Thursday, April 1, 2010

From London to Lexington

Today is April 1st and that only means one thing to me: it is the anniversary of my first date with Neal. A date that lasted 9 days and required a passport and an R&R from war. So, when I think back on 26-year old Allyson, boarding a Delta flight, leaving Cincinnati and landing in London, England...I think wow, that was a leap of faith. I'm so glad it worked out.

I remember cursing the first signs of ManCold (although I hadn't yet met any of my bloggy friends, Amanda...I owe you one for adding the truest term ever to my vocabulary, so I didn't even know what ManCold was...just that I had green snot and a first date). I remember the flight over was fairly empty and I had a whole row to myself. I remember my heart beating wildly out of my chest for 9 straight hours.

In my checked luggage, I carried:
*A week's worth of outfits x 2 because this was an impression I was making and sometimes one costume change per day is not enough.
*Every European adapter I could find in hopes that I would always have impossibly straight Chi-hair.
*Another bag. An Army Transportation hanging bag that bore the name and civilian clothes of the Army man I was about to meet in the Heathrow Airport.

In my carry-on, I packed:
*2 front-row tickets to The birthday gift to Neal. And a dress to match.
*My baggie of make-up to touch-up before landing.
*A stash of cash from Mama Virgo in case this was all a very bad idea.

In my mind, I held:
*The voice of a man who had made me laugh, made me cry, and made me love him...all from a half of a world away and over the span of 6 months.
*Every sweet remark in an email, every kind note in a box of flowers, all of the hope from each letter.

In my hand, I clutched:
*A picture, the very first picture I ever saw, of him grinning ear to ear in a humvee with a herd of camels in the being in a war zone suited him just as well as being by the ocean. Even though it wasn't...that's just the kind of guy he is.

We landed at Heathrow around 10 PM and I stood in lines...lines to get through customs, to explain why I had so much luggage, to explain what the hell I was doing there anyway (if I wasn't even sure myself, how could they expect me to explain it to anyone else?), and lines to collect my bags. All 4 of them. I pushed that trolley down the longest corridor I've ever walked. By the time I got to the end, I was sweaty, winded, and most of my touched up make-up was starting to drip. But I looked up and there he stood...waiving, smiling, like he was in the desert...only happier. When we hugged, I could feel every anxiety melt away and it was like embracing a long lost love...someone I had known in some previous life...not foreign to me at all. With apologies to Nora Ephron, it was like coming home.

He helped me with the bags, thanked me for bringing his jeans, sweaters and underwear across an ocean so that he could wear something that did not smell of sweat and remind him of longer, harder days. He hailed a taxi. A British of the thousands of black minicabs that roam the city and remind me of a more glamorous day. I felt like Audrey Hepburn stepping into that black taxi, wearing my Italian sweater borrowed from a friend and accompanied by the most handsome man I had ever met. I was on holiday and I was in love. It was Neal's idea to take our first picture together, in the back of that cab. That date stamp says 2 April because it passed midnight as we exited the airport. But it was 1 April when we hugged and that's what we go by.

Neal had cashed in his American Express points and booked us 5 nights at the Waldorf Inn and 3 nights at the Hilton in Hyde Park. It was all about impressions, after all...although Neal would probably say it's all about comfort after living in a tent in the desert for 6 months.

As Europeans tend to do, the twin beds were pushed together and nailed to the same headboard. He laughed and promised he had asked for 2 beds. It didn't really matter. By the second night, we were both falling into the gap. We talked until the early hours of 2 April...I had a "list" of topics that we had decided to save for the trip, when we could really explain ourselves and look at the other in the eye. At around 3, we both gave up and crashed into our respective sides of the make-shift queen.

We had jam-packed our schedule with was London, after all and London is meant to be seen. By the end of the first day, we had been to St. Paul's Cathedral, attended a concert of the choir of St. Paul's, drank a couple of ciders, and eaten a couple square meals of British cuisine. That night, Mama Virgo called to see if she needed to pick me up at the Cincinnati airport within the next 8-10 hours. Neal respectfully excused himself from the room and I proceeded to tell Mama Virgo just what happiness had awaited me in England. No need to pick me up any earlier than planned, I actually wished it was later.

In the following days, we:
*Arrived at a bar to meet a party-bus but got drunk waiting for the bus and ended up kissing for the first time in the middle of a London nightclub dance floor.
*Toured Madam Tussauds, Stonehenge, Bath, the city on foot with a tour guide, the Hyde Park pond in a paddle boat, Windsor Castle, The Tate Modern Art Museum, the city by night with a tour guide who showed us all of the Jack the Ripper haunts, and many, many London subway stations.
*Caught an early evening showing of The Ring 2 in the plushest cinema I've ever been Notting Hill (Neal and I will someday bring the idea of leather seats and a fully stocked bar in the rear of the cinema to the U.S. for joyous consumption).
*Rejoiced in our front row seats to The Producers and second row seats to The Lion King.
*Walked many miles over cobblestone pavement, exploring the cafes, Indian restaurants, tucked-away pubs, and the must-see tourist attractions (who doesn't love a beefeater, really?)
*Talked about the horrors of our past, the perfection of our present, and the dreams of our future.
*Fell in love. Remarkably, illogically, and hopelessly in love.

To the man I lay down beside each night and the one I wake up next to every morning: I cannot even begin to imagine what my life would be like had it not been for 1 April 2005. It has not always been easy. You were deployed again, I lost my grandmother, I lost a job, you lost a job, we lost a child. But somehow, there we were yesterday, cruising down I-64 with my hand on your thigh and singing Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da. Yes, indeed. Life does go on. And I am the happiest girl in the world that mine goes on with you. Here's to another 50 celebrations of 1 April. We can't buy gifts this year, but I know that the greatest gift you could ever give me is agreeing to share your life. I am so thankful for that every single day. You are the butter to my bread, the breath to my life. I love you always, handsome.

And for those of you who would like a little slide show from the trip, here are a few of my favorites:

Hyde Park Gardens

Front row seats for The Producers

The Ring 2 is SCARY!

St. Paul's Cathedral

Paddle-boating in Hyde Park pond

You can't pick your friends and you can't pick your nose, but apparently you can pick Julia Robert's nose.

I took The Rock to the gun show.

That is one Bath I would NOT bathe in.

A storm rolls in as we leave The Tate Modern.

The very definition of bittersweet: a romantic dinner cruise down the Thames River. On our last night together.

We spent a lot of time on the subway.

Last hours together before heading back to Heathrow and a very long and lonely flight home.

And to my bloggy friends: I was surprised and honored to receive an award, her very own award, from Queenie Jeannie last weekend and I will post it tomorrow. ManCold has been relentless and if you can't see the time stamp on this post, I am finishing up at 3:15 AM. Wheezy chest = zero sleep. But tomorrow is Champagne Friday and what better way to kick it off than with an award from one of my favorite people??


  1. Ahhhhh! So romantic!! Meeting our hot Army guys online; yet another thing we have in common. HOOAH!

    Sorry you're sick! Hugs!!!

  2. Happy anniversary of your first date. What a sweet and romantic story. It makes me want to go to London. I went there when I was far too young to appreciate it and I want to go back so badly.

    On another note, we have leather seats at the theater near my house. They aren't quite as nice as the ones you were sitting in, but they are big and room and comfy. They are in one theater of a 10 theater multiplex and you have to pay extra for the priveledge of sitting your tush in those seats. But they are so worth it.

    Feel better!

  3. That story never gets old :) So thrilled you found each other! Happy first date anniversary!

  4. Ah, this is so beautiful!!! There is nothing like falling in love, huh? Do you ever look back on it and think, OMG, that could have NOT happened? and see how fragile and amazing it is when two people find each other? I believe in soul mates and Neal is yours!!! happy anniversary you guys!

  5. Such a beautiful, impossibly romantic story. Thanks for sharing! I had no idea. :)

  6. This is so lovely and sweet... It's amazing when love stories just work out, not perfectly, but beautifully and wonderfully.

    Congratulations to you both!

  7. Well - THAT post could have used a tissue! I love a happy ending and a good love story. Those pics of the two of you are just cute, cute, cute!

    Now, how about a follow up post sometime about how you two got together in the first place???

  8. Best post!!! I actually teared up -- I somehow never caught on the way that you two met. HOW ROMANTIC.

    I'm just -- it's just -- SO SWEET!


  9. This was just great! I was getting teary! You totally reminded me about my own first days in love. Aaahh, the bliss . . .

    You guys look like so much fun! I wish you lived closer, we would totally have so much fun hanging out.

  10. What a story! Seriously, this is what great romances are made of, ya know?

    Love all the cutie pictures!

  11. You look so happy in all of those's always wonderful to see a couple so in love. Here's to decades more!

  12. Such a romantic story the two of you have! Destiny. I enjoyed reading it so much. You make a handsome couple!!

  13. Ok Seriously, I'm having the most craptastic day EVER, but this just made me smile! I love hearing happily ever after stories even if my heart is a frozen block of ice. The Rock looks super intimidated, btw.

  14. And this is just another reason why I call her Beautiful all the time... I love you so much!!! Here's to a new year that is in ABSOLUTELY NO WAY like the last and the 100 after that which will be fabulous... :-*** Neal

  15. Okay, the post was really, really nice. And the comments from other folks are nice. But the comment from Neal pretty much seals the deal. This is one memorable anniversary post!

  16. This was so wonderful to get a peek at how your love began and blossomed! Thank you!!! Your love is wonderful!

  17. Happy anniversary! Great story and great pics - thanks for sharing!

  18. I've heard you're story (from when we both worked at Avon) but it's different seeing it in looked so happy then...and I can tell you're so happy now.

    On another note, I was devistated b/c I hadn't seen a post since the "we've been pinked"...that's b/c I was still in the March file...oops! So, now I'm back on track and all caught up :)

    I love yours & Neal's's a fairytale come true :)

  19. This made me well up a little bit - what an amazing story and a great leap of faith that ended up just the way it should have with 2 wonderful people finding happiness and love together! I thought I was brave heading to Alabama to meet Mike - but WOW London - how awesome!!!

    P.S. I think my favorite pic is of you and The Rock! ox ;)

  20. What a great story that you two have! And gosh, I'm a sucker for a good love story. Much better than mine and Jason's "we met at a bowling alley" story. Seriously, not too much romance around our introduction. :)

    I love finding out all the little details about your life... it makes you feel like that much more of a friend, you know?

    And can i just tell you again how much I love this layout? LOVE. It seems so "you".

  21. And OMG - Neal is so dang sweet! How awesome that he commented.

  22. awww, it's so sweet it's almost unreal!! I'm glad to see you happy!!

  23. This post took me approx 5 days to read and i loved every moment of it!

    if this had been a year later (or me a year earlier) we would've been together in london! we did alllll the things that you mentioned- jack the ripper, tate, madam tussouds... did you drink at the elephant man bar? ate tonnns of indian food.

    happy anniversary to you! and i hope you beat that man cold.

  24. I am enormously late to this, but Happy Anniversary! You deserve the Nora Ephron reference, that's quite the fairy tale meeting. :)


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