Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Latin is for Lovers (or, How We Met)

Everyone loves a link-up, especially when it’s sweet “How We Met” stories hosted by Grace at Camp Patton!

So, 5 cities, 2 countries, and 2 babies later, how on earth did we get here? I’ve been mulling over how to do this without boring hapless readers to tears. Condensing six years of pre-engagement history into a readable post or two is a bit much. So perhaps a true how-we-met is in order.

The year is 2003. I’m starting my second year at the University of Victoria and it’s a bright September morning. I’m happy to be back in the same boarding(esque) house I was in the previous year, with the same view of trees out my window that lets me forget that I’m in a city. I’m not so happy about getting ready for class, because it’s the first day of Latin and that means it’s terrifying. I’ve spent the summer prepping but until I get there I won’t know if I’ve prepared enough. As a distraction I am taking extra care with my appearance, and am standing in front of my mirror debating over makeup or no makeup. Eventually I settle on makeup, as everyone knows that Latin classes are a good way to meet cute scholarly boys.

Autumn, 2003. Was wearing happier makeup to Latin class.
An hour or so later I’m nervously making my way to the Greek & Roman Studies seminar room, trying to calm my anxiety and hoping to see a friendly face or two from last year’s classes. As usual, I’m early, which gives me enough time to notice a certain fellow with long hair and a bright, button-up shirt (and sandals!) lounging against the door, reading a book. I have a weakness for guys with long hair and, provided he doesn’t turn out to be a super-smart-pretentious-git, the class might be worth all the pain and anxiety after all.

Because I’m shy and still super insecure, the above is basically my extent of the narrative for a long time. Yes, we end up sitting near to each other, and yes he is always there half-an-hour before class starts, coincidentally when I arrive, but I just take it all for granted because surely everyone else is as keen as I am to have a good translation. This goes on for about four weeks. In early October I turn 20 and, since I love birthdays, decide to strike up the old “so how was your weekend” conversation so that I can prattle about my birthday party (chocolate cake & Super Troopers). His reaction to my question was unexpected – a sudden burst of bitter laughter and a very cynical, “how does it LOOK like my weekend was?” shot in my direction. It’s then that I notice the black eye, and swelling, and general beaten-upness of him. Discussing how he’d been jumped by a gang of thuggish brutes while leaving a party gives us something to talk about and allows me to hide my embarrassment at my obliviousness.

So this is Encouragement #1, according to David, whose version runs along the lines of “cute girl in Latin class. Couldn’t tell if she was interested. Didn’t want to make term awkward if she thought I was a creeper. Then noticed that she couldn’t notice that I’d obviously undergone a brutal ordeal over weekend. Only one reason that girl couldn’t pick up on this – not making eye contact. Why would cute girl avoid making eye-contact? Possibly finds me attractive. Good to know”.

The term goes on. The whole class is on a last-name basis, so “Porter” and I become class-friends and spend the mornings going over our translation homework and chatting about this & that. I’m excited about this new friendship and start looking forward to the final exam, because of the post-exam drinks. It will be nice to get to know him outside of class. Then, disaster! The evening of the exam comes, but there is no Porter. I was crushed. What kind of guy misses the final exam? And how stupid was I, to think that I had made a friend, when he couldn’t even bother to tell me that he was going to drop the class.

This is back in the days before Facebook (also the days before digital cameras were the norm -- hence the picture-lite post), and I am somewhat formal so don’t think to do the stalker-thing of finding his university email address and sending him a message. Instead I go home for Christmas and spend some time in soul-searching, trying to figure out why it hurts so much that a ‘casual acquaintance’ would drop me with no warning. I decide that maybe I have a crush on him. I decide that, although I have no real idea of his morals or religion (two deal-breakers with me), he is much more interesting than most of the Christian guys of my acquaintance and perhaps if hypothetically he turned out to be interested in me I would throw caution to the wind because maybe it would be nice to date a guy who was fun, intelligent, and interesting instead of a cookie-cutter-Christian-boy. Besides, I knew that Porter at least had some connection to Catholicism. Of course this is all hypothetical, because he has disappeared off the face of the planet, so maybe it’s time to just drink eggnog and forget about him.

In January my parents drive me back to university and I join the crowds of undergrads scuttling around the University Bookstore, picking up textbooks for classes and trying to avoid the gray cold outside. The bookstore is packed so I scan the rows to see if I recognise anyone. And then...AND THEN...I see him! I am so excited. At least he hasn’t dropped out of university, even if he has dropped out of Latin. I decide to be very brave and do the old “snoop to see what books he’s carrying in case we’re in the same classes without having to ask because this is way less obvious” walk-by. But he is much friendlier than I am, so he strikes up a conversation and I get up the nerve to ask him if he’s taking Latin again, and he is, and one of us remembers that I jumped with excitement at this news. And then it turns out that he was in the hospital over exam period, when the severe concussion he’d received from the October attack took a turn for the worse, and his break was spent in the ICU.

So this is Encouragement #2, according to David. Apparently when a girl jumps with excitement because it turns out you’re taking Latin with her it bodes well that her interest hasn’t waned. Now he just needed to figure out what to do about it.

Semester two of Latin is hard. We are reading real Latin, not the easy stuff that helps us learn grammar. Considering that Latin classes are full of introverts, you can easily imagine the pain we all go through as we have to share our imperfect translations, round-table-style, with a group of relative strangers. Fortunately for me, Porter is keen to continue our early-morning translation sessions, so I am able to get my anxiety under reign for class. And, because we’ve been working hard and encouraging each other, it turns out that I’m actually coming to grips with the language and we can often spare some time before class for conversation and jokes. A few weeks into class, Porter begins sketching cartoon drawings of the day’s readings all over the chalkboards. They are so well-done & witty that they become the talk of the department. The class, which has dwindled down to eight students, begins laughing & joking a whole lot more. We dramatize our readings and plan hijinks (like baking days and toga days) and generally have larks. I decide that I don’t want to go through the angst of losing touch with Porter again, so under the [apparently very obvious] guise of wanting to collect people’s contact details for hijink planning, I manage to get his email address and, most coveted (because it’s still before Facebook!), MSN Messenger name.

A month or two before we started dating. Sometime around the time this photo was taken we'd spent the afternoon sailing boats & bottle caps in this fountain.
Term passes all too quickly. I know that I am falling for Porter, but I can’t tell if he likes me or is just being friendly, and it’s almost April and we live in different cities and everyone knows that come summer most singles will eventually find someone to be a couple with, because all that West Coast sunshine & good weather screams for days at the beach. I am traditional, and shy, and so if he wants to ensure we’re both available for each other by September he’s going to need to act fast. I spend days in awkward angst, talking about him too much to my friends but doing nothing practical. Then I get a bit impatient, because if he really does like me (and we chat on MSN most evenings, so he at least is friendlier than most) he should do something before it is too late. So I drop some hints about how I’m going to go downtown on Saturday and do some shopping, right around where he works, and since he is the book department at the Saint Vincent de Paul thrift store, perhaps he could keep an eye out for a Catholic Bible for me since I would like one.

I spend my Saturday scheming (I should have been working on my Chaucer essay). I decide to time my trip to his store so that it is nearish to closing, in case he wants to do something after, but not so near to closing that I look lame if he has plans. Then I quickly call all of my friends to ask if they want to meet up for dinner, while praying that they have plans. They all have plans. God is clearly on my side. I make it to the SVP store and casually browse through the clothing, obviously trying to not look obvious. Coincidently we bump into each other, and he seems genuinely delighted to see me. This bodes well. He shows me some Bibles. Small talk ensues. And, because I have master planned the timing, he asks if I want to grab a coffee when he finishes work in an hour. From some deposit of brave which I never knew existed, I tell him (legitimately, thanks to my foresight!) that I have a lot of work to do that evening and would he rather get dinner because none of my friends are free and it would save me a lot of hassle (aren’t I charming?). I think he sees through the “really it’s a favour to me and not at all because I like you” ruse, but he agrees. I come back 55 minutes later, and he tells me that his coworker let him go early so that he could meet that “cute girl”. I spend the next 20 minutes trying to figure out if there is an insult hidden in there or not (decide not. blush). We go to my favourite Vietnamese restaurant and order dinner and make good and then awkward and then good conversation. And when the bill comes he pays. But it turns out that he has a party to head to, and I really should be responsible and write my stupid essay, so things feel like they’re fizzling out. Then I see my bus coming and, with a half-hour wait between busses and no further plans in the making, I scream “oh shit!” and dash off down the street. 

Fortunately, because he is a sensible man, he still managed to find Encouragement #3 in the fact that I forced him into a dinner-date rather than a coffee date, so he is a leetle less worried about the bus-dash than I was.

Back home, I’m too distracted to focus on my stupid essay. I make a wager with myself – if he comes home early from the party, and starts chatting with me on MSN, dinner was a date and went well. If he doesn’t, then at least it’s the end of term and I can decide about rearranging my courses to avoid him for the rest of eternity during the summer break. MSN is on my side and sometime before midnight he finally gets home and messages me. Bliss!

I spend the weekend in agonies of worry over whether or not the first Latin class of the week will be awkward. It is, but only for a few minutes. And then afterwards I manage to convince him to come hang out with me & a friend. Fortunately I have never been a stickler for attending classes, because the next thing I know he’s grabbed my arm, is using it for a pillow, and it seems a lot more prudent to stay in the current situation than make it to Ancient & Medieval Art: Media & Methods (sorry Dr Millwright). Porter & I decide that in the current situation the most prudent thing would be for him to come over for a study date in anticipation of the Latin final. And since he lives on the outskirts of Victoria, it might as well involve dinner. We do study, but there is also a lot of arm-stealing and getting-to-know-you and nice conversation, and by this point in time we’ve both realised that we’re interested. He leaves in time to catch the last bus home, and steals a few kisses at the bus stop. By this time there isn’t much doubt left in my mind as to what the situation is.

Together at last!
The next few days pass in a blur of exams, packing to move home for the summer, and time with Dave (we’ve upgraded to first name basis). On Saturday evening I host an end-of-year party for my Latin class. Everyone stays late, which means that Dave misses his bus home. Fortunately I have bunk beds, so have no scruples about offering him a place to sleep for the night. It is delightfully awkward and incredibly chaste. On Sunday morning I catch him trying to leave without waking me up – fortunately I heard his heavy thump when he landed on the floor from the top bunk. I convince him to stay for breakfast and, since it is Palm Sunday, convince him to go to Mass with me at the Cathedral. After Mass he has to run home, and leaves me at the bus with one final kiss. It’s the last time we’ll be living in the same city until school starts again in September. Three weeks after we start dating we meet up in Victoria and he tells me that he loves me. That confirms to me that this man will be the one that I marry, unless I wish otherwise. The rest of our summer courtship consists of weekend visits and much exchanging of letters. I moved back to Victoria in September, 2004, and we've scarcely been apart since.

Our first dance together was at 5am a month or so after we started dating. David discovered that I'd never stayed up all night before, so he convinced me to try it, and at dawn he asked me to dance.
That is, roughly, how we met. The next six years are full of getting to know each other (turns out he was exactly the person I always wanted, morally, spiritually, and everythingelsely), moving around Canada together (and then to England), and our eventual engagement & marriage. The three after that – married life, Cambridge life, and baby life. I could fill pages writing it all down, because the memories are almost as sweet as the present. 

The nearly present -- Christmas in Victoria, 2012. Me, Walter, David, and a not-yet-visible Secundus.



  1. Well well well

    1. I loved this
    2. I am so glad to hear you are as silly as I am about a boy
    3. Love this story
    4. I so remember the blog posts full of "Porter"
    5. Thanks for sharing! I will follow the habit of a lifetime and copy you by doing the same - though I read Grace's earlier (loved it also) and had already planned on doing it.

    1. I remember when we started dating and you guys were all, "who's Dave?" because of the name confusion.

  2. I'm so glad this story has been recorded for posterity.