A Love Story
Story by Diane McMahon
Photo courtesy of Amy Prater
There are love stories that are sweet and simple. There are love stories that provoke wailing and explosive theatrics. And there is Amy and Michael’s love story.
It is neither simple nor falsely dramatic. It is true and steel-strong. It encompasses hard times and hope. It carries the age-old wisdom: “Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone. We find it with another.” (Thomas Merton)
Amy and Michael Prater are from Toccoa, Ga., and went to the same high school. He graduated in 1985, she in 1987. You might imagine they were high school sweethearts. They weren’t. Michael asked Amy out in high school, but it was too soon after he’d broken up with a friend of hers. She declined. They went on to attend different colleges—he to the University of Georgia, she to the University of West Georgia. They didn’t stay in touch.
Destiny tapped her fingertips patiently, knowing as well as Shakespeare's Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream, that “the course of true love never did run smooth1.” After college, Amy moved to Atlanta and was a store manager for the Gap. Michael took a summer job with the Heron Point Golf Club in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island…and never left. In 1992, a couple from Toccoa independently asked Amy to be a bridesmaid and Michael to be a groomsman in their wedding. Michael drove into town with just enough time to run into the church and discover it was Amy he was to accompany down the aisle. Recalling this, Michael smiled at her and said, “I told her how beautiful she was.”
At the reception, Michael extended an invitation for Amy and a friend to come visit Hilton Head. Being “very reserved,” Amy couldn't imagine what prompted her to call Michael before she left and ask if he was serious about the invitation. He was.
For almost two years they maintained a long distance relationship. Sometimes they met in Augusta, a halfway point between Atlanta and Hilton Head. Texting was in the future, so they wrote letters. Amy was reserved in the beginning but Michael remembers the night she surprised him with a visit to Hilton Head. “She called me on one of those old cellphones, as big as a lunch box. She’d prepared a night picnic on a vacant lot lit with candles. I thought it was great she was becoming so open and spontaneous,” Michael said. The two decided Amy would move to Hilton Head and she was able to transfer her job to the Gap at the former Shelter Cove Mall. It was 1993.
Sadly, fate decreed there were more dragons to be slayed. On a quiet night after work, Michael answered the phone. In a conversation impossible to imagine, Amy abruptly said she just couldn’t do it. She couldn’t move to Hilton Head. Reeling but resolute, Michael took off that night for Atlanta. “I went directly to Waffle House, ordered two large cups of coffee to go and started driving—11 at night till 5 in the morning. I had to look at her face before I could believe it,” Michael said.
More than 20 years later, Amy and Michael recounted that ill-fated night. “I cried for three days,” Amy said. “They sent me home from work and told me to take a few days off." Amy admitted she got cold feet because of Michael’s big personality. “He scared me,” she said. I was shy and reserved and he was intense.”
After a suspended moment, Michael explained the couple tried to reconnect three of four months later. “I wanted someplace neutral, with no distractions,” he said. So he rented a beachfront condo on St. Simons Island for a weekend. But both realized it wasn’t going to work. Their weekend ended before it was over.
More than sadness, they both felt relieved it was “finally a done deal.” They moved on.
In love stories the gaps are dispensed within few words. Amy dated a man for eight years and was married to him for two. “It was a dark hole,” she said. Michael never married; never lived with a woman. He enjoyed his job at Heron Point. He bought a boat and fished and explored the Lowcountry waterways. He woke early and loved the peace of sunrise.
In 2009, Amy posted on Facebook, “I’m taking my last name back.” The marriage was over. She admitted she was “really hoping Michael would see it.” On August 22, 2009 he emailed her a long message ending with “my sand will be happy to greet your feet.”
Hallelujah! In July 2010, Amy arrived in Hilton Head and she and Michael at last became husband and wife. In taking care of typical newlywed business, Michael added her to his company health insurance plan. Six weeks later, after a routine mammogram, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. Three tumors-—the largest at 9 centimeters.
“I usually know the table I’m going to sit down at. I knew nothing about cancer. They give you a diagnosis and recommend treatment, but what treatment? I had to do the deep dark research to understand her chances, what it meant for treatment and interpret it to Amy and still keep her upbeat,” Michael said. Amy recognized and appreciated her husband's commitment.
“I’m the luckiest girl in the world. When my hair started falling out, he shaved his head and then he shaved mine,” said Amy.
“I always believed the doctors would save her life, but I had to make her believe in what she was surviving for. After losing her hair and her breasts I had to make her feel beautiful again. I had to convince her she was the most beautiful woman in the world to me,” Michael said and leaned forward toward Amy.
I wipe my eyes under my sunglasses and reach over and touch Amy’s knee. I ask if I can write that his words made him (all of us) cry. Amy and Michael aren’t touching (I’m in the way). However, their bond is something so durable and permanent I’m silenced in its presence.
Michael helped us continue. “Everybody at some point in their relationship is going to face a challenge. We got it right off the bat. I tell my friends marry your best friend and never stop letting her know she is the most beautiful girl in the world,” he said.
Amy smiled at Michael. It’s a kiss, an embrace. “Ever since I was little, I’ve had this picture of being in Maine, sitting on a rock in a cable-knit sweater, watching the ocean beat against the rocks, eating clam chowder. I don’t know where it came from, but I love it,” Amy said. This fall will celebrate her five-year, cancer-free anniversary. “I’m researching the best chowder and I’ll find the perfect rock, in the right place and we’ll drive there to celebrate,” Michael said.