hold on, to me as we go
because i'm going to make this place
They are very much a family, a love and a home.
because i'm going to make this place
It's not an exaggeration to say that I was a bizarre mid-school-er. At the risk of worrying you, I awkwardly admit that I had an imaginary world I played in (yes. In middle school. I know. I knooow. Yes! I know!). I played sports year-round, but when a friend would come over I'd either force them to do a dance with my for my neighborhood or trap them in my bedroom with all my wedding books (probably while listening to Adventures in Odyssey).
This was the, um, era?, Devon met me. I was 11 years old and kooky. She was 12 (almost 13!) and really, really cool. She's was and is the kind of (unfair) cool where you don't try. You just are. Devon is just cool. She isn't awkward, she isn't stuffy, she isn't blatant, she isn't showy. She's just Devon. We had the "I dye my hair blonde and wear eye-liner" cool in our class, and we had, well, kids like me. But Devon stood out. Even as a sixth grader she was sharp, witty, intelligent, sneaky, fun, happy and adorable. And for some reason she liked me.
I'll never, ever forget one Friday during art class when she gave up a seat at the cool blonde table (which was next to the cool boys table!) to seat with me. She wanted to play a game. She made a list of five questions I had to answer about myself and then she would answer about herself. As our art teacher, Connie, taught we quietly wrote our responses and traded with each other. That was a fun game! Devon is so fun!
The following Monday I had a lunch bag waiting for me in my locker. Question #4: What is your favorite lunch to have at school? My answer? Chicken Cup-O-Noodles, big pretzels, mandarin oranges, fruit-by-the-foot, Cooler Ranch Doritos and crackers with peanut butter. I opened the lunch bag and every single item was there. She concocted a whole plan to figure out my favorite lunch, took time to do it, and spent her Sunday afternoon at the grocery store buying me my favorite lunch so she could surprise me on Monday. And every single thing I listed was in the bag. I could have cried right there in class. I think that was the kindest thing anyone outside of family had ever done for me.
That's just who Devon is. As highschool, life and work have taken us our different ways over the years, I've always thought of her like I did the moment I sorted through my surprise lunch in Miss Gallagher's homeroom in 2000.
A number of years ago I saw a big-smiled dude popping up on Devon's Facebook. Chet. Very nice, Devon, very nice!
I later heard the story of how they met. Devon was a secretary for a year at a local hospital. EMT's and other employees dropped by daily as part of their job. One particular EMT, named Damien, was really cute. When he'd stop by to fill out paperwork, Damien and Devon enjoyed playful flirting. But all of Devon's co-workers were trying to set her up with another guy, Chet.
"Well, you can tell this 'Chet' that I'm not interested! And I don't even know who he is!" Her co-workers pressed. "But he definitely has a thing for you... give him a chance!" Devon wasn't buying it. Especially since she had her eye on Damien. Damien Chester Ripley, also known as "Chet."
Though his first name is Damien (and his work papers and uniform tag all use his official first name), he never corrected Devon and told her what he goes by. Apparently Devon had a little spazz moment when all the pieces fell into place. They quickly become friends - "talking" and getting to know each other, mostly at work. By fall they were dating, and by winter they were inseparable.
Being the Facebook lover that I am, I started noticing some difference in Devon. She was running?! And fishing?! And she looked radiant... even in silly little camera phone pictures. As much as you can read into a Facebook picture, I could tell she was really, really happy.
After finally meeting Chet last night, I can fully confirm her joy: they are crazy about each other. Whipped? Smitten? On Cloud Nine? They've been together almost four years and they shine.
In two hours I saw so much. I saw that Chet is a man's man. Dude to the core. He teases Devon nearly constantly. My favorite was when he'd call her a "dunce." She would fake smack him and he'd shield himself with his shoulder and "run away." He's affirming of her. In just a small window of time, he spoke easily and unprompted to me about Devon and to Devon about herself in a very kind manner. He's romantic. He's playful. He's well-spoken. He's cool without trying. He laughs at Devon and with Devon.
Now that I'm in a relationship, I realize how "empty" words that go with an engagement shoot can be. "He's so sweet to her!" "She lights up when she's with him!" "They're the cutest couple I've ever seen!" Blah blah blah. So that leaves me stuck when I really do want to communicate about a man who acts like his girl is his treasure, and does so in a happy-go-lucky way. It is sweet. He is sweet with her. Dunce. I'm also left in a debacle when I want to explain that Devon's cheeks and eyes didn't use to look like that. She sparkles and flits - but that isn't to say that she's an airhead. She's the same devoted friend, considerate giver and creative companion as she was a decade ago.
I don't know. It's just not coming out right. They're real, guys. They're successful, talkative, easy-going, real people. And they love each other enormously.
During the shoot I said a nearly-rude statement: "Devon, who would have thought that you'd be getting married before me?" As soon as I said it I wanted to be carried away by ticks. It didn't come out right. But I actually meant it in such a good way. I was always the crazy-getting-married-at-17-having-20-kids-weird-homeschool-wedding-notebook-girl. And Devon insisted she would never marry until she was at least 30. At least. She was full of ideas and freedom.
And now her ideas, freedom and happiness are linked unswervingly to being with Damien Chester.
As much as she's "grown up" (and hallelujah, I think I have a little bit too!) she's still Devon. Two other "cheesy/cliche' romance lines" that came to mind are: "He makes me the best version of myself" and "I can't imagine my life without him."
As much as I wish I could come up with something more unique or insightful, I cannot imagine Devon without Chet. I almost feel like he's been a part of her for as long as I've known her. And I can't picture what a happier Devon would look like.
“Are you learning me by heart, little Sara."
"No, I know you by heart."
Frances Hodgson Burnett - A Little Princess