Matthew and I met when we were in elementary school--I was in second grade he was in third. I had a crush on him right from the get-go. We grew up as close family friends, spending Halloween, New Years, and the Super Bowl together almost every year. Going into each of these holidays, my goal was just to talk to him once. Some of the best days of my young life were spending an entire graduation party playing Ping-Pong with him or the time we spent an entire party in the driveway playing basketball together. As we got older, the crush did not go away--in fact, it did the opposite. I finally got a phone my freshman year and mustered up the courage to text him good luck before his football games. He wore my number for the basketball state tournament. I honestly felt like it was the peak moment of my life.
Finally, at the end of my sophomore year, he started to talk to me more. The texting became more frequent (and if I am being honest, a little more flirtatious). Going into his senior year, he asked me to wear his jersey for the homecoming football game. We went TP-ing (toilet papering houses) together all of the homecoming weeks. Suddenly he was spending Friday nights at my house, eating pizza and watching movies or the Office. We held hands for the first time in my basement and it was the best and most nerve-wracking moment I had ever experienced. We had our first kiss in the parking lot of the church where we will be getting married in just a few short months. We now joke about our church dates, where we would go and pray together for a little while, and then sit in the car and talk for hours. Our parents could not object because we were, after all, praying. We spent a couple of amazing months almost dating (but not actually dating because I was technically not allowed to date in high school) and actually fell in love. However, our relationship ended before he went off to college--I was not ready for something so serious yet, and had a lot of growing up to do.
Fast forward a couple of years, I had just broken up with my freshman-year boyfriend of four months and simply could not forget about Matthew--the one that got away. He had a girlfriend and had seemingly moved on. But for some reason I couldn't. I wrote him a letter after his little brother Jacob passed away from health complications, offering my consolation and sharing memories of the impact Jacob had had on my life and the witness of faith their entire family was. Matthew reached out after that and thanked me, telling me how happy he was and how he had moved on. He also said he was excited for the opportunity to finally get to be friends. I was certainly not ready for that.
I did not date or entertain the idea of any other guy for about a year and a half. But I prayed a lot. And through all of that prayer, I could never get Matthew out of my head or my heart. I prayed a lot of rosaries and cried a lot of tears. I think I knew all the pain was going to be worth it. I knew I was waiting for my husband. Then out of the blue, over a year after he told me he had moved on, he texted me. I had just gotten back from a trip to Russia, and we immediately struck up a conversation about the experience--we specifically bonded over the incredible churches and the experience of the Mass in Russian. I was excited at first and then confused as he told me he could still only be friends. And once again I told him I could not do that.
My sisters, who are incredibly loyal and defensive of me, were not happy. They reached out to him and told him that he could not do this. It was too hard on me. Matthew then proceeded to tell them that he had broken up with his girlfriend and couldn't stop thinking about me. But he wanted to give that relationship the time and respect it deserved before starting up anything new, which is why he said we could only be friends. We talked a couple times over the course of the summer, and it was like nothing had changed. We picked up right where we had left off all those years before.
However, talking once in a while soon created a deeper bond--he later told me that even in these early stages, he knew this could be something really big and wanted to be sure he was in a good place before actually coming to see me. He did a nine-day novena of prayer that ended on the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola. On July 31st, I was told I was meeting my sister at the church to go to Mass and then dinner because she was going to be in town. I was walking over to the church and as I got up to the building, Matthew walked out. I was in shock, as was he. We were both shaking, laughing, and crying as we hugged. The rest of that evening is kind of a blur. We had dinner and then sat in a car outside the church and talked for hours--nothing had changed. We hadn't talked face to face in well over 4 years, but it was effortless. We clicked.
That night he also told me the whole story about his relationship ending. How he had wanted to go about ending it in the best way possible before coming to see me, and how he still thought we needed to take things slow because of the proximity to his previous relationship. However, as we got closer and closer throughout the evening, we could tell that this was what was always meant to happen. After we kissed that night, his exact words were, "I know I said we should take it slow, but slow is a relative term."
We knew that we would likely be skipping the "get to know you" phase of relationships. Anything we started would require a more serious level of commitment, which meant the capacity for hurting each other was very high. We decided that before we started dating, we were going to write letters for six weeks--slower, more thoughtful communication. That ended on September 14th, which was the Feast of the Cross (as you can see, we are really into feast days). Since we lived 2 hours apart, we talked and hung out whenever we could for the next couple weeks, but I could not figure out why he had not asked me to be his girlfriend yet. Little did I know that he was waiting to bring me to Omaha, to a bench in a garden where he had gone his freshman year of college when he was missing me.
On October 8th, he took me there. He talked about how he wished freshman Matthew could see him now, that all of the hurt was worth it. It was there that he asked me to be his girlfriend. Fast forward about ten months, and it was about the one-year anniversary of him coming to see me the previous summer. We had both finished summer classes and it was my last day of summer workouts. We talked about going out to dinner when we got back to Rapid City to commemorate the anniversary of our first meeting. Little did I know he had something even better planned.
Through a lot of elaborate plans (and lies), Matthew tricked me into thinking he had a photography assignment due that night for his class. He had told me about the assignment months prior, so I had no reason to think he was making it up. We went to a beautiful hiking spot in Rapid City right when we got into town--it was one of the only spots they were able to take his brother Jacob hiking, so it was very special to their family. As we got to the top, he put his arm around me and paused, and started to talk about a year ago on this day--July 31st--and how it had changed his life. Then he got down on one knee. Obviously I was a wreck and we were both shaking and it was the greatest moment of my life--I seem to have said that a lot throughout the course of this story; probably because most of my greatest moments have happened with Matthew. As we sat upon the top, gazing down on the city where we met, he gave me a shoebox containing a memento from every day we had spent together over the course of the last year. He had kept things from every restaurant, sporting event, movie, etc.
We then went back to my house where both of our families were waiting to celebrate with us. Walking into my house with the man I love surrounded by people I love is definitely one of the greatest moments of my life as well. The next one is coming on July 10th, 2020. And I can't wait.
- Ciara and Matthew