The long short story....
When I look back over the last year, and see the things that have happened in that time, it brings with it a sense of amazement, and almost disbelief. It seems impossible that a person's life could be re-written so dramatically, in so short a time. But this began long before the last year. This is a story that takes me back to some of my early childhood memories. Because it was then that I met Cherith Zujic.
When did we meet? Well, that is a very difficult question. I have a suspicion we first met when I was 10. If that is correct she would have been 9. But no one seems to be entirely sure on that, so it is approximate at best. My earliest impressions of Cherith were happy ones. Being the foolish child that I was (Did I say was??), I got it into my head that I "liked" her. That meant a lot to me in those days. Somehow she was the only girl I ever looked forward to seeing again. When she found out that I "liked" her, she cornered me, and asked me why I liked her. Well, why does a 11 year old like a girl? That wasn't a question I was prepared to answer, I'm sure. But I simply said I thought she was pretty, and that that was the reason I liked her. I'm sure that wasn't exactly what she wanted to hear.
For several years that was how it stood. But then things changed in my little world. We no longer went to the same meetings. No longer saw each other. I know I missed her a little. But that was not something I could do much about.
It was a few years later that my mum announced that we would be going to visit the Zujic family for a weekend. I was very excited about that. And for some reason very nervous too. For some reason that I could not explain, I cared more about her opinion of me, than I ordinarily would have about anyone else. That weekend visit scared me a little.
Again, I have remarkably few memories. I remember having buckwheat for breakfast. Something that had never happened in my rather short life so far (Don't ask why I remember that, maybe just because it seemed strange to me). I remember helping Cherith wash the dishes. I remember riding with her father to his computer shop in the town. I remember how he put his car (a van) through it's paces to show me how good it handled the road. Distinctly I remember talking to her about my younger brother Henry, who was going through a very naughty phase at the time, and was being a rather bad example to her younger brothers. Then there was the time we spent talking while she hung up the clothes.
Maybe it was because she was the oldest girl living at home at the time. Having three younger brothers and two younger sisters, meant that her life must have been very busy. There were two things that stood out in my mind after that weekend. First, that she was even more pretty than she had ever been. Secondly, that she would make someone a very good wife. I don't know why that thought occurred to me. I knew that our lives where very far apart. I didn't expect to see her again any time soon. And I was right.....
Over six years later, we had not seen each other. I had graduated high school years before. I had a job. We had occasionally said "hello" to each other over the Internet. But we never started talking much. I had often wanted to start talking to her, wishing to strike up some conversation, but I never seemed to able to summon up the nerve.
During that time, I held my head up as a staunch bachelor. Little did I realize just how quickly things like that could change. Little did I realize, just how useful the internet could be. I had long held off joining up to Facebook, on the idea that only people anxious for a date would go on Facebook. Over time my ideas changed, and finally I joined, mostly to be able to keep in touch with my friends and family. But there, on Facebook, was Cherith. I added her as a friend. But again, by then our lives were very far apart, and I didn't even try to start up contact with her. She wished me happy birthday, but I forgot to wish her the same on hers.
But then, one day on Facebook, she posted that she wasn't feeling well. I had been following her journeys overseas, where she was traveling at the time. I had even gone through and read all the old blog posts she had posted up. I commented on her Facebook status, that I wished she were well. Well, actually, I wrote "This is an official get well card!" That post, seemed to start something. We were on opposite side of the world, and yet, separated by 15000kms and 10 hours of time, we started chatting. We chatted about her experiences there, as she traveled through Europe with a group of young people on a church missionary tour. As problems raised their head for her, I did my best to encourage her, to be a friend. Then, when her brother was forced out o the group, and she left to stay with him, and they continued to travel through a few more countries, we were talking more than ever. It may seem incredible, but we talked twice a day, almost each day. We talked for several hours a day. A number of times we talked for 8, 10 or 12 hours at a stretch. This would usually only happen on weekends, when I could stay up very late on Saturday nights, (Or was that Sunday mornings?) I know once we chatted till 3AM, and then I woke up a few hours later, (much to her shock and disbelief,) and we promptly began chatting again. We talked about everything we could possibly talk about. She raised a lot of issues that we discussed. We talked of values, of principles and of beliefs. And then we just enjoyed chatting about day to day things. We laughed together, we shared troubles, we grew close in those months.
As she traveled through the alps in Switzerland and Italy, and then went to America, our friendship kept growing. By the time she was ready to come back to Australia, I knew we were very special friends. I had called her by phone a number of times while she was in America, and remembered the first time I heard her voice after all those years. I almost didn't recognize it.
Then she came back to Australia, and she plunged headlong into prac teaching for her college course. She was teaching at a school only 3 hours drive away from where I lived, and staying with a family there. I didn't need to think twice to know I wanted to visit. I ended up going there for a weekend, and realized that she was a very special young lady now. Two weeks later, she came to visit my family, and spent almost a week there. That Friday, I talked to her father, and asked his permission to court his daughter. He said that he had no objections at all, and so, I asked her to be my girlfriend. To my amazement and utter joy, she said yes.
From there things were unbelievable. Sometimes very confusing, but very special all the same, were those next few months. Over Christmas holidays we spent three weeks together, traveling to a church camp, then to my sister's place for a week, and to her parents place. From there, I had intended to travel home again, but a severe flood in Queensland meant I had to go south with her again. I was delighted.
From there, things went rather quickly. Someone had suggested the thought to me, that I move to the area where she was living and studying, in order to get to know her better. Being the steady "slow to change" type, I didn't like the idea at first. Oh, don't get me wrong, I liked the idea of living closer to her, but it just seemed strange to me to move so far, so soon. But I just needed time to adjust. I prayed hard, and thought a lot about what I should do, and realized that it had to be. So I started to pack. My work had been finishing up for some time already, and wouldn't continue much longer, simply another piece of God's perfect timing. But before that happened, there was another significant event.
I had planned to visit her once more before I could move. A surprise visit it was supposed to be. Unfortunately, the surprise leaked out, and she found out I was coming, but she didn't know when. I was planning on flying down on Wednesday, and staying till Sunday, in order to help her drive to QLD. She was planning to start her next prac assignment that Sunday, and I wanted to be there to help her drive. I had booked `my flight, when I decided to change the day to Monday, in order to catch her off guard. That meant forfeiting my flight, and re-booking on the Monday, but I decided it would be worth it.
That Monday, with the help of her bro-in-law, I arrived there, and gave her a very pleasant surprise. That week was very happy, as we managed to spend some time together, around her work and studies. But that Friday night, was destined to live in infamy. Friday evening, Cherith started to feel her neck becoming stiff and very sore. It got suddenly much worse, to the point that she could not move her head for the excruciating pain. We tried several things, none of which seemed to help much. By midnight she was in agony. But it subsided a little and she managed to get some sleep. She had decided to sleep in the lounge room so that I could stay with her, in case she needed anything. But an hour of sleep was all we were destined to get that night. 3AM Cherith woke up in the most terrible pain. She asked me to contact a medical help line, and they advised us to go to hospital. But driving to hospital with neck pain is certainly not pleasant. An hour wait at the hospital did nothing to improve things either. When she finally got to see the doctor, he made sure there was no physical damage, and gave her a powerful painkiller. That took half an hour to have any effect at all. Several times she almost fainted, both from the pain, and from the injection (I learned later that Cherith doesn't react well to needles and injections).We went home again at about 6AM and managed to steal a few hours of sleep in the lounge. That afternoon however the neck pain flared up again, and fearing that it must be due to some more serious neck problem, I tried to schedule an after hours visit to an Osteopath, and found one who was willing to see us. He was surprised by the severity of what the hospital had diagnosed as torticolis. He found out that her uppermost rib was lifted out of place, and was pulling the main nerve than runs down the arm, causing her pain in that arm and a strange numb sensation. Several visits to the osteopath later and the relief was noticeable, though not complete. It wasn't until a visit to a chiropractor about 6 weeks later that her neck pain was finally not a factor anymore.
But by then I had moved to Newcastle. I had told Cherith that I was arriving on Sunday (The 6th of March), but I fully intended to drive through the night on Sabbath evening, in order to be there on Sunday morning. I did it, with less stops for sleep than I planned on, with one thought keeping me awake and focused the whole way. I wanted to see the look of shock and surprise on her face. It was certainly worth it. She had not even woken up when I arrived. Her bro-in-law knocked on her door and asked her to come out, that there was something she should see. The sheer astonishment written on her face was worth a thousand words.
Then, living in Newcastle, we saw a lot of each other. I was looking for a job, and living with Cherith's sister and bro-in-law, until I could find a job and move into a rental place. It seemed like time was flying past, and it didn't take long before the inevitable happened. I knew I needed to talk to her dad again.
That was a nerve wracking weekend. We went to visit her parents for a weekend, and I had made up my mind that this was it. This time I would ask her father the big question. But how to do it? It isn't the easiest thing in the world to do. We were pretty busy, and I didn't really have much of a chance to talk to him about it, until finally on Sunday about lunchtime, I simply told him that I loved his daughter, and asked for his permission and blessing to marry Cherith. He said that I had his full permission, and with a few words of advice, gave me the go-ahead.
That was a relief, but short lived. Now I needed out work out some way of asking Cherith to marry me. I desperately wanted it to be a special occasion. I had a few ideas, but none seemed to work very well. Then finally we planned to go on a picnic in the Watagan hills, outside of Cooranbong. That morning, I knew I was going to ask her then. We went to the place we had picked out, and no sooner had we gotten the picnic set up, when a storm blew in off the hills. It rained for an hour. We sat in the car and ate our picnic meal, enjoying the time almost as much as we could have outside. But I was worried. Fate seemed to be against me. But the storm blew itself out, and a beautiful afternoon and evening developed. The sun came out again, and the steam and mist drifting through the valleys was amazing to see. The sun set, and it started to get dark, and I knew it wouldn't be long now.
|Enjoying the view after the storm|
I had, in planning for this, bought two dozen little red candle holders. These I had brought, with the candles in them, and that set the scene for what was about to happen. I excused myself for a moment, and went to the car. Lighting the candles, I told her to close her eyes, and not to peek. Then I placed the candles all around her, and told her to open her eyes. Then, asking her to stand up, I knelt and asked her to marry me. She said yes!
Now, just over one month later, things seemed to have changed so much... Being the worrying kind, I have been seriously worried about not being able to find work. But I have now been told where I can find work temporarily, and in another place where a carpentry apprenticeship might be available. God is so good, and blesses when His timing is just right.
Another thing that has been concerning me recently is Cherith's apparent poor health. It seemed that she suffered from all to frequent headaches, lethargy, allergies, and seemingly mysterious reactions to things. She would go to class at college, and within a short time have a nasty headache, be unable to concentrate, and suffer from dizziness and lightheadedness. It seemed that nothing would help either, except to avoid certain areas and buildings. Very puzzling, and to add to the problem, it was very frustrating to Cherith, because she could not work out what was the problem. However, at college one day, talking to one of her lecturers who is experienced with certain problems, she found out that what she was reacting to were the chemicals used in the buildings for cleaning and mold killing. Immediately it all made sense. She had MCS, which stands for 'Multiple Chemical Sensitivity'. Simply put, this means that she has a very aggravated reaction to chemicals that most other people don't even notice. Cleaning products, aerosols like deodorant and air fresheners, chemicals that go into plastics and synthetic products, even concrete that hasn't been rendered, any of which can trigger a reaction. We have only just started working out what things in particular where causing problems, but it was a huge relief to Cherith to realise that she wasn't just imagining the reactions she was having, and she wasn't a hypochondriac. It was interesting to watch the reactions as she would walk into a room and almost immediately develop a headache and nausea, and feel better as soon as she walked out.
But what does this mean in practice? MCS is something that is usually developed due to over exposure to harsh chemicals, especially when the exposure is in early childhood (during pregnancy is the worst). Heavy industrial cleaning products, farming sprays, air pollution of all kinds and the like, all build up in the body to cause an aggravated reaction. Often this is something developed in early childhood, but often only becomes noticeable in teens and young adults. For Cherith and I, this means that we have to live in a "low chemical", or even "chemical free" home. It means we need to live as naturally and healthily as possible. It is as simple as that. It means we need to avoid products that contain certain harsh chemicals. In the meantime, we have to live with the fact that this is not going to go away anytime soon, but is definitely treatable, to minimize the effect to Cherith's health, and I'm sure my health will be so much the better for it. It means we have no choice but to live in the country, as petrol fumes and car exhaust emissions make it so much worse. It means we need to live an out of doors active life. It means we will need to grow as much of our own food as possible. It means that living in a hot climate makes the problem so much worse, as this vaporises a lot of chemicals in plastics, paints, and sprays. But, I am looking forward to the challenge. It also means that I have to be as understanding and supportive as I can be. And I will be!
Then of course, began the long process of seriously planning the wedding. Because Cherith had to put her studies on hold for her health's sake, she wanted to move away from the Cooranbong area. The logical place for her to go was to her parent's, who have a property way out in the middle of nowhere. I had found a job in the area, so I moved in with her family, and started working. The first 5 weeks or so where pretty hectic. I was working long shifts during the pressing season, usually six days a week, and at one stage never less than 10 hours a day. It helped. I was able to save up a some money, and it all helped to pay for the wedding. We had chosen the church where we were to be married (in Cooranbong), which was now 6 hours drive away. Over the next 4 months till the wedding, we made the trip to Cooranbong and back at least 7 or 8 times... Wedding preparations, and premarital counseling sessions, meant that we had to go back regularly to organise and arrange things.
And then the day started to draw close. We started the countdown of days once it was less than 100... 90... 75... 50... 40... 30... 20... A fortnight... A week. My last day of work before the wedding. I had the week before the wedding off, because we needed to scramble to get the last minute details in place. We raced back to Cooranbong to start on the final preparations. We got there to find a mountain of work to do. Cherith's older sister Bethany, who was also her wedding planning coordinator, made up a list, divided it into days, and we set to work. She really bossed that week, and it's a good thing she did. Her organised approach, her encouragement, and her ideas and suggestions, were absolutely invaluable. And we ticked off the jobs each day, and started to realize that we would actually manage to get it all done. There were place cards to make, wedding programs to print, decorations to make and organise. We didn't get much rest that week, but who cares. We were getting through the work. Cherith's younger sister Christella was there too, helping with the decorations, and later in the kitchens as well.
|The place cards|
And then, a brief rehearsal on Friday, and a slightly longer one after Sabbath for those who hadn't arrived yet on Friday. And then the night before. There was a mountain of decorations to set up, hang, and put in place. Tables, chairs, covers, wall hangings, and all the rest. It seemed impossible to get it done. At 1AM I said goodnight, having done my best to help up till then. I was exhausted, but worst of all, I knew I couldn't sleep late the next morning! The wedding was at 11AM! So I went home and fell into bed, only to find it had been borrowed for someone else (No one knew I would be sleeping there that night, because I had planned to sleep with my family, but I couldn't be bothered gathering up my blanket and driving to where they were,) so I slept on a pillow, and woke up at 5:30... 4 and a half hours sleep, and my wedding day before me. The very thought of it makes me feel tired! I cleaned the car inside and out (I hadn't had time to do it earlier), and then packed it for honeymoon. Then it was time for all the guys to get dressed and ready.
It seemed like forever, but finally we were at the church. I won't go into a detailed description of that day. That has been done elsewhere. Cherith's younger sister Christella has written a series on her perspective of the day, you can read it here, in parts one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven. The ceremony seemed to fly by. The sentence "You may now kiss the bride" took me completely by surprise, because it seemed like we had hardly started the ceremony. That was just my imagination though. It wasn't very short at all. Finally we walked out of church as husband and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Ben Dammasch... After all the congratulations, and a few photos, we started to get ready for the reception.
The reception is a blur of happiness for me. It was done. We were married, and everyone was there to celebrate that with us. But sitting down took it's toll on me. The lack of sleep started to catch up on me. I felt tired, and I'm afraid I looked tired too. The photographers had a time of it getting photos of me that didn't make me look too jaded. But they did a fantastic job of it in spite of that.
And then we drive off, at about 8PM, to go to our honeymoon destination. It was 10 by the time we arrived... It had been a long day....
|Mind if I come in??|
Our honeymoon was a fairytale for us. It was a beautiful quiet country spot, just what we both wanted. The two weeks passed much too quickly. And it was time to start married life for real, with all the blood, sweat, and tears that goes with it at times... I went back to work, and a week later we moved into a home of our own, about 5 minutes drive from my work. We started to set up house, and settle in, enjoying the fact that we finally had a place we could call home (We had been worried about the chances of having a place of our own to live, even before we got married)... And so the rough and tumble of married life started. We certainly didn't have a smooth start. Immediately after we moved, we had torrential rain, which flooded the creek and prevented me from work. For the next three weeks, I would only be able to work 3 days a week. Not enough to pay the bills on, and buy some of the things we needed to set up house. Then to top it off, my car died... No problem, it was insured, and the insurance was supposed to cover flood damage. They balked, and hedged, and I told them to pay up or else. Finally they payed, but only because water had gotten into the car and everything had gone mouldy... Now we have bought a new (used) car, and need to travel to QLD to pick it up.
I know this story isn't finished yet. Actually, this is only the beginning of a story. The story of our lives together. I know it will be a happy story. But I am a realist. I know there will be good times and bad. Tough times and easy ones. I don't expect it to be a fairytale, because fairytales are not real. And this is a real story. It has turned my life upside down. Or maybe it has turned it right way up...
The End - of the beginning of this story.