Amanda Zank had never ridden the school bus before. She was nervous, not just about this new mode of transportation, but also about transferring from her tiny private school of a few dozen close classmates to Luther Jackson Middle School in Merrifield, where she’d have to sink or swim alongside hundreds of other students. But she boarded excitedly for her first day and sat with the one girl that she knew — which made her an immediate target for Josh Borders.
His friends had a standing feud with the girl, so it was “guilt by association” for Amanda. “They picked on us. He made fun of me about having a big chin [and] used to call me Jay Leno,” she remembers. Josh wasn’t the ringleader but sheepishly admits “it was 13-year-old boys being a bunch of jerks.” The teasing continued until Amanda told her mom, and Josh and his friends got in trouble with the school. After that, there was nothing but frosty silence between them.
The thaw began a few years later, after they’d moved on to Oakton High School. The summer before their senior year, their separate groups of friends had started to overlap and the two found themselves forced to hang out. “At first I was really mean to him,” Amanda recalls. “I was like, ‘You are going to apologize to me for being mean, and I’m going to make you pay for it.’ ”
But her demands for retribution soon softened into a mutual, friendly banter. She noticed Josh was cute and funny, and a loyal friend. “The high school we went to is kind of preppy,” Amanda says. But “Josh was like a guy — he fixed cars and had a motorcycle. He was my type.”
Josh, too, had started to see her less as his middle school rival and more as an attractive brunette who could always make him laugh. “I never had to change who I was or act differently around her,” he says.
They awkwardly navigated the unspoken rules of high school crushes, trying to find out through friends whether one liked the other. The two started hanging out one-on-one, going to the movies and talking on the phone at night. But whenever Josh would ask Amanda to be his girlfriend, she would decline. “She would admit that she liked me. She would kiss me. But then, if I wanted to connect with her, it was like there was this barrier. She wouldn’t have any of it,” he says. After a few months of the chase, he was exhausted.
On Dec. 23, 2003, she showed up at his house — just down the street from her own — to exchange Christmas presents. Sitting outside on her car, Josh told Amanda that he was done asking her to be his girlfriend. Whatever this was, it was over. As the unseasonably warm rain soaked them both, Amanda changed her mind. “Ask me once more, and I’ll say yes,” she promised. But he’d asked enough times, and he wasn’t about to risk another letdown. Instead, she asked him to be her boyfriend.
Now official, they were “that couple,” so into each other that everyone else felt like a third wheel. With senioritis as a potent motivator, they would skip class just to grab burgers and spend time together. Years later, photos from their prom decorate their Clarendon apartment.
“We thought that we were in love pretty early on. . . . Of course, we were in high school, hormones, whatever. But I think we both knew that we cared a lot more for each other than a typical high school boyfriend/girlfriend,” Amanda says.
After graduation, they found themselves at a crossroads. He was staying in Virginia, and she was leaving for college in South Carolina. But she ignored everyone who said she shouldn’t go to college with a boyfriend. The distance put stress on the relationship. He was working a busy full-time job as a mechanic and figuring out how to live as an adult; she was living the college life, spending her days in class and nights going out with new friends.
The separation also presented an opportunity. “I think if we had been in the same place, it might have kept us from growing up a little bit,” Amanda says. “We figured out who we were separately but while we were still together.”
She graduated in just three years. Back together, it was like everything started over again. Josh had gotten used to doing things on his own and now had to make time for Amanda on a day-to-day basis. She was settling into an internship and then a new job. They were both still living with their parents, but they were discovering who they were as an adult couple.
“She’s quirky, but it’s our quirky. We can be goofballs together,” Josh says. “She’s always trying to be better, which makes me want to be better. We have that respect for each other.” They share an appreciation for raw honesty, a sense of moral responsibility and a mutual trust. “Josh is a person who, if he cares about you, makes you feel really protected and safe,” Amanda says.
In fall 2008, the economy was going downhill and Josh was laid off from his job. It was a blessing in disguise. “When they let me go, it was like, I’m never going to turn wrenches again. That’s the end of that,” he says. He enrolled in an information technology program and studied at Northern Virginia Community College and then at George Mason University. He crammed in as many classes as possible while working nearly full time. Their Saturday night dinner-and-a-movie dates turned into nights watching Netflix at home while he finished his homework and she fell asleep on the couch. There were tearful conversations and fears that they were losing the closeness that had been a hallmark of their relationship. But at the same time, Amanda was impressed by his effort. “I always knew he’d fight for the things he wanted, but I’d never seen it in that context,” she remembers.
In May 2012, the night before they were scheduled to leave for a trip to the Bahamas to celebrate his graduation, they headed into the District to attend a friend’s art show and to share a romantic dinner. On the way there, they walked through Lafayette Park. As she sat on a bench, he got down on one knee and popped the question.
On June 22, Amanda walked down the aisle. Before a backdrop of handmade paper flowers, the two exchanged vows and listened as the Rev. Daniel Kane advised that “marriage is the highest form of friendship on Earth.” After a Celtic blessing of the hands, the two, both 27, were pronounced husband and wife. At the reception, with the hall adorned with pink and peach roses, candles and a well-used dance floor, the two celebrated their union among nearly 100 guests, including friends they’ve known since those early days on the middle school bus.
“We’ve been talking about ‘forever’ for as long as we’ve been together,” Amanda says. “And now we’re living it.”