Editor's note: To recount their love story for this article, Jennifer Esway and Brooks Smith wrote separate narratives, which they have withheld from one another in order to enhance the authenticity of this story. They will read each other’s accounts in this article.
It was an early August morning in 1988. Jennifer Esway, '92, put on her pink and green preppy, plaid skirt for Orientation Day. This was the day that Brooks Smith, '92, saw Esway for the first time before he would spend the next four years being silently in love with her.
Smith, who has two older siblings, had entered his first year in 1988, with the mindset that college would be a bit like the film Animal House, which was definitely not what he experienced at the University of Richmond, he said.
“My freshman year was a wet, hot mess, at least socially,” Smith said.
Fraternities were such a big part of the school, and Smith, not being in one, had seen artificial barriers created, from where people sat in the dining hall to what they did on the weekends, he said.
Despite the difficult time Smith had navigating his first year, there was only one moment that really mattered in hindsight, he said.
"I met Jennifer walking toward the Commons and fell immediately and irretrievably in love," Smith said. "Literally. She was the most beautiful person I had ever met in my whole life."
Esway grew up in western Pennsylvania and was recruited to swim at UR. Her social life was largely defined by her friends on the swim team, which back then was co-ed, she said.
She found friends in both her swim team and Greek life, when she joined Kappa Kappa Gamma, and met other girls from the East Coast and the South, Esway said. She spent her time out at the Phi Delta Theta and Kappa Sigma lodges, because her swim and water polo friends were in those fraternities, she said.
Smith did not spend much time at the lodges, Esway said.
Smith spent the next few years not committing himself enough to the things that mattered, and not having the best on-campus experience — something he regrets, he said.
Things all came together senior year, however, when he finally ended up in a positive and supportive on-campus apartment, living with some members of the swim team who were very close with Esway and her roommates, Smith said.
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This was how he made his meaningful way into Esway’s friend group, she recalled.
It wasn’t until senior year that the two became close. “We spent a lot of time together and became really close friends -- best friends,” Smith said. However, Smith said it wasn’t an immediate fairytale.
Esway was oblivious to the strong feelings that Smith had for her, so much so that when they spent nights watching Woody Allen movies, went to see The Dave Matthews Band and even went on their senior spring break to Jamaica with their other best friend, she thought it had been totally as friends, as far as she was concerned, she said.
Smith didn’t build up the courage to tell Esway how much he liked her until the very last night before graduation, when he realized that he may never get another chance to tell her, he said.
It was the last night that the class of 1992 would spend together. There was a graduation party at the Robins Center, but Esway said she had not been feeling very festive and had decided to leave early.
That night, Smith had been working late at Britches Great Outdoors — a job he had had throughout college.
After getting out of work, Smith hurried back to the final on-campus party in search of Esway, but found every one of her friends but her, he said. He raced to the apartments and banged on her door — University Forest Apartment 103 — until she answered, Smith said.
Embarrassed and scared to hurt their friendship, Smith finally mustered up the courage to tell her how he felt, he said.
“I basically told her that I fell in love with her the moment I first laid eyes on her, and loved her ever since,” Smith said.
“I was moved," Esway said, "and leaned in and kissed him. That was how it all started … May 8, 1992."
The next morning, Esway rode off with her grandmother and waved goodbye to Smith, unsure of what the future held for the two of them. But, ever since that kiss on the last night of senior year, they have been together.
They spent the summer dating long distance -- Esway in Washington, D.C., and Smith in Richmond. They would write love letters to each other to stay in touch, she said.
“They made me tear up to remember how tender our love was and how raw the world around us was, at least back then when we had no idea what might happen next,” Smith said, referring to the letters he recently found.
After the summer, they traveled around Australia, where Esway completed her final semester because she took a semester off her sophomore year.
When Esway was set on attending law school in Vermont, Smith personally lobbied his admittance to go there as well, she said.
Thirty years after Smith first laid eyes on Esway, they are back in Richmond, married with three children, two dogs and a wedding dove that turned 21 this year.
"I never could've imagined the long, joy-filled journey leaning in for that kiss, at Apartment 103," Smith said. "At the time, I remember thinking I'd rather regret what I'd done than regret what I hadn't."
Contact contributor Kaori Tachibana at email@example.com.
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