‘He introduced himself as Marv and offered to clean one room in our house for free. I listened, mostly because he said ‘free’ and also because our entryway needed to be burned or bleached or both.’

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“When I was a freshman in college one of my professors asked us to write a paper about the vision we had for ourselves. What did our ideal future entail? I have a feeling my paper didn’t look like everyone else’s. I wrote about a home filled to the brim with love and second chances and homemade cookies. I wrote about the man I would marry and how I envisioned him playing with our kids in the yard and how their laughter would echo down the street. I’m certain now, looking back, that my professor was speaking about our academic success, but when you’re raised in a broken home you sometimes let your mind wander. I knew what I wanted very early on, or rather, what I didn’t want.

A couple of years later I found myself at a new university, fumbling through life, working two jobs to cover expenses and praying Sally Mae would cover the rest. After class and on the weekends, I would clock in as a cashier at a local restaurant. It was filled with college kids busting tables, sweeping floors, and stocking shelves. One night I found myself working next to a girl that was stealing bulk candy from behind the counter. I told the night manager before heading home, but the thing about a restaurant is that there is usually more than one person in charge.

The next morning, I walked into the back office and asked the day manager what the thief’s fate was. He slid a paper across the counter and told me I was being written up for not turning her in. Wait. What? I refused to sign the papers and asked him to call the night manager. There has been an error. He refuses, so we are having a staring contest before I decide that this is ridiculous and leave. I cried the whole way home. My roommates decided the best way to fix this was to put on bathing suits, eat some ice-cream, and test out our friend’s new pool. Just as we are getting ready there was a knock on the door.

The man was easily in his sixties. Grey, nervous, and hopeful. He introduced himself as Marv and offered to clean one room in our house for free. I listened, mostly because he said ‘free’ and also because our entryway needed to be burned or bleached or both. Against my better judgment and while also trying to drown out the ‘stranger danger’ chant in my head I allowed him in. Marv told me about his time in the service and of his family. I listened some more, but there was no way in hell I could afford this vacuum.  He said he was new to the job and asked if his supervisor could stop by to see his progress. I know what you’re thinking. Who lets two strangers in their house? But, I worked it out in my precious twenty-year-old brain. If Marv was 60ish then his supervisor must be 70ish, right? Right?

Then there was the knock that changed everything. He was beautiful. He went for a handshake, and I just remember asking him if he was thirsty or hungry. I’m from Texas, and that’s just good manners. I am literally shaking my head remembering this. He could tell there was no sale to be had. He asked me what I was doing later, and I told him we were going swimming. He jokingly said, ‘I’m going to have to give these guys the rest of the day off and go buy some swim trunks.’ But here’s the thing. HE. REALLY. DID. This was before Facebook was a thing, so I didn’t have the opportunity to research him. When he left my house, I did the Tom Cruise thing and jumped on the couch like a maniac. I then proceeded to call my best friend and mom to inform them both that I had just met my husband. The next day I received a call from the manager I had a staring contest with the night before. He apologized for the misunderstanding and offered me my job back with a raise. I don’t know how these thing work, but I do know that something more than a handful of coincidences happened. We were married 12 years ago this July. We’ve created a beautiful mess of a life together since the day he knocked on my door.

Not long ago I walked by the window in the front room of the house we were in and saw him pushing our kids on a tire swing outside. Our daughter’s head was tilted back, hair dancing in the wind, and she was laughing so loudly I was certain the neighbors down the street could hear her. It took me back to that assignment my freshman year, and all I could do was cry. It felt like a broken prayer back then, but in that moment, it became a praise.

I tell the story of how we met because it is so unbelievable, even to me, but it’s true. There are a hundred of stories from our journey together, but that was the first one. If you come from a broken place it’s okay to wander. It’s okay to dream, and it’s okay if your paper doesn’t look like everyone else’s.”

Whitney Thetford/Homeland Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Michelle Lewis. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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