the car we were both soaked. As I opened the passenger door for Emily to get back in I realized that since I’d picker her up I had done at least 90% of the talking. When you live alone in the woods with two dogs, there is a strong temptation to just keep talking when you have an audience.
I walked around the front of the car and as I opened the driver’s door I said, “You know I’ve been doing all the talking. Would you like to go grab some lunch so you can tell me all about you.”
In that moment I saved my own life, because I later learned that as I rounded the front of the car and opened the driver’s door, Emily was preparing to ask to be taken home… mostly because I hadn’t shut up.
We had a fine lunch and later went back to her apartment where she kicked my ass in Scrabble. She lent me a pair of dry socks because mine were still soaked.
We dated long distance for a couple months and in August I got an apartment in Rochester and began to shift my freelance work from Manhattan to Upstate.
On a rainy night in October 1998, I drove us both back to the scene of our first date. I reached into my jacket pocket and retrieved the socks she had lent me on our first date. I said, “I never gave these back to you.” She looked at me like I was a crazy person. I asked her to inspect them carefully, and to make sure I hadn’t worn a hole in the toe or anything. As she flopped them over she saw the engagement ring I’d sewn into the fabric.
As you know by now, we were married on May 22, 1999, just six days shy of knowing each other a year.
In that moment of clarity, I completely changed the trajectory of my life, narrowly avoiding becoming, “that great guy who nobody can figure out why he isn’t married.” If you know such a guy, forward this story to him, he might need to hear it.
If you were wondering, my grandma was fine. She came to the wedding and lived a happy, healthy life for an additional fourteen years. That morning was just a fluke.
Oh, and why was my mother so violently opposed to cancelling the date? Well it turns out, Emily and I had both been the “victims” of a silent set-up. My mother had met Emily previously and when she saw the opportunity to put us together in the same room she jumped on it. She of course was smart enough not to tell either of us what she was up to… until she had succeeded completely.
Copyright © 2018 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved