Rachel and I met through CatholicMatch.com in early 2006 and have been together ever since. We joined the website for very different reasons, but God had other plans. Rachel was looking to meet more Catholics, as she was baptized Methodist but was interested in becoming a Catholic. I joined the website because I wanted to meet someone who shared the same religious views and values. It began with a few emails, then phone calls, and finally our first date.
I picked up Rachel from her home in Hawthorne after meeting her parents. Before we left, her father took me into the den and showed me all the pictures along the wall, one for every year of Rachel’s life, which created a timeline of her from birth until present. He told me, “This is my one and only daughter, the most precious thing I have tried to protect in all the world. Now I am letting her go out with you, so I just want you to know what’s at stake when my daughter is in your care. Don’t let her out of your sight.” I never have. It's true - he won't let me go anywhere by myself except to work.
Our first date was both nerve racking and exciting. It was the first time we had met in person, so we were very nervous. I decided to take Rachel to the Seal Beach pier where we shared milkshakes and a basket of half and half (onion rings and fries) at Ruby’s before we went shopping at Marina Pacifica. Rachel was very shy, but I was to find out later that she detested the green shirt that I selected for the date, and to this day, wishes nothing more than to burn it. That should have been part of our wedding ceremony. Embarrassingly, I had duct taped my Ecco Boots together, hoping she wouldn’t notice, but she did, and I have never lived it down.
After browsing a few stores we ended up watching “Tombstone,” the western classic starring Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp, at my house. Afterward I took Rachel home and we awkwardly said “good bye” at the door, hugging briefly. I later found out that Rachel immediately started browsing other profiles online, but her mother stepped in and said, “Oh he was so cute and nervous. Give him another chance.” I am very lucky that Rachel returned my calls. I'll admit, our first date was kind of a flub. I thought he would make a great friend, but had trouble looking past the ugly green shirt, duct-taped shoes, and awkward nervous laugh. Ladies, listen to your mothers.
Persistent, I kept asking Rachel for more dates and we continued to see each other over the next few weeks. We shared a wonderful Valentine’s Day together where I attempted to cook buttered pasta with little success. Rachel stepped in and saved my efforts and we ended up watching “Stephen King’s IT” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” I would just like to note that I picked both of those movies. I happen to think Stephen King's IT is hilarious, and Brian is scared of clowns, so there was much hand-holding and hysterical laughter. Finally, on March 18, at our friend’s Engagement Party, I asked Rachel to be my girlfriend. By the time my birthday came around in mid-April it was love and we wanted to never be apart.
I loved Rachel’s no nonsense attitude and her willingness to always tell the truth. She was also very kind, understanding, and let me be me (my quirks and nerdiness included). It was wonderful to find someone who accepted me for who I was and wanted only to see me improve as a human being. Rachel was eager to become a Catholic, and we shared the same values and world ideals. She is my other half, my love, and the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. I knew, even in 2006, that this was an amazing person. I wanted to continue on our journey together to see how our love would grow.
Our hardest moment was when I left for Germany to work on my master’s research over the summer of 2006. I was gone for about five weeks. Rachel cried every night, or almost every night, but I was sure to call at least once a day. After surviving this separation, I started work on my thesis and wanted to wrap up my degree at Cal State Long Beach as quickly as possible. While finishing my thesis, I applied to number of doctoral programs in history and was accepted to the University of California at Santa Barbara. Rachel and I faced a difficult decision and we decided that I would go to UCSB to start my PhD in the Fall of 2007 while Rachel would go to Cal State Long Beach to finish her bachelor’s degree in creative writing.
After two years, we grew closer and closer together despite the distance. We drove back and forth from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles almost every weekend. Our weekday separation made us appreciate each other even more as the distance taught us both patience. It definitely made us stronger! During that time I was Rachel’s sponsor in the Catholic Church, and we relied on faith to keep us going until we could be together on a daily basis. Our discussions regarding religion were the best I ever had, and to this day I enjoy sharing my faith with someone so amazing. Time went by, and Rachel completed her degree in the May of 2009, a month before I completed my PhD coursework in June. We celebrated by taking a trip to Europe, but not before I purchased an Engagement Ring (with my help) before we boarded the plane.
I carefully planned the right moment to propose to Rachel, anxiously hiding the ring after we arrived in Stuttgart to stay with my wonderful surrogate German parents. After planning to visit a number of European cities together, I decided that I would propose in Prague, the jewel of Europe. It was an easy decision since Rachel was of Czech ancestry. I had also been to Prague before, in 2003 with my friends from Loyola Marymount, and had fond memories of the city. Our first day in the city would be on August 18. It was perfect, as 18 already held special meaning for us.
After a train connection from Stuttgart to Nuremberg, and a three-hour bus ride to Prague, we arrived at our accommodations just outside the city. Rachel could tell I was nervous for our first outing in Prague, as I fidgeted with my appearance and tried to find a way to best hide the engagement ring so she would not notice. I kept the ring tucked away in its box wrapped around a sock during the train and bus ride, but Rachel noticed the curious shape of the sock and knew that something was up. I finally decided to remove the ring from the (sock) box and into my wallet for safe keeping during the outing. I don’t think I have ever watched my wallet quite so closely. I knew that he was planning to propose while we were in Europe...I just didn't think he would wait until the very end of our trip (we were there for 2 months). That day he was so nervous and fidgety, and as we were walking he kept looking for a "special view" so I had a feeling this was finally it.
I knew that I wanted to propose in the orchards on Petrin Hill, overlooking old town Prague and Pražský hrad (Prague Castle). The problem was finding the right spot on Petrin Hill. After an elevator ride to the top of the hill, a brief snack, and numerous winding paths back and forth, we finally came to a clearing overlooking the orchards beneath Strahov Monastery. Because it was a public park, I would begin my proposal speech when no one was around, but would quickly cut off what I was saying when a jogger or bicycle rider came too close. Public Proposals are very difficult! I had made it explicitly clear that I did not want him to propose to me in front of other people. I am way too shy for that! Rachel could easily tell what I was trying to do, was patient, but cleverly removed the ring she normally wore on her ring finger without my notice (An Irish claddagh - a promise ring). Finally, I felt confident enough to go down on one knee and propose to her at the park bench overlooking the city. My words were a blur, but she said “yes” and the ring was quickly on her finger. We celebrated with hugs and kisses that the moment had finally arrived. We had dinner at Palffy Palace at twilight followed by a walk on the Charles Bridge over the Vltava River. It was a magical day that I will never forget.