Sometime in April of 2006 I met Derek Janiak. I was at a bar with my roommate Sara and her friend Jess, sort of watching a Red Sox game, but mostly just talking. Jess had been trying for months to set up her college friend Derek with me, but we were both skeptical for some reason. He had looked at my Friendster page and was put off by the fact that I claimed to like doing the New York Times crossword puzzle. I think he said it made me sound stuck up. I was cautious because Jess described Derek as super funny and goofy. I’m supposed to be the funny one, I didn’t need some goofball engineer cramping my comedic stylings. Then, he walked into the bar. He was with a date, a date that Jess had set him up on. He came over, introductions were made, and I proceeded to watch how he behaved on a first date. He was funny, but not in a ridiculous way. He was doing some kind of charades thing where he was pretending to be a plane, this part is a little fuzzy in my memory. I do remember him sitting at the bar and doing a crossword puzzle from The Metro. Interesting. Easiest crossword you can find, but still, it was a crossword puzzle. Was this kid flirting with me while he was on a date with someone else?
It was not love at first sight, though I did like that he was wearing an orange track jacket. I like the color orange. He seemed nice and funny, the date didn’t seem to be going all that well, it wasn’t bad, but it was obvious they weren’t really into each other. As he was leaving he invited Jess, Sara and me to a cookout he was having the following weekend at his condo in Merrimack, New Hampshire. I didn’t have a car, but Sara said she could drive.
We made our way up to his place for the party and found a nerdgaggle of engineers talking in the kitchen. Introductions were made, food and snacks were offered. I was drawn to a framed something on the wall that had an attached lamp pointing at it. “What’s this?” Derek came over to me and explained that it was a framed hologram that he purchased in Chicago but that the light wasn’t working. I looked at it for a minute and then asked, “Did you try plugging it in to a different outlet?” He stared at me blankly. One of his friends asked what I did for a living, I told him I was a store designer at a housewares store, that I had my Master’s Degree in Jewelry Design. I smiled at Derek and walked out of the kitchen. From my vantage point in the living room I could hear rustling happening in the closet just off his kitchen. An orange extension cord appeared and was dragged across the kitchen. The light turned on and the engineers started laughing. “Dude, you’re an electrical engineer and an art major just fixed your light.” I stayed in the other room, smiling to myself.
The party was really fun, Derek had a karaoke machine and everyone took a turn singing hits from the 80s. I got to meet the vast majority of his friends and I remember thinking how nice it was that they all so obviously adored him. It’s a rare thing to meet a person’s friends before you really get to know someone. I think it says a lot about a person, who you choose to spend your time with, how they treat you. It’s an even rarer treat to witness someone on a date before you go on a date with them yourself. I was getting a sneak peek at Derek, and I thought he seemed like a great guy. When we left the party, I was standing on a little step and he was standing just below, effectively negating our height difference. He thanked me for coming and gave me a hug. I can tell you now that Derek’s hugs are by far my favorite, but standing there on that step being hugged by a man I hardly knew, all I could think was, how can I make sure I get to hug this person again?
I got home to Somerville and sent him a note thanking him for the party and telling him how nice it was to meet all of his friends. I apologized for the lamp incident and told him I really didn’t mean to make him look foolish, but come on, who doesn’t try a different outlet? He told me later that when everyone left and he went upstairs to check his email and go to bed, he had planned to send me a note as well, but received mine first. He took it as a good sign.
A few days later he called me and asked if I wanted to go to a boardgame night near Somerville. I agreed and we went and had a good time. A few days after that, he called me and asked if I might like to go to a Red Sox game with him. I had never been to a Red Sox game so I was definitely interested. Going to a Red Sox game is kind of a right of passage when you live in Massachusetts, or so I’d been told. I was with some friends at the time and when I got off the phone I told them he had invited me. They all said that when a native New Englander invites you to a Red Sox game it’s a very good sign. (I skipped over some parts here, some little meetings in between and the night Derek tried to break up with me because he said it all seemed to be going too fast. I had asked him when his birthday was and he was afraid I was going to plan some outrageous thing for his birthday. It had happened once before so I guess it was a fool him twice, shame on him situation? I assured him it would be strange to break up since we weren’t really dating, just doing activities together. And he agreed to give it a shot.)
It was May 4th, 2006, and Boston ended up beating the Blue Jays, 7-4. (I don’t remember that, but the internet is my friend.) Derek and I left the game and went to eat some burritos. We walked back to my house and stood outside talking until after midnight. We talked about life and relationships and why it’s so important to share time with people you enjoy. We agreed to keep hanging out together until it wasn’t fun anymore.
We’re not super cutesy when it comes to anniversaries, but for both of us, May 5th, 2006 is the day we agreed to be together at least until it stopped being fun. When Derek asked me to marry him, on April 11th, 2009, we agreed right then and there to be together even when it wasn’t fun. The wedding was a great party, and we were both thrilled to share the ceremony with our friends and family, but we were really married on that rainy day in April, the moment he asked me to be with him forever.
Being knocked out and having my insides rearranged was not fun, but I would do it again without blinking. Waiting for Derek to get a new liver is probably the exact opposite of fun, but it’s a necessary milestone to get both of our lives back. And we will. This time of year for us has always been about beginnings. We met in April and started dating in May. He asked me to marry him in April and a year later we held a ceremony and exchanged vows midway through the month of May. We began this odyssey to get him a new liver in mid-April and I keep hoping that in the next few days we’ll be able to say that he got his forever liver, right on time, in the month of May.
Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone. It’s always been a special day for us, even without the chips and salsa and terrible beer.