Nikki Milton and Daniel Rosen rise above the lows to reach the highs

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 31, 2010; E12

In 2004, Nikki Milton decided it was time to revamp her social life. The then-32-year-old technology manager had begun to feel like everyone else was getting married; though she was in no rush to wed, she needed to "start figuring out what to do for myself."

In an attempt to expand her circle of friends, she reached out to old acquaintances, including Daniel Rosen, a guy she'd met three years earlier at Buffalo Billiards. Both had been at the Dupont Circle bar with separate sets of friends and ended up exchanging e-mail addresses, each thinking the other could be a fun new pal. They never got together in the years that followed, but stayed in touch through occasional e-mails.

When Milton suggested they get together in November 2004, he invited her to a concert at the Black Cat. They met at the club, barely spoke during the show and went their separate ways immediately after. "It was very platonic and not very good, socially," Milton says.

Still, when friends declined to join him for a John Waters show at the 9:30 Club, Rosen, a research assistant at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, asked Milton to go. They chatted throughout the evening and found themselves laughing at the same moments. "I thought we had a similar sense of humor," he says, "even though I'm quiet."

At the end of the night, Rosen walked Milton to her car, hugged her goodbye and held on just a little longer and tighter than she expected. "I was like, 'Whoa. What just happened? Ohhhhh, okay,' " she recalls.

They e-mailed incessantly over Thanksgiving weekend and began seeing each other regularly. That Rosen was a little person was never cause for hesitation, Milton says. On New Year's Eve, in a Baltimore restaurant surrounded by a group of his friends, they kissed.

Milton had dated a lot throughout her 20s, and with every other guy she'd find one (often innocuous) flaw and send him packing. "I have a low tolerance for lots of things," she says. "But Dan just never drove me crazy. It was the strangest thing."

At the end of January, she flew to the Dominican Republic for a month-long work assignment. Waiting for her at the hotel reception desk was a huge bouquet of flowers from Rosen. He flew down to visit on two different weekends, and by March he thought he might be falling in love -- or at least, he says, "the potential was there."

Milton began to think the potential was there, too. Years before, a friend asked what she was looking for in a husband. "And, I am not lying, the only thing I said was, 'Someone who will reach the high things on the shelf,' " she says with a laugh. "So I was like, 'That's how I know I really love him, because I don't care that he doesn't reach the high things on the shelf.' "

But over the summer, Rosen disclosed that he didn't want to have children -- something Milton always envisioned for her life. It was a deal-breaker. "I was like, 'I don't want to be with someone and feel like I'm tricking them or pressuring them, because he's just gonna resent it,' " she says.

So they broke up. But Rosen never stopped calling or e-mailing or stopping by Milton's house. "I didn't want to believe it," he says.

They slid back into a relationship and began a repetitive breakup dance. Every six months or so, Milton would call it off, insisting that she had to move on because they weren't going in the same direction. Each time, Rosen would work his way back into her life.

In June 2006, Milton was in South Africa on business when she received a message from Rosen's mother. He'd had a seizure while driving and got into an accident. Doctors thought it was an anomaly, until he had a second one and then a third. Eventually, he was having seizures every two or three days, some mild, some violent. Later that summer, Milton woke from a nap to find Rosen foaming at the mouth with his eyes rolled back in his head.

"The randomness of the seizures created a kind of havoc" in their lives, Milton says. For the next three years, she would take on a caregiver role -- answering calls from emergency room personnel, chauffeuring Rosen to each doctor's appointment, voicing frustrations that he was too reserved to utter. Doctors were confounded and tested various medications that caused Rosen to suffer significant memory loss.

Milton's family questioned whether she was staying with him because he was sick, but in fact, she says, the turmoil made her realize how much she valued the relationship. "I didn't want to treat it so cavalierly anymore," she says. "I wasn't there because he was sick, and I wasn't gonna leave because he was sick. I wanted to be with him and I wanted him back."

The relationship had deepened. And after spending a great deal of time with Milton's youngest sister, who was born just as the two started dating, he decided he wanted to have children. "I slowly realized that we could handle it, and that it'd be a good thing to have our own kids and a family," he says.

In December 2008, Rosen proposed at a rose petal-strewn table in the Hotel Palomar.

But wedding planning was put off as he grew sicker. The next summer he spent nearly a week in the intensive care unit and was unable to work for six weeks. Medications eventually stopped his seizures, but other scans showed that there were still problems. He was found to have a condition that causes extreme pressure on the brain -- not uncommon in little people during adolescence, but rare in adults like Rosen, who's now 40. In July the pressure became so intense that part of his brain matter broke through his skull.

Doctors decided to put a shunt in Rosen's brain, allowing fluid to move more freely; though he's still on anti-seizure medications, his symptoms are now largely gone.

On Oct. 23 -- having done, as Milton puts it, the "in sickness part" -- the couple returned to the Hotel Palomar, this time to wed before 96 friends and family members. After the ceremony Rosen stepped on a glass to honor his Jewish heritage. During cocktail hour a blues band entertained guests.

"There's a thousand reasons why he shouldn't want to be with me and there's a thousand reasons why I shouldn't want to be with him -- on paper. But none of those things matter. They become nonexistent when we're together," says Milton, now 37. "Every day I'm happy to see him. Every time he walks into a room, I'm happy to see him."

"Yeah," he agrees. "We really love being with one another."

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