It was our junior year at Bladensburg High School in Maryland when Karen walked into my fifth-period science class and my whole world changed. Like many teenage guys, I was casually playing the field, trying my hand at talking to every girl who caught my eye. And Karen definitely did. I instantly began to strategize a way to woo her, first moving from my seat in the back of the class to one closer to hers in the front row. I tried to speak to her but was immediately shut down with a "Can you stop talking to me?"
That was the moment I decided that getting her to talk to me was a challenge I would enjoy. When I followed her outside after class, Karen was more receptive. We started a conversation and have been talking ever since.
Yes, Karen is my high school sweetheart. The best part about being married to this woman is that I've had the opportunity to see her grow from a teenage girl into a loving and supportive wife and mother. Not only is she beautiful but she's also incredibly smart.
Barely established as individuals, Karen and I were 18 and 19, respectively, when we had our first child. We married a year later. We recognized that there were many things neither of us had yet experienced. While our family and friends questioned whether the marriage would last because we were so young, Karen and I focused on growing together as a couple and family.
Through our relationship, I've come to value the simple things that make a marriage work. Chief among them is communication. The times when Karen and I would put the kids to bed, then stay up for hours sharing a cup of Häagen-Dazs ice cream and cashew nuts and just talking—without the TV—helped to sustain us. Then there were the times when one of us was having a stressful day and just needed a few moments alone to unwind. A simple grab of the pinkie was our way of saying, I don't have a problem with you. I just need 15 minutes to myself.
Sometimes we let the simple things slip away. Our hardest years came when our youngest son was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. We spent much of our time going in and out of the hospital and rearranging work schedules to feed and drive our other kids to school. Stressed and frustrated, we had to reevaluate our marriage. Seeing Karen's strength and ability to take control during a crisis reminded me of what a remarkable woman I had married.
Those very same qualities that had attracted me to Karen 28 years ago have blossomed. Over the years, I've seen her level of support not only for our children but for me and other people as well. She is my biggest cheerleader, for sure. When I look at the kind of people my kids have turned out to be, I couldn't have asked for a better mother for them. It brings me comfort as a husband to know that she's just a pinkie grab away.
—As told to Danielle Hester