Our Story, and how stories are made

My wife Amy is an author-freelance writer-personal trainer-mother-all around fantastic human. This post was written by her. Enjoy! 


AMY, on writing a love story:

I’ve told our story in many ways, including a handwritten serial version that hung by lighted rope, on clips, at our wedding. But trying to tell our story as I do for couples whose weddings Joe photographs is something different; I can look at Amy the wife through the lens of Amy the writer, and fit the story into a more typical structure. This way is limiting, of course, in the sense that I can only begin to understand a relationship when meeting a couple for the first time, but also because a story like this has to have a certain snap, a climax and a denouement, whereas real life is messy. In this version of our story, I won’t write about the really hard days, because I wouldn’t tell them to an interviewer. Likewise, I won’t tell the best moments, either, but back them down a notch to leave the best in my heart. Also, the piece needs to wrap up before the other stories of life together begin, because this is a “How We Met” piece and we can’t slough through day-to-day worries; this is not the place.

Putting myself through this same process makes me see that our clients probably hold back, too, and necessarily so; even still, as I’ve learned by conducting hundreds of interviews and writing just as many stories, a picture emerges, which is an appropriate metaphor for what we do at average joe and amy.

Disclaimer: I hire an editor to read the stories I write for clients, but she didn’t read this one. Any mistake serves to enhance the spirit of the experiment, I hope.


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Each afternoon, when high school let out, Joe and Amy would happen to meet at a particular corner, appear slightly surprised to find each other, and continue in the same direction, together. Amy saved her best stories from the day for the walk home, as making Joe laugh was a pleasure that was easily earned and felt like a gift. She wondered if this quiet, athletic boy could ever like a skinny, awkward girl such as herself, even as Joe watched her intently, memorized her laugh, and marveled that she didn’t fall over (“She walked like a baby deer,” he would say, years later).

Some days Joe would need to stop at the accounting firm where he helped out; although nothing was said, Amy would wait until he appeared again, and they’d continue walking to another corner that marked a midway point on the two blocks between their houses, and go their separate ways.

They’d come to talk about those two blocks thirty years later, usually while staring at the ceiling right before sleep took over. Why, fate? Why did decades have to go by when these two felt what many have known and which many a love song has tried to describe, way back when they were kids?

Joe would go off to college and write Amy letter after letter. Amy went off to college and he’d visit, and they’d go on a date here and there. There were nights spent together but there were also angry phone calls, probably due to the frustration that had been building; to the outsider, they were meant to be together–they were a couple–but each was afraid in their own way of this comfortable intensity, an almost chemical reaction, and this became intolerable.

Joe made a final overture one holiday while he was back home from college; he walked the two blocks and asked after Amy. Her mother answered the door and let him know that she was engaged. He went home and burned all of their letters. Meanwhile, in the time of the early internet, she looked him up and found evidence that someone of his name and age had died. This didn’t feel right or likely, but she accepted that finding and buried her feelings for the boy.

(He was still a boy, please note, and she was very much a girl. Thinking back on this now, with sons around this age, they marvel at what they felt and knew, and encourage these boys to follow their instincts in a way their parents couldn’t.)

Both would marry others and remain apart for twenty some years. Social media had its advent during this time, and Joe and Amy found each other there. Amy noticed that where she’d usually feel sentimental finding random old flames online, an anger swelled when she found Joe. She felt he had never been honest with his feelings. Later, he would agree, but she would also come to see that she wasn’t exactly forthright back in those days, either.

Joe photographed Amy’s sons one summer, and they couldn’t figure out how to talk to each other at their first meeting after twenty years. It ended abruptly.

Meanwhile, their marriages were falling apart. After the break ups, Joe and Amy met again in an Applebee’s. Amy talked and talked. Joe listened and memorized her laugh. They had their second first kiss and, before 24 hours had passed, said those three words that had been long delayed. It was if suddenly, everything they thought should have happened a long time ago was absolutely, perfectly right, right now.

Each morning, each day, they are as surprised to find each other nearby as they were on that corner every day after school. They still write love letters. All of it still feels very much like a gift.


SARAH

My wife, Amy, interviewed Sarah with the idea that they’d talk about the death of her father, but this topic quickly came to the forefront. Amy wrote Sarah’s story, and I shot the portrait session. This is one example of our new venture averagejoeandamy, which you can read about here

We tell stories in word and image. Get in touch to have your story captured now, forever.


STORY BY AMY PHILLIPS

PHOTOS BY JOE MAHER

In the children’s book Charlotte’s Web, a pig named Wilbur is born the runt of the litter. Fern, who is eight, runs after her father, who carries an ax and knows the trouble a small, weak pig can cause. Her tears and cries of injustice finally stop the farmer; he puts the pig in a carton and places it on her seat at breakfast.

“He’s yours,” said Mr. Arable. “Saved from an untimely death. And may the good Lord forgive me for this foolishness.” Fern lifted the pig up, held him to her cheek, and declared him absolutely perfect.

Sarah’s first pregnancy was like a story out of a book.

She and her husband, Dave, wished for a baby, and right away became pregnant. Sarah was the picture of health. Her water broke, she went to the hospital, everyone was briefly nervous because the baby’s heart rate was slowing, but this kid, their first, emerged into the world by way of caesarean and was so perfect and wonderful that Sarah got pregnant again when Isaac was eight months old.

And just like that, the pregnancy ended. But soon Max would come along, on what would have been Dave’s father’s fifty-ninth birthday; calm and serious, he looked at his parents with gray eyes that would make friends easily, on that day and each one to come.

Dave and Sarah took their small boys to an outdoor concert by the singer songwriter Brandi Carlile, who sings in “The Mother,” Oh, but all the wonders I have seen/I will see a second time/From inside of the ages through your eyes. As the sun set against the lovely backdrop of flowering gardens, people seated around them remarked at how beautiful and well-behaved their children were. Sarah and Dave made a baby again that night. 

And everything was fine until just before her second trimester. The boys sat entranced by a video of the pig Wilbur’s adventures in an old barn, where he would grow large and rich with friends. Isaac, who had trouble speaking clearly until the age of four, watched as Fern sat on an old milking stool and marveled at the conversations of the animals, which she could follow.

Max, a mellow, wise soul, listened as Wilbur spoke of the fear that he may soon be turned into food; his friend Charlotte, the spider, assured him she’d do everything she could to make sure that didn’t happen.

And Sarah writhed in pain and bled; she had the distinct feeling that something had ended.

She felt grateful to her body for not making this baby carry on if he wasn’t up for that (she was pretty sure he was a boy). And she wanted to run away from her body, which produced this grotesque, painful, messy completion of a life that she was told to bag up and take to the clinic. The doctor was calm and reassuring, and yet Sarah couldn’t help but feel like a rotting piece of meat. She didn’t want to be with herself, but she wanted to be with him. He looked just like the pulsing little bean she had seen on the sonogram. She named him Avery Carlile.

At age nineteen, Sarah had never believed that her father’s cancer would kill him. Death was someone else’s storyline, not his—he was invincible—and this narrative twist surprised her somehow. When people would say, “I’m sorry,” she wondered if they had all gotten together and decided on a script. Because none of this was supposed to happen.

When a woman’s body completes a pregnancy, a rush of hormones arrives whether or not the baby lives. Miscarriages are a surprise to the body, and not part of the plot. 

The doctor put Avery in a small container of saline, where he floated peacefully. Sarah wrapped this makeshift womb in a receiving blanket and placed it in a gift bag in her dresser. She didn’t tell anyone this because she knew her behavior seemed strange and macabre. She didn’t want to deal with their reactions and their I’m sorrys

No one wants to talk about babies dying, which might explain why so few means exist to honor them when they fill your heart but are too small to be seen legally as a loss.

Sarah asked at the cemetery where her father and Dave’s father were buried, but was offered a crass two-for-one deal if they’d purchase their own graves.

She then met with the man who had taken care of the funeral home arrangements for Dave’s father. He didn’t register shock as others did. He offered cremation services for Avery and a death certificate, listing the date of birth and the date of death as November 2—the same day Dave’s father died.

Sarah found just one place offering memorial jewelry; she chose a white gold ring with a compartment for the ashes. She wore it until she felt she didn’t need to anymore. Remembering the words of a song by Jeff Buckley, Sarah thinks of Avery as the tear that will hang inside her soul forever, but she’s okay with that now.

On January 26, 2012, Yvette entered the world with ease. Her babyhood was a gift. Yvette always wants to be in on the action with her brothers, catching toads in her frilly pink skirt. Right now she tells Sarah everything that’s on her mind. Sarah had been worried she wouldn’t know what to do with a little girl, but Yvette just leads the way.


Avery Carlile

11/2/10


“After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die.” —Charlotte


loss…

I lost a friend last night. I found out at 1:25 PM today. 

No. MANY people lost a friend last night. 

There is so much to say about Mike. I won’t say to many things about his laugh, sarcastic wit, love of music or his ability to make you feel like you were his best friend even when you only saw each other every other year or so. No. I won’t say any of that. That is to obvious. 

What I will say is that anyone that knew Mike has lost a wonderful human who they called friend. 

I did not know Mike for 45 years and grow up with him like my friend Jon did. I was not in his college classes. I never lived with Mike. None of that mattered.

I knew Mike for a short 28-30 years. 

He was there to drink a few beers with in college or help get my butt in gear when I had a test coming up. 

Mike was there on the airwaves the night before my wedding spinning a Hendrix tune in honor of my wedding day, 

He gave me a pair of U2 tickets when he know how much I loved them could not afford the tickets.

He introduced me to the sounds of Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule. (nothing else needs to be said about that)  

Mike was there to critique my photography when i had asked. (In return I would retouch a few of his images he took for friends and family) 

He took part in a personal photography project I was working on. He drove a few hours to sit for 30 minutes and lunch then back to WDVE for his spot on the air that evening.


Mike supported my photo work when I was exhibiting in Pittsburgh. 

He made me feel like I was his best friend.  Mike made you feel that way. I know he made a lot of other people feel that way too. 

The world is not near as beautiful anymore without Mike’s laugh, voice and heart running around on it. 

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