Let me warn you: This post is long.
Something my husband and I talked about before he helped me launch this website was the fact that I wrote a lot of material about someone I loved before I met him. I was worried that what I wrote a long time ago would hurt my husband, something I would never do intentionally. Now my husband, Jonathan, is very blunt, as anyone who knows him will tell you. He told me specifically that he is not threatened by my past because it made me who I am—the woman he loves. We talked about my past and his while we were getting to know each other.
So, how did we meet? Jonathan was working as a night building manager at Arkansas Tech in the Student Services Center. I was a student working on a practicum during the summer. Just to clear up any ethical issues: I was a graduate student, 22 years old, almost 23, and Jonathan was 25. He was not my supervisor. I’ll admit, I thought he was cute when I first saw him, but given my track record and a recent broken relationship that ended a friendship, (another story—see below) I figured Jonathan was taken. Well, he wasn’t.
We started chatting during the events I helped plan for some high school students who were on campus for enrichment camps. He started showing up to events even when he wasn’t scheduled to work to make sure the technology in the building was running smoothly. I had pretty much given up on dating at the time. I was so fed up with everything and just figured being single was best for me. I also had some very good advice from my stepdad who told me he was confident that someone would find me if I would just stop looking.
My 23rd birthday was June 9, 2004. A colleague expressed her birthday wishes to me in front of Jonathan. By the end of the day, he had given me a birthday card he made, which I thought was both sweet and strange. At the time, I still wasn’t sure if he liked me as more than a friend. The next evening, he mentioned that he was taking his niece and nephew to see a movie and asked if I’d like to go with them. I still wasn’t sure if it was actually a date, or if he just wanted an extra babysitter. But I went, mainly because I liked spending time with him, even if it was only as a friend.
We chatted before the movie and he said he would like to take me to dinner just the two of us sometime soon. At that point, I asked him if he meant as a date. When he confirmed that was his intention, I said something stupid and bold, but luckily didn’t scare him away. I joked with him that I hadn’t been sure whether or not to show any cleavage since I didn’t know if it was a date or not. He just laughed. It was that easy to talk to him.
It’s hard to tell you how we ended up together until I tell you where we had been. Jonathan’s dating history is his own story to tell with his own heartaches, but I will recap my history with boys/men up until that point:
1. Puppy love: All hand-holding, fort-building elementary school boyfriends. Some hurt feelings and tears, but no scars.
2. Infatuation: Jr. High/High School-No real interaction, just observation from afar. See: Obsession.
3. Humiliating Crush: Out of my crazy, hormonal 15-year-old mind for a boy who didn’t give a damn about me except for a few nice conversations when no one else was around. I wrote stupid letters to him and told him that I liked him. I was always shy, but looking back, it was a really bold move. I had more balls than he did. It made me stronger.
It made me see who my true friends were, the ones who had my back when the boy’s friends were relentlessly teasing me. Those same friends, my family and my ability to write were the reasons I didn’t give in to the scattered instances of suicidal thoughts I had at the time. The teasing ended when I cornered the key tormentor in front of the other tormentors and told him in not-so-nice words exactly what I thought of him and why he should leave me the hell alone. I’ll admit there were some scars from that one, but they are all healed over nicely now. Looking back, I see that I was brave. See Explanation and Fear.
4. Gut-wrenching, soul-crushing, unrequited love: First adult relationship even though I wasn’t quite ready to be an adult yet. The first time I was truly in love with someone. And he didn’t love me back. I would have done anything in the world at the time to get him to love me. It was tragic, sporadic and prolonged over the course of about three years.
The worst part of that one was the echo. Let me explain what I mean by echo. He was away for a year, during which I waited for him, turning down a handful of date requests along the way. When he did communicate with me, it was to urge me to move on because he didn’t want a relationship with me, but I couldn’t move on. He told me I deserved to be happy, but I was still delusional with hope and blinded by how much I loved him.
When he came back, he showed up at my apartment to talk. I figured it would be our last conversation. I don’t remember exactly what I said or what he said. I just remember him interrupting me mid-sentence by grabbing ahold of me and kissing me. I know—what the hell? That all blew up in a few months, but not until after my heart was reminded that I thought I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. I’m not saying I’m blameless in that. I knew what he had said before about not wanting a relationship with me, and he never told me that he loved me. But his actions didn’t match his words and I was confused. It was my fault, but it was his fault too because I had been very clear in telling him that I loved him.
Not long after everything ended, I was hospitalized for a week. Despite what some of my college classmates or work colleagues might have thought at the time, I DID NOT try to kill myself—my body tried that on its own. This post is becoming very long, but to explain, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis when I was 20, right at the beginning of the echo and right before my senior year in college. Flare-ups are aggravated by stress, and my body shut down for a bit and I had to be fed intravenously for a while because I couldn’t eat and when I did eat, my body couldn’t absorb the nutrients. I was 84 pounds when I was admitted to the hospital, and it took a long time and a lot of steroids to get me back to a healthy weight for my small, 5’1″ frame.
I missed two weeks of college, but somehow, by the grace of God, I managed to pass my classes and graduate with honors. A lot of my writing came from that time period. Most of my writing was deep, scary, dark and twisty. Most read like suicide notes because there were many instances when I thought dying would have been less painful. I am so glad I wrote it down and hope others can be helped by reading about my pain. Maybe my writing can help someone else have a way to put their own pain into words. A lot of people write about pain. Think about all the songs out there. What are most about? Love, Hate, Sex, Pain. Drugs. All of those things can be hopelessly connected.
So it ended. The whole thing broke me and damn near destroyed me, but in the end, it made me stronger. He called me early in my marriage and wished me happiness and good fortune. I played the voicemail for my husband. I still bump into him on occasion and have introduced him to my husband. I wish him the same happiness I have now. See: Pretty much everything I wrote in college. Major scars with that one. But it’s my past and is a part of who I am now. Are there any hard feelings now? Not anymore. Not when I know now where it was leading me.
5. Casual dating X2- A few butterflies with a few kisses mainly because of the glimmer of hope for something more, but no real connections. I recall one of them thinking I was too negative—and I was, look what I had just been through. The other was more of a mutual agreement that we didn’t make sense. There was no depth. I needed depth because while I am a lot of things, shallow is not one of them.
6. Friendship turned dating turned unofficial engagement turned disaster because he and I were both grasping at straws trying to get over who we truly loved (Gut-Wrenching): I think he and I needed each other to be able to move on. It hurt that we ruined what had been a good friendship, and I did love him, but it was friendship love, not romantic love. I can see that in retrospect.
7. Forever: Jonathan Collins.
When we met, I felt like I had known Jonathan forever. We took things very slowly. He was and still is the ultimate gentleman. He opened doors for me, held my hand in public, and asked permission to kiss me for the first time. There were several dates and many conversations that just never stopped. The first time he told me he loved me, he wrote it down and melted this writer’s heart. It wasn’t difficult with him. I’m not saying we never had disagreements, just that we were respectful of each other’s differences, opinions, and pasts. He’s my best friend and I’m pretty sure he’s my biggest fan. I know I am his.
Funny story-I was pissed at him the night he proposed, which was about seven months after we started dating. It was his night off work and we were going out, but he said he had to stop by campus first to set up a presentation for a group. I was irritated that he hadn’t set it up earlier or had one of the many student workers take care of it. We went to the Doc Bryan Lecture Hall, and he worked on setting up a PowerPoint Presentation. (Remember, this was 2005.) He asked me to come up on the stage to check the slides to make sure they looked okay to me. On the slide: “Brandi, will you marry me?” On his knee, Jonathan with a beautiful engagement ring I still wear today as part of my wedding set eleven years later. (I said “Yes.”) We got married on September 3, 2005. We played a portion of “Broken” by Seether, featuring Amy Lee while we lit our Unity Candle. (Again, it was a thing back in 2005.) I was broken when I met him, but Jonathan loved me anyway.
And here we are, that future family I predicted in “The Night” when I was 15. We’ve lived in three different houses in two different towns. We have our dog, Buddy, who has been with us since the summer before we got married. We have two beautiful children, Douglas Andrew “Drew” and Meredith Pearl. We even have a new puppy, Peanut, who found us. I think he found us to help bring new energy to the aging Buddy.
I asked Jonathan recently, “Why do you love me? What made you fall in love with me—this crazy, scary, dark and twisty woman standing here in front of you?”
He said he fell in love with my wit, my intelligence and my sense of humor. He said I was the first woman he dated who could hold her own with him in a conversation. I told him I fell in love with his kindness, his sense of humor, and his wonderful heart. He is the first man who has ever made me feel beautiful. And he’s seen me at my worst and it hasn’t scared him away. Think-Rachel Platten’s “Stand by you.”
So, if you’re still reading, why have I not written about my husband until now? Almost all of my writing has been an expression of pain from love or from the death of my father when I was a child, but I am working to change that. Jonathan has never hurt me. I have faith that he never will. There aren’t enough words or enough days left in my life to ever finish my thoughts on how much I love him.
I am a true believer in destiny and fate. I believe in God and respectfully agree to disagree with those who don’t. I don’t get into big debates about His existence with other people because at the end of the day, one of us is wrong and I am certain that non-believers feel as strongly about their beliefs as I do mine.
So why the sudden change in subject to God? Because I think God led me through everything to be with Jonathan someday. All the signs were there, I just didn’t put the pieces together until much later. There were so many times he and I could have met too soon, with chance encounters and mutual friends, but the timing would have prevented us from recognizing the potential in each other. We both had some things to work through first so that we could become the beautiful disasters we are now who are perfect for each other. He is like my favorite song, which is “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac, I could listen to him every day and never get tired of him.
After my high school graduation, my mom gave me a Bible she was given at her own graduation. I never really paid attention to the outside of the Bible or the cover pages, only the inside. When I was packing up my apartment about a week before mine and Jonathan’s wedding, I came across that Bible again and for the first time looked at the cover. The name of the publisher is stamped on the spine. Now, think of how many names of publishers are out there in the world. Well, you can see below what name is stamped on mine.
Could it be a coincidence? Sure. But is it? I don’t think so. So, how do you measure love? According to my husband, you can’t. It’s immeasurable because you can’t weigh it or put it in a cup.
-Brandi Easterling Collins