I began falling in love with Florida before I fell in love with the boy, and the latter wouldn't have happened without the former. I moved here in 2006 and, until the fall of 2010, I hated this state. It was boiling and lizard infested and everyone was from somewhere else. I loved the Times, but I dreamed of other places. Brisk, raw, drizzly places with fresh air that smelled of the earth.
Each year passed without change. Love the Times. Hate the place. I stayed indoors a lot. I ate take out. I wasn't dating.
And then, on Sept. 27, 2010, I decided to try to lose weight and went to the Anytime Fitness in Hudson. As motivation, I thought of where I was and where I wanted to be: I pictured myself feeling healthy and strong, finding someone to love. Having a family of my own.
I quit smoking.
I began running.
I lost 30 pounds.
Those are three sentences I never thought I would write.
Florida is not a fat-friendly place. Hot weather is awful when you're lugging around extra pounds. I didn't know what Florida could be like without trying to cover myself in cardigans and jeans in the middle of summer.
I started wearing T-shirts. Then tank tops and skirts.
As I became more comfortable with myself, the places around me changed. I saw beauty where I hadn't before: gorgeous, misty early mornings, jogging on narrow roads by fields and forests. I stopped dreaming of colder places. The sun felt good. The breeze felt good. I felt good.
I signed up for eHarmony.
That is also a sentence I never thought I would write.
On March 8, a few weeks after joining, I was matched with a man named David who lived in Tampa. We met in March at the Renaissance Fair. We met again in April at the Italian festival in Ybor. We haven't gone a day without talking since.
I spent less time at my house in Pasco County, where I cover crime and courts, and more time at his house in South Tampa. On Nov. 19, a charity picked up most of my belongings. On Nov. 20, I handed my landlord the keys.
David took me to the beach for my birthday. We went on a Disney Cruise to the Bahamas with his family . I now have an annual pass to Universal Studios. A few weeks ago, on a Sunday morning, we went canoeing on the Hillsborough River. We saw turtles stretching and sunning, birds, alligators, gnarled fairy-tale trees. It was wild and breathtaking and I want to go again. When I run outside I feel lucky to live here: On a recent chilly morning, I had to put on a T-shirt over my tank top and shorts. In late November.
We've looked at engagement rings and talk about what we want our wedding to be like. He is my home, and for right now, and possibly forever, this is where we are and it is good.