‘You’re going to regret this.’ Getting married at 19 was not trendy. But I’ve never been more sure.’: High school sweethearts marry despite harsh criticism, ‘I grew up and am growing old with my best friend’

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“It was a cool, Fall evening in Arizona the night I met my husband. I was 16 years old and having recently gotten my driver’s license, it made me the perfect chauffer for my 13-year-old brother who was too cool to get rides from mom and dad. I drove to the high school my brother’s club basketball practice was being held at to pick him up. His practice was running late so I navigated the unfamiliar campus looking for the gymnasium to wait for him in there. I was headed toward a random entrance when a football player named Donovan walked out on crutches, holding a bag of ice. I immediately noticed his black, curly hair and his charming smile as he attempted to smile at me through his obvious pain. ‘You okay there?,’ I asked, noticing his limp. He told me he had just sprained his ankle during football practice and asked me what I was doing there, knowing I wasn’t a student there. I told him I was looking for the gym to pick up my brother and he quickly connected the dots, observing my red hair, and said, ‘Oh, your brother’s the red headed kid who’s always here?’ After exchanging a few words and sharing a few flirtatious, coy smiles, he showed me how to find the gym. I thanked him and told him, ‘I’m so glad I ran into you,’ and it wasn’t just because of his directions.

Courtesy of Hannah Rooks

A few weeks later, we met up at Starbucks to get to know each other and ‘hang out,’ ya know, since we were just teenagers and didn’t want our parents nagging us about going on a date. About an hour after his white chocolate peppermint mocha and my caramel vanilla bean frappuccino were gone, the barista who was sweeping the floor around us told us, ‘You guys must really like each other if you’ve been here this long talking and haven’t ordered a second drink.’ He was onto something. A month after that, a scavenger hunt that lead me all through our hometown took me to that same Starbucks to find my last clue. It was a Christmas tree ornament telling me to go to the town’s enormous Christmas tree, where he was waiting to ask me to the winter formal, our first official date.

Courtesy of Hannah Rooks

Little did we know at the time that circumstances at my high school would change and my parents wanted to transfer my brother and I to that small, catholic school. We weren’t even catholic, but I didn’t mind. That cute football player became my best friend and then my boyfriend. We were just kids when we fell in love those two years in high school, but our strong friendship gave us such a strong foundation and was the key to the future of our love story.

Courtesy of Hannah Rooks
Courtesy of Hannah Rooks

That foundation was tested once we graduated high school and headed off to college. I moved almost immediately to start the summer semester in Idaho and he accepted a full ride scholarship to play football for the University of Montana. Despite only being 4 hours apart, our attempt at long distance quickly failed for a few reasons. He was busy with football and rarely had time to call me and I wanted to enjoy college without the drama of a boyfriend in a different state that I never got to talk to. Before breaking up, I booked a plane ticket from Arizona, where I’d spend Thanksgiving with my family, to Montana, where I had planned on visiting him before catching a shuttle back to school. After we broke up, I found out that my plane ticket was nonrefundable, and being the broke college student I was, I didn’t have the funds to book a second flight straight to Idaho. It had been a few months since the split and we had both dated other people, so he told me to come anyway and we’d just hang out as the friends we started out as.

Courtesy of Hannah Rooks

Shortly before Thanksgiving, Donovan had gotten injured playing football and had knee surgery. It was like déjà vu when I got off the plane in Montana and saw him with his curly, black hair and charming smile once again, waiting for me outside the gate on crutches. We spent that snowy day together and were both equally shocked how simply being together again made everything feel right in the world. We learned that day it wasn’t us that failed, it was the long distance (and anybody whose gone through that knows how nearly impossible it is.) We picked up right where we left off except with a fresh, new understanding that we didn’t want to date anybody else and didn’t want to spend another day apart. I knew that night when I got on the shuttle I was going to marry my best friend one day. And I did. What I didn’t know was how quickly it would happen. Apparently, when he watched the shuttle drive away that night, he the same exact thought.

I visited him several months later and we found ourselves browsing at a ring store, but little did I know he had already bought a ring. A few months after that, he was on one knee. We were only 19 years old and despite so many people telling me, ‘You’re going to regret this,’ I was so sure. Even now, four years later, I’ve never been more sure about anything. Today we thank ourselves for following our hearts and nobody else’s opinion. Getting married at 19 was not trendy, but it’s our unique love story. We’re not just growing old together; we’re growing up together. We finished college together, and just when I thought we’d never have to face long distance again, we were separated again for 4 months when Donovan decided to follow his dream of being a police officer and attended the police academy 3 hours away.

Karla Denise Photography
Photos by Kimmer
Photos by Kimmer
Photos by Kimmer
Photos by Kimmer

I grew to be so grateful for the lesson our chapters of long distance taught us – communication. We’ve had to rely on our communication as we navigate the unique struggles of being a law enforcement family. Sometimes it still feels like a long distance relationship after months of night shifts and opposite schedules. Then when we have those treasured date nights, everything feels right again in the world. It’s been two years since he hit the road in that bulletproof vest and I still pray every time he walks out that door that he’ll walk back in. The sound of Velcro waking me up at 4 a.m. has become my favorite sound. I’ve learned I can’t carry my struggles, especially the ones of being a ‘leo’ wife, on my own, and how important it is to communicate them to him and carry them together. I’ve cried to him saying, ‘It’s hard to send you out that door, risking your safety, to protect people who want to harm you.’ I’ve had times of feeling like he chooses the community before me by pursuing such a dangerous career, but I’ve come to realize it’s so much more than an adrenaline rush for him. It’s a calling from God to serve others and to ‘love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and bless those that curse you.’ And I respect and love him all the more for it. Something that would seem so crippling for a family has actually made us so much stronger.

Courtesy of Hannah Rooks

Before I hopped onto the shuttle that November night in Montana, Donovan told me, ‘The night we met, I was limping and physically broken, and you came into my life and gave me the strength I didn’t even know I was missing. And now this morning, I was on crutches and broken once again, and I’ve realized you’re everything I didn’t even realize I need.’ Through sickness and health, through long distance and short, through judgment and following our hearts, and through fear and faith, this man is my strength through the struggles and my very best friend. I’m so grateful to have found him so early in life and growing up with him is the best thing I’ve ever said yes to.”

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Karla Denise Photography
Courtesy of Hannah Rooks
Courtesy of Hannah Rooks
Maryana Wright Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Hannah Rooks of Morenci, Arizona. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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