This was originally posted on September 6th, 2011, three days before our fifteenth anniversary and, as it turned out, one day before I was admitted to the hospital.

There’s a popular perception that guys forget important dates. I guess I’m an exception to the rule. Every year, as the 9th of September appears on the calender, I’m reminded of how fortunate I am. That day remains ingrained in my psyche, because that’s the day that started me on the road to being a better person. That’s the day I confessed my love for someone who lived half a country away, and despite my widely professed convictions, I wondered if I’d ever see her in person.

It’s a much more common story now, but in 1996, when the Internet remained a fairly new phenomenon that hadn’t asserted itself as a regular part of our lives. And people who fell in love online? Not only wasn’t it common, they were reserved for a spot on the Jerry Springer Show the day after “I Married My Sister” show aired. I’d come close to an online relationship once before, an online friendship that started strong and proceeded down a sitcom-like trail of ineptitude on my part. I’d sworn off the idea, convinced that it would last only as long as it took the girl to find someone else locally.

Luckily for me, when I first met the user by the name of TeknoKat, it started off innocently, as a friendship between two fans of the Mega Man game series(yes folks, the nerd appears in most aspects of my life). She showed me some samples of her art, and she knew of a web page I ran at that time. We hit it off, and began to enjoy the other’s company more and more. We started writing letters, then sending packages back and forth to one another. We talked about original stories ideas and our lives in school. And, over time, we admitted we were “addicted” to chatting to each other.

Then, on September 9th, everything changed. We’d had a heart to heart with one another about our feelings, and in the middle, she said three words that changed everything.

“I love you.”

I could only respond in one way. “I love you, too.”

Even as those words appeared on the computer screen, I wondered if it would last. I remember thinking, as I lay in bed in my dorm room, that I’d never even seen her in person.

* * *

I sat on the back of the airplane, and listened to a mix tape TK had mailed to me months earlier. My mouth felt completely dry as the plane circled the California coast, preparing to set down at John Wayne Airport. It’d been just over a year and a half since that fateful online confession, but life had changed radically for me. I’d left school, a victim of depression and a lack of focus. I’d worked minimum wage jobs in several places, at first staying with my father then renting an apartment with my brother. The low paying jobs meant a very low frills existence, with no internet and even no regular phone line. But we kept our relationship going long distance, and I clung to the dream of moving to California. On that day, it came true.

And I felt more nervous than I ever had in my entire life.

I let the entire plane disembark before me, as I tried to delay the inevitable walk down the plane and then into the terminal. I remember taking in a huge breath, slinging my bag over my shoulder and walking out. You could still wait in the terminal for people back then, and TK had been waiting there for some time. As the plane emptied, she later told me, she worried I’d missed the flight or changed my mind. But I walked out and saw her. We walked toward one another for the first time in real life and… shared the most awkward hug imaginable.

Look, I know how romantic comedies portray this sort of thing. For that matter, I know how both she and I thought our first meeting might go. But in some ways, we’d only just met for the first time. It took a while for each of us to register that the person next to us was the same one we’d spoken to for almost two years. Still, we held hands down the escalator, a little less awkwardly, and she began the tour of southern California. We knew that the coming days would be critical, as I’d need to find both work and a place to live. The odds stacked firmly against me, I’d taken a round trip ticket and set the return date. If things fell though, I’d return to Oklahoma in two weeks.

I stayed in Orange County for over six years. And when I moved to Arizona, TK came with me. During that time, I read her a poem I’d written just after I left school, and also gave her a ring. We were now engaged, and the bond between us only grew stronger. And I finally did return to Oklahoma two years later, but again TK came with me. And she’s still with me today, even if she doesn’t even go by the nickname TeknoKat anymore.

Sometimes, when I think about my life, I focus on the negative, and the things I don’t have. But other times, when things are hitting me harder and harder, I close my eyes and remember just how blessed I am. My life’s not been easy, and we’ve dealt with a lot of stress over the years. At times we’ve been those proverbial ducks, looking smooth on the surface and paddling like hell under the water. But there’s been one constant all these years, one bright light that’s kept me going no matter how dark the times might have been.

Fifteen years ago, I told someone half a country away that I loved her. Not only have we stayed together, but our bond has been strengthened by adversity and triumph, and we are both aware just how lucky we are. No matter how it started, the feelings remain every bit as strong as they did back then.

And yes, one of these days we’ll get around to the marriage thing.

And so we did, on August 30th, 2015!

And yes, this is a modified version of the graphic that appeared on the cover of the programs at our wedding celebration.