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Soulmates at the Old Chicago

She had pity on my dishpan hands.

That's what I tell people when they ask how my wife and I fell in love. Of course, it's more complicated than that.

I reluctantly took a job as a dishwasher at the newly opened Old Chicago restaurant in Gresham in late June 2001, thanks to the prodding of my financially frenzied stepfather.

He told me that the camp counselor job I got at Camp Collins on Mount Hood wasn't going to make enough money to supplement my costly decision to walk away from a full ride scholarship in music at Portland State in order to study journalism at the University of Oregon.

I wasn't happy about being a dishwasher. But as I later learned, I was there for a reason larger than my own summer plans.

She first caught my eye when the Old Chicago team was doing a team-building exercise in the restaurant's parking lot. The attractive, blonde, Reese Witherspoon-esque hostess had a nametag that read 'Savannah,' and I was certain she was a snob.

Savannah and her clique of hostesses kept to themselves. I took that as a sign of being stuck-up, but I later learned that she was just feeling very out-of-place and latched on to the few people she knew.

My initial impression of her melted away quickly as we got to know each other on the job. It didn't take us long to discover that we had a common faith, which forged an instant friendship. Although I was a slimy, soaked dish bum who was tucked away in the back, I was still able to impress her with the fact that I was in a Christian singing group.

Eventually, I thought I'd test the waters with Savannah. I wrote a short message on a pocket card - about the size of a business card - with my phone number not-so-subtly inserted at the end, along with the phrase, 'So you'll call me, right?'

Her response: 'Aren't you a cute little boy!' Ouch. The girl was three years older than I, so I suppose she had grounds for that statement. But… ouch! With that comment, I had dismissed any thoughts of dating that girl.

But one afternoon, as I was about to leave Old Chicago for the day, I saw Savannah sitting at one of the tables in the restaurant all by her lonesome.

'Marcus!' she exclaimed. 'Sit down with me so I don't feel like a loser.' Although I had to be somewhere, I couldn't say no to a pretty girl - even one who called me a 'little boy.'

She then asked a question I never would have seen coming, and come to find out, she never thought she'd ask: 'So, when are we going to hang out?'

Not wanting to be toyed with, I called her bluff. 'How about tomorrow?' 'Sure!'

I didn't know that she was at that table waiting for another guy, but I did know that she'd promptly call me the following night to cancel.

She did, claiming on my answering machine that a sudden illness had overtaken her. I wasn't about to let her chicken out. I called her back, and nearly five hours later, we hung up. And something had changed. We had one of those talks that you can never have on purpose; they're the kind that just happen - where you connect with someone so well that you can't possibly learn enough about them. It's a process that has continued for five years.

From then on, we were pretty much inseparable. It didn't take long for us to have our first disagreement. She asked when I thought I'd be married. I said it wouldn't be until after college, and even then, perhaps not until I was 'well-established' in my career. Savannah said by setting that kind of roadblock I could be setting myself up to miss something great.

I told her I loved her during our nation's darkest hour - Sept. 11, 2001 - because I realized that you can't keep feelings like that inside when you don't know what tomorrow will bring.

We worked at keeping our relationship together while I was in Eugene. We'd meet in Salem at every chance we could to enjoy just a few hours or normalcy as a couple, before going back to our separate lives. I finally came back to Portland - and back to Portland State (to my stepdad's bewilderment) when I knew I was going to marry the girl.

I proposed to Savannah just before midnight on New Year's Eve outside Timberline Lodge, sitting in the snow, wrapped in blankets, waiting for the fireworks to start on the mountain. The tearful 'yes' I received materialized three years ago today: Sept. 13, 2003.

Since then, we've lived 1,096 days together; 26,304 hours; 1,578,240 minutes. And while I'm grateful for every one of those minutes, hours and days, I can hardly believe how fast they've gone by. I've been told by married people much older and wiser than I that the passage of time will only accelerate. That bothers me, because I think that in this life we'll never have enough time to fully discover the love of our life. We can just die trying. And I will.

Thank you, Savannah, for being the kind of person who always leaves me wanting more. Our story is one that I wouldn't trade for anything. And don't forget, we're still writing it. Happy anniversary.