when people ask me how chris & i met, i can’t help but laugh.
the short answer? we went to high school together.
the long answer? our love story is something of a decade-long saga that could totally rival the plot of any freddie prinze jr. movie. & i honestly don’t know if i’m just moved by it because it holds an obviously special place in my own heart, but i think it’s the kind of love story that makes you believe in soul mates. (barf. sorry, i know how completely cliché that sounds!)
truly, though, our love story is really special. it’s taught me a whole lot about forgiveness, following my heart, & learning to trust the timing of my life. & i think chris would express similar sentiments.
& i can’t imagine a better time to share this special love story with you than today, our second wedding anniversary. (i shared a gazillion photos & a lot more about our wedding last year. you can check those posts out here, here & here).
the early years.
chris & i are both from the same small town in northwest wisconsin, rice lake. rice lake is the kind of close-knit rural community in which everyone pretty much knows everyone. & even if you don’t really know someone, you at least know of them. they’re so-&-so’s cousin/son/neighbor, or they’re the doctor/police officer/cashier/automotive that helped you *that one time*.
so i don’t really remember the first time i met chris. it may have been at some point when our parents bumped into each other in town (they’re all rice lake educators – our moms are even both librarians!), or at the lake (our dads were both “lake dads” & we both spent a lot of our childhoods on the water), or through our older brothers (the only 2 kids named micah in the entire town…& they also happened to be in the same grade & participate in a lot of the same extracurriculars…).
but i do precisely remember the first time i noticed chris.
you know, the starry-eyed, “butterflies in my stomach” way a teenage girl first notices a teenage boy.
i was sitting in driver’s ed. old for my grade, i was one of the only freshmen in a room full of sophomores – a slightly intimidating situation, to say the least.
on this afternoon in particular, mr. kolumbus asked the class how you could tell if another car approaching the intersection of a 4-way stop was coming to a stop or was going to blow through it.
my 15 1/2 year-old self was baffled. & it’s not that i am dumb or that i am not a good driver, i’ve just always been the kind of person who has a lot of book smarts, but it takes me a while to get *real life* or street smarts. give me a math problem & i’ll solve it for you in five different ways. give me a flat tire to change…? i’ll just call AAA. ?
but directly in front of me, a kid with a big head covered with moppy black hair, a mouth full of braces, & a slightly too-sure-of-himself attitude raised his hand & responded, “the front end of the other car will dip lower if it’s coming to a stop.”
“exactly, chris.” mr. kolumbus carried on with his lesson, but for me, time pretty much stopped.
who is that boy? is that chris larson? hey, he’s kind of cute. i don’t remember him being so cute. he’s smart too. but not nerdy-smart…like, useful-smart. like, “i have a good act score AND can i can also fix your car” kind of smart. ugh, isn’t he kind of cocky? idk, maybe he’s just confident. hm. chris larson. he’s kind of cute…
& after all these years, it’s such a silly little thing to cling to, but i think a little part of me fell in love in that moment. he seemed cute, smart, & sure of himself. & i was hooked.
in the following months, i started to see a lot more of chris larson. it’s the kind of thing that naturally happens when a high school boy & a high school girl start to take interest in one another. all of the sudden, you’re taking a different route to walk to class in hopes that you “bump” into each other (when really, you know you’re going to run into each other because you have their class schedule memorized). or you find yourself accepting the invitation to “hang out with” a group that you don’t normally run around town with because you know it’s a chance to spend a few hours in the same room together. or you hear through the grapevine that during your dad’s third period mythology class someone tried to play a trick on chris & out his crush by raising their hand & saying, “mr. reilly, *someone* in this room has a crush on your daughter…”
(that’s a 100% true story, by the way. & for the record, chris was horrified.)
i’m not sure exactly when we officially became boyfriend & girlfriend. it what somewhere between him asking me to prom (i said no; i already had a date?) & our first kiss (or two, or three) on andrew seeger’s parents’ sofa while we were “hanging out & watching a movie” (you know how that goes. ).
omg i have a bf.
we “went out” throughout the spring & summer of 2005.
i don’t remember a ton about those days. & to be honest, it’s probably because a ton didn’t happen. we were 16-17 years old, smack dab in the middle of the period of life when you spend countless nights driving around town (just because it’s something to do) & hanging out in basements (typically wherever parents were willing to stock their freezer with pizza).
i remember riding along with chris in his parents’ white subaru singing along to only wanna be with you by hootie (which we’d eventually declare our song).
i remember pulling ridiculous pranks full of innocent & carefree teenage mischief, like the time we hid paul baribeau’s moped behind a bush in the video plus parking lot while he was working & camped out across the street to watch him try to find it after we called him to tell him we “noticed it wasn’t there” when we drove by (?).
& i remember eventually falling in love.
i know it’s so ridiculous sounding – how can a 16-year-old girl really know what love feels like?
well, i was the kind of 16-year-old girl that loved EVERYTHING with a passion – diet coke, giant cookies from the school cafeteria, jesse novak’s motorcycle & muscly arms, my 5 bffs, my cell phone, laguna beach, …you name it. i either LOVED or HATED things. (& um, i may or may not still be this way.)
so yeah, it may have been a case of puppy love or teenage infatuation, but to this day, i really feel there was something more to those feelings. our relationship was the first i’d had that provided any clarity as to some of the characteristics i wanted out of a partner: smart, grounded, kind, independent, strong family connection, funny.
& when chris broke up with me, mere days before school was starting back up again because he ended up falling for a girl at church camp (ugh, i know…? what a loser!), i was totally & completely heartbroken.
the college years.
as you’d expect, life moved on.
chris graduated a year ahead of me & left rice lake to have the time of his life “studying” at uw-madison.
my senior year of high school wasn’t a particularly easy one. i went through some issues with boys, friends, insecurities, & disordered eating. come graduation, i wanted nothing more than to leave rice lake (& everyone from rice lake, for that matter) behind as i started a brand new chapter in milwaukee at marquette university.
man, life sure is funny sometimes.
i don’t know exactly how or when it happened, but at some point during my freshman year, chris & i started to talk again & go out together whenever we were both home from college.
it wasn’t anything romantic, but as you can probably see where this is headed, at some point those platonic feelings eventually developed into something more.
we officially entered the ambiguous territory of “hanging out.”
we started to talk on the phone a lot more (usually in the wee hours of the morning, fueled by a little too much weekend fun) & we planned trips to each other’s campuses to spend a little bit of time together (me heading to UW to go to badgers games & him coming to mke join me at sorority socials).
we never defined what we had, i think, because we both knew it would end up with us not being together. we were both far more interested in having the time of our lives with our college friends on our respective campuses than committing to a long-distance relationship.
but as it usually happens in these kinds of situations, we eventually found ourselves on different pages. i began to really, really like chris, but the more i realized just how much i liked him, the more distant chris got. the gaps of time between our texts & calls slowly grew longer – we were talking little enough that i knew something had shifted, but frequently enough to never quite being able to stop wondering about where we stood.
but one january evening, just after having moved back into my dorm for second semester, exactly where we stood became very clear: i logged into facebook only to find a status update that chris made things facebook official with a girl from madison earlier that day.
it was the first time life taught me the completely unromantic lesson that usually love isn’t enough. yes, love & respect are both at the foundation of any strong relationship, but so many other things also have to be perfectly aligned for a relationship to work.
chris wasn’t ready for me. i wasn’t ready for chris. we were both 20-years-old & had so much growing to do.
between 2009 & 2013 chris & i rarely spoke, which was probably because i wanted nothing to do with him. the couple of times he reached out to me, i was pretty sassy (ahem, i was kind of an icy b). i never really got over the whole facebook incident. not in the kind of “woe is me, i’m so heartbroken” kind of way, but more like “omg, seriously?! you’re such an effing turd.” anyone who knows me well knows that not only can i recite a dramatic reading of a real break up letter [from a real person] from memory, but also “chris larson” & “el diablo” were practically synonymous in those 5 years. the whole situation, aside from being heartbreaking, was completely humiliating.
so…time went by. we both graduated college. i moved from my campus apartment to the cutest little studio in downtown milwaukee.
& chris, unbeknownst to me at the time, moved from madison to downtown milwaukee. into an apartment. three blocks away from mine.
yes, indeed. life is a funny, funny thing sometimes.
at some point, i learned that chris lived pretty close to me. we may have even bumped into each other a few times, i’m not really sure.
but everything changed in the spring of 2013.
i was on the heels of a breakup with my college sweetheart, a person who i have a tremendous amount of respect for to this day. our relationship was one in which nothing in particular was wrong…some things just weren’t right. we didn’t agree on a lot of things regarding a future together, & it came to a point when it was time to let go.
so i don’t really know what came over me – boredom? curiosity? – but one night, right before easter, i decided to reach out to chris. & i don’t really know what came over him, but a few days later chris invited me over to his apartment to catch up.
i got ready to head over to chris’ that night with mixed feelings. i was concerned about word getting back to my ex & hurting his feelings. i was confused as to why i even felt the need to catch up with chris. i was excited to see him, but i was probably more excited to have the opportunity to give him a piece of everything that had been on my mind in the past 5 years.
we ended up drinking a lot of wine & watching a lot of duck dynasty. (?) i called him out on some of his bs over the years, & something strange happened: chris agreed & sincerely apologized.
& suddenly, everything shifted. i felt my hard feelings toward him soften, almost immediately.
sitting there before me was not only the first boy i ever fell in love with, but also a man i didn’t really recognize. the arrogance, the stubbornness, & immaturity of the chris larson i always had known had given way to a new chris larson: sensitive & relatable, self-assured & humble.
i began to count up all of the little parallels in our lives, & wonder if they meant something more: our educator dads, our librarian moms, our older brothers named micah, the weekends we each spent at the lake throughout our childhood, the importance of our grandparents in both of our lives, the fact that we grew up 5 miles away from each other, the mistakes we both made while partying a little to hard in college, the fact that out of all of the cities he could have moved to post-grad he chose milwaukee, & the fact that out of all of the apartments he could have chosen he chose one literally 3 blocks from mine.
a creepy, creepy amount of little coincidences…enough to make make me wonder, once again, if something larger was at play in our lives.
things were getting late that night (we seriously watched so much duck dynasty) & i looked down to my wrist to check the time. at some point during our conversation, my expensive watch, a christmas gift from my ex, had fallen apart. the small bolt that fastened the face of the watch to the band had fallen out, sliding down between the sofa cushion. i completely panicked, which chris must’ve sensed, because he quickly grabbed a magnet (the kind of thing an electrical engineer keeps handy) & he started to tear the cushions off of the sofa to help me look for it.
that moment, sitting on chris’ cozy green sofa putting my watch back together with my first love was one of the most transcendent moments of my life.
the pain of being rejected by him (twice.) began to feel less intense. my gut feeling of having deep-rooted love for chris began to feel a lot less crazy & irrational. & the fear of being heartbroken again or having to explain why i’m with chris larson (again) to the people i loved most began to fade.
literally, in that moment, my past lost its hold on me & chris helped me put it back together.
&, despite being something of a hopeless romantic, i really don’t have a strong belief in fate. but what i’ve come to learn is that life is well-timed. chris & i had never worked out before because our timing was completely off; we both needed time to grow in order to be ready for each other. he needed time to mellow & mature, & i needed time to learn to love and accept myself. we both needed time to grow into people who could balance each other out.
& while it may not be fate, life does offer certain moments, transformative moments, in which you’re presented with opportunity, & the only thing standing between you & the rest of your life is a leap of faith.
so, i took a leap.
from there, things moved quickly, despite my initial reluctance. within weeks we shared our first “i love yous,” & within months chris was turning in the keys to his apartment to move into a new place with me. we got to know each other’s friends & families. we got to know each other’s fears & dreams.
a year later we got engaged on a beach in hawaii (more on that story another time…it’s a funny one) & a year after that we were packing up our milwaukee apartment to move to minneapolis.
life, indeed, is a funny, wonderful thing. especially with your best friend by your side. thank you for 12, & 4, & 2 wonderful years, c. i love you so, so, so much.
all wedding photography featured here shot by my amazingly talented dear friends,
ren & caleb of studio 29 photography.