Three years ago I had no idea my entire life was about to change. I was fresh out of university and had recently moved to Dallas after commuting for years, made some huge positive changes in my personal life, and was finally starting to feel like I was headed in the right direction. For what may have been the first time, I could honestly say I loved myself, respected myself, and was confident in myself.

A few weeks later, Andy walked into my life. Looking back, I think this speaks volumes on our love story and our beliefs. I can admit I used to be the girl who was always desperately trying to fit in, and because of that I often found myself in social circles where I felt like a complete outsider. However, at the age of 22, I was finally being honest and open with myself and as a result I developed several close, true friendships that I know will last forever. I learned how to love myself first. After that, God rewarded me with the love of my life, the man who I believe with all my heart I was destined to love since the day I was born, my soulmate.

Our paths first crossed in 2013 at an animation studio in Deep Ellum in Dallas, Texas. We were both in our first year of employment there, but we worked in different departments. As such, we didn’t officially meet until the middle of December. I was having a bit of a rough day, it was during the infamous Ice-pocalypse, so driving was a nightmare, and I had just been told to place a dinner order because my team was going to be working late. I glanced at the menu they had emailed to us, picked something at random, and put my headphones back on so I could keep working.

A little while later, my dinner was delivered to me by a production assistant whom I’d seen around but had never met, and who most alarmingly seemed to think what I ordered was hilarious for some reason. He was literally laughing as he walked up and asked if I “meant to order this”, waving my meal around in the air to demonstrate how lightweight the container was. Immediately horrified and with growing trepidation, I opened my little styrofoam to-go box to find three slices of tomatoes, a couple chunks of mozzarella, and two tiny pieces of lettuce. It definitely wasn’t what I’d ordered, and at the sight of it Andy burst into another bout of laughter. He kindly took a new order for me while my cheeks burned and went off to replace my weird salad thing.

To this day I still have no idea why my order was so messed up, or what I even meant to order in the first place. What I do know is that a week or so later, Andy added me on Facebook. After declining a few of his requests to come hang out with him and his friends (what the heck would I even do with myself in that situation? I didn’t know him!), and exchanging a few short, flirty office conversations (we seemed to bump into each other quite a lot after that), I asked him to accompany me to the dog park. Then he invited me to come out to his college band’s reunion show (another story entirely), a few days later we held hands for the first time, and after that we were inseparable.

We quickly learned that we both love to travel, to take road trips specifically. Our first trip was in 2014 during our first summer together. We spontaneously decided to drive eight hours down south to the beautiful island of Port Aransas for Fourth of July weekend. After learning all the hotels in the area were sold out for the holiday weekend, we researched how to camp in your car, threw an air mattress in the back of my Kia Soul, and took off! It was an amazingly chaotic sunburn and laughter filled weekend, and the beginning of our very special, shared fever for travel and adventure.

We’ve been on several incredible road trips across America since then, each one marking another chapter in our lives and relationship. On December 29th 2016, we embarked on the road trip that marked our third year together. Our anniversary is on Christmas Eve, so we usually take our anniversary trip during the first week of January after all the holidays. This year however, we for some reason decided to leave before New Year’s Eve and ring in 2017 together on a wild mountain somewhere. Our destination was the Santa Fe National Forest and our plan was to arrive, park, and chill.

Somewhere in our travel plans I came up with the brilliant idea of packing formal clothes and sparklers and doing a fun photoshoot in the snowy forest on New Year’s Eve. Andy agreed to the idea, but he didn’t actually seem all that interested. During the drive over he complained of being hot and kept trying to turn up the AC, to which I told him to just take off his coat instead. Yet strangely he outright refused to take off that coat, where unbeknownst to me an engagement ring was hidden, and which looking back on now is really hilarious.

On December 30th, we had arrived in the forest and were searching for a good area to park our travel trailer when we got stuck in a patch of ice. A cute snowshoeing couple and their two happy hounds arrived rather quickly and helped tug us out, but not before I had a minor slip in which I fell and landed on my left hand. Thinking nothing of it I brushed off the snow, hopped back in the car with Andy, and we eventually found a great camping spot.

Later that evening I began experiencing severe pain in my left thumb, and was shocked to discover it had swelled up more than twice its normal size! Trying not to panic, we established that it was not broken and began wondering if it was just sprained. We discovered a small puncture wound and concluded that a thorn of some sort must have broken off inside my thumb and caused it to swell and become irritated. We cleaned it as best we could and tried not to think about it, my mind racing over a million worst case scenarios not excluding impending amputation, his mind racing over whether the engagement ring would even fit over my now absurdly swollen left hand the following day.

Luckily, we woke up on New Year’s Eve in much better spirits and with a still very sore but less swollen hand (the swelling and pain would last another three weeks before finally subsiding, and I still have a small hard knot where the puncture wound occurred! We believe it was a thorn from a mesquite tree, which we learned are actually very poisonous and not to be messed around with!). The morning was so peaceful that I began musing aloud about skipping our planned photoshoot, considering pushing it back a day and calling it a New Year’s Day session instead so that we could spend the last day of 2016 lounging around our campground. Andy played it totally cool, sweetly assuring me that whatever I wanted to do was perfect, all the while with that ring burning a hole in his pocket. If he had started sweating yet, I didn’t notice.

We made a one skillet breakfast outside over our little propane stove, sipped coffee, wrapped ourselves in blankets, and just soaked in the weak sunlight and sweet calls of mountain birds. Eventually, after enough cups of coffee, I began feeling myself again and decided that dressing up and taking a scenic drive to scout for a pretty spot for photos would be a great way to spend the day after all! I seriously have no idea how he deals with me sometimes. He took it all in stride, like it made no difference to him, he was his happiest if I was happy! Looking back, I wonder how I didn’t see any tell-tale signs of relief and excitement in his eyes at that point! Sneaky boy.

The Sante Fe National Forest, as it turns out, is absolutely stunning. We detached our Nissan, loaded up our two dogs, and headed up the mountain. The landscape changed so dramatically in such a short span of time we couldn’t help but gasp and marvel aloud at the new sights that greeted us around every new turn. In less than 15 minutes we had left our completely snowless desert campground far behind and become immersed in a winter wonderland of impossibly tall trees, rushing icy creeks, and snow drifts piled high on the side of the road. This was the scenery we had been hoping for.

We drove around for hours, stopping here and there to take pictures, read historical signs, and take in a scenic overlook. Eventually, we pulled off on a random, unmarked snowy road, put the car in park, and hopped out. Something was different here, the trees were thicker and they seemed to silence the occasional vehicle on the main mountain road behind us. Something in the air made me tense with excitement, it seemed to whisper that we were the only two people for miles, that something magical had taken place, or would take place, in this forest. Andy and I walked for a bit, him with the tripod over his shoulder, me stomping along in green rubber boots that clashed wonderfully with my black dress and tights, my heels clutched in my hand, shivering from both the cold and the thrill of our surroundings. We looked here and there for the most photogenic spot, trying to find an area with tall trees but minimal brush poking up through the snow.

Suddenly, there it was. A small clearing made just for us. We laughed and skipped over to it, Andy began setting up the tripod while I struggled to switch from boots to heels without losing my balance.

We had taken photos of ourselves using our tripod on a number of occasions in the past, it was our way of documenting our travels to beautiful hidden places where there is no one to ask to snap our photo for us, and so nothing seemed out of the ordinary about this moment. Andy set the camera to take a timelapse of photos, and then joined me in the clearing.

My attention on the camera, I immediately began trying to strike some sweet poses with him, but something was off. He was being so awkward! I laughed uncertainly, finally turning to meet his eyes. I don’t know what made me ask it, but my heart seemed to falter in that moment.

“How do you want to pose?” I asked him. There was a smile on his face and his eyes were filling with tears.

“I have an idea,” he said, reaching into his pocket before he went down on one knee in that cold snow.

I forgot about the camera faithfully clicking away. I forgot about the dogs patiently waiting in our idling car. I forgot I was standing in the snow on a mountain in too-thin tights. All my mind could register was this incredible man, who knew me better than I even knew myself, was holding my hand, presenting an engagement ring, and asking me to spend the rest of my life with him. He had a really lovely speech about how I made him a better man and described how much he loved me, and I wish I could remember every word, but the truth is the only line I can confidently recite from it is “Will you marry me?”. I managed to get out a shaky “Yes!” before the ring slid perfectly onto my finger and my knees hit the snow right along with his.

For as much snow as there was piled up on that mountain, we only experienced one actual snowfall our entire trip, and it began right when Andy took a knee and pulled out that ring, and ended exactly when I said yes and joined him on the forest floor. It seems completely unreal when we say it, but our camera captured it all. We can’t help but believe it was a sign from God, blessing our engagement, assuring us this was only the beginning of an amazing journey to marriage and beyond (or perhaps just saying finally, sheesh!).

We managed to come down off that mountain eventually, all tears and laughter and “oh my gosh”’s and “we’re getting married”’s. The rest of our trip was pure bliss. We made campfires, went on more hikes, soaked in our first natural hot spring, played cards, had our first gleeful conversations about our future wedding.

Andy has helped me grow so much as a person. We lean on each other and guide each other and encourage each other. I couldn’t dream of a stronger, funnier, more creative and inspiring life partner. He has taught me many lessons, the most important of which I believe is to laugh at every opportunity, even those which could more easily and naturally be interpreted as negative or embarrassing. Like getting the wrong food order delivered by a stranger after a long day at work.

I can’t wait to marry him.

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