North Carolina, the early years

Before I leave, the story of how I got here. May 2000 - I graduated from Boston University with a major in English, a minor in Philosophy and the drive to become a well-known and respected writer of some sort and dominate the world. I was 22-years-old.

In September 2000 my then-boyfriend and I packed up a U-Haul and moved to North Carolina for, literally, no reason except for the fact that he'd briefly considered Chapel Hill for grad school, without jobs or a place to live. We take up residence in a two-bedroom apartment in Raleigh, which costs the same in monthly rent as the bedroom I rented in a three-bedroom place near Fenway Park in Boston. We both get jobs easily and I start work answering phones at a media group that owns multiple radio stations. North Carolina is great!

The year passes...we make good friends...I get promoted to "Continuity Director" at media group and spend my time placing advertising on the air and sometimes voicing commercials, most notably, the commercial for "Maximus," a natural male-enhancement drug, but after a year on the job my prior enthusiasm for "anything!" and "everything!" is waning and I realize I really don't like working there. I need a change.

Right around Labor Day 2001 some important things happen. I meet, through my boyfriend's co-worker, two new friends named Bethany and Carissa in a brewery in downtown Raleigh. They are very funny and I love them and we start hanging out regularly. A few days later, the night before our friends' Max and Karla's wedding in Roanoke, Virginia, a tall guy with blue eyes and dark hair comes up to me in this hospitality suite in the hotel where we were all staying and says, "Hi, I'm Justin." And I tell him my name and introduce him to my boyfriend. I am immediately struck by the fact that this...this is going to be trouble. And then Justin and I spend a lot of the weekend talking to each other. We like the same music. We dance to a Rod Stewart song during the reception (not that we like Rod Stewart) because everyone is dancing with everyone else and it doesn't matter. It so happens he has just moved to Chapel Hill to start graduate school at UNC.

A somewhat tense but exciting four months pass where feelings are analyzed and discussed and everyone acts on their best behavior despite the trying circumstances. In October our group of friends went on a now infamous camping trip to Uwharrie State Park where we drank "boilermakers" by dropping shots of whiskey into Budweisers (no, I don't think that's really how you're supposed to do it) Karla sat me down in the woods and said "What's going on?" She was very supportive. Several weeks later during the World Beer Festival at the old ball park in Durham Justin and I found ourselves alone for a brief moment, in the midst of the inebriated, cheerful crowds of people and we both admitted we wanted to say something, specifically, that we like each other a lot.

I decide I have to end the relationship with my boyfriend (obviously no fun at the time but now everyone can see it was for the best - for both of us). I also decide I'm going to quit my job even though I don't have anything else lined up. I tell my parents all this when I'm up visiting one weekend and my father spills a beer all over the table and my mother suggests maybe I see a therapist.

At the strike of midnight on January 1, 2002 Justin and I celebrate the new year and our friendship-now-turned-more-than-friendship with a long, romantic make out session at our friend Liliana's New Year's party in Richmond.

Once we get back to North Carolina I move into Bethany and Carissa's place - a townhouse on Kelly Ct. in northern Raleigh because they have, even after only months of knowing me, said "Of course! You can live here!" thus proving what really good friends they were and will always be. It's a funny/scary place to live because the neighbors have pre-teens who always seem to always be on the front step drinking from a handle of vodka. Bethany, Carissa and I make the best of it. We drink a lot (a lot) of margaritas. We have a lot of funny times that now make amazing memories.

The rest, as people say, is history. After we'd all lived together for a couple years (thankfully moving from Kelly Ct. into a nicer place without the vodka-drinking kids, as entertaining as that way) Bethany moved to D.C. but we still keep in touch. I eventually moved to my own place in Chapel Hill, while working for a stint as the Education and Volunteer Coordinator at a non-profit animal rescue (hence, the rescued dogs I accidentally kept). Then I got into working for newspapers, which I did for three years before setting off on my own last year as a freelance writer.

And Justin and I, well, you know that story.

It's funny, because during those first few rocky months after I'd met J and I didn't know what to do - not wanting to hurt anybody, not wanting to act too impulsively, but also not wanting to miss out on something wonderful, Karla took me out one night so we could talk, since she was one of the only people who knew how I felt, and she gave me what I consider one of the best pieces of advice I'd ever received, maybe simply because I needed it so badly.

She said, "Don't worry too much. Think about ten years from now. You'll look back on this time in your life now and you won't remember all the stress. You'll just think, 'Oh I almost changed everything in my life and got together with that guy, Justin,' or you'll think, 'I almost stayed with my boyfriend and missed out on being with him.' Whatever choice you make, you're going to have a happy life."

Her saying that allowed me to step back, calm down and take the time I needed to take to make the decision I did. And, of course, I can't imagine the alternate - ten years from now looking back on meeting my now husband and not being with him. Despite Karla's assurance that it wouldn't matter in the end, I guess you could say that means I made the right decision.

Whatever the case, it's clearly calmed down since then. We're all not making bogus boilermakers around the campfire anymore, for one. But those early days made for an unforgettable introduction to this great state, and all the wonderful people I've met over my seven years here - from those very first months in Raleigh to those I've worked with over the years and all the people I've met through Justin's graduate program and more - are a constant reminder that I'm so happy I moved here for no reason, and if you want me to get really sappy, which honestly, sometimes you've got to do, I could say that the reason I moved here, even though I didn't know it at the time, was to meet them and make so many new friends that I know I'll be friends with for the rest of my life.