Old rickety wooden desks. That’s where it all began.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 13 years since the first time we met. We walked into our freshman English class that fall not knowing anyone, much less each other, yet the opening chapter of our story was unfolding, like a novel. Fate was taking its divine course. Whether we saw it coming or not. That August day was uncomfortable, because of the Arizona heat and all of our collective first-day-of-high-school nerves. Self-concious about our hair, self-conscious about our clothes, self-conscious about our breath, self-conscious about everything, we were all, no doubt, just looking for someone to talk to. Someone to cling to. Someone to make us feel at home.
When the teacher called attendance for the first time, we both got that first point of connection, because we were the only two who actually had to respond to the question, “If I pronounced your name wrong or you’d like to be called something else, please raise your hand and let me know.”
In Jordan’s family, it’s traditional to name the first two boys after their grandfathers. So, since Jordan’s named for his mom’s dad, his legal first name is Douglas, even though he and each brother in his family goes by their middle name. It’s a nice sentiment, for sure, but created a slight headache on the first day of school every year from kindergarten through college, because it wasn’t your typical, My name’s Joseph, but I go by ‘Joe’ please. Instead, it was a full minute conversation in front of the entire class that first day of high school to explain the confused look off the teacher’s face, but Jordan did, and Amy was next, because, as we all know, F is just two letters behind D.
Amy’s part Italian and part Irish, and while she may not look it, she’s what you’d expect from someone with those genes. Italian: She loves carbohydrates and Pinot Grigio. Irish: The sun loves to burn her fair skin the second she steps outside. So, when the teacher
said butchered her Italian maiden name, Finocchiaro, out loud, she, of course, raised her thin, white, freckled arm and shyly, politely, corrected her using a universal Disney movie example. “It’s pronounced Finocchiaro, like Pinocchio, but with -aro added to the end, like Pinocchi-aro with an F.” At that age, she was still quite an introvert, the quiet kid in class, but as the years rolled on, she became more outgoing, and spiced up her delivery. Taking a page from Mario’s book, she really started to emphasize the -iaro part, doing the fingers-pinched-high-shaking-hand-motion and everything. To this day, the only thing she doesn’t do when shes pronouncing her maiden name is kiss her fingers when she’s done and exclaim, Bellisimo! So she certainly didn’t do it on the first day of high school. No way.
That semester, we were assigned neighboring seats in the same row. The cute, fair, Irish-Italian blonde in front, and the tall, dark, talkative Greek behind her. Our friendship started in those old rickety wooden desks. We didn’t know it’d be set on fire three years later, our senior year, when we had class together again, and the two kids with the funny names explained themselves once more to a new batch of teachers, only to be assigned seats right in front of each other again.
Today, we’ve been invited back to the place where it all began — to the same halls where we used to walk each other to class and maybe even the same desks where we would explain to every teacher how to pronounce our names — to speak to photojournalism students and share our story as high school sweethearts turned a full-time husband and wife photography team. Our message will be filled with stories from our past and journeys from our present, lots of laughs and tons of love, and, if we do our job right, the students sitting in the seats we once sat in will walk away believing in love and loving what you do just a little bit more.
If you’re not familiar with our story, you can watch it by clicking here: