“I’m just trying to figure out where you took a bite…” Last Saturday I sat across the table from Jeannine, who was splitting a breakfast sandwich with her husband of 7 years, Chip. It was already a perfect May morning, but smiling was unforced when I watched the couple tease each other; unknowingly brightening up the room just by being there. “Right there, in the corner.” Chip pointed out as we all laughed at his inability to be devious – he’s much too honest of a person, and it’s evident even in his presence.
Just in their demeanor and simplest of interactions, anyone can see that the twosome is genuinely in love. Jeannine often rests her head on Chip’s shoulder, almost as if it was designed to fit there, and Chip can almost always be caught studying his wife when she talks; never interrupting, never wanting it to stop. Sharing a breakfast table with them, I took in their differences. What makes them work, as a pair? Jeannine is composed, always graceful, and the kind of person you can just tell is organized. She is the CFO of her company, which doesn’t surprise me as she rattles off dates and details like it’s no big thing. But she is beautifully humble and unpretentious, making me believe that she can see the good in just about anything.
I’m often intimidated by women who’ve seemed to master the art of thinking before they speak given my no-filter like habits; but Jeannine is the exception. It is impossible to feel as if she is judging you in any way. Instead, you feel her candid acceptance, and unassuming appreciation for whatever is being said in the present moment. She is there; solid, steady, and present.
Jeannine’s husband, Chip, is equally lovable, but in a very, very different way. He is unintentionally funny, often without using any humor or wit, but just in being himself. While Jeannine tells a story using very precise dates and feelings involved, Chip leads with every heart string he can pull from. For the theorists who believe we keep memories in the filing system of our brain – have breakfast with Chip. You can tell that he’s reviving every feeling as if it’s happening right now, straight from the heart.
When he was describing to me the first time Jeannine had placed her hand on his chest, his comparison was, “It was like those paddles they use in the hospital and say CLEAR! I mean, I honestly felt like that’s what happened to me.” When Chip tells a story, he takes you on a journey, and you really can’t resist the ride.
He is loud, but in all the right ways, and will tell you that Jeannine has helped him to appreciate the quiet time. He is someone you just can’t help but love and want to be around. Together, they’re two very specific, complex puzzle pieces that magically, perfectly fit.
Chip and Jeannine’s story is unlike any romance I’ve heard before. Partially because of their still-in-love stratosphere endlessly surrounding them, but also because of where they came from. Some of Jeannine’s earliest memories from Kindergarten are of Chip – they went to grade school together all the way through Senior year of high school. Though they never spoke a word, they both admitted to always being aware of the other.
“I can remember saying the pledge of allegiance each morning, and looking over my shoulder to make sure he was there. There was this comfort in knowing he was in school that morning, like I could go about my day now.” Jeannine, although less theatrical than Chip, has a way of drawing you into her story with the same amount of sentiment as her husband. I was hooked. Chip added on that he can remember looking up the hill towards her house whenever he passed it, to see if “the little blonde-haired girl” was home that day. This pattern continued all through grade school, though they took very self-determining paths once they entered high school.
Jeannine took to running the school store, and Chip became the school mascot. – Go figure.
After high school, they even went to the same college – but still, never spoke, and hardly saw each other. Chip married his high school girlfriend; Jeannine went into the accounting world, fell in love, and she too, got married. Years went by and neither one of them had seen divorce in their future. They lived, what seemed to be, somewhat ordinary lives. But we all know that words like ordinary and conventional don’t really fit in today’s world – Chip and Jeannine are living examples of that.
Though both of them will tell you they gave it their all, each of their first marriages came to a raw end – and not ineludibly by choice. Out of respect and regard, they both spare details from their heartbreak, but anyone can see that it was, indeed, heartbreak. So much so, that both of them admit they had somewhat stopped believing in the idea of a happy ending.
In Jeannine’s words, “There is no such thing as a white knight.” But of course, that was before the universe put Chip back into her vision.
Through a series of unlikely events that can only be chalked up to the aphorism “meant to be,” Chip and Jeannine found their way to their 20th High School Reunion one October evening. After their divorces, they both disclosed having dated and put themselves through some serious soul searching. Although neither one of them was looking to get married again, they both admitted having missed that sense of companionship. I personally believe that the more a person has to offer, the more they get out of companionship. And trust me; these two people have a lot to offer.
“I swear when she walked in, there was this glow around her.” In comes Chip, with his reliably corny narrative that makes Jeannine smile and say “Dork.” under her breath. I smile too, because even though it is corny, his description is sincere – and he is unashamed to fill the room with the love he feels for his wife.
Chip tells me how he had to give himself a stern pep talk, but eventually made his way over to where Jeannine was standing. This was one of my favorite pieces of the story. While Jeannine is easily recalling the people around, the topics of conversation, and the details of the discussion – Chip is telling me about the “glow” around Jeannine, his racing heartbeat, and how he had already figured out that this was “the one.” They go back and forth telling me about their talk at the reunion; catching up, paying little attention to anyone else, and eventually exchanging information. (Jeannine gave him her business card.)
Chip waited a day, and e-mailed Jeannine from work. This led to a 4 month You’ve-Got-Mail plot twist of “going in to work on the weekends just to read her e-mail,” and “fighting the butterflies every time I saw his name on my phone.” They talked about everything. Jeannine even shared her disbelief in the idea of a white knight – but Chip was unaffected. Instead, when they finally met to exchange Christmas gifts, he gave Jeannine an antique white knight ceramic, a hand-me-down from his grandmother. His way of saying – disbelieve all you want, I’m here to stay.
I’d say, “The rest is history!” but that really doesn’t do it justice. Nothing seems to have changed since the day Chip and Jeannine finally took their e-mail exchange and talked about what was actually happening between them. Jeannine told me this conversation transpired on January 17th. And when I asked when their views on marriage had changed, they simultaneously answered, “January 17th.”
At the end of our conversation, I asked them what the through-line quality has been in the other person – what has been the consistency that’s kept their love so steadily alive. Jeannine took a moment, looked at me, and turned to her husband to answer, “You make me feel like I’m the only person who matters, and you do that every day.”
I couldn’t help but smile and picture a 6 year old blonde-haired Jeannine, saying the Pledge of Allegiance in her Kindergarten classroom, looking over her shoulder to make sure Chip was there before she could go about her day. Not much has changed. Her days still start with him, and a sense of allegiance that we all take for granted in the people we start our day with. Allegiance, loyalty, commitment. Powerful words of faith that serve as the through line in Chip and Jeannine’s life together.
Part of the reason I love their story, and am excited to share it, is because it took a while. Not everything in life happens within the timeline we plan for ourselves. In my experience, there are no definitive solutions or answers; just a road of decisions we have to continue on without losing too much of ourselves. Chip and Jeannine had plans for themselves, plans that are nothing even close to where life ultimately took them. But if I had to guess, they wouldn’t change a damn thing.