friends, parenthood, Sam, this day in Vore history

Sam Turns One

I can’t believe you made me wait a year for cake.


Today is Sam’s birthday. How quickly time flies.

One year ago he was born at Christ Hospital. It is a blur, now, to recall all the surreal details. We posted lots of photos the day after he arrived, but we never told the full birth story in this space. We decided to do that today.

The thing is, I (Erin) hadn’t planned on telling his birth story. I hadn’t even planned on writing the story of his birth at all. Not even for me. But as days turned into weeks turned into months, I wanted a record about how Sam, snug in my belly, entered the world.

My main concern was that writing a blog post about Sam’s birth would be the telling of a story no one would want to read or that perhaps should remain a secret between Ben and I. But then I read my friend Jill Van Hambergin’s post about the birth of her second son, Charlie. I read it aloud, Ben sitting in the chair next to me. Three quarters of the way through, I burst into tears. Who wants to read a birth story? Well, for starters, people like me. So here goes.

I’m told there are two types of people: those who loathe pregnancy and those who love it. I am happy to declare myself in the latter camp. I have memories of feeling nauseated during the first trimester, but I only threw up once. Because I was due in July and school ended before Memorial Day, I got to spend those final two months, when all you want to do is curl up on the couch, pulling a “Weeds” marathon while sucking down lemonade and eating tunafish bagel sandwiches from Marx Bagels. It wasn’t a bad deal. I also continued to exercise, which has me convinced that my pregnancy and labor were easier. Also, the World Cup was on, so those trips to the gym were further inspired by the promise of Spaniards in red Umbros and Vuvuzuelas.

The nausea, the backaches, the sleeplessness: those memories are sure enough sequestered to some area of my brain that I cannot access as vividly anymore.

Officially, I was due on July 21, 2010. All of my friends warned me that the first baby has the habit of arriving late, so I should prepare myself for what could be a frustrating week. And if I started to think that the baby would never come, not to worry. He or she will come. Eventually.

I went to bed on Sunday, the eighteenth, with a cramp. I didn’t think anything of it. Everything was a little achy or crampy in July. During the night, I slept like a baby, which is to say, I didn’t sleep very well at all. I woke up every two to three hours and thrashed the covers like I was drowning in water. [Ben’s note: I slept like a baby that night too.]

On Monday morning, the nineteenth, Ben and I woke up and had coffee. We talked about the team of men who were on their way to our house to replace our entire roof. That day. Two days before Sam’s official due date. But first babies come late, so we were fine.

We kissed, we exchanged I love yous, and we parted ways: Ben to work and I to my couch.

There was an ache and a cramp and I didn’t think anything of it.

A truck pulled up to the house and the doorbell rang. I introduced myself and told the men that if they needed anything I would be inside. I apologized that I couldn’t move the porch furniture since I was nine months pregnant. Inside, looking out our living room window, I watched as shingles began to rain down.

Then the ache and the cramp felt like a small wave. The wave came and went, erratically, but since I had never labored before, I didn’t know it was labor. Everyone told me that you wouldn’t be able to walk or talk, and I could do both of those things. I called my friend Katie. Always calm and full of advice, she told me to start recording the times I felt these waves. They were pretty regular, though at that time, still pretty spaced apart from the five-minute time frame.

I called my parents. My dad answered. I casually mentioned that I “think I might be having contractions.” Outside, more shingles fell.

I called Ben at work. He didn’t pick up so I left a message, something to the effect of “it’s probably nothing but I’m feeling something, maybe contractions, so could you please come home for lunch?” Before leaving, Ben told his colleagues he was sure he’d be back after lunch. He left his computer on and his man purse at his desk.

When I called the doctor’s office, I was asked who would drive me to the appointment. “Oh, I guess my husband will,” I said. I hadn’t considered the fact that I shouldn’t drive myself to the doctor. Ben called work to say that he needed to drive me to the hospital but that it was probably nothing so he’d be back to work in an hour or two.

Right before we left the house, we grabbed our pre-packed hospital bags — just in case — and then stepped outside and walked over and around hundreds of shingles. “I’ll be back!” I yelled to the workmen.

It’s a good thing Ben drove. I was in pain. I grasped my belly, hunched over, tried to breath, and bared my teeth.

Things get really blurry after that. I’ll let Ben take it over from here.

We met with Erin’s doctor at 2:45. Erin said she was fully prepared to be told that of course this wasn’t labor yet and be sent back home. But I could tell she was in a lot of pain. If this wasn’t the real deal, I couldn’t imagine what actual labor was going to be like. I was also still thinking about my conference call at 3:30.

Erin’s doctor told her she was two centimeters dilated. “You’re in labor,” he said. “We should probably get you up to the ninth floor.”

As we walked across the parking lot, I called my boss to tell him I would not be on the 3:30 conference call.

Erin and I had taken a tour of the birthing center during one of our classes, and it was then that we saw (and subsequently made fun of) the Feng Shui room, which featured a weird crystal hanging from the ceiling but was also probably the biggest of all the delivery rooms. Sure enough, we were assigned the Feng Shui room.

We walked up and down the halls, Erin’s hand digging into my shoulder every five to ten minutes. Our nurse measured her around 4:30. Still two centimeters. After the nurse left, Erin groaned and said, “I do not want to go back home.”

We were in a holding pattern for a couple hours. Around 6:30 she was four centimeters. I watched the monitor, seeing the reading spike with each contraction, knowing before Erin flinched when each round of pain was coming. After they gave her an epidural around 8:30, I was amazed to see the monitor spike and Erin … do nothing. The miracle of modern medicine.

The Wendy’s in the lobby closed at nine o’clock. I hadn’t eat lunch and I was starving. I excused myself, ordered a grilled chicken sandwich, and ate it sitting on the floor outside the Feng Shui room. All my father friends had warned me, “Do not, under any circumstances, eat in front of her during labor.”

After the epidural Erin was sleepy, and I was too. While she slept restlessly in her bed, I curled up in the fold-out chair with The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, but soon put that down and watched the Phillies/Cardinals game on TV with the sound off. I was exhausted but I couldn’t sleep. This is really happening, I kept thinking. I knew the world was going on as usual outside our window, but everything about my life had shrunk to the size of that room and what would soon happen there. My wife, our new baby, and the family that was just beginning.

Erin started pushing at 3:30 Tuesday morning. She was adamant that I stay by her side and not watch the actual birth. When the moment came, though, the nurses asked if she wanted a mirror to watch and she surprised both of us by saying yes.

He arrived with a full head of blonde hair. I had convinced myself we were going to have a girl because everyone had been predicting that. It took me a moment to register that it was actually a boy. We had boy and girl names picked out. At 4:47 a.m., we knew we had a Sam.

The doctors stitched Erin up and cleaned Sam and then, for the first hour, before we called any family, it was just the three of us. He’s here! I thought, watching Erin hold him on her chest. I couldn’t stop smiling. The sun was coming up but our room faced west, so there was just a hazy red glow. Later a nurse told us there was a rainbow outside, and we looked far enough east to see it bending across the sky. In every way imaginable, it was a new day.

family, friends, parenthood, this day in Vore history

This Day In Vore History: January 20, 2010

In our ongoing attempt to introduce new plot lines and fresh material to our blog, we have decided to have a baby.

Today, January 20, 2010, Erin enters her second trimester.

Here is a picture to prove it:

Two pregnancy tests were necessary because the first one, top, was purchased in bulk from a dollar store. (This was a money-saving tip from our friend Christine. We bought twelve. The winner was number nine.) But since it was a dollar store pregnancy test, we were somewhat skeptical of its veracity. Thus the second test below, the slightly more dependable Clearblue (loaned to us by Katie Andolina), which says either “Pregnant” or “Not Pregnant.” For some reason we thought the napkin would serve as a nice backdrop.

(For the record, Gail Cicak also loaned us a pregnancy test. Thank you, Female Council of Elders!)

As you might imagine, Jon G. Beers was through the roof when he heard the news. We told him (and Susie) on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. They were just sitting down to dinner. After the news, they insisted we eat and refused to take a bite until we had done so. “Eat up,” Jon told Ben. “You need your strength.” (Later he clapped him on the back and said, “Good boy.”)

Ben’s parents, Steve and Donna, got the news on Thanksgiving. We were all sitting in a parked minivan. (This part was not planned.) After telling them about our visit to the Book Loft, Donna asked if we had purchased any books. “In fact we did,” Ben said. “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” Silence. Expectant looks. A double take. “You mean?” she said. “Yes,” we said. We then executed an awkward four-way hug in the confined interior of a Dodge Caravan.

This will be the first grandchild on either side. Jon G. has every weekend in the summer of 2011 booked for fishing expeditions, boy or girl.

Speaking of, we still haven’t decided whether we’ll find out the sex or not. Ben does not want to. Erin does. Our deal? Erin agreed not to find out … if we buy a weiner dog. We’ve still got six weeks to decide. (The due date is July 21.)

We used to think that parenthood meant you had to consent to becoming stereotypes: the doting, domestic mother-to-be who cherishes baby showers (think Jennifer Garner in Juno); the dazed, emasculated father-to-be, excited but aloof (think Adrien Brody in The Darjeeling Limited). Sometime over the past couple years, we realized how untrue that was. Perhaps this is the path all eventual parents travel. In our case, we have many friends to thank for correcting those misconceptions.

We are perfectly content knowing that we’ll probably be terribly inappropriate parents in many ways. After our second sonogram, for instance, we joked in the elevator that we hoped our baby’s “Cro-Magnon” brow might recede sometime before birth. And we’re still revolted by most of what passes for baby gear and apparel — which, we suspect, is what we’ll be receiving as gifts from well-meaning friends and family.

And yet we are learning to receive their excitement, in whatever form it comes, no matter how aesthetically displeasing we may find it, because there’s something about the anticipation of a baby that demands to be shared. Ben’s brother Dan has been telling random people he meets in Portland that he’s going to be an uncle. Erin’s sister Bevin, meanwhile, said that if it’s not a girl she’s “sending it back.”

Due to benign complications, we have already had two ultrasounds, the second of which was yesterday. (Mercifully, this one was external. No one told Ben what to expect for the first one.) The baby is about the size of a lemon. Remarkably enough, it mostly resembles a baby. The nurse took a series of pictures for us, and then turned something on so that we could hear the heartbeat. And not just hear it (a fuzzy sort of wumpawumpawumpa), but see it too, beating on the screen like a little, hyperactive cursor. Go!, we thought as we watched it. Do what it is that all hearts do! Do what hearts have always done since the beginning of time! Except that this particular heart, the one going wumpawumpawumpa — this one was beating because of us.

marriage, Scooter Thomas, things to love about Ohio, this day in Vore history, Uncategorized

The Vores Go Zoolander

On Saturday, August 22nd, Ben and Erin gave each other the gift of a lifetime in honor of their fifth anniversary. A baby? No. A membership to the cheese-of-the-month club? Guess again. Any number of communicable diseases? No siree. A photo shoot with the fabulously talented Jenny Beck (a Columbus-based photographer and sister of Erin’s friend from Miami, Kelly)? You betcha! Jenny took photos in three locations: our back patio, Pioneer Park in Montgomery, and the United Dairy Farmers in Blue Ash.

Behold the creative power of Jenny’s lens:

Ice cream and loitering

This is where we always sit to discuss our finances.

Scooter-Thomas had the hots for Jenny!

It was really hard to keep my eyes open.  Sun=bright like fire.

Happy family

Later we collected wheat and fed it to the natives.

Kissing in a rocky stream takes hard work!

There were some people to the left of us who maybe thought we were dairy models.

Also, we love our patio and the roses haven't died yet!


Thank you so much for spending time with us, Jenny!  We had so much fun and think you could take Annie Leibovitz any day.

Check out Jenny’s work here.

faith, marriage, this day in Vore history

This Day In Vore History: July 20, 2003

Part four of a four-part series recounting the romantic origins of Voreblog. Parts one, two and three.



You may know a lot of things about Donald Trump, but you probably didn’t know he has a board game. Trump: The Game was a gift to Ben from his grandmother back around 1989, the giving of which appalled Ben’s mom. “But he loves to play board games,” Grandma said in her defense. “Mom, it’s a game about Donald Trump,” my mom retorted. “Do you want your grandsons to grow up like Donald Trump?” Grandma paused as if considering the correct answer to this question, saying finally, “It just looked like Monopoly to me.”

The game’s slogan, emblazoned right there on the front, is, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but whether you win!” Below a picture of The Donald is his signature, with what appears to be at least four m’s in his last name.

When Ben packed up his apartment to leave Pittsburgh in July of 2003, he put Trump: The Game in his backseat underneath boxes and boxes of books. It was still there when he arrived at camp later that month, and so he decided it could be good for a few laughs.


Erin left Nashville three days early, on July 17, for third term at Summer’s Best Two Weeks. She would be going back as the kitchen crew counselor for two terms — one month — and was kicking it off by spending time with Ben in State College before they both showed up for camp. The plan was to meet Ben in Pittsburgh, where he and most of his worldly possessions would be packed in his car, waiting to ship out. Ben’s first contact with Erin that day had been a cell phone conversation in a hospital. Ben was there visiting one of his youth group kids when the phone rang. Ben answered it in the hall. Erin was somewhere outside Wheeling — be there in about an hour. A nurse passing by informed Ben he couldn’t talk on his cell phone in the hospital. This was news to Ben as he had just purchased his first cell phone the week before. “I’ve gotta go,” he told Erin. “A nurse is yelling at me.” He went back into the room and watched a family he had grown very close with try to make small talk as everyone awaited a doctor. Not for the first time, Ben felt guilt at the kids he was leaving behind. He also felt guilty that he should be so excited to leave.


Erin and Ben arrived at camp on Saturday the 19th for dinner. It was a cookout, and since it was between terms there were only other counselors. They caught up with friends and filtered into the crowd, and at one point Ben found himself standing in a circle of guy friends looking across the lawn at Erin standing in a circle of girl friends. They had just spent two days together, and yet suddenly she had eluded him again. Ben watched a tall, athletic counselor cross paths with Erin, and after they shook hands he stood there nodding his head as Erin talked, looking tall and athletic and dangerous. Out of nowhere, Ben was filled with jealousy bordering on hostility.

Ben was walking back to his cabin when Erin caught him from behind. “Hey, where you going?” she asked. “Just back,” Ben said. “Gotta unpack.” “I was thinking it’d be good to, you know, pray together before the term if you wanted to do that,” Erin said. Ben stopped and considered this. “I think I’d like to do that,” he said.

Later that night, after dark and once the stars over Boswell, Pennsylvania, came out in a fashion far superior to that of either Nashville or Pittsburgh, Ben and Erin walked around Lake Gloria to the zip boat dock near the rope swing. It was the same place where, a year before on that same Saturday night, Ben had sat alone in prayer about the upcoming term. It was the following day that he met Erin Beers.

What they prayed about that night, neither remembers exactly, except that Ben was still on anti-malarial meds from his trip to Quito, Ecuador, the prior month. The pills were an unholy combination with Ben’s other meds, and on the nights he took them he had terrible fever dreams. He would wake up shaken and disoriented as if he had inherited a different brain overnight. Slowly everything would come back to him, but not without a toll. He asked for prayer for that.

It was a hard transition for Ben in other ways. It was his seventh year at camp, and yet the minute he arrived on site, tailing Erin’s Jeep, he was wracked with anxiety, as if it was his first summer all over again. The first day there he wondered if he could summon the strength and confidence to get through the day, much less the two weeks. Sitting on the dock that night, he found it hard to believe he couldn’t find peace in a moment like that one.


The kitchen crew is virtually the only place at Summer’s Best Two Weeks where guys and girls intermingle. Every high schooler working crew gets the “relationship” speech at the beginning of the term: You’re here for God, not a date. This is only a slight variation on the speech counselors get at the beginning of the summer. Once the speech is given, however, a moderate degree of harmless flirting is tolerated, checked when necessary with one-on-one interventions with serial flirters.

The Loveline was another way of channelling attraction into the relatively harmless confines of the written page. At the O.D. (Officer of the Day) Shack, every counselor had a clothespin with his or her name on it. Fellow counselors could pin an encouraging note any time of day. The lines that held these pins up practically coursed with both the low hum of modest admiration to the full throttle buzz of repressed sexual tension.

One benefit of being a high school crew member was that you also had access to Lovelines. There was only one drawback: You did not have your own clothespin, only the generic “Boys Crew” and “Girls Crew.” There was no way to pen a heartfelt and faintly suggestive Loveline without the near certainty that it would be screened by, if not two counselors, then any number of fellow crew interlopers who circled the shack before and after meals like buzzards.

The primary way around this strategy was to encourage everyone to write a Loveline to each member of the opposite crew. These letters would be group efforts, and both guys and girls had the same idea: If, for example, Heather liked Andy, then all the girls would help write/decorate Andy’s letter, but it would fall to Heather to add just the right personal touch or coded phrase which would communicate her true feelings in a discreet but unmistakable way.

Now add one more layer: Not only were crew members engaged in this meticulous game of epistolary romance, but the crew counselors who were artfully stoking these young passions were also playing the same game. Not that long after they began dating, Ben and Erin would both remark how weird it was to talk through their feelings as opposed to writing them down on a tiny scrap of paper in some coy or amusing way.

That particular term in 2003 it was the boys crew who launched the first wave of Lovelines. Trying to think of a creative way to write the letters, crew member Evan saw Trump: The Game sitting underneath Ben’s bunk. “Hey, I’ve got an idea,” Evan said. He opened it up, took out some Trump Money and passed it around.

“What’s this for?” someone asked.

“Fellas,” Evan said, “a wise man once said, ‘It’s not whether you win or lose, but whether you win.’ It’s time to win some lonesome hearts.”

He removed a pink $50 million dollar bill and wrote on the back of it: $50 MILLION IN TRUMP MONEY < ANNIE

“Gentleman,” he said, “Annie will be putty in my hands.”

The men launched into the Lovelines with a fury. Once they were done, Ben and the boys sauntered — no, make that swaggered — down to the O.D. Shack before dinner that night and pinned a mammoth stack of Lovelines for the girls crew. They were early so they could get a head start on the pre-meal chores that often fell to the (more enterprising) girls. When the ladies arrived on time they were all beaming and laughing, little notes in their palms or tucked in their pockets. The guys played it low key and saved their grins for when the girls weren’t looking. Ben did the same.


“The price of a Las Vegas casino in ‘Trump’: $50 million. Working with you on crew? Priceless.”


Unlike a year ago, Ben and Erin didn’t spend their day off together that term. Erin drove to Cincinnati for the day to attend the Sweeney’s wedding, while Ben went to see Seabiscuit by himself. You can probably guess who had a better time.


“Dear Emily, thank you for the encouragement like on the dodge ball field and caring when I hurt my arm. If I could have you or 50 million dollars, I would choose you.”


Ben and Erin thought they were being discreet. But two people falling in love are about as discreet as — to borrow Tess Gallagher’s phrase — “tigers answering questions about infinity with their teeth.” Will, the camp director and a man not given to inhibition, was talking with Ben and Erin about film when he asked if their taste in movies would be compatible in marriage. (Erin turned red and walked away in response.) Ben’s co-counselor Brad, who knew Erin from college, picked up on the signals pretty quick. And one night in the girls cabin, a girl named Liz Lackey said to Erin, “So, Ben Vore is moving to Nashville.” “Yes, I think he is,” Erin replied. “And you live in Nashville.” “Yes, I do live in Nashville.” “So … do you think, like, you and Ben will hang out?” There were giggles. The cat was out of the bag.


“We ♥ girls crew! (like whoa)”


What Ben and Erin remember about the crew that term wasn’t especially remarkable. It was a fun group but not an extraordinary one. Nobody made any giant spiritual strides. There was friction between the guys all term long, but they worked hard when they needed to.

Erin would stay on for two more weeks while Ben went home to State College: to rest, to prepare for Nashville, to transition from one thing to the next. They wrote letters daily, and on Erin’s fourth term day off Ben drove to camp and they hung out in Greensburg for the day. As they went about day off hikes and Bruster’s ice cream stops and the obligatory chill time at Barnes & Noble, they looked at one another and saw two things at once: the couple they were becoming, and the couple they might be, together, for the long haul.

That night they kissed for the first time, in the Adventure Fort across the lake, where the eight- and nine-year-olds camped during their overnight trip. Erin was the fifth girl Ben had kissed in his life, and he hoped the last. Erin had kissed so many guys that she stopped counting.


“If I had to choose between $50 million and working with you, you would find me in the kitchen, right next to you, letting Tim do all the work.”


On Friday, July 18, the day before Ben & Erin arrived at camp and prayed on the dock, there was a downpour in State College. Ben had taken Erin to Meyer’s Dairy for milkshakes, and they were driving home when it suddenly became quite dark overhead. “Looks like rain,” Erin said. “Looks like the flood,” Ben replied.

It was the flood. It hit suddenly and came down so hard that Ben had to pull over because he couldn’t see the road. A lightning strike sounded like it was directly overhead. Erin said quietly, “Are we going to die?” Ben wouldn’t realize until much later that she was not joking.

Ben’s house was fifteen minutes outside town, close to the county line, situated in a flood plain with a stream that winds around the property. When they arrived home there was a gulley pouring down off the mountain. The storm had lessened but the rain was still falling hard. The stream had risen above the bridge between the driveway and the house. The current was so strong it was pushing the right side of the bridge up, tilting it at a slight angle.

“What do we do?” Erin asked. She was holding two half gallons of Meyer’s skim milk. Neither of them were wearing a rain jacket.

Ben said, “Here. Give me those.” He took the milk jugs. The mountain run-off was above their ankles. “Now jump on.” He turned his back to Erin and crouched down.

She hoisted herself up for a piggyback. As soon as she was on, Ben handed her the milk. “Don’t drop these, okay?”

“Are you going to make it? Isn’t there another way across?”

“I’m afraid this is it.”

“You won’t drop me, will you?”

“I sure hope not.”

Ben waded down the steps to the base of the bridge. The water was up to his shins. He stepped onto the bridge and it held.

“I think we can do this,” he said.

“Are you sure?” Erin asked.

“I’m sure,” Ben said.

“Then let’s do it,” Erin replied.

One foot in front of the other, they crossed the bridge.



this day in Vore history

A Word On Monday’s Post

Tomorrow’s post will be the final part of the This Day In Vore History series chronicling Voreblog’s romantic origins. This wasn’t a story we envisioned telling when we began blogging, but we’ve had fun telling it. It seems like you’ve had fun reading it, gauging from most of the feedback we’ve received. We’ve worried at times if this endeavor smacks of self-indulgence, giving the impression our story merits some kind of special attention. We don’t think it does. But we’re suckers for love stories — we always enjoy hearing how our friends ended up together, or even our parents and parents’ friends. While love stories always have some broad similarities, we’ve tried to focus on the specifics in ours: the music and books and places that provided the soundtrack and setting to us getting together. We’ve also, as two people who try as best we can to be Christians on a day-to-day basis, learned a lot about God through meeting one another, and have included that in our story too. The story tomorrow ends at the beginning, when we finally became, in an unspoken understanding at first, a couple. What happened after that is another story we may feel inclined to tell another time. As for this part, we hope you’ve enjoyed reading it.

marital tension, movies, music, things that make you sad, this day in Vore history

This Day in Vore History: May 28, 2003

Part three of a four-part series recounting the romantic origins of Voreblog. Part one and Part two.


On June 2, 2003 — the day after Erin Beers flew back to Nashville after a five-day trip to Pittsburgh to visit Ben (and attend Mike and Beth Werkheiser’s wedding) — Ben cracked open his journal and wrote, “I think Erin Beers made a mistake.” He considered this for a while, reading and re-reading those seven words, before adding, “It’s not an irrevocable mistake. I am still confident of that.”


Six days earlier, on Tuesday, May 27, 2003, Ben awoke with a ruthless headache. He was home in State College, PA, to celebrate Memorial Day with the family. It wasn’t much of a celebration though, as he spent most of the day in bed with a fierce migraine. He went to sleep Monday night thinking it couldn’t get worse. He woke up Tuesday and it was.

Ben’s parents refused to let him drive back to Pittsburgh that day, not that Ben would’ve attempted it. But Ben had to find a way to be at the Pittsburgh International Airport by 12:57 p.m. on Wednesday, the 28th, the time at which Erin Beers would be landing for a five-day visit. The ostensible reason for the visit was a wedding. Mike and Beth Werkheiser, camp friends, were to be wed in Beaver, PA, that Saturday. Erin returned her invite with the “and guest” box checked, then booked her trip. She’d spend four days in Pittsburgh prior to the wedding, then fly back to Nashville the following day. All Ben had to do was be there.


Ben woke up on Wednesday and felt like a human being again. He drove back to Pittsburgh that morning, and three hours in the car allowed him ample time to plan out the crucial details of Erin’s reception. Ben plotted what album would be playing when Erin got in the car (Gemma Hayes, Night on the Side). (Ben had visually associated Gemma and Erin since he thought they looked alike. Plus he had a crush on Gemma. Plus Ben hoped Erin would pay special attention to the lyrics of song three on the album, “Let A Good Thing Go,” a lament for, as the title suggests, letting a good thing go.) He visualized which details of the youth room at Shadyside Presbyterian he would point out to her, details which — if carefully selected — would evoke shared memories of the prior summer at Summer’s Best Two Weeks when Erin and Ben met as co-counselors of the kitchen crew, comprised of twenty-some high schoolers who occasionally did bone-headed yet endearing things like try to mail camp forks to friends (this is you, Chris Tolles) or parade around camp during optional playing the bagpipes (in kilts, no less). Ben was concerned about the state of his apartment, which he had not had time to prep given his delayed return from State College. Had he accidentally left his frog-print boxers in the common room? Carefully arranged his Paste magazines on the coffee table as potential conversation-starters? And the right books beside them? And the right CDs? He’d have to wing it when they walked through the door, assessing the situation like a field commander and moving like a hawk to correct any incriminating details that might suggest he was not boyfriend-worthy.

By day’s end, an event Ben had anticipated for so long (Erin! in Pittsburgh!) came and passed … normally. When Ben spotted Erin at the airport, all the little details of her face, hair, build, gait came back instantly. When they toured Shadyside, Ben feared that the youth room — rather than inducing camp nostalgia — may have alternately raised Erin’s potential doubts of Ben as the stereotypical churchy youth pastor. When they reached the apartment, Erin — tired from her trip — dozed on Ben’s bed and drooled on his pillow. That night, after Ben dropped Erin off at a friend’s house in Squirrel Hill where she would be staying for her visit, he drove back down Negley Hill and saw — as he always did from that hill, when he was paying attention — a panoramic view of Pittsburgh at night, stretching far and wide in all directions. One other detail Ben had incorporated into the day was the glorious view of Pittsburgh that greeted drivers emerging from the Fort Pitt Tunnel, a view most spectacular at night but even at midday still a pretty good way to introduce the Steel City to a visitor. (Pittsburgh is “the only city with an entrance,” sayeth the New York Times.) When they had emerged from the tunnel that afternoon, Ben rolled down his window, stuck his head out and yelled, “She’s expecting big things, city!” He repeated that line, alone in his car, with slightly less gusto, as he descended Negley Hill that night.


The template for the next two days started with leisurely mornings spent sipping coffee at Jitters on Walnut Street (Ben, in his pre-coffee days, getting a chai instead), enjoying a light breakfast, then going for a long walk or run. This was still three months before Erin, running for the first time with Ben in Nashville, nearly blacked out from a combination of fatigue and nerves, the latter being the result of her fear that she couldn’t keep up with a boy. While Erin sat down on the 21st Avenue sidewalk to regroup, Ben — slightly panicked and doused in sweat — ran into the nearest convenience store. “My girlfriend almost passed out and I need to get something for her,” he told the clerk. “Are you going to pay for it?” the clerk asked. “I don’t have money,” Ben said as he grabbed the closest granola bar and apple juice. “I’ll come back and pay you, honest.” The clerk shook his head. “You can’t take both,” he said. Ben put the granola bar on the counter. “Ok,” the clerk said — resigned, probably, to taking $1.09 out of his paycheck as the price to pay for enabling a possibly life-saving intervention, if not an unusual new shoplifting technique.

But, again, this act of small heroism would not transpire for another three months.

On Thursday, Ben and Erin drove south and east to visit Fallingwater, then to Ohiopyle, another site intended to evoke fond shared memories. (Camp rafting trips down the Youghiogheny River launched from Ohiopyle.) They parked at Cucumber Falls and hiked downstream to Cucumber Rapids where they found a big, flat rock to stretch out on and just rest, eyes closed, below the sun. On Friday they explored the Warhol Museum with its balloon-filled rooms and Campbells soup can trinkets in the gift shop, then sauntered around the North Shore and its wading pools. They talked of the upcoming summer at camp, when Erin would return for two terms (a month) and Ben would overlap for two of those weeks, his first — and only — post-youth ministry plans once he wrapped up four years at Shadyside. Where he would move that August — be it Nashville or Chicago or, less likely though still a possibility, out West to regions unknown — was still up in the air. Ben hoped to have a better idea after Erin’s visit if there was a green light on Nashville. But for the first three days of Erin’s stay, no talk ventured too far down that uncertain path. 


Neither Ben nor Erin remember much about the wedding, except that they were slightly late arriving because — depending on who you asked — the driver either missed a turn or the navigator misread the map. This would prove to be a harbinger of things to come.

What both remember happened after the wedding, in Ben’s car, parked on Elmer Street just outside his apartment, with the engine off but the power still on so Erin could enjoy the smell of a Honda Civic’s A/C, its own little aromatic madeleine. It started raining, first a drizzle and soon a downpour. Inside, Ben and Erin were still all decked out (though Erin had removed her shoes and put her aching feet on the dash), both reclined with their seats back, watching the rain patterns on the windshield and talking, finally, about where they stood. (The kids today refer to this as the DTR conversation.)

Erin said she didn’t see a green light when she thought about a relationship with Ben. It’s not that there’s another guy in the picture, she said. It may be about the timing, she said. Everything lines up, she added, ticking off items: musical and artistic interests; athletic interests; shared religious beliefs. That’s what I’m looking for in a guy, she said, almost apologetically. But no green light.

I’ve never met this Green Light guy, Ben thought, but God help him if he ever crosses my path…

Ben had a hard time believing Erin. He considered the evidence from the past three days and saw only good things. He couldn’t bring himself to believe Erin wasn’t feeling something good too, although there was always that nagging doubt — cultivated from numerous misreadings of relationships past — that Ben simply didn’t get it the way other people got it on matters of the heart.

That’s when Erin said, There’s something else. She told Ben he had always been a good thing in her life, and it occurred to her that this may be something to consider.

“I don’t think it was just my optimism that wanted to hear ‘yes’ when Erin said ‘no’,” Ben journaled after the fact. “I think it’s because her ‘no’ was a ‘yes’ in the making.”

Later, both of them would recount the other doubts that went unspoken that night in the car. Erin’s visit had reminded Ben, who had been single for quite some time, what the harder parts of a relationship might be: the listening, the yielding, the silences. Erin, for her part, had some misgivings both large — about what Ben would be now that he was done being a youth pastor — and small — about some of Ben’s fashion tastes, particularly his choice of black suede dress shoes for the wedding. (This would fester in silence until, a month after they were married, Ben saw those shoes and certain other items from his closet in a Goodwill pile Erin had started. “I could let it slide until we were married,” Erin said. “Now I’ve got to put my foot down.”) 

Because they could not talk about “us” before an “us” existed, Ben and Erin had the more immediate conversation about where Ben would move in three months. Nashville? And if so, to do what? And for what reasons? Neither one suspected that the fragile possibility of a relationship could survive the expectations that would come with Ben moving to Nashville for no other reason than that Erin was there. Ben found himself wondering, Where would I be and what would I do if Erin Beers wasn’t in the picture? Would I be doing us harm by moving to Nashville? Is it really just a matter of timing, and we just hit it wrong?


The first letter Erin wrote to Ben after returning to Nashville included a folded copy of the cover of New York magazine’s June 9, 2003 issue. The headline reads “What Are You On?” above a counter of pills, ranging from Paxil and Zoloft to Ritalin, Viagra and Vicodin. Such was one outcome of their visit: Mental health issues were not just out in the open now, but fodder for comic relief. “Yeah! Drugs!” Erin scribbled on the cover. This was the kind of thing they couldn’t have joked about nine months ago.

“It’s fun to spy on your life and to put together a few more pieces to the puzzle of knowing you and not knowing you at all,” Erin wrote in her letter. That’s before the missive went completely bipolar. Erin first wrote, “I stand behind everything I said to you last week … I cannot say things to you that I don’t fully mean & have you move here & then be disappointed,” then — half a page later — “When I think about you possibly moving here and having things go well and I imagine us together or whatever, it makes me think that it would be final. You would be it. If we dated then we’d probably get married, pros & cons. And that FREAKS ME OUT. I wouldn’t want you to be someone on a list of failures.” Later in the letter she wrote, “When I think about the future, I know I’d be happy with you. There isn’t one good reason why I wouldn’t be.” 


Ben would not receive that letter until after he saw All The Real Girls at The Harris Theater downtown. He saw it alone, as he usually preferred. The film is a beautiful, note perfect account of all-consuming young love in a small North Carolina mill town. It is brutal, and it is honest. “I just want to make sure that a million years from now I can still see you up close and we’ll still have amazing things to say,” Paul (Paul Schneider) tells Noel (Zooey Deschanel) in one scene. It is a line that only the very young could say and mean. 

Leaving the theater, all Ben could think about was Erin. He was sad and forlorn and elated and confused all at the same time. He was in love and didn’t know if he was loved back. Standing on top of the Smithfield Street parking garage, Ben called Erin to tell her he’d just seen the film and how much he’d enjoyed seeing her and how he couldn’t wait for camp in less than two months. That was it. It was a good conversation. And the next day Erin mailed the letter.

this day in Vore history

This Day in Vore History: March 7, 2008

We were robbed.

We have written about this before; we expect this will be the last time we address it, but who knows. (Our robber, after all, is still appealing his case.)

Cincinnati was hit by its final big winter snow on March 7, 2008. Erin’s school was cancelled but she attended an Asperger’s workshop at UC. Ben went to work but the store closed early, at three o’clock. His phone rang at 2:45.

“Hey, did you leave some drawers open?” Erin asked. “What do you mean?” Ben said. “There’s a lot of drawers open downstairs. The door was funny too.” “I didn’t leave any drawers open. I’m not sure what you mean.” “Wait, there’s a mess upstairs. I think someone has been in our house…”

Which is just about the most helpless thing you could possibly hear when your wife is home alone in a snowstorm. The second most helpless thing is what she said next: “Hello? Is somebody here?”

“You need to get out of the house,” Ben said.

“I’m going to get out of the house,” Erin said.

Erin called the cops. (After she called her parents and neighbor Katie Andolina.) Ben rushed home. When he arrived there were already cops on the scene. Erin’s parents had arrived too. Our bedroom had been ransacked. Drawers were overturned. Erin’s clothes were all over the floor. The guest bedroom was no better. Our laptop was gone. And our digital camera. And our iPod. Scooter Thomas was, thankfully, safe under the bed. It took him a half hour to come out.

Until the break-in we had always had bad experiences with cops. One positive outcome of the robbery was that we met some good po-leece, as Lester Freamon might say. Deer Park’s finest. Admittedly they seemed a bit overenthusiastic about breaking out the fingerprinting kit. But who can blame them. This wasn’t the kind of thing, we were told, that usually happened on our street.

Why us?, we wondered. Why our house? Did we have enemies? And why on the snowiest day of the year? School was cancelled, people were out shoveling sidewalks. Someone had tried to kick in our front door. Which is visible up and down the street, from at least six other houses. But when the cops asked around, no one had seen anything. 

We talked about sleeping elsewhere that night but we came home. We taped the door jamb shut with duct tape since it wouldn’t close all the way. We put a chair in front of it with Christmas bells on the doorknob. Over the coming days and weeks we debated whether or not to install a security system. We already had security stickers in the windows for effect; they obviously failed as a deterrent. Most people we asked said to just buy a dog. Or at least put a big dog dish on our porch with a name on it like “Mauler” or something. Ultimately we decided on no dog, or alarm system.

It turns out one of our neighbors did see something, but we didn’t put that puzzle piece together until the next day. Those neighbors had been on their way out of town for the weekend when they saw two people, a man and a woman, exit our back yard around noon. They didn’t appear to be carrying anything with them, but they did look suspicious. Still, we were new in the neighborhood. We hadn’t introduced ourselves yet. Maybe we had sketchy friends who liked to skulk around in the middle of a snowstorm. Our neighbors felt terrible when they found out.

The hardest part was not knowing who these thieves were or why they picked us. Your home doesn’t feel like much of a castle when you know some faceless stranger has been in your bedroom handling your wife’s undergarments. We were learning to live with that ambiguity — what were the odds these people would ever be caught, really? — when those people were caught, really.

They robbed a house in Blue Ash but left a fingerprint. The cops matched it to the girl, who ratted out the guy. They picked our house because it was close to the bus line. They needed money for drugs. We were just unlucky. Beginning and end of story. (We recovered our laptop, iPod and camera.)

So what did we do last night to commemorate this strange anniversary? We rented Panic Room. It wasn’t until halfway in that we realized the irony. Maybe this will become a tradition.