And it's not over yet.
My experience with romance had, until this point, involved picnics with cans of cheap Mexican beer and riding bikes at night to and from the bar, instead of driving.
He'll tell you he knew he wanted to marry me when I got lost and walked into the kitchen instead of the bathroom at Joseph's Pizzeria. As I shuffled back into the restaurant, hoping he hadn't noticed, he watched me and smiled and just - knew.
For me, it was earlier in the night, when he called to say he was outside of my apartment. Actually, he was standing across the street - he'd never been there before. He didn't see me right away and I stood there for a second before getting his attention. He looked different than he had before. We'd seen each other off and on as children and teenagers, but something had changed in Nathaniel since the last time we spoke.
He apologized for his ride - a white Dodge Dakota with a turquoise stripe, which he'd attempted to touch up one night with a bottle of spray paint (to no avail). I smiled and told him my dream vehicle had always been an old, beat up pickup truck.
Dinner was, as I'd assured my boyfriend, just so two old friends could catch up. Passing by him two months earlier when I was moving into my new apartment had been a coincidence. He was standing outside of an ambulance in an EMT uniform. My mom asked if I wanted to turn around and say hi but I said no. It took me from August to October to work up the courage to tell him I'd seen him. His response - "Great! We'll go to dinner."
I left that night at Joseph's Pizzeria with my head reeling. Something had happened that I couldn't describe - I felt completely confident that I had met the man I was going to marry. Not that I'd been looking for him or that marriage had even been on my mind, necessarily, before that night. There was just one problem - I still had a boyfriend. Never a great candid speaker, I sequestered myself from George, the aforementioned beau, for the weekend and began to write a letter.
Monday night, George called and said he was coming over. The letter wasn't finished and I didn't know if I could muster the courage to break the news just yet. Stomach churning, I sat waiting for him to arrive when I got a call from Nathaniel.
"Hi, are you home?"
"I am, but George will be here in three minutes."
"Ok, I'll be there in one. Be outside."
Heart racing, I stepped out into a beautiful October night and waited for the beat up Dakota to arrive. Moments later, Nathaniel lurched around the corner, parked and without a word got out and leaped onto the roof of his truck. He pulled a small black notebook from his pocket, opened and began to read a poem by the perfectly haloed light of a streetlamp. I stood looking up at him in awe - absorbing every word of that beautiful composition. When it was done, Nathaniel looked up from the notebook, grinning wildly. He jumped down to the ground, hopped in his beloved Dakota and drove away.
My experience with romance had, until this point, involved picnics with cans of cheap Mexican beer and riding bikes at night to and from the bar, instead of driving. (There was also that time someone ran out and bought me a cake after spending our 1-year anniversary drinking with his brother). I had never been so caught off guard by the confidence and determination of someone actually trying to "win" me in the white-knight sort of sense. I didn't know it was something I wanted or liked because it had never happened before. But Nathaniel completely conquered my heart that night, simply showing that he was willing to fight for it.
Everything about my life changed when we started dating. I had just begun photojournalism school with one of the most highly esteemed journalism programs in the country. I'd had grand and exciting thoughts of moving to Africa or Iraq and working as a freelance correspondent for National Geographic or something of the like. Suddenly, I found myself wanting nothing more than to marry this man and be his wife. Even the thought of something so docile and submissive was shocking to me - I have always considered myself a very independent person. Still, there's no accounting for the strange effects of love - and I found myself blissfully content to tuck away my third-world country dreams.
On March 16th, my parents called to say they had two tickets to the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Kimmel Center and asked if we'd like them. I called Nathaniel and suggested it might be fun to get dressed up and spend the night down town. What I didn't know is that after hanging up the phone, Nathaniel sped to my parent's house and asked to speak to my father.
There is a garden inside of the Kimmel Center. It's on the top floor, you've got to take an elevator up. From that view, there is nothing but these trees twisting upward toward a beautiful glass ceiling. It is a truly magical place. There were a few minutes before the concert started and Nathaniel suggested we go to the garden.
The sun was just setting when we got to the top. The horizon was a brilliant orange, fading into a star-dusted blue. I didn't have my camera with me but I asked Nathaniel if he'd stand silhouetted in the sunset and let me take a picture on my phone. It was in this manner that I unwittingly photographed the last moment before I became engaged.
"Before we go, there's something I'd like to ask you."
Even as he took a knee, I didn't realize what was happening. I didn't think it could possibly be happening. But there was the ring, and he looked up at me and said, "Will you marry me?"
We tied the knot five months later. I swore up and down that I wanted to wait several years before having children and Nathaniel smiled and said that was fine, but the day we got married, I changed my mind. So, five months after that, we discovered we were expecting a new addition to our family.
In August, I did finish school - 6 1/2 months pregnant. And although I am no longer pursuing the life of a third-world country journalist, I have found genuine enjoyment and fulfillment as a photographer, primarily focused on pregnancy and family.
On November 8th, Nathaniel and I delivered our son, Constantine, at home, by ourselves. Nathaniel was with me through every single contraction, physically and emotionally guiding me and reminding me how much he loved me. Constantine's arrival was peaceful and beautiful and our new life as parents has been incredible.
Anyone who has known me from before Nathaniel came into my life will tell you they're surprised that I am where I am. Married, a housewife, a mother. Moreover, that I am the happiest I have ever been. But it's true. I can't explain it, I don't have an answer, really. I guess it's just this - I am loved more deeply than I ever experienced before; and when it comes down to it, that has been worth everything.
Photo was taken an hour and a half before Nathaniel proposed. Keep up with our life at http://alexisryanphotography.blogspot.com/