Falling in Love
Ruby and David
As told to Cliff Williams
Edited by Cliff Williams from a recorded and transcribed conversation with Ruby on August 31, 2023. Ruby and David met in 1995, got engaged in August of 2000, and were married in 2001.
When Ruby was a sophomore in college, at Asbury University in central Kentucky, she dated a classmate. “I should never have dated him. We were not at all compatible. When we broke up, I wondered why I had been so stupid to go on a first date with him.
“During my junior year, I was dealing with the social pressure of having a ‘ring by spring.’ How was I going to have a ring by the time I graduated if I didn’t have a boyfriend? That pressure prompted me to wonder what made me worthy. It was hard to tell myself I was okay when the culture around me was telling me otherwise.
“Finally, by about mid-spring of that junior year, I came to the point at which I was content to be where I was. I was enjoying being single and enjoying my friendships. I was okay even though I had no significant other.
“About this time, I decided I wanted to work at a summer camp between my junior and senior years. That would give me the opportunity to work with children, which would fit with my elementary education major. I chose one that was about an hour and a half away from my home in western Pennsylvania.
“Also, about this time, a Tanzanian named David, was deciding what he wanted to do for the coming summer. Tanzania is just south of Kenya in eastern Africa. It uses the British educational system, and David had just finished advanced secondary education in it, which meant that he was about my age. He wanted to take a gap year before he went to a university, and he wanted to go to the United States so that he could network here so as to find a university in the U.S. he could go to.
“David had a childhood friend whose sister was working at an organization in his hometown called Camp Counselors USA. The organization has exchange programs for lots of different kinds of camps around the world. His friend said, ‘Why don’t you talk with my sister about applying?’ So David did. He applied, interviewed, was approved, and the camp that I was going to be at selected him to be a counselor.”
Camp started the first week of June. “I was feeling free and light, happy to be away from campus. David was in awe that he was in the U.S.
“It wasn’t long before David was coming to see me while I was on ‘lane duty.’ It was called that because the four cabins in each of the four ‘villages’ at the camp were connected by a road that we called a lane. The lane in each village was shaped in a semicircle. Each night, from 9:00 pm, at lights out, to 11:00 pm, one of the counselors from each village would stay near the four cabins in their village to ensure the safety of the campers.
“David and I had been assigned lane duty the same nights at the beginning of the summer, which meant that we would each have to be in our own village of cabins those nights. But all of a sudden David started asking me after supper whether I would like for him to bring me a nighttime snack during lane duty.
“I thought that was peculiar because he was supposed to be staying at the cabins in his village. But I said, ‘Sure, if you have a way of doing that.’ So he brought me a snack, and then he stayed to talk. I thought, ‘What is going on? He shouldn’t be staying, because who’s watching his kids?’ This kept happening the next times I had lane duty. I later discovered that he was on lane duty when I was not.
“I mentioned this to one of my counselor friends, who said, ‘Ruby, he switched his lane duty so that he could be with you during your lane duty. He likes you.’ My response to this was to exclaim, ‘Oh, don’t even talk about that! I’m not interested. I don’t want a boyfriend. I am enjoying being friends with everyone here and not having the awkwardness of “Does he like me? Does he not?” I don’t want to deal with that.’ But David kept coming around.
“I thought, ‘My friends were wrong. He just found a friend in me because I was asking questions about his homeland, his language, and his culture and was showing an interest in his life. I had lots of questions, because at one time his family had lived in Uganda, where there was a Civil War, and then in Tanzania, where he grew up. He does not actually like me, I thought, and that’s good. I’m not looking for that.
“In addition to his visits, he always came with me and others to my parent’s house when we counselors had to leave camp in between camping sessions. Again, I was naïve. I just thought he had gotten to know my parents’ house and was comfortable visiting.
“On one of these breaks, a medical issue for me came up, and the doctor said I should not be driving the two hours back to camp the day we were supposed to be there. I could go back the next day if I was okay. The other counselors would go back by themselves in another car and I would go the following day. I said goodbye to them all and went upstairs to my room to lie down, as I was feeling woozy. But David came upstairs and gave me a kiss on the cheek, then said, ‘I hope you feel better.’ I said, ‘Thanks.’ Naïve, yet again—I just thought he was a sweet guy and that the kiss was cultural.
“Back at camp—about halfway through the summer—David asked a couple of times, ‘How do you feel about dating?’ I said, ‘I’m not interested. I’ve got my senior year to do, and then I’m going to begin my teaching career. I’m really okay with just hanging out.’
“A week later, we ran into each other at the end of a rope bridge that went across the river at the camp. We talked for a while, and just before I was going to leave to go back to my cabin, he kissed me on the lips. I said calmly, ‘Goodnight. I’ll see you tomorrow.’ But on the inside, I was distraught. All the way back to my cabin, I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh! Oh, my gosh! What has just happened!? How in the world have I led him on to think that I would want him to kiss me?’
“And then during the next break between camping sessions, at my parents’ house again, as I was about halfway up the stairs to my room, David came to the bottom of the stairs and said, ‘Ruby?’ I said, ‘Yes?’ He said, ‘I love you.’ I said, ‘Thanks,’ and then ran up the stairs to my bedroom, where I burst into tears and exclaimed to myself, ‘What have I done?! What have I done?!’
“I grabbed the wall phone and pulled the cord into the bathroom so I wouldn’t wake up the other counselor who was in my bedroom, and called my best friend from high school. This was two in the morning. ‘Heather, what do I do? I don’t want to hurt his feelings. I don’t even know how we got here.’ We talked for a while, and she got me calmed down so I could sleep.
“Somehow in that conversation and into the next day, I got to the point of saying, ‘Who cares? It’s summer.’ I had read romance novels in which teenagers have summer romances and then when school starts, they break up. I thought, ‘Why not? Why am I resisting? Let me just have a little summer fling.’
“So I let it go. We never had a talk. Things just morphed. We started holding hands. I thought, ‘Okay. Whatever. In another month, he’s going back to Tanzania, and I’m going back to college at Asbury.’
The end of summer came. Ruby started classes for her senior year, and David stayed at the camp to winterize it and get it ready for family camp over Labor Day weekend. “I was going to go back to the camp that weekend. During the two weeks between starting classes in August and Labor Day, I found that I missed him. I was like, ‘Oh, this is not good. I’m in Kentucky. He’s going to Tanzania. How would this even work?’
“After the Labor Day camp session, David spent five days at Asbury, and we hung out between my classes and at meals. When it came time for him to leave I was a mess: ‘What are we going to do? If the two weeks between leaving camp and Labor Day are any indication, I’m really going to miss him.’
“We decided we would write letters three times a week and talk on the phone two times a month. Plus, we had both been invited back to the camp for the following summer. He had a job lined up in Tanzania for the coming year, and during that year he would see about going to a university in the U.S. the following year.
“I took him to the bus station in Lexington, Kentucky, so that he could get to New York City where he would get his flight back to Tanzania. We did the goodbye things—we had a picnic before going to the bus station, I gave him a little gift, and he gave me flowers and a card.
“All this while, I was telling myself, ‘Summer fling. Summer fling. Summer’s over, and school has started. We’re done. I’m moving on. Now I can say I had a summer fling.’ Yet my heart was saying, ‘Oh, my gosh. What am I going to do? He’s going to be gone until next summer, and I won’t have a date for events during my senior year.’ I panicked. And then I was irritated with myself. This was supposed to be only a summer fling. But I had let my heart get into it.
“As David was getting on the bus, I had tears flowing down my face. I got into my car and followed the bus until it got to the on ramp of the highway, with tears still streaming down my face. ‘What if something happens to the bus? What if he gets on the wrong bus when he has to transfer buses?’
“It was a Friday night and nobody was around on campus. I went to my dorm room and cried and watched sappy movies and waited for him to call me from payphones at the different bus stops, using 1-800-collect so I could help pay for the long distance charges. He did—at each place he called me and also right before he got onto the airplane.
Letters, Packages, and Calls
Rudy and David wrote letters three times a week for the next nine months. “I mailed the first letter the next day. All of the letters those nine months were like daily dairies. We kept paper and pen with us during the day, and whenever we had a moment we’d scratch out something—details that you don’t ordinarily tell people when you’re just talking to them: ‘I woke up at 6:07 am, and I hit the snooze button, but I hit it only once. I wanted to hit it twice, but I needed to get up early.’
“I sent him packages. They always arrived, but they might not have all of the contents. If I sent candy or a toy for his young brother, they would be taken. When I sent a video of me playing the piano at my niece’s wedding, that made it. He couldn’t send me packages, though, because a postal worker somewhere or an immigration worker would take it.
“Calling was way more expensive than we had thought it would be—the internet had not yet come along in 1995. He couldn’t afford to call even for five minutes with his small teacher’s salary if he wanted to save money to come to a U.S. school. I had a friend near campus who could make international calls at a steep discount for a dollar a minute. I went to her house once a month on Saturday mornings, which was Saturday evenings in eastern Africa. We tried to keep our calls to fifteen minutes, which, of course, didn’t work.
“David’s family didn’t have a phone, so he had to go to a friend’s house fifteen minutes away from his house to talk. When I was missing him in between the monthly calls, I called his friend’s house from my dorm room, which was $1.75 a minute. Sometimes I caught David there. When I didn’t, his friend went to see whether David was home. When he was, I talked with him when I called an hour later.”
At Camp Again
The two worked at the camp again the following summer. “This time, both of us were in leadership positions, which meant that we didn’t have to do lane duty, which allowed us to hang out with each other more.
“When the end of summer came, we were wondering whether things could continue. David still had not gotten any scholarships to U.S. universities. He had been admitted to every university he had applied to, but without a scholarship he could not pay. We were sweating it. I knew I would be heartbroken if he could not stay in the U.S.
“On the last day of camp, when we were cleaning the entire camp, I was in the main office finishing things up. I heard an announcement that went over all the speakers in the camp asking for David to come to the office. He was, however, at the ropes course across the river, so he probably couldn’t hear the announcement. I went upstairs and said, ‘David is over at the ropes course. Is there something I can help with?’ They said, ‘Someone from Asbury University is on the phone.’ I said, ‘Oh, let me grab it.’
“It was one of the admission counselors: ‘I’m calling for David. We have some funds that are from financial aid packages for students who have decided not to come to Asbury. So we decided to put together one more international student scholarship for someone who can start classes in two weeks—four years with full tuition and full room and board. The person has to be in the U.S. already, and the country they are from has to allow someone to change their visa without going to their home country, applying for a visa, and then coming back to the U.S., which could take weeks or months.’
“While I was writing down details, David came in. I told him about the scholarship and visa, and he said, ‘Yes, I can change my visa very easily. I just have to fill out the paperwork and send it to the embassy in D.C..’ He got on the phone and got all the details.
“The news spread throughout the camp. By the time of the banquet that night, which was to be a celebration of a great summer of ministry to all the kids, it turned into a celebration for David being able to go to college in the U.S. and for me and David to continue to be together.”
Ruby and David dated for the next four years while David was at Asbury University and Ruby taught elementary school nearby. “In the summer of 2000, I went to Tanzania and Uganda with him for a month. I had major culture shock. The food was not familiar. I didn’t know the language. I didn’t know how to get around. At the village in Uganda where his parents had lived, there was no running water or electricity. There were outside latrines and three-sided showers in which you used buckets to shower.
“Everything was so starkly different that I didn’t think I could live there. We would need to break up if David wanted to live in Africa. But I was too far in to do that. There was no stopping now.
“I was also disappointed because I had thought David was going to propose to me then. But he didn’t, because the engagement ring he had ordered had not come in time. We both came back to the U.S., where he was going to get a master’s degree at nearby University of Kentucky.
“Several weeks after classes started that fall, I stopped by his apartment on my way home from the school I was teaching at. He wasn’t home, but I let myself in, because he had given me a key, and I lay down on David’s bed to sleep off a pounding headache. A couple of hours later, he came back to the apartment. I explained that I had not felt well. He said he would make supper for us. In the meantime, I had to use the bathroom.
“While I was washing my hands, he knocked on the door and said, ‘I have it. Do you want it?’ I said, ‘Do you have what?’ He said again, ‘I have it. Do you want it?’ I replied, ‘What are you talking about? You can’t talk in pronouns. You have to tell me what you’re talking about.’
He said, ‘Your ring. I have your ring. Do you want it?’ I was still in a dazed state after having woken up, and I said, ‘What ring are you talking about?’ He replied, ‘Your diamond. I have your diamond.’ I said, ‘You’re talking like you found my lost shoe or something. Is that a diamond as in an engagement ring?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I totally thought he was joking! No way was he serious.
“I opened the door and said, “Are you kidding me? I have a migraine headache, and I’m in the bathroom and you tell me through the door, ‘Do you want it?’ You have to do this right.”
“I was still feeling terrible, so I went back to bed. He said, ‘Well, it’s right here. Do you want it?’ I said, ‘Yes, but you have to get on your knees and ask me properly.’ So he knelt by the bed, opened up the little box that contained the ring, and said, ‘Ruby, will you marry me?’ I said, ‘That’s the way you’re supposed to do it.’ Then he put the ring on my finger. That was so anticlimactic that I went back to sleep while he made supper.
“I learned later that it was a hundred-dollar ring from the jewelry section at Walmart—$104 to be more exact. He didn’t have the money for it, so he had to make payments, after which Walmart ordered the ring. It had come a few days before I stopped by his apartment. When he found me there, he got it from his desk and put it into his pocket, and on his way to the kitchen to make supper, just on a whim, he thought, ‘I’ll ask her right now whether she wants it.’ He was determined to be original and not follow the norm: ‘If this woman loves me in the lowest uncommon place, then she is the one for me!’
“We got married the following summer, in June of 2001.”
Photo credit: Naomi Calderon
© 2023 by Cliff Williams