Since it’s Valentine’s Day weekend, I felt it appropriate to write about how I met my husband, John, but first, let’s take a step back so I can share a few defining moments that shaped my love life (or lack thereof)!
I was always a pretty naïve kid. (I’m still pretty naïve.) Growing up in Midland, MI, my family teased each other about anything and everything but when it came to boys, my Dad was relentless. First, he’d make it clear that my sisters and I weren’t allowed to date until we were 16. Secondly, if he overheard us talking to each other or with friends about a hot boy, he was all over it. Since I hated being the center of attention, I did my best to keep any talk about my school and celebrity crushes to myself or at least out of ear shot of my parents. Plus, let’s not forget as a CHDer I had those ever-popular purple lips and it wasn’t like any of my crushes were anxiously awaiting to date the weird girl.
While living in Midland, I was treated at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, which was a good two hours away from my hometown. My Dad would always take a day off from work to drive my Mom and I to the appointment. We’d grab lunch after the appointment and make a day of it. When I was 16, I found myself at yet another appointment. My mom was in the exam room with me while my Dad sat in the waiting room reading the paper. Dr. Amnon Rosenthol entered the room and proceeded to listen to my heart and lungs. He checked my legs for swelling and asked me a series of questions about my energy level. I sat on the exam table and my mom was across from me in a chair. Dr. Rosenthol was at his desk and my mom proceeded to flip through her notebook where she was vigorously taking notes. I honestly can’t remember if she asked the question or if Dr. Rosenthol mentioned it first but what I remember is Dr. Rosenthol saying something to the effect of “children won’t be possible because of her condition.” What I remember next was managing a polite smile while trying to process what he just said. However, all I could process was that as a result of those words, my mom was profusely nodding and sobbing and failing miserably to keep a brave face. I looked at her and told her it was going to be OK and then we left the room to get my Dad where we would wait together until I was called for my EKG/ECG before heading home.
My Dad’s face fell and started to lose color when he saw the tears streaming down my mom’s face. We sat next to him, with me in the middle and he asked what happened. My mom managed to share that “children aren’t possible” and the next thing I know I was holding her hand, consoling her and telling her not to worry because I just knew that my middle sister, Kate would have at least 8 kids and probably live on a farm. For the record, Kate has 2 kids and lives in a big city. Told you I was naïve.
On the drive home while listening to my Walkman, I began to think about that appointment. Honestly, I didn’t really get why my mom was so upset. Who really cared about kids right now anyway? I was in high school for crying out loud and not remotely interested in dating, let alone having sex. What I cared about was a car. How come I didn’t have my own car? Now, that was something to cry about.
I was 22, working at Dell Inc., in Nashville, TN. It was time for my annual Cardiology appointment and since I had only established an emergency contact in Nashville, I flew home to have an appointment with Dr. Rosenthol. After the usual barrage of tests were run (EKG/ECG, Echocardiogram (heart ultrasound), bloodwork) my parents and I learned that the only way to fix my heart condition was with a heart transplant. A HEART TRANSPLANT! WTF?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Cue shock and waterworks. The good news is that I didn’t need one at that moment and the doctor explained that when it was time to go on the transplant list, I’d be pushed to the top so I wouldn’t have to wait as long. Cheers!
I’m sure there was more to the discussion but those were my takeaways. I was now a 22 year old woman who couldn’t have kids and who eventually would need a heart transplant?! Perfect! Who’s the big winner?
So whatever, I flew back to Nashville with this extra baggage and decided when I returned, to go on dates and have fun but nothing would ever be serious. There was no point. Who would want to marry me? So, the wall was built and I was OK with it. I can still hear the crowd chanting, DEFENSE!! DEFENSE!!
I met John at a party that same year. We were both sitting on the couch and struck up a conversation. He had a good sense of humor and was direct. I liked that. We were cracking up and having a good time. I remember thinking, “is he the one?” but I quickly suffocated that thought and later learned I didn’t need to panic because he had a girlfriend. Geez, what a relief. I dodged that one. Even though I wanted to hang out with him more, there wasn’t a point since he was in a relationship and I wasn’t about to be the reason they broke up. Especially, if it was just to go on a few dates.
Three years later, we struck up a conversation at our apartment complex pool and I learned he was single. He invited me to watch The Joe Schmo Show with a few friends and a few weeks later we went on our first date. We decided to explore Nashville as if we were tourists. We had so much fun trying on western shirts and cowboy hats. John even tried on a pair of jeans that were way too tight and we could not stop laughing. We went to dinner and hit up a few bars and had a great night. It was so much fun!
On our third date, we rented a pontoon for the day at a near by lake. We had a blast soaking in the sun, hanging out, drinking, and swimming. Although, my version of swimming is sitting on a life jacket bobbing up and down in the lake.
Once we returned the boat, we headed back to my apartment where we made dinner and listened to music. I was having so much fun and whenever we were together we would just laugh. Life was fun with John and I knew I couldn’t go on another date until I revealed my situation to him. I was nervous because I really did like him and for the first time ever, I wanted our dates to lead somewhere, dare I say- serious. As we finished dinner, I took a gulp of my liquid courage and heard myself saying, “John- I need to tell you something.” He replied, “Yeah, what is it?” and I looked him in the eyes and vomited the words,“I like you and there is something you should know if you want to keep dating me because I don’t think it’s fair to keep it from you.” I could see he was starting to get confused and nervous but I kept going, “Anyway, you know how I told you I have a heart problem, well I also learned when I was 16 that I shouldn’t have kids. Not to mention, the only way to fix my heart problem is with a heart transplant which I may or may not have to have but I just think you should know what you’re getting into if we keep dating and you want our relationship to go somewhere.”
As a side note, I totally understand that this was a heavy conversation to throw out after a day of drinking AND during a THIRD date but here’s the thing- I hate wasting time and it took every ounce of me to muster up the courage to share what I told him that night because I was so afraid of rejection. I just didn’t think it was fair to keep this information to myself any longer.
He didn’t say a word for what seemed like eternity. Finally, I broke the silence and said, “So what do you think? Do you want to keep dating?” I threw it out as casual as if I was asking the guy what movie he wanted to watch. “I don’t know,” he said, “I have to think about it.”
Think about it? SERIOUSLY? I was ticked and it didn't help that I was buzzed. “Ok, well then why don’t you go home and think about it,” I suggested as I fought back tears. Yeah, the buzz was not helping my emotional state. As he called a cab and left, he said he’d see me tomorrow referencing a date we had planned earlier that day on the water.
The next day I called my sister, Kate to tell her about our date and to vent about his reaction to my vulnerable confession. I was mad and I told Kate there was no way I was going to his house. If he had to think about whether or not he wanted to date me then that was the answer right there. I was hurt and embarrassed and not about to subject myself to further humiliation. Kate listened to my rant and then said, “Well Holly, if you don’t go over there to hear what he has to say and you end things now then it’s on you. It’s not on him.”
WHAT? Umm, I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective. Maybe Kate did have a point. Fine, I decided I’d go over to his house for the date because if our dating ended it wasn’t going to be on me. No way. It was on him.
I arrived at John’s house and as we were getting the supplies out of the garage to wash our cars he looked at me and said, “I thought about it and what you told me makes you, you and that’s the person I’m falling for.”
We were engaged 2.5 years later and will celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary this year. John has taught me to not be afraid of who I am and to fully embrace what God created me to be. I don’t take my marriage for granted. I am so GRATEFUL to be married to an amazing man and I’m also grateful that I didn’t let my CHD experiences build a wall so strong that it couldn’t be broken.
Having a CHD is tough. It will never go away and there isn’t a cure but if you let love lead your outlook on life, you’ll find more joy, strength and courage than you ever thought possible.