The last blog I wrote was titled “I Am the Luckiest Man on Earth”. In it I talked about how fortunate I was to fall into the energy meteorology world four years ago when I accepted a job offer in Houston, Texas, but mentioned there were a million other stories that could be told about how lucky I am. On May 29th (or legally, May 30th) my wife Ashley and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary. As is typically the case on special occasions like this, I blew it… errr, maybe that’s not the best choice of words... I ruined it by not only not having much of anything planned for the day, but also by getting sick just as we were headed out the door to take the kids out to dinner with us. I spent more time hugging porcelain than my wife on our anniversary, we'll just leave it at that.
So in trying to make up for it, here is the the story of what really makes me the luckiest man on earth. Warning: Reading this could be hazardous to your health, and it may be so sappy that the keys on your keyboard and the scroll wheel on your mouse get stuck.
So it may be hard for all my friends to believe this, but I was never all that good with the ladies. I know, shocker, right? Unlike in the movies, the shy, quiet kid didn’t always get the girl. My mom tells me I was the playground heartthrob in kindergarten, but I can't confirm that (can anyone else? Just curious....). My first kiss was with a girl I met on a cruise when I was twelve, who I had to say goodbye to a few days later. I had a couple of girlfriends after that and got my heart broken early in my senior year. No I don’t want any cheese and please stop doing the little violin with your fingers. It’s all part of the story.
I went off to college not knowing anyone at all, and considering I wasn’t much into partying and clearly wasn’t very outgoing, I knew that would be a bit of a challenge for me, but so is college life in general. As mentioned in a previous blog, I became quite the karaoke king… which can never be a good thing. And it wasn’t. While singing a song at Riverfront, a dance club in Tallahassee, I met an English major who was a senior at FSU, and we dated for the next few months. She lived in a little guest cottage in her parents’ back yard (they did OK), seemed to be beyond the partying phase of college, which seemed to suit me well, and I felt like I needed someone. I can hear those violins again… dang it.
Suffice to say I had made a mistake (shoulda known, she was a Jeff Gordon fan), and it ended awkwardly during winter break in my freshman year while back at home (over AOL instant messaging, I think!). When I returned to FSU, my roommate at the dorm had gone crazy and started sleeping during the day and staying up at night. One night he rode his bike ten miles to Wal-Mart and came back with probably ten bags full of junk he’d bought using his student loan money, for some reason including flashlights (which of course were in those impossible to open plastic packages that he had to open right when he returned at 3:00am) and cheese puffs, which he apparently also couldn’t wait to crack into. And I do mean crack into… nothing like the sound of a guy chomping on cheese puffs in a quiet dorm room at 3 AM.
The second semester of my freshman year was horrible. I wasn’t far enough into school to get into the fun meteorology courses or really become involved in the on-air operations we had there, and other than a great friend (an older, local guy) I had met who occasionally took me fishing, I had very few friends and spent a lot of time alone. The one place I had become comfortable going on Friday nights had been ruined because I didn’t want to run into my ex-girlfriend. I think I drove home on a lot of weekends. Fortunately gas was still cheap back then!
After freshman year I went home for the summer and started hanging out with some of my high school friends a lot more, and was desperately trying to feel as happy as I “used to be”. I don’t think many people, my family included, realize just how unhappy I was. Sophomore year was going to be much harder in terms of class workload, as physics, calculus, computer programming and two meteorology courses were now on the schedule. I had met a few people through intramural tennis and decided to rent a house with one of the guys and his girlfriend (not an ideal situation, I came to find out). At least I wasn’t going to have to live with the nocturnal nut anymore. But I was really starting to worry that I’d never find a girl who I could really relate to or who would have an even remotely similar personality (very few people I know do!), and with all the time I was going to have to spend on school work, I didn’t see it getting any better for me sophomore year. On top of that, a couple weeks before I left home, I had decided I needed to get braces since I was going to make a career out of being on TV as a meteorologist, and we all know how important looks are for the job! I figured that would seal the deal for me to stay single.
But one night late that summer I got an email from someone who I’d never met, who had stumbled on my profile on AOL and seen that I was an FSU student. Her name was Amanda and she was from south Florida and would be starting school as a freshman at Florida State. She left her email address at the bottom of the note in case I wanted to write back, but I noticed it was different than the address in the “from” box at the top of the page. So naturally I looked up that email address and found out that it was a different person named Ashley, also from South Florida and also heading off to FSU for her freshman year in a few weeks. Her profile showed that she enjoyed lobster diving and going out on their boat, and that she was going to be a meteorology major. Hmm…
So I decided to send this “Ashley” an email and tell her that I was going to be a sophomore meteorology student and maybe we’d run across each other down there. I don’t remember all the details of what I wrote or what she wrote back, but will never forget the night she did and the weeks after that. That night, my “uncle” George, a good friend of my dad and neighbor from down the street, had come over to give me a hard time and say goodbye, since we were about to go on a trip to New York for a while before I headed back to FSU. He mentioned something about me finding/not finding a girlfriend at school (most likely it was very inappropriate) and never coming back to see him as he walked out the front door, but I remember telling him about the email I’d gotten and rubbing it in that I was going to run off to Florida and do a bunch of saltwater fishing with this girl and her family in Pompano Beach. A couple emails later and while vacationing in New York, I remember talking to my aunt up there about this girl I was kind of looking forward to meeting when I got back to school. Who knows, at least we had an interest in meteorology in common.
When I got back to FSU, reality began sinking in just how tough 18 semester hours of core courses were going to be. I didn’t have time to do much of anything, but did email Ashley back and forth a few times during the first couple weeks of the semester. We’d tried to arrange to meet a couple times, but never could make it work, and I honestly started to lose interest because it seemed the feeling was mutual. But one night while headed to the mall with a friend she called me and asked if I wanted to meet her and Amanda, her close friend, at their dorm. Ashley told me she was having trouble with her algebra and thought maybe since I’d already taken it that I might be able to help. (Ha! If I’d only known what a line that was!).
So I agreed to meet her one night, though I had no idea what she looked like and how I was going to know who I was meeting, especially since I was just going to the dorm, calling her, and waiting for her to show up at the front door of the building to let me in. That led to the most pathetic first impression I think I've ever made on someone. While standing outside the door, I saw a few people come out and wondered... "is that her? No. Is that her? No." Finally a pretty girl with long brown hair came down and opened the door, looked at me, and I said "Mike?" Yes, that's your name you idiot... good job.
Amazingly, and perhaps regrettably for her, she let me in (after laughing or something, I don't know, I can't remember her reaction because all I was thinking was what a dumba$$ I was). Before going up to her and Amanda's dorm room, she walked over and got a Diet Coke out of the machine (another shocker, if you know her!). Those are honestly the only details I remember of the night. I know we went upstairs and I met her roommate and the girl who started this whole thing, Amanda... Ashley was playing some music on her computer, we did actually look at the Algebra homework and I attempted to help, and that was pretty much it. I remember thinking I was interested, but was afraid to get too excited about anything as I didn't want to just jump into another relationship. After going out a few times with her and her friends, I kept that same mentality... trying not to get too attached or rush anything. But after a while, it was like I didn't have a choice. As much as I tried not to, I fell in love with her (cue the "awwwwwww").
Our first real date was at Riverfront (the place I had met my ex-girlfriend!) on September 21st, 2000. Perhaps appropriately since we were both meteorology majors, it was raining as the remnants of Tropical Storm Helene were passing through. We went with a group of her friends and one of mine. I thought I might be able to impress Ashley with my singing. I didn't. We went over to the country dance floor and I asked her to dance. It was a slow dance and she wouldn't even look at me (she says because she was embarrassed... not of me of course, just being out on the dance floor). Great first date- she seemed real into me! It actually was a great night and we had a lot of fun while I wasn't singing and we weren't dancing. She was just like me in all the right ways, and different in all the right ways as well. Truly a match made in Heaven, and she came along just in time.
The rest is history, and would take months if not years to write (and probably read too!), but in the nearly 12 years we've known each other, we've made a lot of memories together. She's always been there for me. I realized I was going to marry her one day when I sat in the living room of the house my friend and I had rented with a high fever, chills and a throat so sore and swollen I thought I was going to die (seriously). My roommates didn't care about me, just wanted me to stay away from them, so I called Ashley and asked if she would take me to the hospital. It was late at night during finals week (she and I both had finals the next day) and neither of us even knew where the hospital was (pre-smart phone era, remember... we actually got directions from a pizza guy we stumbled upon in a parking lot!). She stuck with me the whole night waiting in the ER and took me home after they told me I had mono. She even went out to a gas station after midnight to buy me some Motrin (that's big for her!).
It takes a special person to deal with me and my obsessions. Since then she has worked at bass fishing tournaments for me, given me the best present ever in a ride-along ticket for the Richard Petty Experience at Atlanta Motor Speedway and understood when I bawled my eyes out after finding out Dale Earnhardt died. If she stuck around through all that, I knew I had to marry her!
We had the most perfect wedding on May 29th, 2004 in her hometown of Pompano Beach, Florida, shortly after she graduated from FSU and while I was working as Chief Meteorologist in Macon, Georgia. Perfect as it was, the weekend didn't start that way. Being in TV, it was mandatory to work during "sweeps" months and May sweeps are the most important. I couldn't leave for Florida until early the Thursday morning before the Saturday wedding and we were going to have to go straight to the courthouse to get our marriage license in time. When we arrived, we were told there was a three day waiting period before we could get married because I was from out of state! So, after freaking out about how we were going to get married in two days, we talked to the pastor and he told us he would sign the marriage certificate and date it May 30th, though the ceremony was held on May 29th.
Even with two actual anniversary dates, the 29th and, for the State of Florida's purposes, the 30th, I still managed to ruin this year by being sick!
After being starving meteorologists at separate TV stations in Macon, Georgia together, she gave up her career as a meteorologist for me so I could take a new job as a starving meteorologist in Savannah. She worked hard to get a teaching certificate so that we could make ends meet and start a family. She taught 6th grade math during her first pregnancy and stuck it out so that she wouldn't miss any paychecks, and gave birth to our first daughter, Lily in 2007. She gave up her teaching career to become a stay at home mom (talk about a real career) when we moved to Houston for my job, and has since brought into this world two more beautiful little girls, Delaney and Maggie. I do my best when I am home, but she has raised these kids, and they are the best you'll find. Lily is a mini-Ashley, which is both scary and relieving to me, because I know what she'll be like when she's older. They all have Ashley's smarts and thankfully her nose. How she deals with all three of these kids, good as they are, getting them to and from dance and mom's club and the grocery store and the doctor... is all still baffling to me.
Ashley still puts up with my ridiculous obsessions, the worst of which being my stubborn determination to keep alive an attendance streak at NASCAR races in Atlanta (I didn't say she likes them, but she puts up with them!). She has given up so much for me, and given me so much, and I know there is no one else in this world who could possibly be better for me. The eight years of marriage we’ve shared have been the best years of my life, and I can’t wait to go through the years to come with her, by my side as always.
Happy Anniversary, sweetie. I love you.