This is a story you do not know, but often ask of. This is the story of us, or at least the origins of us. Buckle in.
Fourteen years. I say the words but I don’t understand the weight of them, heavier than I expected, but heavy like the gravity that keeps me from floating off into the great nothing my mind is sometimes pulled towards, not heavy like anchor that pulls me down into the night of the sea. Heavy like vital, like fundamental to the fabric of myself, crucial to what I am, what I will be. Heavy like solid, like sturdy, like the steel roll cage in the race car my brain feels like at all times, the insurance against the corner taken too swiftly, the inevitability of flipping over and over again into the wall. Fourteen years, the five point harness that keeps me safe.
Fourteen years ago, to the very day, hell it’ll be to the minute in a few short hours, I took the photograph above, the photograph of Sarah Linden Gregson, my wife. Fourteen years ago we met for the very first time, and everything, everything, changed. How many people have photographs of the very first meeting between them and the person they’ll spend the rest of their life with, the exact instant when they first became someones in each others lives?
Lady G hired me, and that’s how it all began. She needed photos of her with her kids for holiday gifts, and try as she might as a talented photographer, getting two kids under 4 to cooperate for photographs she was trying to set up, take, and be in, was just not working. We’d known of each other for years, growing up in the same town will do that, and though we went to rival high schools (there are only two in town, the Bengals and the Bruins, and they don’t much like each other), we shared many, many friends. Somehow, and I imagine if you had a secret movie recorded of us both from our entire high school lives you’d see us constantly missing one another, we revolved around each other without ever actually meeting in person. I remember seeing her name in the local newspaper after every soccer game, scoring goals, remaining undefeated through all 4 years of her career, and thinking how cool she must be. I remember thinking she was beautiful.
When college came and I went off to do my best to enjoy it, I started at Gonzaga University, only to quickly realize I hated it and refused to pay so much money (SO MUCH DAMN MONEY) to hate being somewhere. Sarah was two grades below me, so she still had high school to finish before embarking on her own post-high school journey. I transferred from there back to Montana, to finish my degree at the University of Montana. I always hated school, so I figured if I was going to continue hating it, I may as well pay the least amount of money possible to do so. It was during my junior year that she began college, and coincidentally went to Gonzaga. Of course, I walk out, she walks in, like always. It was then we began talking, back in the days of AOL Instant Messenger, back in the days of the infamous Away Message when we had to step away. Our conversations would start at 3pm and somehow continue on until 3am, typing to one another about everything, about nothing, about the great big something we both felt was out there in the world for us but couldn’t really put our finger on. These conversations went on for months, until suddenly, they didn't. She vanished into the ether.
Years later, and friends, we’re talking YEARS, she suddenly re-emerged. On Facebook, of all places. Before you judge, back then, Facebook wasn’t just old people selling appliances, it was cooler, I promise. She messaged me out of the clear blue and without much lead-in, simply asked if I wanted to be a soccer coach for a local kids team. I said no, that kids had no business learning from me, but it opened the door, and our friendship started up again. I learned that she’d vanished, all those years ago, because she began dating someone, and ended up marrying him immediately after college. Soon after that, she had a baby, then another, and had been living in Washington ever since. Now, however, she was back in Helena and running the local youth soccer association. Despite saying no to her inquiry, we started catching up, sharing stories of where we’d been all that time. She found out I had been slowly building my own photography company, shooting a few weddings alone, I found out she had shot one too, but more hobby than anything else. A few days later, right after her birthday, she asked me if I’d be willing to take some photos of her and the kids to use as holiday gifts. Obviously I said yes.
I still have all of those photos, those of Henry and Addie as such tiny people, those of Sarah and the first time she ever looked into my lens. I didn’t know it then, but I think I really did believe, that those photos would be the first of thousands and thousands and thousands I would take of her over the years to come. That smile, smiling back at me with light in those eyes, all over this world.
Point is, sometimes in this wild life, you meet someone and you know. You just know without logic or explanation, without understanding or need for questioning, they cannot leave your life. Sarah said yes when I asked her to photograph a wedding with me 2 months after that first photoshoot, and it was the first of over 170 weddings we’ve shot together. We worked for 12 hours and got paid peanuts but had the time of our lives. That night, exhausted but elated, we made a company, and promised to stay in each others lives this time around. Years, we stayed friends. If I am honest, as I always am with you here, I knew immediately that we were destined for more, so much more, and I think you can see it even in this photograph above, the first I took of her, the first of millions. You can see it, it’s a glimmer, it’s a glow, and it’s there.
I saw Sarah, she saw me, and we knew, we were tied together in some way. It might take minutes, it might take years, but when this happens it’s as inevitable as the gravity I spoke of at the opening to this essay, you will become what you are meant to become. The work begins after that, it always does, but the inevitability remains the same, constant as north stars in cold November skies.
Sometimes we know, but we’re so busy questioning that knowing, we let it flutter away. Sometimes, we should just grow quiet when in the presence of this understanding, smile back at it, and if we’re lucky, take a picture.
You meet them and know,
that they cannot leave your life,
you are tied to them.