Mary and Stephen

Image 33 of Mary and Stephen

How We Met

For as long as I can remember, I dreamed of leaving my small town for a big city to meet new people and live a more exciting life trying to be a singer and actor. I would have never in my wildest dreams imagined that at 14-years-old I would meet my soulmate from the next town over.

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Stephen and I went to neighboring NJ schools for kindergarten through 8th grade, and would soon attend the same regional high school. I don’t even remember meeting him at all, but he remembers it well, at a summer birthday party just before we started high school. He knew who I was already, because apparently this boy Chris who went to his school had a crush on me, and had written my name on his notebook or something. So when Stephen saw me, he came up to me to say, “Hey! Aren’t you the girl that kid’s in love with?!”

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And a beautiful friendship was born. We would spend our time together playing guitar, watching movies like When Harry Met Sally, taking day trips to New York City (we’ve taken a picture on the Pine Bank Arch bridge in Central Park every year since 2011), and spend hours talking on the phone. Over the course of our high school years, Stephen brought up the discussion of having feelings for each other a handful of times, which I vehemently denied every time. I agreed just one time to treat a trip ice skating at Rockefeller Center in NYC- my Christmas gift from him- as a date.

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And it ended with Stephen attempting his very first kiss and completely missing my lips / the entire center of my face. He decided he wanted to just stay friends then, a decision I still tease him about but he justifies with, “It was MATURE! I wanted to make sure it was the right time and we were 100% confident about it.” Which… I get. With little relationship experience myself, I never fully allowed myself to open up in fear of getting hurt, or as Beyonce knows, a boy getting in the way of my grinding! (The grinding I’m referring to here was my prosperous “career” performing as Hannah Montana for local events on the weekends.) But with Stephen, I also had another fear. Fear of a rift between us in a romantic relationship not allowing us to be close friends anymore.

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At our senior prom in 2012, while I was with someone else who I had a crush on, Stephen and I had just one brief moment together the whole night- with the exception of our dance as Prom King and Queen. (This was apparently a pattern of everyone telling us how they knew we belonged together, as we were also voted Homecoming King and Queen too. I’m sure it was annoyingly unbearable for everyone to watch us knowing what we- or, I, didn’t know. I’m sorry everyone, I know now.)

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As I closed the door to the ballroom to go to the restroom, the thumping music and sounds of everyone dancing and talking were replaced with a present-inducing silence. You know that feeling when you go to the bathroom at a party or a bar and all of a sudden it’s quiet and you’re almost back in your little reality with yourself?

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It was one of those times. I made my way through the hall towards the bathroom and was met with Stephen leaving his. We smiled, as he said, “Hey! You look nice.” I replied, “Thanks! You do too.” And that was it. We had lots of small moments like this, that meant something so much more than the words we used.

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Two years later, Stephen was going to college for filmmaking and decided to write a movie for us to act in together with the intent of our characters having a chance to kiss. (Side note, he ultimately chose not to have us kiss because it wasn’t the funny choice.) It was about two friends watching When Harry Met Sally and his character’s internal dialogue with the different emotions of himself discussing if he should make a move. And my character’s name was my name.

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And it would STILL be another 7 months before we started dating.

I know. We were actually Jim and Pam in real life if their “will they/won’t they” tension was lazily obvious, completely insufferable, and dragged out for way, WAY too long.

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When his movie was screened at a film festival 7 months later, he closed his evening with me alone by saying, “Soo my professor says we have really good chemistry… on the screen… Do you think there’s more beyond that?” That night, though still uncertain and scared of the possibility of losing my best friend if things go south, and getting hurt which could *absolutely* interrupt my grinding… I finally listened to him, and myself. I realized that my love for Stephen as my best friend was meant to grow into the love I have for him as my life partner. And he assured me that if something happened, we would make it work. We cared and respected each other way too much to let something get in the way of how we felt about each other. So we shook on it and gave it a go.

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I know now looking back, I always knew how I felt about him, even though it took me a very long time to even acknowledge it within myself. Although I wish I had done it much sooner, I’m so glad I let myself realize why we have been in each other’s life all this time. And how life never works out the way you plan for it to.

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Last year in 2019, we took a road trip across the country to make our first home together in Los Angeles. Instead of pursuing my dream alone, I get to pursue it alongside my best friend as we follow our dreams together. This is the dream, and it’s all I need.

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How They Asked

During the summer of the coronavirus, Stephen and I made sure we were making adventures for ourselves while we were cooped up at home and/or stuck at work all week. So on the weekends, I would take a drive with my love (my 2008 Mazda Miata), and also Stephen. At this point we had only moved to Los Angeles a little over a year ago, and we were honestly still getting used to everything and the surroundings of our location.

We would go for drives to see beautiful views of lakes and mountains, to our favorite taco truck across town, or to watch the ocean and beach from this great spot on the side of the road on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu.

One weekend, Stephen suggested we have a picnic at this pretty spot with mountain views he found in Malibu. I didn’t realize it at the time, but there was some significance to this place. Back in 2018, we took our first and only trip to Los Angeles to see how we felt about hopefully moving there one day. One night just after sunset, the directions took us through this gorgeous scenic road on our way to Hollywood from El Matador Beach. It’s this little road where it feels like you’re being swallowed by these beautiful mountains that are surrounding you the entire time you’re on it. That night, which was also the last night of our stay, I remember feeling like I was in complete bliss and we pretty conclusively decided that moving here was absolutely the right decision for both of us. The spot that Stephen suggested for our picnic was a little parking area overlooking a cliff just off of this road.

Once we got there, I still didn’t make the connection of where we were because 1. I’m an idiot and have no sense of direction (and Stephen insists he told me where it was but I do not remember that) and 2. I wasn’t paying attention anyway because I was busy taking videos on our drive over because of how beautiful it was. Ya know. Because it was that road.

We parked backward so that the trunk of my car was facing the edge of the cliff where we could see the ocean in the distance and the striking mountains that surrounded us. We then sat on top of my trunk as we ate our sandwiches. There were a few other cars parked and people hanging around to enjoy the view too. I also noticed a photographer a few cars down sitting on a boulder taking pictures of the view in front of us, but of course didn’t think anything of it. At one point, just a few minutes before the sun would set behind the mountains, Stephen said, “I’m sorry there are so many people here,” and I was like, “Oh, so? It’s okay!” He knew I wanted a moment like this to be more private so he was apparently trying his best to stay composed with how disappointed he was and to let me down easy.

There was this flat boulder nearby where a couple was sitting, which I later found out is where Stephen planned to ask.But just after the sun disappeared behind the mountains, the couple left! AND so did everyone else who was close by! As soon as they left, Stephen asked if I wanted to sit there, so I brought my picnic blanket to place on the boulder to sit on. I asked him to take a picture of myself there with my beloved car in the background when all of a sudden Stephen “spotted” my best friends Jeri and Casey in the distance. By the time I turned around, they were out of sight behind a few cars. I thought this was a crazy coincidence, but how fun! He then told me: “Wait here.” He said this as I just finished the thought, “Oh man, we both can’t go over there, I don’t want my picnic blanket to blow away with the wind.” So I just assumed that was why he asked me to stay. (He intended that to be the moment I would be suspicious and realize what was happening.) Behind some cars where I couldn’t see, he met Jeri so she could pass him the ring he dropped off to her the night before (so I wouldn’t accidentally notice it in his pockets), and Jeri and Casey got out their phones to take videos. As they rounded the corner towards me, I was only looking at Jeri and Casey, and right past Stephen. “THIS IS SO WEIRD!” I yelled to them… as Stephen was literally holding the ring box out in the open. Because I was looking past him and to my friends, he had to actually wave the ring box in front of my face to get my attention.I was in complete shock. I was honestly pretty convinced I’d see it coming when it eventually happened, and Stephen was so anxious I would too. Not only did I NOT see it coming, I literally didn’t see it as it was in progress.

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So he grabbed both my hands, kissed one, and brought us both to stand facing each other. I then noticed the photographer was now in front of us and started to take photos. Embarrassed that a random person was taking pictures of us, I said, “Oh no! Look, a photographer!” Because I was in such shock, it didn’t register that, DUH, Stephen hired her. AND! She wasn’t just any photographer!

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We had befriended Debra front row at an Eric Hutchinson concert at the Troubadour in West Hollywood just six months before. When introducing ourselves, she said she was a wedding photographer, and both Stephen and I followed her on Instagram. She asked us where we were from because she noticed us talking to each other in an “accent,” because I guess the New Jersey must have been coming out. We all had a blast together and even got to meet and take a picture with Eric after the show. I couldn’t believe Stephen got the chance to coordinate with her for his proposal!

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Now, I was pretty much blacked out at this point, just as he started to say this beautiful speech to me as he held and kissed my hands. I asked him to recite it again later when I was actually of sound mind, and then eventually to write it down so I can keep it forever. This is a part of what he said to me:

“You could have lived anywhere on the planet, but you just happened to live in the town next to me.

And it was in that town 12 years ago, maybe this month, when I approached you for the very first time and asked if you were the Mary that Chris loves.

And little did I know that 12 years later, I’d be asking you if I can be the man you grow old with.

So, will you marry me?”

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Thank you Debra for the most beautiful photos and capturing such a special moment for both of us that we will cherish forever! Thank you Jeri and Casey for coordinating with Stephen and going out of your way to not only capture it but make a beautiful video that was done by our best friends! It means so much to me that you got to be a part of this memory. Thank you Stephen for being the light of my life, planning this perfect day for months, and also I’m really glad you didn’t go with the original cue for everyone– which was dropping your sandwich.

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And thank YOU for reading our [very long, oops] story! As our story continues, here is an excerpt of my lyrics from an unreleased song I wrote for Stephen, called For You:

“My darkest days I’m never alone

The infinite ways you’ve nourished my growth

Much of who I am, it’s to you I owe

For You make me whole.”

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Special Thanks

Debra Morrison
 | Photographer