The Magic of Their Early Romance Helped Save Their Marriage in Its Darkest Hour

Updated: Feb. 12, 2018

After losing their three-year-old daughter to cancer, one couple almost called it quits. Then they remembered why they fell in love in the first place.

couple middle-age years in white shirts walks between sandstone rocks. holding hands, hugging, kissing. happiness love. standing against the sky. close-up portraits gentlebondart/ShutterstockReader’s Digest editors asked the Reader’s Digest contributor network to tell us their stories of first-time love. The following piece was written in response to that prompt. To share your own 100-word true story for possible inclusion in the magazine or on, click here

It was my first day on the job as a student teaching assistant and my fingers fumbled with the key to my new desk. A tall, blonde boy with flickering green eyes walked by. I seized the moment. “Can you help me? I can’t open my drawer.”

“Sure.” As Tom magically turned the key, I could almost hear a whisper, “He’s the one. He’s the real one. He’s the one you’ve been waiting for.”

Unlike any boy I’d ever met, he felt comfortable, just right. And, besides, he had the perfect touch to unlock my desk.

On our first big date, Chicago’s lyrics—“You are my love and my life. You are my inspiration”—were still echoing through the arena when, as if pulled by an external force, our lips locked. What stopped us was the sound of a handful of people clapping. While we were having our first kiss, tens of thousands of people had exited the USF Sundome and only the cleaning crew was left. They must have liked what they saw. Not many people can say their first kiss was applauded, at least not back in the days before reality television and social media. (These hilarious first kiss stories will make you happy you’re not a teen anymore.)

The kissing didn’t stop there. We smooched at red lights, on our jogs, at work, wherever. Everyone around us had seen more than enough, but we simply couldn’t keep our hands off each other. I’d never been so happy. I’d wished and prayed for this handsome, intelligent, witty boy, my whole life. Now he was finally here, the first boy who didn’t scare me. My first love. We married.

But like many young people in love, we were naïve to love’s tests.

We waited years for the perfect moment to have our first child: happy marriage, good jobs, financial security, roomy house, emotional stability; check, check, check, check, check. Everything was planned to avert disaster.

I wish I could say we lived happily ever after, The End. (Living happily ever after is one of the marriage myths you need to ignore.)

Our first daughter, Jillian, died of cancer at age three, after chemotherapy, stem cell transplants, and radiation. During the pain of it all, I threatened divorce more than once. At times I believed that the magical sense I had of love as destiny had betrayed me. Still, there were other times that I believed—I knew—that moments of Heaven were waiting between the clouds.

We discovered I was pregnant with our second daughter, Cadence, on the first anniversary of Jillian’s death. Our second daughter brought us back to life, but only after we faced the pain of loss, taking turns crying and ranting in each other’s arms.

“Marriage is like mountain climbing,” Tom says 32 years in, “sometimes I throw you a line, sometimes you throw me one.” Together, we’ve climbed and we’ve stumbled. Sometimes we forget, but when we remember, we help each other.

The magic of our first moments, love at first sight—it helps me remember.

Sylvia Johnson is a Reader’s Digest reader from Tampa, Florida. She is also a member of the Reader’s Digest contributor network.