Target Publications: New York Times Modern Love Column or Hilton Head Island Packet (local newspaper)
Abstract: The values behind James Taylor’s lyrics guide one couple’s love story.
Keywords: Love, Modern Love, Love Story, NYT, New York Times, NYT Modern Love, New York Times Modern Love, Modern Love Column, James Taylor, Carolina, North Carolina, South Carolina, Carolina In My Mind, Beach, Low Country, Hilton Head, Hilton Head Island, HHI
There’s something about a James Taylor song. Like Springsteen to others, James Taylor has a way of making me feel like I’m right where I’m supposed to be.
This was true ten years ago as I stepped into the salty southern beach air, my city feet tender on the gritty boardwalk. It is still true today as I feel the sweet heft of a baby on my hip, slowly stirring dinner on the stove, reveling in the mundane moments of young parenthood.
Falling in love in New York City is something everyone should experience. Our story began in June of 2011 and like most early love, that first summer was all “How Sweet It Is.”
He and I were coworkers and fast friends, our conversations as long as the avenues we walked after leaving the office most evenings.
Still “just friends,” we began a tradition of meeting early on Sunday mornings, the city awake with just one eye open. He took the train in from Hoboken and I would walk down from Hell’s Kitchen to meet him on 34th Street. Strong coffees in hand, we would visit bookstores, roam Union Square, talk about our families, goals, dreams.
I would return home with aching cheeks – never had I smiled so much or felt so seen in the presence of a man.
As the temperatures rose, so did the energy between us. In cahoots at a mutual friend’s sloppy rooftop birthday party, we escaped, taking a walk by the Hudson. As they are known to do, our moonlit walk led to a first kiss and then, to an “us.”
The great recession had its grip on our careers and wallets, but we dreamt up our first vacation anyway, giddy with our new relationship and the chance to trade our city island for a southern one.
Love blossoms in South Carolina’s Lowcountry
As we stepped onto the Charleston tarmac, the air was thick with the end of summer and the beginning of forever.
“Uh, when was the last time you drove?” he asked, his brow woven with anxiety and embarrassment.
“I guess…last year when I was home for Christmas?”
We both laughed, two small-town kids turned city mice, afraid of getting behind the wheel after years of doing the subway shuffle. Ultimately, he drove and we were off, legs stuck to the pleather rental car seats as we wound our way down oak-lined roads, a veil of Spanish moss trailing from one branch to the next.
In awe, he breathed, “I’ve never seen anything like this. How did we decide to come down here again?”
An answer to his question, the guitar riff of “Carolina In My Mind,” strummed out from the radio. I grabbed his hand and echoed Taylor’s ode to his home state, “There’s just something about Carolina I guess,” and in my mind, “There’s just something about you, too.”
With my freshly painted toes tapping the dash to the languid beat of Taylor’s signature song, we crested the bridge that connects mainland South Carolina to Hilton Head Island.
Our heart rates slowed as we took in the island’s golden hour, palmetto trees dancing lazily in the breeze. I released my hair from its regular workweek ponytail and let it fly wild as we rolled down our windows and breathed more deeply than we had in the last 1,460 days spent in Manhattan.
He nestled our rental into a sandy parking spot overlooking the beach and we took in the little resort we had booked last-minute on Hotwire. The place was no Shangri-La, but I can still smell its perfect mix of salt, jasmine, and musty driftwood.
We checked in and went straight to the beach, reveling in the expanse and the early evening light.
“I don’t remember the last time I saw stars.”
“It’s been a while. I love the city,” I responded as I sat back against a dune, “but places like this remind me I could never be there forever.”
The dusk light settled on his face as he turned to me, eyes sparkling, “I can think of someone I could be next to forever, though.”
“Bob, your trading partner at the bank?” I demurred.
He snorted, spitting out his Landshark. “Can you imagine? We’d eat nothing but steak and mayo sandwiches.”
“Bob does have an affinity for the finer things, doesn’t he?” I laughed, nursing my gin and tonic.
And then, “I love you, Katie.” Just like that, it was out there.
The many happy hour laughs, two years of friendship, and hours of email banter summed up into those three powerful words. My heart stuck in my throat, “I love you too, B.”
“You mean all those nights sharing terrible chili nachos and flat beer at our work bar weren’t for nothing?”
I grinned again. He did, too. As a band started up at the resort behind us, we linked hands and danced under the stars to a cover of “Your Smiling Face,” the beach cool beneath our feet.
A graduate school stalemate
Just over a year later, we slow danced to “Fire and Rain” by candlelight in the kitchen of his apartment, my eyes filled with tears, my heart unsure.
The candles were more necessity than romance. Hurricane Sandy had just pummeled the city and we were stranded in Hoboken with no power or running water for going on a week.
With stress running high, we received word that he had gotten into graduate school. In the middle of nowhere, New Hampshire. He was ecstatic. I was not.
“I’m happy for you, but what does this mean for us?” We had been together for just over a year, steadily building on the foundation of friendship we started with.
“I mean, I want you to come. Why would this change anything?” he replied, nonchalantly munching on a piece of stale bread as if my world hadn’t just come crashing down.
“I’ve worked too hard to be the girl who gives up everything and just follows a guy. Don’t you see that? Plus, what is there for me in Hanover?” I said as I pushed down tears.
“Me. Us.” he said quietly, staring at his hands.
A stalemate ensued after tough questions and harsh exchanges. With new sides of ourselves and baggage revealed, it felt like our vulnerabilities had been raised up the flagpole for all to see. Our relationship in crisis was punctuated by the actual state of crisis we were in, floodwater still resting at our doorstep.
Days passed, we went through the motions. I made canned beans on the gas stove and we quietly shared a bottle of red wine with not much left to say. Every option had been sussed out. He in his corner, me in mine.
With no perfect answer at hand, we danced. A blend of pain, friendship, stress, uncertainty, anger, and love defined that moment. And that moment, with James Taylor playing in the background once again, defined us.
Tonight we’ll slow dance again, this time in the kitchen of our little brick home after the kids go to bed. We’re no longer New Yorkers; like Taylor, we’re North Carolinians. Our lives are a lot more “Everyday” and “Family Man” now, but are still full of sweetness and challenge, joy and growth, just like that first year.
We’ve returned to Hilton Head and that sleepy resort more times than I can count now. It is where he proposed, where we toasted our first year of marriage, where our babies first wiggled their toes in the Atlantic and where we dream of settling someday when we’re gray.
How did we get here?
By compromising and embracing the fundamental value that a life well-lived is about the simplest, timeless things that James Taylor sings about. Friendship. Trust. Laughter. Dancing in the kitchen. Love.
After the brutal post-Hurricane Sandy stretch, he passed on his dream school and applied to different graduate programs in cities that were better suited to me and my career. Instead of Hanover, we ended up in sunny Los Angeles and enjoyed some of the best years of our ten together.
Inspired by his flexibility, I explored different options for myself and ended up working in the nonprofit world, which I love. I took up hiking with him, he took up lazy Sunday beach afternoons with me.
Today, I’m a graduate student, following in his footsteps to prioritize my continued learning and growth. We’ve both given things up for each other along the way, but there is no substitute for what we’ve gained.
As I put the baby to bed, I hear our son humming across the hallway as he tinkers with his matchbox cars and sticker collection. I pad slowly to his door and as I stare at the back of his blonde head, I realize two things.
He’s humming, “Our Town,” a more recent James Taylor song from the movie, “Cars,” our son’s current obsession; he’s caught on to the power of Taylor, too. And perhaps most importantly, I am right where I’m meant to be.