Our love story is not your typical love tale, it is filled with many twists and turns and loop-D-loops! To properly tell it, I must take you back to my high school years where a tragedy begins. During these years (2008-2012) my health started to show some troubling signs. My dental hygienist first noticed the change in my speech and my teachers noted a slight decrease in my physical energy. Despite the initial symptoms of an incoming health storm, I graduated from Helena High School with flying colors. The logical next step for me was college.
At a young age I made the decision to pursue a career in nature, working side by side with wildlife. At the time, of course, I didn't exactly know how to do that. However, after high school, it was clear. I would follow in my big brother, A.J.'s, footsteps and attend the University of Montana (UM) and major in Wildlife Biology. There was only one problem; none of my friends were going to UM. Being best friends since, well, forever, I naturally sought out A.J. and fell into the same 'niche' as he. He was a member of The Wildlife Society; I began attending meetings with him. Being a college freshman who really didn't know anyone, my college senior brother introduced me to his friends who were also in The Wildlife Society. If you haven't already guessed by now, one of them was Zack! As the weeks progressed our friendship grew, never evolving into anything more.
Zack, a senior, graduated that fall. As did my brother and the group of college friends I had acquired. They all went on to follow wildlife biology careers with exciting summer jobs, and I had gained lifelong friends and role models. With my future looking bright and clear in front of me, I carried on through the many MANY required classes in my field. Keeping my head down and focusing on my studies didn't exactly go as planned (remember the impending health thing?). During one of my more stressful classes, my health took a quick and drastic turn. I began experiencing full body tremors, worsening speech, difficulty swallowing, and balance troubles. I saw specialist after specialist and was put through the gauntlet of tests by each. All of the tests and exams were unfortunately unilluminating. The summer before my senior year (2015), I went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN where they ran several more tests and took blood samples to run genetic tests on. I left Mayo without answers, but with high hopes that the genetic tests would shine a light on what I was facing.
Later that summer, A.J. got married! I was thrilled when his bride asked me to be a bridesmaid, I was also very excited to see all of my old UM friends. A handful of my brother's Wildlife Society buddies were groomsmen, including Zack. In the perfect example of fate and foreshadowing, I was paired with Zack! Throughout a wonderful night of dancing and catching up, I realized that Zack was the man that I loved. We kept talking after that, and never stopped.
Then the day came when I got the results of my genetic testing. Much to my happiness, I finally got an answer. Though the diagnosis wasn't exactly good news, having a confirmed diagnosis was such a relief. I learned that day that I have a very rare, degenerative neurological disease known as Spinocerebellar Ataxia type 8. I called Zack right away. This news didn't shake his commitment a bit. Like me, he was relieved to have an answer.
With him in ND and I in MT, dating was difficult. We found our ways through Facetime, road trips, and Skype. For our first Valentine's date, we Facetimed each other while watching perfectly synced romantic movies featuring 'Flash dance' and 'Money Can't Buy You Love.' That May, 2016, I graduated from the University of Montana with a bachelor's of science degree in wildlife biology. Zack, of course, attended my graduation. I was very proud of my accomplishment, and with a cheering squad consisting of Zack, Zack's dad, A.J. and Courtney (his wife), my mom and dad, and my grandparents, how could it not be a special day?!
After graduating, I moved out to Bismarck, ND to live with Zack. Life there was very different, the best kind of different. Zack and I enjoyed every second of every day with each other. My disease had progressed to the point where I was unable to work, so I kept myself busy during the day by painting, volunteering, and doing house work. Then in the evenings, when Zack came home, we cooked dinner together and played video games or watched TV until we were tired.
Christmas of 2017 he proposed! It's pretty difficult to surprise me, but he succeeded BIG TIME! We were at my parents' home in Helena with my parents and grandparents as audience members. Zack presented me with a giant, elaborately wrapped box and then casually moved behind me. I opened it to reveal a piece of paper with the words 'Look Behind You!' written on it with a black marker. When I turned to look, there was Zack on one knee! Poor guy, he didn't have chance for his planned out proposal speech before I leapt in his arms while squealing "YES!!"
We moved back to Helena in the winter of 2018 to be closer to family, not to mention, we both really missed the mountains! This meant I had the help of my mom in finalizing wedding details!! I'm not sure if there's a national award for 'Best Organizer,' but if there is, my mom deserves it! Everything was coming together absolutely perfectly! The Big Day was May 18, 2019 and it was beautiful!! Wonderfully perfect! It rained slightly, but the rain made the day that much more special! I've heard that rain on your wedding day is good luck, I've never understood why though. Now I know that it's because a knot becomes tighter when wet, and in getting married or 'tying the knot' if it's raining, the marriage is more permanent, more solid. I see this as a proverb to live by, despite the health troubles or any other 'rain' we encounter, our marriage will not only remain but grow stronger.