I once worked the night shift manning a register at an all-night gas station. After midnight, the doors were locked and all I had to do was to authorize the gas pumps. Before midnight, I filled the stock on the shelves and cleaned the coffee pots. Customers came and went.

I was on the job for about two weeks when I started classes at the local college. I would clock into work at 9 p.m. and then clean and do cigarette inventory until midnight when I could lock the doors, turn the lights down and simply authorize gas. I took math classes. I knew that there were a few things I was good at, but I wanted to really buckle down on the math. So I took one math class at a time, hammering down and studying hard to get the highest scores I could.

I was a recent transplant to the Midwest town I was in. I was also carless, so I liked that I could walk everywhere I needed and could hop a city bus (fun and adventurous for such a small town girl) to head to the college downtown.

I would wait until after midnight and then I would turn the lights down and pull out my textbooks. I was determined to better myself, I knew that where I was and where I was going to go was in those books.

A young man showed up around week four of my job. I had just clocked in at the gas station and had started doing inventory counts and cleaning out the huge coffee buckets. The first time I saw him, I simply remembered the car: He was driving a pale pink Cadillac, not something you commonly see and certainly not something a young guy with tight jeans and a cowboy hat drove. I authorized the pump, admired the view and went back to studying after he drove off.

He would return another time while I just watched with a smile from the distance, the doors already locked and the lights dimmed … I liked the view but was busy studying macroeconomics. I was bunking with my uncle, the youngest of my moms’ siblings and frankly the one who gave me wings … no judgement, just freedom to fly. I was in college and working. My nights off were spent under the fairy lights of his backyard with wine coolers and dreams under the stars with some ‘70s music playing. I was thoroughly enjoying the honest taste of freedom that had eluded me until then.

I always did what everyone said to do or what everyone expected. Life was a tiny box with no air… and when I walked away from it all, the world was my oyster and I just enjoyed the taste of no expectations, no obligations. Looking back, I worked hard to make sure that my kids had that same taste of freedom, and yet ... it didn’t work. The hunger for more… for life on your own terms ... can come at any cost.

Then he pulled in again one night ... the guy in the tight jeans and hat in the pink Cadillac ... with a date in the car. Later I would learn that it was one of those dates where you stepped up to take someone’s cousin to an event as a favor. But that night, he rolled up around 10 p.m. and I authorized the gas pump then went back to my books. The bell of the door opening was a surprise, I didn’t meet his eyes, he simply walked in and turned to go straight down the hall to the bathroom, where he left the door open and washed his hands.

What I didn’t know was that as he walked down that long aisle to the bathroom of that small gas station, he saw me clearly in the reflection of the beer cooler door with my chin propped up on my hand, watching his pretty self walk down that aisle. He came out and bought some gum that night and asked me for a date. I said no, because he had a date in his car. He came back 20 minutes later, dateless, and that was the beginning of us, well, when we became us. Twenty years ago.

— Kalynn Brazeal is a conservative, Christian wife/mom/country girl carrying around an MBA, several decades of business experience and a strong opinion. Now living in the remoteness of North Dakota, she continues to share her column on life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and cake. She can be reached by email at kmbrazeal@icloud.com.