It’s been 14 years today since Budge and I married; I have a hard time remembering much before August 3, 1996. I know it sounds clichéd and sappy, but it seems like Dana has always been with me. She found me a long time before I found her. To hear her tell the story, she knew I was coming nearly a year before I did. I’m going to try to explain that last sentence, and I hope I don’t mess it up or she’ll have my hide. This story is the last remaining reason I cling to the little faith I have left. Without exaggeration, it’s the most important story in our marriage.
Dana’s mom, Faye, passed away unexpectedly in July 1993, the summer between Dana’s freshman and sophomore years of high school. The next two years were a dark time for my Budge. See, Dad is a great guy, smart, funny, but he is fully capable of overlooking important stuff right in front of his face. To complicate things more, he was trying to get his new business off the ground and, after about five months, he was seeing Dana’s future stepmother, Sandy. (She and Dad met in the waiting room of the hospital ICU where her husband was dying with the exact same illness as Faye. That’s a tremendous story too, but it’s for later.) Her only other close kin was Rich, her brother, and he was in the Navy moving around constantly.
Without going in to the gory details, Dana was alone. She was alone A LOT. I can’t describe the intensity of the loneliness she felt because every time I think about it — every time we discuss those days — I end up in tears for an hour or so then I want to go strangle someone because she had to endure such. Just to give you one tiny snippet, if EVER in 14 years I have had to be away from Budge at suppertime, I make as many phone calls as it takes to guarantee she has someone to eat supper with. It might be one of her friends, it might be Mama, but frost will form on the hinges of Hell before my wife eats another meal alone without choosing to. She does choose to sometimes, but she doesn’t HAVE to and as long as I’m above dirt, I’ll make damn sure she never has too again.
But that’s just a side note. Here’s the real story.
First of all you have GOT to know, by the time Dana and I met, I was engaged not once or twice, but SIX times. I was actually, technically engaged to another girl when Budge and I got together. Now before anyone brands my dear heart a homewrecker, you MUST understand my “Rules of Engagement.” Except for my first fiancée’ who was my high school sweetheart and first real love, I never intended to marry ANY of the girls I gave diamonds to. I was skittish of females in general after the aforementioned sweetheart shattered my heart into a gadjillion tiny shards and then stomped those shards into dust then swept the dust into an incinerator to be completely consumed (I’m not bitter or anything, just saying). I simply realized that at some point in a relationship, the girls started to want to, as Emeril says, “Kick things up a notch” in the commitment department. I then discovered if I gave them a diamond, they considered us to be engaged and started planning a wedding and left me the hell alone. (Did I ever mention I hate two things above all else? Turnip greens and emotional confrontations.) So, the diamonds bought me a lot of peace and sooner or later the girls always decided I wasn’t the prize they had taken me for so they’d hand me back the diamond and break up with me . . . which was totally fine, because it was THEM doing it, not me. Worked like a champ . . . until Budge.
Budge handled that particular strategy a wee bit differently, but that’s another story entirely.
(Just as an aside, if any of y’all other five former diamond bearers are by some miracle reading this , don’t start hating. I’ve clandestinely kept up with all of you and you’ve done just fine without me.)
But I digress.
Dana was alone a lot and she hated it, so she’d often ride up to her old elementary school and sit on top of the slide in the playground and think . . . and pray. She’d do this day or night, didn’t matter. Well, one night, she was in a particularly sad and lonely mood and she looked up at the stars and prayed for the Lord to send her someone to take away the loneliness.
Now, if the story ended there and we got married, it’d be a nice “Awww” moment but no big deal that couldn’t pooh-pooh away by appealing to coincidence. It ain’t like that. Here’s where things go from a Hallmark moment to hairs standing up on my arms like they are doing now. See, Budge didn’t want just anyone. She’s always been awesome that way. Sure she was lonely, but she didn’t plan on settling for any old yahoo. Then, as now, she knew EXACTLY what she wanted and she asked the Lord to send her this exact person.
She wanted someone older, definitely not her own age. Dana has always been an “old soul” and boys her age were just too immature. She wanted him to be stocky, just a little bit taller than her, and have blond hair and blue eyes. Still, not too much to keep the faith by, but I’m seven years older than Budge, I do happen to be stocky (well, I was stocky then. I’m a little rounder than stocky these days), I’m 5′ 10′ to her 5′ 9′ and I’ve got blond hair and blue eyes that she tells me change shades of blue with my mood and the lighting.
Well, then she wanted a guy who had been “around.”
Now, watch me dance around this subject with all the grace of a bear in a ballroom. Budge and her circle of friends were very good girls. With an exception or maybe two, they graduated high school and in most cases, college with their virtue unspotted. They didn’t drink. They didn’t party. The didn’t smoke, and they certainly didn’t sleep around. Wasn’t any of this modern-day “hooking up” crap where so many teen (and tween, sadly) girls and boys seem to run around with mattresses tied to their backs. The bases hadn’t been moved up like they are now.
With that in mind, Budge — ever the levelheaded practical minded amazing lady that she is — figured it would be best if someone knew exactly what to do on their wedding night and honeymoon and since it wasn’t going to be her, it would have to be him. Okay, this one hit a bit closer to home and I was a little indignant at the implications, but it would be pointless to lie. While I was certainly not a manwhore in my younger and less judiciously minded days, I had accumulated enough “experience” to meet her criteria. Now, moving right along.
If you still aren’t convinced, don’t worry, neither was I until Budge dropped the A-Bomb. She had been friends with one of the most popular guys in school. He was the guy who could sit at any table in the lunchroom, be it Jocks, Goths, Stoners, Preps, anyone. He and Dana were never romantic. She just liked him as the cool and kind person he was. He was such a tremendous part of the school that his death in a one car wreck caused massive emotional devastation to everyone from the teachers on down.
Now, I told you that to tell you this, when my Budge was sitting atop that slide, asking for her future husband in such exquisite detail, she remembered him. She always adored the sound of his name and figured — as long as she was asking — she wanted her husband to be named Shannon. If Paul Harvey was still alive and telling this, he’d say, “and now you know the rest of the story.”
How I ended up with a wife like her God knows because I’ve done nothing to deserve her. In 2 years of dating and 14 years of marriage , I’ve asked Budge thousands of times what she could have possibly seen in me to make her want to risk all she did and give up all she did to marry me. She’s consistently given me the same answer, “I asked for you by name, Silly Goose, and you can’t not marry the man you specifically asked for when he shows up.”
And that’s why I still believe in miracles.
Happy 14th anniversary, Budge! I still love you muches.
Love all y’all too, don’t forget to wash your feet!
I love you more today than I did 14 years ago. You are such an important part of my life – you are my best friend. Gosh – I wish I were as vivid a writer as you, or at the very least I could let you glimpse into my heart, so that you would know exactly how much I love you. You are mine, set aside just for me, and I’ll be here ’til the end.