Sometimes it strikes me that my parents must wonder why on earth I'm Catholic, since I didn't grow up that way. We went to the Congregational church and once my brother was through confirmation in junior high we sort of stopped going. They accept the Catholicism, they really do. My mom has fallen in love with patron saints and will say the "Holy Tony" prayer when she has lost something. My dad is very quiet about the whole thing. My conversion also started our family much sooner than it would have otherwise and now I cannot imagine my life without my oldest. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to the beginning.
I never would have become Catholic if I hadn't met my husband. I was 21 and off on a site interview trip from Iowa State with a bunch of other engineering students. I wasn't sure I wanted to work for Intel, much less in New Mexico, but it seemed very grown up and exciting to have plane tickets and a rental car and a hotel room all so they could decide if they wanted to hire me. The first night there was a dinner for the dozens of college kids they'd brought out and as we all milled around the lobby waiting for the banquet room to open I literally had a "Some Enchanted Evening" moment. I saw Christian across a crowded room and couldn't stop looking at him. I barely spoke to him that night as he ended up with his friends at another table, but I was definitely struck by him and his blue eyes. He was looking for someone to go running with, but I completely chickened out on that since I have never been a fast runner. A friend of mine from Iowa State said she'd run with him the next day. Oh, well, there goes that, I thought. Besides, I had a rule about how much taller than me my boyfriends needed to be and we were the same height. Just as well, I thought, I"ll probably never see this guy again. The next morning, thought, as we all filed in for breakfast I saw those eyes and walked up to him and said, at warp speed, "Hi, I'm nervous and when I'm nervous I need to talk, so can I eat with you?" He said sure and we started talking. We went through our separate interviews that day, he went running with my friend and I managed to get into his car as we all carpooled to Macaroni Grill to talk with Intel employees. I didn't sit next to him in the car, or at dinner, but we did realize that we both loved They Might Be Giants. After dinner a group was going out to the bar but I've never been a fan of bars, so somehow Christian and I ended up going out CD shopping together instead. I bought Severe Tire Damage since I didn't have it already and he grabbed an Ella Fitzgerald CD a few minutes before closing since he was having trouble deciding. We had nothing to do in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, so we just drove around, listening to our new CD's. On his there was "Love is Here to Stay," and for some reason I blurted out that I'd always planned to have that be the first dance at my wedding someday. Smooth, right? Talking to a guy you met yesterday about your wedding? That embarrassment was soon trumped by a police siren. We got pulled over because he'd inadvertently driven onto a reservation road that closes after dark. The tribal police (really) soon figured out that we had no clue where we were and let us go home. We sat in the hotel parking lot with our seats reclined, listening to music until 2 a.m. He and my friend had found a local road race to do the next morning and since I was in decent shape, I said I'd love to do it, too. Yeah...
The three of us went to the road race the next day. My friend from school won the women's race. Christian ran at my pace the entire time even though he could have run much, much faster. I decided that meant he liked me and so I asked him if he wanted to do something together that day. I wanted to look at some kayak rivers in Taos and it would be a fun road trip. Unfortunately Christian said he had promised to visit some friends of his parents since he'd told his mom he'd be in Albuquerque and she'd set it up. This had me thinking that maybe this guy really, really thought I was psycho after the whole wedding song moment. He did ask me if we could eat dinner later the next night, so that seemed better.
After the race I was back in my room when I heard a knock on my door. It was Christian, telling me that there was a severe snowstorm near Taos and I probably shouldn't drive my little rental car up there. He had to go to meet his parents' friends, but we were still on for dinner. How sweet, that he didn't want me to do something dangerous. I spent the day driving around Albuquerque trying to find the mall so I could buy something to wear to dinner. I only had my wrinkled clothes I'd already worn and jeans and a fleece with me since I'd planned to do river scouting. I bought khakis and a buttondown shirt at Gap so I'd look cute but not like I was trying too hard. We met up and then used the free tickets Intel had given us to ride the freezing cold Sandia Tramway and then went to dinner. At one point I asked him if I could at least pretend this was a real date, since I'd been on a long string of really awful first dates recently. (The guy who took me to see the super violent movie "Reindeer Games" and the guy who was obsessed with Celine Dion and his Chevy Nova were the true highlights there.) I explained that I was having such a good time with him that if I called this a date it would change my luck. He did not like calling this a date one bit, so I decided that at least I'd had a fun weekend with a nice guy who was simply realistic about the fact that we went to different colleges. We ate dinner, drove back to the hotel and just could not stop talking. It was getting really late and we'd barely slept the night before, so we went to his room and laid there on the hotel bed (fully clothed, mind you!) talking and talking. Neither of us wanted to say good night. We talked until morning and went out to breakfast together. His flight left several hours before mine did and I offered to go to the airport at the same time so we could keep talking, but he told me that he'd feel better about me driving if I slept for a few hours. Again, with the sweet concern for me. Then he gave me his lucky Lego man that he'd brought with him to the interview and kissed me on the cheek. I've never been more excited to be kissed on the cheek than I was at that moment. Later he told me that he'd called his dad on the way to the airport and told him he'd met the girl he was going to marry. Much, much later I found out that he was teased mercilessly by the rest of the guys from Mines who assumed we'd hooked up. Nice, guys. Real mature.
Over the next few weeks, we emailed each other, talking about how much we wanted jobs at Intel, then admitting it was really about how much we wanted to see each other. We would stay up talking on the phone until we were both almost asleep, always ending our conversation with "I miss you." I finally decided to drive out to Colorado to visit. The first night I was there he said that he hadn't wanted to say it over the phone, but now that I was here he could say, "I love you." And then he kissed me. We spent the whole weekend going to all of his favorite places in Golden and Denver. Three weeks later he came out to Ames during finals week. I didn't study for anything. We could not seem to spend enough time together. We walked around campus and I told him all about the Iowa State traditions. That night we walked around Lake Laverne three times without talking and when we stopped, he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I was not expecting that, seeing as how we'd met six weeks earlier and I thought guys were supposed to resist commitment. Honestly the first thing I said was, "This isn't a practice proposal, is it, where you don't really mean it yet?" Once he reassured me, I said yes. We decided to keep it completely secret.
He went back to Mines for graduation and I had some summer work in a research group at MIT lined up. I went home for a few weeks in between and Christian called me to say he'd bought me a plane ticket to come out to visit him at his parents' house in Pennsylvania for Memorial Day weekend. I was beyond thrilled. We'd talked about getting married after I graduated that coming December., maybe going out to Big Sur with our families. Being around each other again made that seem so far away. One night we looked up the regulations on marriage licenses in Pennsylvania. The next day we went and applied for one. There was a waiting period from the time you got the license to when you could get married, which was the day *after* I was scheduled to fly home. We changed my ticket. We scheduled our appointment with the Justice of the Peace. On the way back to his parents' house we told the grocery store clerk what we were about to do because we were so excited. We weren't going to tell anyone else.
The morning we were going to get married I decided to make cinnamon rolls. I was so jumpy and excited that I didn't let the scalded milk cool enough and killed the yeast. Christian ate one of the resulting non-risen cinnamon rolls to make me feel better. I dumped the rest in the trash. We made some excuse about going out somewhere and when we got in the car, he played "Love is Here to Stay" from the CD he'd bought the weekend we met. He ran back into the house because he'd forgotten the cash to pay the Justice of the Peace. We were both so excited and amazed that we were doing something so impulsive. Our wedding time got moved up 15 minutes because someone hadn't shown up for something related to a parking ticket. We got married, two months to the day after we met. We didn't even have rings. We went to the beach and walked around in the sand, just trying to take it all in, that we were husband and wife. Then reality set in and we realized we should probably tell our parents. Shock doesn't begin to describe it. My parents had never even seen him in person. It took quite a while for everyone to get used to us being married, us included. People thought I must be pregnant (I wasn't), people thought we wouldn't make it a year, that we were making a terrible mistake. We knew we wanted to be together. If you'd told us then where we'd be in ten years we would never have believed it. It didn't seem like it, but our whirlwind courtship and elopement was the beginning of my path to the Catholic Church.
Next installment -- actual conversion story, I promise!