4 years ago, my life fell apart. I was married with a 3-year-old little girl, and we lived in an adorable gated neighborhood in the suburbs, just 4 miles inland from Jacksonville Beach, Florida. I could cross highway A1A at work and eat lunch on the beach. My Jeep always had sand and seashells in it. I felt so fortunate to have this opportunity in life, after working my way through nursing school, and eventually finishing grad school with a newborn. I finally had my dream job as a pediatric nurse practitioner. My career took me to Nashville, Kansas City, and finally we ended up on the beach. Sounds like an amazing adventure, right? Well, little did I know, my husband was living a double life and my world was going to come crashing down around me very soon.
I was on my way home from work on a Monday afternoon, just two days after my daughter’s birthday party, and I found out that we had been evicted. All of our belongings were thrown out like trash — even her new birthday presents. I wasn’t allowed back in our home, and I was told that the locks had been changed.
At this moment, I just felt sick, and I had no control — like I had been stabbed over and over and I was moving too slowly to stop the bleeding. After questioning my husband and our landlord, I discovered that we were three months behind on rent and other bills, despite the fact that I was shelling out money to him for our living expenses. He couldn’t answer where the money was going, but all of a sudden, things made sense. His erratic sleep habits, weight loss, running errands all the time—he always had somewhere to go and never wanted us to tag along.
I did some digging and found empty pill bottles and many empty beer cans in his car. The car that drove my child to daycare. The car that always parked in the guest parking spaces in our neighborhood instead of the driveway. I also found several years’ worth of my mail in his trunk. He had been keeping random letters from collection agencies, bills, and birthday cards from me for years.
Why did he keep all these secrets from me? Confused, hurt, and angry were my only emotions for the next few days. I was going on fumes; I couldn’t eat or sleep. I felt so stupid for not seeing the signs, but I had been so busy with raising a child and building my practice at work. I was married to a drug addict who abandoned us in a Target parking lot 4 miles from the beach. He had been lying to me for years, and my credit was unfortunately ruined because of it. I had no idea how easy it was to open credit cards and take out personal loans in your spouse’s name. I thought that I stayed on top of my bills, but I had no idea that he was secretly hiding things from me over the course of our seven-year marriage. And later I found out that he had another daughter. He lied about being in the Marine Corps, he lied about his education and his job. I had been living nothing but lies for almost a decade of my life. How could life be so cruel? How could I be so dumb?
That first night living in a hotel, I made a Walmart run at 8 p.m. just to get clothes and toiletries for us to survive the next few days while I planned my next move. I washed clothes in a hotel sink and my daughter and I tried to make the best of our “vacation,” as I called it, while I cried over the things that we had lost and wondering how in the world I would sort through this mess. My sweet baby girl lost everything, and we had no support here.
Our closest family was in Tennessee, about 10 hours away, and my soon-to-be-ex-husband left us alone to fend for ourselves without showing any remorse. At night, I would just think of all the things that we had lost. I cried silently at night, in the shower, when I was driving. I missed my belongings, and I missed the part of my heart that was stolen. I could never get those things back. I cried for my daughter, because she didn’t deserve this part of her story. I worked so hard to get where I was, career-wise, and everything was just ripped away. Why couldn’t I just go back and change things sooner? He was a con artist, and I got duped.
I tucked my tail, hung my head, and began my journey home. At 32 years old, I moved back into my old bedroom with a 3-year-old. I was so ashamed of myself. I left the beach, and moved back to Tennessee. To make things worse, it was snowing when we moved back. It was March, and snowing in Tennessee. How could this situation get any worse?!
My daughter, on the other hand, was thrilled to make snow angels and ride in a makeshift sled with grandma and grandpa. My parents were ecstatic to let us come home. My daughter had her own playroom and slept with mama every night. Fortunately, my parents keep everything. Her playroom was like taking a peek back into my childhood. We’re talking original Cabbage Patch dolls and a Little Tykes kitchen from 1985, y’all. It was glorious!
Since I had to work diligently on getting my nursing licenses in order, I wasn’t able to apply for any nursing jobs for the next few weeks. My plan was to take an assignment as a travel nurse to save up some money and pay off these old bills that I recently discovered. Then we would get the heck outta Dodge, ya know? In the meantime, my daughter and I were going to the gym and the park almost daily. My heart was bruised, and slowly I needed to put my life back together. I needed to show my daughter that this was our new normal, and that living with grandma and grandpa would be such a fun adventure. I was trying to convince myself of this too.
I desperately needed to find some friends, but I had no idea where to even start. I finally texted an old guy friend from high school (actually, I think I went down my Facebook list and sent messages to everyone in town. I was that desperate for adult interaction). I jokingly asked if he knew any hot single dads. This wasn’t even in our conversation, just a random thought that popped in my head.
To my surprise, he said yes and immediately gave me a name. Good heavens, was I ready for this? I was so newly divorced, but hey, I needed friends and I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to get out of my parents house to meet people. My Facebook detective brain got to work. This single dad had a daughter, who appeared to be the same age as mine, and after showing my mom his Facebook picture with his daughter, she screamed, “I KNOW THAT LITTLE GIRL!” Come to find out, his ex-wife’s sister does my mom’s hair, and my mom had seen pictures of this little blonde girl. We live in a big city, so this is a rare occurrence. My mom wanted some juicy gossip, so she pushed me to meet him. (If she thought meeting a stranger was OK, then surely it was fine, right?!)
I sent this random guy a Facebook message, and he answered back. I gave him my number and HE. CALLED. ME. So, awkwardly, I answered the phone. He said he wanted to talk. Like, with his voice. What in the 1990s was going on?! We talked all night just like teenagers. I think it was 2am when we finally hung up. Maybe it was sleep deprivation, but I felt like one tiny piece of my heart was placed back.
Two days later, we met for lunch. I happened to have a job interview that day so I wore some comfortable black flats and a pair of my mom’s black dress slacks (yup, slacks, with pleats down the front) and this shirt that I lovingly call “the curtain shirt.”
This was my 1st first date since I met my ex-husband 10 years earlier. I was a little rusty on appropriate first date clothing, and I was raiding my mom’s closet for most of my attire since I was just starting to rebuild my life and wardrobe. He was on his lunch break, so he showed up wearing police gear and a gun on his hip. I was intimidated at first because he is a big dude with a beard and a lot of tattoos, and again, this was my first date in a decade. I am a nurse practitioner and I had never had any type of personal interaction with a police officer in my whole entire life. Now I am on a date with one?!
He insisted that we take a selfie that day to send to Brian, the guy that “introduced” us. We went to the Bayou and sat on the patio. I don’t remember one thing we said during the entire date because I was nervous and trying not to make a mess. I ordered a shrimp po’ boy (I could have ordered something messier, right?) and I don’t even remember if I ate half of it. I just remember looking at him and getting butterflies. He had the prettiest hazel eyes, and I had never dated anyone with a beard, so I’m sure I stared at it. When we were done eating, he walked me to my Jeep and gave me a hug.
After lunch, I was on cloud nine. I had the biggest grin all day, and I was smitten. I could not stop thinking about him! Was I ready for this? There was no way that he could be interested; after all, I was just “damaged goods.” With my awful credit and all the baggage that I had, surely this guy would just move on and there was no reason to get my hopes up. I just couldn’t stop thinking about him, but I definitely wasn’t ready to jump into a relationship.
To my surprise, he called me that night. (What is up with this guy? Why can’t he just text?) We had our second date on Friday night, and our first kiss. I knew at that time that this was something special. However, I wasn’t quite ready to trust him, and I certainly didn’t want my tender heart to be yanked out of my chest again. I saw him again on Sunday, which happened to be Easter. We decided to let our girls meet each other that afternoon. My daughter needed some friends too, and they were instant best friends. We looked at them playing, and then looked at each other. Huh, these girls could be twins. I could feel my heart slowly starting to grow back together.
On Mother’s Day, he told me that he loved me. I knew that I was falling hard and fast. When you know, you know. But, I wasn’t quite ready to let my guard down. He gave me a key to his house, and told me to snoop away while he was at work. And … I did just that. I went through every piece of paper in that house, and I couldn’t find anything. He always left his phone unlocked, his email pulled up on his laptop; he was an open book. He did not have a thing to hide. He showed me his credit score, his bank account, and his up-to-date mortgage payments. He was a genuine, honest, open, loving person. I was “damaged goods” with a credit score of 300 and a deadbeat ex-husband. But for some reason, this guy loved me and he adored my daughter. I was slowly letting him into my heart and he was helping me rebuild, piece by piece. I certainly didn’t need to be saved by anyone, but he swooped in and did it anyway.
We discussed moving in together, but I just wasn’t sure. Things were still new to me, and I had to protect myself and my child. I couldn’t move her again if things weren’t going to work out with us. And plus, staying in Tennessee wasn’t part of our plan. This was supposed to be just a pause in our story. Or so I thought.
We were sitting on the couch one morning in June before he went to work, and he pulled out the biggest sapphire ring that I had ever seen. He asked me to be his forever wife, while my daughter watched E.T. and clapped for us. At that moment, I knew that my intent to move out of Tennessee just wasn’t part of the plan right now. Something had brought me back home, and love was going to keep me here.
My daughter and I moved into his 3 bedroom, 2 bath bachelor pad, which he insisted that we call OUR house. He had almost no furniture and nothing on the walls, so he told me to “go nuts.” I had so much fun starting over from scratch. Losing all of my belongings had been so terribly painful, and I got a lump in my throat when I thought about my things just being tossed out like trash. I shed millions of tears over my things that I would never get back. However, it ended up being a blessing in disguise. I had a blank slate so that we could start OUR home. Funny how life works out sometimes.
We talked about getting married just to make things official, and I started researching courthouse weddings. I knew that we needed a photographer to capture our special day, so I emailed a husband/wife team to check their availability. Well, they had 1 available date for a wedding: August 15th. Wow. It was less than two months away, and my heart skipped a beat knowing that this was actually happening.
I called Steven and asked him what he was doing on that Saturday, August 15th. He said, “Marrying you.” That was all I needed to hear in order to make this happen.
We decided to elope on August 15th, 2015 which was about four months after our first date. I could not believe how my life had changed in those few months. I survived a failed marriage to a con artist, moved back in with my parents as a single mom, and was now planning my wedding. We got ready for our special day in a hotel room at the Peabody and walked to Court Square Park, where a family friend performed the ceremony.
Our little blonde girls were the flower girls and the bridesmaids—they played an important role in our lives, so they had to be involved. My new husband and I danced to our song playing on his phone in his shirt pocket (Brantley Gilbert, “Fall Into You.” Yes, it’s cliché that we live in Tennessee and danced to a country song, but have you heard it?!)
The girls went home with my new mother-in-law for a slumber party so we could spend our first night as a married couple kid-free. We had an amazing dinner, laughed over drinks in the Peabody lobby, and I could not wipe the smile off my face. This was not a dream; this was my real life. The entire day was just so sweet and perfect. The plan was to keep our marriage a secret until our Halloween Party, and then surprise everyone by dressing as a bride and groom and showing off our wedding pictures. However, Steven refused to take off his wedding band, and we just couldn’t keep it a secret longer than 2 weeks.
We eventually bought a bigger house with a pool, and then right after my 35th birthday in 2017, we found out that we would be adding an “ours” to the mix. We had a “yours and mine” and our 3rd daughter, Junebug, completed our family. We had our little blonde bookends, and this brown-eyed baby girl is the perfect caboose.
Our story isn’t over yet.
Some people will tell you that our marriage is doomed; we both have extremely stressful jobs (his more than mine), we are both divorced, and we got married four months after our first date. We both have ex-spouse drama, and we are currently involved in a custody battle with my ex-husband (one that, thankfully, we are winning). We have all odds against us. But we are going to beat the odds.
People are always curious to hear our story, so we just look at each other and smile. Usually our story goes, “We met on a blind date and got married four months later.”
In the end, love wins.