The Love Issue 2020: Confusion, Revelation, Incarceration, Separation, and Radiohead 

For Valentine's Day, we asked Flyer readers for stories of how they met their true loves. We hope you're inspired by these tales of confusion, revelation, incarceration, separation, and Radiohead.

click to enlarge Kelsee Woods and Havier Green
  • Kelsee Woods and Havier Green

Escape from the Friend Zone

Havier Green (aka Memphis hip-hop artist The Poet, Havi) first saw Kelsee Woods four years ago. "I was handing out flyers for a big show I was doing," he says. "I saw her walking on campus, and my strategy was to give all the cute girls flyers. She said, 'I'm definitely going to be there. October 29th is my birthday as well.' So I was like, 'Very cool! It can be both of our birthday parties!'"

Then a student at University of Memphis, Kelsee is now a Grizz Girl and actor/dancer at Playhouse on the Square. She didn't go to the show. "He didn't even leave a trace in my mind. I never thought about that show after he handed me that flyer."

But she left a big impression on Havier. "When I got up close to her, how she held her mouth was really interesting to me. It was kind of firm, like she was giving a lot of thought to whatever she was going to say."

Havier slid into her Instagram DMs — "just enough to not seem like I was a stalker."

Kelsee came to the next show, and the two struck up a friendship. Then, Kelsee told Havier she had a boyfriend. "This would usually ruin things for me, and I would lash out or just go about my business. But I thought, let me try something different. Let's hang out as friends," he says.

"I was never attracted to him like that," says Kelsee. "He would wear all black every day, with a skullcap — and he'd pull it down over his eyes, almost to his nose. I was never sure what his entire face looked like. All of my friends were like, 'Who's that guy you're hanging around?'"

Eventually, Havier confessed his love. "I don't think I was aware of what was really happening to me on the inside," Kelsee says. "I wanted to spend most of my time with him, but I didn't want to give him full intimacy because I wanted some skateboard guy. ... Before I could even reply, he said, 'You don't have to give me some bland message about how you don't love me back. I don't care if you don't love me back. I'll still love you the same.' And that shook me. I didn't know a love that feels good, even though it's unrequited, could even exist. After that, I went to a party with the guy who was supposed to be my boo at the time. Havi was there, and he was definitely avoiding me."

"At that point, I knew I loved her, but I couldn't have her, so I was trying to move on," he recalls.

What he didn't know was that Kelsee had just taken LSD for the first time. "At that moment of seeing Havi, I really felt it. I walked away from the party and got lost." Eventually, she found herself back at her apartment. "I was by myself. I was getting a little scared, so I picked up the phone and called Havi."

Havier borrowed his brother's car and rushed to her side. "I knew from my experience with psychedelics that you don't want to be alone your first time," he says. "You reach that wall of fear, and it can really mess you up." Havier lined the floor with pillows and played Radiohead and Pink Floyd. They talked for hours. "At the end of it, she was like, 'Oh, my god. I think I love you!'"

They kissed for the first time that night and have been a couple ever since. "I always jokingly apologize to him, 'I'm sorry it took LSD to make me realize I love you.'"

click to enlarge Jeremy and Michelle Bush Schrader
  • Jeremy and Michelle Bush Schrader

No Musicians!

"I thought he was kind of lame," says Michelle Bush Schrader.

She first saw her now-husband Jeremy Schrader on stage. "I was in music school studying classical guitar, but I was interested in jazz."

Jeremy had a residency Thursday nights at The Cove. "I wouldn't even talk to Jeremy. I'd just go and sit and have a glass of wine and oysters and just listen to the music and then go home. ... I had been in many relationships with Memphis musicians, and I was like, I'm done. I want to find a doctor. I want to find a lawyer."

Eventually she asked Jeremy for jazz guitar lessons. "I showed up to what is now our house, and I realized he didn't know much about jazz guitar," she says.

The two hit it off and started hanging out on a strictly not-a-date basis. Jeremy realized he was hooked when he went to a Radiohead concert in St. Louis. "She's a big Radiohead fan, and while I was there at the show — and I probably had a few drinks — I started texting her pictures of the band. I think that was when we really started communicating."

One day at lunch, Michelle told Jeremy about her no-musicians policy. Jeremy just nodded. Three months later, they were engaged. Six months later, they were married. "I had been divorced and then widowed — my second wife had cancer — so I had been in several long-term serious relationships. I think Michelle was just kind of in a place where she was ready to stop playing games. I think we both just said, 'Okay, this seems like it works. Why even fight it? Why play around?' Let's just do this and we can work out the details later — which we're still doing."

click to enlarge Kalki and Wendy Winter
  • Kalki and Wendy Winter

The Long Game

"When I was about 5 years old, I was at a birthday party," Kalki Winter says. "We were playing around a Maypole, chasing each other around, and my hand happened to touch Wendy's hand, and I literally felt like I'd been shot. I had a crush on her from age 5, and was too shy to ever really tell her."

But the two kids were soon separated. "I grew up in a a cult — a religious community — and we all moved as a group down to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, because that's what you do," Wendy says. "Eventually, we got kicked out of that community and moved back to Memphis."

"I saw her for the first time in several years — we were teenagers at this point — dancing," says Kalki. "She looked incredible, but I was still just too sad and insecure."

click to enlarge coverstory_kalki_and_wendy_1974.jpg

Years later, Kalki ran into Wendy's brother and asked about her. Turns out, they were living in the same apartment complex — and Wendy was about to get married. "I was crestfallen," Kalki says.

"My brother was being evicted from an apartment, and so like all 20-year-olds, he had a huge eviction party," says Wendy. "I was the only one of age; my younger siblings were at the party, so I decided to guard the keg, which was in my name. That whole evening, Kalki hung out and talked to me. Meanwhile, the party went crazy, the police got called. Everybody disappeared," Wendy says.

"She was the only one not streetwise enough to split when the cops showed up," says Kalki. "I remember telling my sister that I would never, ever cheat on my husband — but if I did, it would be with that guy I was talking to," Wendy says.

Eventually, Wendy did split with her husband and ran into Kalki at the Earth Day celebration in Overton Park in 1994. "It ended up being a 10-hour, unplanned date," says Wendy. "We just had a magical day."

But the course of true love never did run smooth."It was a lot of push and pull. We dated and broke up so many times that it got to the point where our friends stopped asking; it just became embarrassing," Wendy says.

They tried moving to Wyoming to get high-paying jobs in the resort industry, but things blew up again and Wendy returned home. "I really did not want to live in Memphis," says Kalki. "But when I realized she wasn't coming back, I knew I was in for the long haul. I settled everything and came back to Memphis, where I was so ready to not be."

The couple married in February 1997. "People were mocking us because we broke up so much," says Kalki. "But we felt so secure when we finally committed. We left it all out on the field."

click to enlarge Jess Vandenberg and Haley Greenwell
  • Jess Vandenberg and Haley Greenwell

Thanks, Jim Carrey!

"I got invited out to a party by some friends who were trying to get me out of the house not long after a nasty breakup," says Jess Vandenberg. "But parties aren't my thing; I'm really introverted and have a lot of anxiety. But earlier that day, I watched Yes Man, where this guy attends a 'Say Yes!' seminar and decides to say yes to everything."

Thanks to Jim Carrey, Vandenberg met Haley Greenwell. "It was an open, empty house with art all over the walls like a gallery," Haley says. "I always joke that I was there for the party, and Jess was there for the art. Some friends introduced us, and we spent hours talking and flirting before the party ended. That's when we found out the party was moving to Raiford's Disco Downtown. When I found out Jess had never been there, I knew we had to go. We had our first kiss on the dance floor to Whitney Houston's 'I Wanna Dance with Somebody.'"

"We were pretty much obsessed with each other from the day we met," Jess says.

"We were basically stereotypical U-Haul lesbians, in that we immediately fell in love and moved in together," says Haley. "Two years into dating, Jess asked me to sit down on our couch to watch an animated video she 'made for a client.'"

It was actually a proposal. "After a few seconds, she caught on and broke down crying," Jess says.

"I was completely surprised," Haley says, "Especially considering that Jess told me a few months into dating that I would need to be the one to propose 'cause she has 'been ready' to marry me."

You can see Jess' proposal video right here:

Our Big Adventure from Vandyink on Vimeo.

The Human Cost

Safiyah met Biyan (not their real names) at a mosque. "The lead scholar of the mosque introduced us because he thought that we would make a good match. And we did," Safiyah says.

Biyan is from Kurdistan in northern Iraq. He was in America studying for his master's degree in English, planning to become a teacher. "I was intimidated by him because he was so handsome and funny and sweet," she says. "Not to sound jaded — and I think it might be a lot of the Memphis in me — but I just thought it was fake."

But she soon became convinced of his sincerity. "He pursued me for a while because I was pretty hesitant. I came to realize that that's 100 percent who he is. He's really just a sweet and genuinely innocent person. He naturally attracts people, and he's also an excellent teacher, so he had a lot of students."

But Safiyah and Biyan's love was playing out against the background of President Trump's travel ban. Biyan's student visa was about to expire. "Kurdistan wasn't on the list, but we were pretty on edge while this was happening," says Safiyah. "We wanted to get married, but we couldn't find any answers. If we got married and his visa ran out, would he be detained while we were applying for a marriage visa? The only way we could get answers was if we had money to get a lawyer. Nobody really knew what was going to happen. We made the unfortunate decision for him to return to Iraq, and then he could apply from there to return here."

That was a year and a half ago. While in Kurdistan, Biyan received a full scholarship to pursue his Ph.D. in America. But he has not been allowed to return. As the situation in Syria and Iraq deteriorated, Biyan repeatedly made the long trek to Baghdad to plead his case with government officials.

"He was pulled over twice by ISIS groups on the road from his city to Baghdad and pulled out of the car. But they didn't cut his head off. He lived through Saddam Hussain, and his father was imprisoned. He's a very resilient person. We speak morning, noon, and night, and have for the last year and a half. He completely changed me. I went from someone who didn't believe in love anymore to somebody who is completely in love with a man who is 10,000 miles away. I'm not really sure if I'll ever see him again."

The Worst First Date

"Our mutual friend called me and said, 'That guy Jamie who lives over here, he wants to know if you'll go out with him,'" Sara Hall says. "I told her no. If he doesn't have the gonads to call me himself, I'm not going out with him."

Five minutes later, Jamie Hall called her. "I wasn't really looking to date anyone, so I gave him a hard time. I told him, 'Here's the deal, buddy. If you're going to take me out, be prepared to pay for everything and don't expect anything in return. We'll just go and get to know each other.' He said okay."

"I was actually going through a divorce at the time. I'd been single for a while and decided it was time to start dating again," says Jamie.

A few nights later, the pair went to Waffle House. "It was late night. We had some coffee, and we had some pie," Jamie says. "We really just kind of laid things out on the table for each other. This is what I expect. This is what I don't like. We had been there for three or four hours drinking coffee and talking."

"The whole date was awesome," says Sara. "I really enjoyed getting to know Jamie. I had no issues at this point."

By the time Jamie drove Sara home, it was 3:30 a.m. On the way, they got pulled over by police for a minor infraction. When the cop ran his license, it came back suspended. A year earlier, Jamie had gotten a speeding ticket in Collierville. He paid the ticket with a check. "Little did I know that my soon-to-be ex-wife had cleaned out our bank account."

The check to the city of Collierville bounced. "Here I am on my first date, and I'm about to go to jail. A second cop came up to the car, and he was a real smartass."

"He said, 'Where's your dope at, dope boy?'" recalls Sara.

"We had words. I was arrested," Jamie says.

"While he was in the police car, the cop starts rifling through the vehicle we were traveling in. He pulled this red négligé out from under Jamie's seat. The cop held it up and said, 'Was he planning on making you wear this later?' I said, 'I have no idea.' They were talking all kinds of shit to me about him. It was horrible."

Jamie went to jail, and the sheriff escorted Sara back home, where her mother was waiting. "I said, 'Oh, my god, Mom. Worst first date ever. ... He got arrested!' I promise you, the next words out of her mouth were, 'You're going to marry that man.'"

Jamie and Sara Hall will soon celebrate their 19th wedding anniversary.

click to enlarge Matt and Heidi Kuhn
  • Matt and Heidi Kuhn

Government Love

Matt Kuhn was a newly minted county commissioner. Heidi Verbeek was the Deputy Director of Community Services. They met at the Crime Victims Assistance Night Dinner. "She was wearing these incredible red shoes that you could see from across the room, and I thought, I would love to talk to her," Matt says. "Then she came to our table and talked to everybody at the table except me."

"We had been in mutual meetings and obviously found each other attractive but really never did anything about it," says Heidi. When Matt didn't make the first move, she got his personal email address and asked if he knew who she was. "I said, 'Who doesn't know the most gorgeous woman in Shelby County government?'"

They talked on the phone, went out for meals, and were soon close enough to go on a cruise together. "It's what we call the best ever because it was absolutely amazing," Heidi says. "Matt had never cruised before, so I got to turn him on to that."

"Now she can't stop me from booking cruises," adds Matt.

They dated for about six months before Matt decided to pop the question in December 2009. "I wanted to do it the right way. I enlisted the help of a county commissioner at the time, Deidre Malone. Deidre was able to lure Heidi to the podium with a question."

"Matt knew he was not allowed to ask me questions," Heidi says. "He was supposed to recuse himself from any voting that had to do with anything I was presenting."

So when Malone yielded her time to Matt, Heidi wondered, "What is going on?"

Matt went to the podium with "WILL YOU MARRY ME" written on five pieces of paper. "When I got to the last paper, I heard the collective gasp from the gallery," says Heidi. "He was down on one knee."

Since the commission meetings are live-streamed and broadcast, video of the proposal ended up on CNN. "Jackson Baker broke the story," Matt says. "He made it part of his column for the week. So we've been in the Flyer before."

The couple got married in Minglewood Hall the next May, on a day when historic storms swept across the state. "That's not what a bride wants on her wedding day!" Heidi says. "People say, rain on your wedding day is good luck. I say, 'What about tornadoes on your wedding day?'"

Matt and Heidi danced down the aisle together. "We had a lot of surprises for our guests, and even to this day, people still say that was the best wedding that they've ever attended."

click to enlarge Leah Keys and Jamie Harmon
  • Leah Keys and Jamie Harmon

Head-On Collision

Jamie Harmon first saw Leah Keys through the viewfinder of his camera. “He took
pictures of me and lots of people at a fundraiser for the Maria Montessori School
because that’s how he experiences the world, photographing it,” says Keys.

It was 2010, and both Jamie and Leah were newly minted single parents. Leah
was recently divorced, and now had custody of her daughter Emmaline. “I got
married really young. I think I was 22. I was never really comfortable in my own
skin. I was in a place where I said, ‘I don't ever want to share a bed with anybody
else.’ Why would I ever do that? I love having this bed all to myself! I was really
working hard to try to figure out who I was as one person.”

Jamie had returned to Memphis to get medical treatment for his partner of 20
years, Danielle. She was diagnosed with melanoma in May 2009, and passed
away that August. Now, Jamie was raising their two children, Gus, 11, and
Hopper, 18 months, alone. “There were miserable times and there were times
where you keep busy,” he says.

Organizing a retrospective exhibit of Danielle’s artwork had helped him work
through the initial shock of grief, and he threw himself into his photography to stay
sane. “I don’t know what other coping devices people have,” he says. “I don’t know what
someone would do without a creative outlet. Maybe self-destruction.”

Jamie enrolled Gus at the school where Leah was teaching, “because it seemed
like a safe place for him.”

After he posted the photographs from the school fundraiser, Leah and Jamie
connected on Facebook. A few weeks later, they found themselves eating
together with a group of friends at the Happy Mexican. “It made me feel good to
have an experience out with friends as me, as Leah, in this skin,” she says.

A few weeks later, Jamie asked Leah to see Cake at Minglewood Hall. They went
to an art opening, then to the show, then for drinks at The Buccaneer. Late night,
Jamie asked her if they were on a date. “I didn’t want to say it,” says Leah. “The
wild thing was, the next morning, I was in a head-on collision that shut down I-40.”
Leah and Emmaline were in a construction zone when a van going the other
direction swerved out of control and rammed them. Both were injured, but lucky.

“We were in the ER, and I was texting my friend to tell her that everything was okay.
Then I said, ‘Can you tell Jamie what happened?’ Once I did that, I was like, ‘Oh
shit. That means … I just did that. I think I have a boyfriend.’”

A few weeks later, Jamie took Leah out to Boscos for her birthday, and they held
hands in the Studio on the Square parking lot. Just after their first kiss, at
Ernestine and Hazel’s, they drove 14 hours together to buy the trailer that would
become Amurica, Harmon’s popular mobile photo booth. When they got married
the next year, it was in the same spot in Ernestine and Hazel’s where they had
their first kiss.

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