I know exactly the chain of events that led to me standing at the bottom of the garden in Shankhill at four o’clock on Valentine’s morning. I’d been writing for a daily paper during the Dublin Fringe Festival, back in September 2011. I’d sit by a window in this gorgeous building down Cow’s Lane, a particularly lovely nook of Dublin city, and write reviews of strange and wonderful tiny shows made by people who took chances, who wanted to say something about the world.
Across the street from the little Fringe office was a new performance and arts space, which I had watched being renovated while I dipped out for smoke breaks. Cigarettes were an affectation I’d picked up: they made me feel more confident. Little crutches I leaned on in order to look cooler than I felt. I had recently learned how to confidently talk to strangers — and invited myself into the space to see what was happening. Lots of arts events were bubbling up in the venue, but there was a small clutch of people brewing the idea of starting a storytelling night. I liked them, I liked the idea, I was ready to take some chances, and tell some stories.
In December that year I stood on their fairy-light-draped stage and told a story I’d been working on about an old woman who bled gold out of her nose. It was gross and scary. Later in the evening, a tall, skinny lad with big eyes got on the mic and gesticulated wildly while telling an adorable story about a little boy and his pet dinosaur. The dinosaur and his human friend wanted to become professional wrestlers but nobody believed in them. I remember thinking, “Nah, man, he’s too good-looking to be doing this, there must be a catch. Probably wrote that story for his girlfriend. He’s too good to be true.” I didn’t speak to him much, but he started coming to our volunteer meetings. After one such meeting, I noticed he had a large bag of books with him. I looked sneakily into the bag and as we scattered, late — after all the event planning was finished and the catering table picked clean — I said to him, “American Gods is really good, you’ll enjoy it.”
At this time I had absolutely not read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I was 100 percent saying that to open a conversation. He still thinks this is hilarious. I had also not read George Orwell’s 1984. I’m not sorry. I’m still glad I talked to him.
I lied in exchange for these facts: he was about to go to Stockholm for a week — and I was about to go to Berlin. I discovered his birthday was the day before mine. I did not ask if he was single.
The storytelling night eventually blossomed into something remarkable: around 200 people attended every month. It was a free, no-alcohol event, with complimentary cakes and tea. It was way, way cooler than it sounds. In order to cover some of our costs we decided to sell badges and tote bags with our logo on them — Milk & Cookie Stories swag was going to be the talk of the town. There was a crafternoon (an afternoon of making crafts, I know) planned where we’d make these things by hand, and eat dinner as a team, and drink a load of beers. It was a Saturday night — the night before Valentine’s.
When he asked me to go outside for a smoke with him, I honestly didn’t think anything of it. We’d been volunteering together for a while at the show; he’d give me cigarettes and we’d talk outside the venue. We’d huddled in the doorway once a month, every month, since we met. This was the first big snow Ireland had really seen in my lifetime. The winter had been especially cold, and it had just softened into a tender spring.
We crept through the big kitchen of the house and he started to make up a story about the cannelloni we’d just eaten for dinner — that it was a terrible bastard who walked around town stealing phones and breaking girls’ hearts. I told him that I once met the cannelloni on the bus and even though we have a hundred mutual friends he totally blanked me. This moderately drunken storytelling escalated and we laughed a lot, and wandered out to the rolling back garden of the gorgeous house.
The garden had a few grassy hills pocked around it, and we decided to go and stand up on top of them to look at the stars. There was no artificial light in the area, so the stars were really, really bright. I honestly remember thinking, “This lad is not going to kiss me under the stars at three in the morning on Valentine’s because nobody is going to believe this, this is ridiculous” — but of course that’s how it happened. Because sometimes that actually is how things happen.
The next morning I got up and left and said, “Sure, I’ll text you,” worried I’d gone and let things get complicated. A week later we went on our first formal date, which ended with us staying up until sunrise playing Mario Kart and eating pizza. I was pretty sure it was too good to be true.
We moved from Ireland to California in 2012, and I proposed to him six months later. We got married at San Francisco City Hall and eloped to Disneyland in March 2014.