This weekend I am driving up to Michigan for my best friend’s wedding. Katie and I date back to 6th grade when she became the only friend I would have during three miserable years at a catholic school in Muskegon. My classmates were beyond awful and I was basically the huge dork in the corner they all made fun of openly. I was awkwardly skinny with long dark hair, my mother didn’t tell me about lip bleach or wax until I was about 15 and I was more into my school work than I should have been. I’m not sure if I’ll ever understand those years but the one shining light was finding Katie. We were inseparable until my family moved back down to Ohio.
After we parted ways I only heard from Katie occasionally. When we did talk sporadically through the years it would always be about the boys we were dating or had crushes on. After college she called to tell me she would be moving to Columbus with a guy she’d only known for a few months. I was in the height of my radio career and while Katie and I did spend some time together, it wasn’t nearly enough.
I still regret being too young, too naive and too stupid to see how much she needed me.
But all is well that ends well… and this is the story of what happened between Katie and that guy she had met. In the span of five years she would become a single mom and then find out (thanks, in part, to some very persuasive urging by yours truly) that the journey with her ex-husband and now soon to be husband again had just begun. Because like the quote by William Shakespeare reads on her wedding invitation, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”
This story is incredibly long but I had to post it here in its entirety, I think every part is so important to hear… and come back next week to see pictures of Katie and Brian’s second wedding.
How to Build a Solid House
If I took you back to the beginning, it would be in a junior high classroom, full of zits and really bad hair, and poor clothing choices. That is when I first discovered boys. I was just like most junior high girls…dumbfounded by the thought of “going out” with a boy. I wasn’t outrageously beautiful, I had dorky hair, no clue how to put on make-up and aside from my best friend, Alaina, all of the girls in my class did a nice job of cutting down my self-esteem. I think it all goes with the 7th and 8th grade female territory. When a boy finally looked my way, I felt like I wasn’t so dorky any more. In fact, I felt incredibly. Boys = self-esteem… not a good equation.
When I was a senior in high school I finally met a real boyfriend, the trophy kind of boyfriend, the kind every girl wants. He played football, was on every committee the school had and he was dashingly handsome. So when he set his eyes on little ole’ me I jumped at the chance to be with someone who had such “credentials”.
I thought it was love. But then, during a college break while working at a warehouse to make some extra money I met Brian.
He was not college bound. In fact, it was a rare occasion to find him working at all. But, there he was. Tall, bald, and really good-looking in that “bad-boy/rock-star” kind of way. And even though he spent hours on end slicing open boxes and checking packing slips he was hilarious and easy going. We got along like I would with a really close friend but I happened to be attracted to him. I caught myself wondering what life would be like with a guy like him… probably really fun. But I was still going out with my high school “dream boat” and Brian had a fiance. College started up again and that was the end of Brian, or so I thought.
Apparently life had other plans.
Two years later and long after I’d moved on from my high school crush, I got a job in Columbus six hours from my home in Michigan as a teacher at an inner-city school. And then fate took over. During a random dinner at Chili’s I ran into Brian.
I had forgotten that he was even a person.
“Katie?” he asked.
One month before I would be leaving home to begin a new life and new job, there stood Brian, saying my name.
All of the moments shared over packing slips and UPS shipments and vending machine breaks came flooding back. Again I felt that hot apple cider feeling. Overcome with the sheer joy of remembering that a person like him was around, I threw my arms around him without thinking and squealed like a little girl at Christmas. “BRIAN?”, and then, “So are you married now?”, were the next spoken words in this short conversation.
“No. Are you?”
“I can’t believe I’m talking to you.”
We ended the conversation with a quick, “Well I’m moving to Columbus. Great seeing you!”small-talk way and I thought that was the end.
But then, this wouldn’t be much of a story now would it?
Brian called me the next day. I was living with my sister, who had an unlisted number. He had called my parents to get my sister’s number. What guy calls your parents to get your number? Brian did. He wanted me and it was obvious.
I’ve got to tell you, when you’ve been bred, born, and raised to picture your future with “Mr. Right”, and when he’s been laid out to look like my high school boyfriend, it’s pretty hard to really imagine yourself with a guy like Brian. He had no car, no job and no apartment. He would crash wherever carrying making sure to always bring his little cat Murray along with him.
I had everything going for me, everything ahead of me. I was at the prime of my good looks. I had a great new job lined up, and I was moving to a big city with no ties, no financial problems, and a very naive head on my shoulders. But Brian was here and I couldn’t ignore the tugs at my gut. We spent the rest of the summer together. We laughed until our jaws hurt and even came close to throwing up from laughing a couple of times. Between all of the laughs and then the physical chemistry, nature eventually took over and I fell completely in love with him.
When the summer drew to an end I couldn’t imagine leaving him behind. I wanted to show him how great life could be (if you lived it my way, if you followed by the rules). So at the end of the summer we packed up my stuff, made a seat for Murray the Cat in the U-Haul and embarked on life’s most incredible journey.
I learned a lot about the way things are in our first year in Columbus.
I learned that sometimes, there are moms in the world who do heroine. There are dads who are alcoholics that beat their children. There are moms who say, “You’re not my son” to boys in second grade. There are grandparents who take care of these poor kids who die when the kids are only 7 years old. There are little boys who travel across the country in the back of a pick-up truck in the winter time. There are moms who kick their sons out of the house when they’re 16 and in desperate need of parenting. There are people who go to high school who are homeless and eat out of garbage cans because they’re starving. There are step-moms who do things that I can’t even write on these pages, and there are men named Brian who come out of that, and make a girl laugh so hard she cries.
Life has a very weird way of opening itself up to you.
Brian had never had insurance or even knew what that was. I wanted to marry him. I wanted to be the mother, girlfriend, friend, guide that he’d never had. I wanted to save him. Somewhere in there, I did love him. But I really wanted to save him, and so when he asked me to marry him, in the parking lot at Target, I said, “Are you asking me to marry you, because I can’t tell?” What he was really doing was explaining that he had wanted to ask me to marry him, but he wasn’t going to until my sister and her fiance got married because she was older and wanted to get married first, and he’d asked my parents for permission, and they gave it to him, and they also gave him a ring that had been in my family because they knew he couldn’t afford one, (God love them), and that he had it at our apartment, but he wasn’t sure if I’d want to or not. So I said, “Um, are you asking me to marry you? What are you doing?” We ended up back at our apartment where he gave me the ring and asked me to marry him…um…and I said yes.
A clumsy approach to a clumsy marriage.
That was in December. We planned to marry in October. Brian was sick and didn’t have insurance.
We got married in January…secretly.
I had on gray pants and a pink shirt. He had on khaki pants and a red shirt. It was us, and a justice of the peace, in an apartment on our street in Columbus.
He didn’t talk to me for three days after that and I kept wondering what the hell I had just done. Finally he admitted that he couldn’t believe he had just married someone like me, after having the life he’d had, and he was in a state of shock. Hence, no talking.
In February, I found out I was pregnant. “Hey mom and dad! Surprise! We’re ALREADY married, oh, and you’re going to be grandparents!” Like I said. Clumsy.
After that, we had a beautiful baby named Spencer. Spread throughout this we had me making great money at a horrible, thankless job, (I have no idea how inner-city teachers do it…there isn’t enough money or drugs in the world to make me go back to that job), we had Brian working at crap jobs, spending “our” money on toys for himself on E-bay, making terrible financial decisions, ruining our credit, lots of yelling, and lots of lying. There were several days of no talking. There were swearing parents who cursed me out in the middle of our school with the principal standing behind them. There was road rage and Brian being “funny” yelling mean things out the window at people for no reason. His temper in the middle of grocery stores. Me reporting all of this news to my parents, building a wall between him and them, and getting some sort of reassurance that I wasn’t crazy.
All in a city far from home, with no family, and a new baby.
I finally cracked.
I guess, in retrospect, I had a nervous breakdown. The doctors called it “post-partum depression”, but I’m pretty sure that it was “lousy husband, new baby, shitty job, no family or friends depression.” Two weeks before the end of my second year teaching, the teachers found me sitting at a table in my classroom, staring at a wall repeating, “I don’t care”, as a mantra. I quit caring. I quit caring about that crappy job, those terrible parents of my disrespectful students and my spineless boss. I didn’t care about insurance, or E-bay, or Murray, or our apartment, or my car, or my hair or clothes or food, or the floor, or if I’d go home or to a hospital… I quit. In my head, I just quit. Instead of telling my boss I quit, I just said, “I don’t care” after everything he said or asked me.
“Do you think you need to go to a hospital?”
“I don’t care.”
“Are you afraid you might hurt yourself?”
“I don’t care.”
“Do you want to go home?”
“I don’t care.”
Oh I went home all right. I went home to my mommy. I quit my job and I was home, like, with my mommy home, the next day. Brian spent the next two weeks packing up our apartment all by himself. A few weeks later he followed behind and then we were all living with my parents. This new way of life, my family’s way of life, was as foreign to him as his way of life would have been for me if I were to live with either of his parents. But I didn’t see it that way. I was saving him, after all. He went to his friend’s houses and made rap music. I stayed home and thought of new reasons why my life had been ruined for marrying him. He had about 8 different jobs that year. I thought about what an idiot he’d been for quitting them. He did everything he could to escape time from my parents’ house and I enjoyed his absence. .
I got a job working at a kidney dialysis center. It was perfect. There were no kids there. It was just what I needed. I was making decent money doing that job, and I was able to purchase a home. It was tiny, and small, and not at my parents, so it was perfect. We moved into that house, and two days later I kicked Brian out of it. But like I always did, I forgave him for being who he was and let him back in. He continued to open credit cards and use my credit card and lie to me about smoking pot, something I had decided was a no-no now that we’d had a child. He lied, and lied, and lied, and I would find out, and find out, and find out.
He decided to go to school to be a chef. Then he quit less than a month, but over $3000, into it.
This time, I didn’t crack, I got a lawyer.
In my mind I divorced him the second I handed him papers.
I remember that he was in the living room.
He was on the phone.
I said, “I need your driver’s license number”.
“To finish these divorce papers”.
He moved out a few days later, and I moved on that night.
In my mind, I was DONE! I WAS FREE! AHHH! I never had to hear from a collection company, or watch my credit card get compromised by him buying toys on E-bay, or using my debit card to by my Mother’s Day present from our son, or all of the shitty, horrible terrible things he’d done EVER AGAIN! I had a party in my mind the day he moved out. I had a smile on my face, and I was done.
How tangled the webs we weave.
I started dating an electrical engineer just a few months later. He was young, wealthy, good-looking, and boring as all hell. He was PERFECT! He only had one credit card that he paid off every month, he had his own house, a nice new truck, a Harley, a snow mobile, and he was such a nice little cookie-cutter image for my screwed up head that I was so glad to be rid of my dirty Brian mistake and replaced with this boring dorky wealthy guy. He totally fell for me, and I did not totally fall for him, I totally fell for the fact that I wasn’t with Brian any more. The only way we could speak civilly to one another was in regards to our beautiful son. I could never deny that Brian was an amazing, loving father. Other than in regards to Spencer, Brian really tried to screw with my head, and made many terrible attempts to ruin my joy with his sadness and aching pain, his yelling and anger, and I just tilted my head back and laughed, “HA! How does it feel to get screwed!? How does it feel to get thrown out and treated like garbage? Does it feel as bad as how you used me for money!? How you lied to me and were a horrible person to me??? Do you think I care!???”
Then, the f-ing Detroit Lion’s screwed up my life, just like they do every fall.
I was at the engineer’s house, about to meet some of his best friends. It was a nice crisp fall day, and the Lion’s were about to kick-off. I started to feel sick inside. I couldn’t figure out why. Then I remembered, Brian and I really loved the fall. We actually had a lot of good memories about the fall. Those memories came back…they came back…and they kept coming…and I started crying. Right there, in the middle of the electrical engineer’s living room it hit me…”What the hell am I doing??? I’m not ready for this!”
I tried to stave off that feeling for a few more weeks until it finally came full force and took me over. I had to tell electrical engineer that I was so, very sorry, but that I was not emotionally ready for a relationship at all.
Brian and I weren’t even officially divorced, but like I said, I divorced him the second I asked him for his driver’s license number. It makes me sick to even remember or mention but it’s part of the story. I can apologize and go to confession, but I still don’t feel forgiven for it. The only solace I can find from the experience is that it helped me realize I wasn’t over Brian, and that there was more to the Katie and Brian story than I had originally thought. Thankfully, Brian could forgive me for this grave error. Eventually.
This was the point where I came to learn an important life lesson – everyone makes mistakes… even me.
We tried to work things out. We tried to jump back into our marriage clothes, but old problems kept emerging, ripping and tearing at the seams of our shirts, along with new problems associated with electrical engineers. After two dramatic attempts at a comeback, Brian and Katie threw in the towel…again. Our divorce was final in February. I tried dating some other guys but I could never make it past the “sitting next to each other” phase. No kissing, no hand-holding. I had no desire to really be with anyone. I didn’t know how to be alone, and I didn’t know how to be in a relationship. I was very confused and lost trying to grow up and do the right thing.
Completely confused, I ended up finding a new outlet for my energy…
I started fostering pound dogs, and finding them good homes. It took up a great deal of energy and time, and it got my mind off divorces and dating and men and Brian, and being alone.
And where was Brian this whole time?
Brian was putting on a happy face for his son, and making himself sick with misery as he too was in a confused state in a lonely apartment: not sure how to be alone, and not knowing or wanting to be in a relationship, with anyone else but me. Unfortunately I found that my heart was cold to him now. I was no longer attracted to him. He was Brian. My ex-husband, the amazing father of my son, with a lot of history and habits that I couldn’t forgive or look past. I wanted to comfort him and make him feel better, but didn’t want to confuse him. He would take any compliment or kind word as a glimpse of hope that we could be back together one day. I pitied him, and that was the extent of my feelings toward him.
Fortunately for both of us, for all three of us, Brian does not give up easily. His perseverance is one trait that has helped him shed his cocoon to emerge as a beautifully transformed individual, and helped me feel a lot less superior now that he is a better person than I could ever call myself. Brian’s flicker in his heart that we could still make things work never faded although mine had long ago gone cold and black. But we had one bright shining light in common: our son. Our beautiful, amazing, Brian and Katie concoction that no divorce paper could ever unravel. He would always be a part of the two of us. He was the common bond that brought us back together. I found that every time Spencer did something cute, or funny, or sad, or exciting, or silly, I wanted to tell Brian about it. I wanted to tell him because he was the only one who would share in the exact same appreciation I would feel. Many people love Spencer, but nobody in this world would or ever will love him the way that the two of us do. I found myself calling Brian to talk about Spencer. I found myself calling him more and more because somehow, Spencer just got cuter and cuter, and Brian really seemed to love the calls. There’s a feeling that can’t be matched that you get when you know your call is the best thing that happened to someone’s day. It makes you want to call more and more.
Brian and I started to get together just to be with Spencer and to share some time together with our creation, that we both loved so purely. After a few times of these play dates, we caught ourselves straying from conversations about Spencer and moving on to conversations about our marriage and each other. We asked each other questions regarding things we’d lied about and finally came out with truths. Brian talked openly and honestly with me. He apologized for things he’d done that were wrong. He had held a steady job, and even though it was at a restaurant, it was steady. Even though he wanted more, we had an understanding that we could only be friends because my “spark” was gone, and he swore that that was enough for him, even though he’d never be with anyone else ever again.
Things continued in this manner for several months. As the old cliché states, “Time heals all wounds”, and the wounds in my heart were mended. I forgave him for the things he’d done to me because he’d apologized for them, and I saw that he was changing. He showed me that he was truthful. He proved to me through his actions that he was a hard worker and that he wanted to do the right things. I still couldn’t let myself go back to him, but I felt something warm in my heart coming alive, like I’d just sipped some more of that hot apple cider.
I couldn’t talk to my family about it, considering they had danced a jig when I told them we were divorcing, and they would have done anything they could to have rid their lives of Brian Welch based on all of the horrible and terrible things I had told them about him. Brian’s family had similar feelings about me. I did speak to friends about these feelings stirring inside of me. And finally, under the advice of one of my oldest and dearest friends, Alaina, I dug my heals in and let myself kiss him. I gave myself back to him praying to God that I was doing the right thing. I was literally praying to God and doing what I felt was His plan. I believed that God would want Spencer and Brian and Katie to be a family, and I was going to let go of pride and fear and give into a plan that was bigger than I was.
[Katie doesn't give me nearly enough credit here!! After years of being a total Brian fan I told her to just "kiss the poor guy". There's no way you'll know if you ever will have chemistry again if you don't just try. Personally, I couldn't believe she'd made it that long herself without kissing him or anyone else for that matter. Ha... now the story gets really good.]
It was my the greatest decisions I’ve ever made in my life.
Love is a messy, messy thing.
Love doesn’t happen from getting along all of the time. Love happens when you make it through one of the coldest, darkest and most dangerous mazes you could imagine getting lost in. Love happens when you know that even if you do something stupid you’ll be forgiven for it. Love happens when you have fun times, and love happens when you apologize to someone because you really are sorry for doing something, or when you’re sorry that someone is sad. Love happens when you respect another person. It happens when your family stops speaking to you because of who you love, and that person is still enough for you.
There are things I’ve learned about myself. I am hypocritical but honest, stubborn but lack will-power, messy-but like cleanliness. I can be very immature and very insightful. I’ve learned that when there is good there is bad. Brian is a human being, and therefore, like me, is not perfect. However, coming from a hard and troubled childhood, Brian has dragged himself up from the depths of the lowest state of humanity. I think of Brian as a constant architectural experiment. He will always have the same, horrible foundation, but he keeps trying to build a really beautiful house on top of it. He’s had to tear everything down and start over so many times, but he can never get rid of that terrible foundation. Somehow he’s been able to build that big house. Somehow. I don’t know another human being who could do that. And he’s mine… and I’m his. I know that I’ve had a big part in helping him build the house that finally stands steady and firm. We’ve built that house together, and I’m just as much a part of it as he is.
Brian tore apart my heart, and put it back together so that it is stronger and can feel much more than it ever could before I knew him.
Brian never gave up easily on anything.
On February 13th in 2009, he brought me to “The Shack”. It is similar to a Great Wolf Lodge, just without the water park… and you get to have banana splits there at 8:30, courtesy of the extremely elderly and religious owners of the facility. When we got there we had dinner, and Brian barely talked to me through our meal. We walked around the grounds in the cold winter air, and as we stood overlooking the lake that The Shack was built next to, underneath the awning of a lovely wooden pavilion, Brian told me all of the wonderful things that he saw in me, that he loved about me, and with the blessing of my family and friends, he got down on his knee and asked me to marry him. He gave me a ring that he bought by himself, and put in on the wrong hand because he was so nervous.
I don’t care who comes to our wedding, but I know that I’ll be wearing a beautiful dress, and Brian will have on a suit or tuxedo, our son will be with us, and so will a priest. I know that God will be smiling down at us, and that we’ll never have to tear down this solid house we’ve built together. Brian won’t let it fall down, and neither will I. We’ve put too much work into it’s construction, and we love the lives we’ve created together too much to let anything happen to us. When they say marriage is hard work, they’re not kidding, but, like anything, the fruits of our labor are more exquisite the harder we work at it.
Katie is a 3rd grade teacher at an elementary school, the same one she attended as a child (with Alaina).
Brian is at the top of a waiting list to be hired as a correction’s officer at a prison in their hometown. He was one class left to complete his certification for criminal justice.
Spencer is 5-years-old, enjoys football, cars, and especially mini-golf. He is very spoiled by his father.