The three of them loaded up in John and Rachel's car after some last-minute vehicle maintenance that delayed them, and headed towards Hot Springs, AR, where John and Daniel's parents lived. They arrived very late, or rather, very early in the morning, and crashed on their couches to sleep for a bit. The next day, they got a rather late start, as they had slept in all morning after driving all night.
They arrived in Jackson, MS at about 8 o'clock that night, after the sun had set, and they needed a place to stay because of the curfew, so they looked up my parents. My Dad was actually out of town, so at the house were my Mom, my Grandma, my roommate Michelle and myself. I had never met Daniel before. Although he'd been in John and Rachel's wedding, I was out of the country when it took place. My mom had taken pictures for me in lieu of my attendance. My first impression of him was a tall, handsome guy on the thin side, with red hair and ears that stuck out slightly, wearing an awesome tshirt of a band I liked. We caught up on the news, and heard that Rachel hadn't been able to make much contact with her family since many phone lines and cell towers were down. Even in Jackson, texts were taking an hour or more to go through. I had heard, though, that if you tried to send a text to someone on the coast, that it would go through whenever there was an open moment. After I told the Clems this, John and Rachel both pulled out their phones and started texting people on the coast. I looked at Daniel, who was just sitting there, and asked him if he felt left out. He poked out his lower lip and nodded. "Okay", I said. "I'll send you a text. What's your number?" I swear I wasn't hitting on him. I honestly thought that since he lived in Oklahoma, (where I'd only visited for 30 minutes once when I was 12) I'd never see him again. I believe my text said, "Have a safe trip, Beaker." Beaker was because of the red hair. He had mentioned that he was sometimes called Beaker. The text didn't go through for another hour, and I was already in bed when I got his response. We texted back and forth for about 30 minutes before he said he needed to get plenty of sleep for the drive the next day. I woke up early the next morning to be able to cook them a solid meal (bacon, eggs and toast) since it might be their last for a while. I asked them to keep me posted on the storm damage.
When they got to the coast, they discovered that Rachel's grandmother's house was completely gone. All that was left of it was the foundation and a little bit of debris throughout the yard that needed to be combed through in case any treasures could be scavenged. At Rachel's parents' house, though many trees were down, none had hit the main house. The chainsaws roared. A tree had caved in the roof of Mr. Wilcox's studio, an outbuilding where he worked.
The news coverage was awful. Though Katrina had hit the coast of Mississippi at a category 5 strength, the national news only covered New Orleans where it hit at about a 2.5 to 3 strength, because of the politics. Katrina only damaged the retaining walls in New Orleans, and the consequent flood was covered by the news, especially with their mayor claiming that white people had done poor work on the walls because the walls were near black neighborhoods. Katrina completely wiped off the map a mile inland of my hometown. It wasn't just some damage to flood walls. It was GONE. When I visited several months later, I cried at all of the tile floors, foundations, and concrete pads that were all that was left of some of my favorite locales. The Taco Bell we went to every Wed. night and Sun night after youth group had managed to keep one of the tables that was bolted to the floor, and a chair that was attached to it. Everything else, walls, windows, kitchen, trash cans, doors, parking curbs, etc. were gone. My home church lost 3 of its 4 walls. It had been a solid brick building.
On their way back to Tulsa, John, Rachel and Daniel only stopped briefly through Jackson, long enough to see Rachel's sister Ruth, and then headed back to Tulsa. But Daniel kept texting me. My heart began skipping beats whenever I would receive a text from him, and our text conversations sometimes went on for several hours. One night, he called me. And then the next night, and the night after that. He often called me late at night, sometimes 1 or 2 in the morning after he got off work. I would often talk to him until the sun came up.
September 15th, 2005: Daniel had called, had a normal conversation with me, and hung up. But then he called me right back, and we had "the talk". He said "I don't know how you feel about me, but I know how I feel about you..." he went on to say we either needed to start dating, or stop spending so much time talking to each other. He didn't want an answer right away, but wanted me to think and pray about it. It didn't take me much praying, because I got an answer right away. I knew that this was what God wanted for me!
So we started dating long-distance. I graduated that December, and the spring semester I had to perform my senior piano recital. Memorial Day weekend, 2006, I moved into a house in Tulsa with 2 other girls who needed a roommate.
March 15th, 2007: We had been dating 1-1/2 years to the day now, and Daniel planned a nice, formal dinner. He set up a table by the river, and brought catered food. The table had wineglasses and candlesticks. There were geese swimming in the water nearby. I gave him a cd I'd made him of songs that were special to us, and he gave me a wood carving he'd made of the two of us. That night, he dropped me off at my house, and left. But less than a minute later, he was back at the door, and my heart was pounding. He said, "I don't know how you feel about me, but I know how I feel about you..." and then recited a poem he'd written for me, dropped to one knee right there at the door, and proposed. I was so excited. I said "yes" right away, then he came inside while we called our families with our exciting news.
September 15th, 2007: Six months to the day after his proposal and 2 years to the day after we started dating, Daniel and I got married in Ridgeland, Mississippi in a beautiful outdoor ceremony in a park by a lake. It was absolutely perfect. That was only the first step of many in our life's journey together.