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Clare Bowen & Brandon Robert Young's Epic Nashville Love Story


~ Love Story written by Clare Bowen


A long time ago, my Grandad gave me some advice at the very end of his life.

“Little One.” He said. “When you meet your One, tell them you love them every single day, and never stop saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ Treat them as respectfully as you did when you were courting. Never forget the precious treasure you knew they were when you found them. I was a bit of a bugger sometimes but I never stopped holding the door for your Nana.”

I could tell as he was saying it he could still see her as he saw her for the first time. Seventeen years old, standing at the top of the stairs of the house she worked in. She had on a blue dress. Someone else’s laundry on her hip. Her name was Mary. Molly for short.

They lived a long life together full of Everything.

When Nana died, Grandad came to live with us, and I would often catch him doing something that people who didn’t understand would call “talking to himself.” But I knew he was simply still telling her he loved her, every day. Pretty sure she said it back.


When he was tired of being here on Earth with us and had to go, I remember him telling me, like a little kid with wonder in his eyes, pointing toward the hospice hallway.

“Molly has her hand on the door.” He whispered. Grinning from ear to ear.


I know my Mumma and at least one Auntie understood along with me, that Nana had come close, to fetch him. Shortly thereafter, she held the door for him as he walked through it, and off they went. One of the greatest love stories I’ve ever known, that never really ended. It’s not lost on me how lucky I am to have a blueprint for love like that.


~


Months ago, Aves ~ Kate / best friend extraordinaire / founder of Happy Little Vows ~ asked me if I could write out mine and Brandon’s love story for her site, and include some details of our favourite holiday destination. For us, the answer to the holiday bit, is in Nashville, where our house is. We like our house. The story of our lives together, has generally involved year round travel on tours, set locations, and family visits, so coming home was always a treat. I stayed up late one night back in March of 2020, writing about falling in love with B, and how much we love coming home to the city where we found each other; Nashville, Tennessee.



Last March, we had just arrived home from a six week stay in Los Angeles. I was writing in our spare room where I had quarantined myself from Brandon. I had potentially been exposed to Covid-19 during a routine procedure in hospital, and couldn’t bear the thought of getting him sick. Now, at the time of this article’s final editing, it is January 21, of 2021.

A few things have changed...

Not my love for Brandon, or for Nashville. Those are rock solid. But as I was making mental notes of the places we love and used to frequent together, the television reminded me that travel looks very different at the moment, and quite a few of those places now exist only in memories, after a tornado, a bombing, and a pandemic hit our beautiful city all in one year.


This is not Nashville’s first rodeo, however. I know it will come back stronger and better, because its people kept on caring, holding each other together and being strong for one another through not just the hard things, but also through the effort, exhaustion and what can sometimes become the mundanity of rebuilding. The people of Nashville are pretty inspiring, and they got me thinking.


When we recount love stories - and I blame the acceptable length of the average film for this - a lot of the time our view is limited to the meeting of your true love, not knowing your true love is your true love, falling in love with your true love, maybe somewhere in the middle, for drama’s sake, almost never calling your true love back because [insert misunderstanding that makes the audience squirm / throw things at the screen / wake up.] Followed by some variant of a gloriously satisfying reunion, which in extreme cases may involve legging it through a rainstorm towards one another, in slow motion, without falling down, getting hypothermia, or a rash on your face because Stubble. (FYI all of these things have happened to me at work and out of all of them the rash was the worst.)


We cut these bits out of the movie to preserve the sexy, and end it all on a neat and tidy happily ever after note. (Mad props those who make a living jamming love stories into three minutes and thirty seconds for radio. Sorcerers.)

But life is not neat or tidy. It is messy and beautiful and strange and terrifying and Everything. Maybe it’s because I do drama for a living and in spite of my best efforts to never bring it home, it follows me whenever it feels like it anyway. Never a dull moment. But it makes me love the everyday so very much. The things that can seem mundane are among the moments I appreciate the most.


Making each other breakfast. Waking up next to him. When he kisses me goodbye side stage before he goes out to join the band, and says “I’ll see you out there.” which he always does less than a minute later. Coffee in the morning with him, wherever we happen to be in the world.


I’m sitting here reading this back thinking “Clare, you complete wanker.” But this is what we do. We have both done our fair share of picking up the pieces of our broken hearts after being betrayed by people we trusted implicitly. We are not strangers to working behind bars that smelled like the devil’s backside, not being able to afford rent, and feeling like failures who should probably just give up and go do something sensible with our lives. We are very sensitive people, but thankfully we are also quite stubborn, and so, hung in there.

Our respective rough patches didn’t feel good, but they were part of making us who we are. And who we are is two people who, when Life happens - as it tends to do - turn to each other and say “Well this is really hard, but if I’m going to go through the hard things, I’m glad I get to do it with you. Thanks for being here.” Just the same as the good bits. We like doing them together. We’re not perfect, we’re just really quite fond of each other. And we have a lot of stories to tell... but here’s the beginning. Like, the very, very beginning. And some other bits.

~


Brandon has lived in Music City for twenty years now. He didn’t know how to play the guitar before he came to Nashville, figuring he’d sort that out once he got there, which he did, because he is infuriatingly talented.


We first met about a half hour before singing together for the very first time, because someone bailed out of my set at the last minute. Brandon, a friend of a colleague, learned the song in a few hours after being called in as a Hail Mary to save the day. Which he did. With bells on.


I was relatively new to town, sitting in my dressing room at the Bridgestone Arena being frightened. It was my first big solo show, and my family home on the reasonably quiet Minnamurra River back in Australia, hadn’t exactly prepared me for the 15,000 screaming people currently inhabiting the really, really big room down the hall. So I probably looked a bit funny when Brandon stuck his head through the door to meet this mystery person he was meant to sing with. And that’s what I looked like when I saw my future husband for the first time. A bit funny.


He, on the other hand was wearing blue jeans, perfectly worn in Frye engineer boots - just like a pair I had, a white collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and a waistcoat. That was all very dashing, but the part that really got me was just the way he... was. The way he is. They say when you know, you know... I don’t know exactly who “they” are, but I will give it to “them” that I’ll never forget the moment he walked through my door.


He didn’t look at me right away. He didn’t stare at me like other people did. He didn’t leer at me as if he would like to take some part of me and own it. I distinctly recall my internal world tilting, and adjusting to make room for all that he would be. At the time however, I brushed it off as terror induced vertigo.

He introduced himself, sat down opposite me and we ran a song my character, Scarlett O’Connor on the TV show Nashville sang. We ran it once and I remember thinking “Is this guy a really, really good actor or something?” Because even though we’d never sung together before, he sang TO me, and with me, at the same time, in an engaged way that felt... realer than real. Earnest, even. I don’t know how to explain it really. Not flirty though. One of the reasons I grew to trust Brandon was that he somehow knew better than to flirt with me early on. There’s nothing wrong with flirting, it’s just that I am highly introverted in that regard and to be frank, being flirted at tends to make me look for the nearest tree to climb up, from whence I will perch and hiss unpleasantly, until the flirter removes itself from my presence.


Anyway...

We sang the song through again and I realised it wasn’t an actor thing. It was because he was the real thing. Utterly lovely, and I was overwhelmed with the feeling of just wanting to know him. He exuded gentleness and warmth. The air around him was gold.


I was still thinking about this as we walked out into the main room to go do the thing. I went and assumed the position at the bottom of the stairs to the stage, barefooted because I am more myself that way, microphone in hand, sparkles everywhere. My comet trail of wranglers had peeled off and were making noises at various people to ensure the pony show looked good, and I suppose looking back, it must have been glaringly obvious just how alone I was.


There weren’t any old friends there, or family. Just some odd little shoeless, creature with too much hair and a funny accent, staring at the microphone in its hand, wondering how the heck to turn it on. (Because that’s what I was doing. I had no idea that I didn’t have to turn the stupid thing on. Someone less technologically challenged takes care of that. All I knew about it was you sing in one end, and probably shouldn’t actually drop it.)

Then someone touched me lightly on the arm and said in the most comforting voice ever; “Hey, you’re gunna be great out there.” I looked up and it was Brandon. He smiled at me, (my world did the tilty thing again) and I managed to squeak out “Thank y-“ before suddenly a very loud person was saying my name to all the even louder people, and I was falling up the stage stairs to certain death.


But I totally didn’t die.


Instead, I had the Best Fun Ever. Halfway through my set, as planned, I invited my new friend Brandon Robert Young to the stage, introducing him to the noisy people who actually turned out to be super cool and didn’t want to eat me at all. He sang and he was Absolutely. F#%*ing. Awesome. I didn’t know that singing with someone who wasn’t my brother could be that much fun. It wasn’t stressful at all. It was so lovely. And he was so good.


Everyone loved him, cheering for him as he left the stage. I finished the set and managed not to almost die a second time going down the stairs to find Brandon Robert Young, and thank him properly. But it turned out he had made a special detour for me that night. After exiting stage left, he had politely thanked my chief wrangler, handed over his microphone, and was rushed out of the arena to bus call by his tour manager, and went on the road singing with John Hiatt for three months. He was gone.


I don’t think I’ve ever told him how my heart sank a little, even with all the stage adrenaline rocketing around my body.

So I sent him a message to say thank you, and we made a time to write together when he got back to town.


Quite a bit longer than three months later, because Life, Work and Other Things, we get to the bit I tell on stage.


We are sitting in Brandon’s little apartment. We’ve just written our very first song together, it’s called “Oh, Hello” and we’re singing it through to make a work tape. I have thoroughly enjoyed this refreshingly lovely time with him because he is lovely and I really like the song. We finish said work tape, and then the part where my entire body starts to feel very strange happens. I think I’m going to have some sort of spell in front of this gorgeous person, at which point I realize, to my internal horror, that he has in fact, given me butterflies, which I have never truly experienced before, and are actually rather like a cardiac episode if you ask me. When he asks if I would like to go get something to eat, or worse still, a glass of wine. I squeak something unintelligible at him, bolt out of his apartment like a short streak of blonde lightning, jump into my truck, and burst into tears. My feelings for Brandon were already much bigger than me. So I overflowed.


Fast forward through much faffing about >>>…

I will never forget the night he told me he loved me for the first time, standing on the roof of our first home together in the light of a hurricane lantern. I had been waiting for him to say it.


I will never forget the time our 170lb dog got sick and as B puts it - “ass-blasted” the bathroom of Brandon’s very neat, tidy, tiny apartment. I vaulted over the end of the bed, completely naked, (not sexy) destroying my shin on the iron bed frame, far too late to do anything about what the dog was doing. We cleaned the place from top to bottom in the middle of the night and laughed pretty much the entire time.


I will never forget the first time he made me a coffee. I didn’t drink coffee. But I figured it couldn’t be bad if he liked it. Now I drink coffee.


I will never forget the time I took B to Australia for the first time, where we discovered that he has a severe phobia of heights, conveniently whilst half way up the Sydney Harbour Bridge.


I will never forget the first time B picked me up in his car. He stopped and got out and I had no idea what the hell he was doing. He was opening the passenger door for me.

I will never forget John Carter Cash accidentally marrying me to Robert Brandon Young instead of Brandon Robert Young.


I will never forget Brandon being my unshakeable sanctuary through some of the hardest events I have ever trudged through in my life.


As the lyrics to one of B songs goes “It won’t always be rose buds and white doves.” And it’s true. It won’t. Sometimes it will be 3am and there will be dog shit on the wall.

The part that’s important is that even though we have generally just come off tour / set / the Sydney Harbour Bridge / some hospital ward, and are exhausted to tears, when bad things happen, we don’t take it out on one another.


When things are good and life is easy - love is good and easy. But then things aren’t so great, like during tornados, bombings, deadly pandemics, trauma recovery, cancer scares, disappointments, theft, social unrest, ambulance rides, chronic illness, house fires, deaths, trolls, stalkers, jet lag, the ending of friendships, betrayals, and other disappointments - I have learned that love is something you have to pour into intentionally. And there is not a single person on this earth I would rather have gone through all those things with, than Brandon Robert Young.


Something special happens in those tough moments where you look at your person and decide that under no circumstances are either of you willing to leave the other down there alone. A strengthening, like bones that heal stronger after they have been broken. You keep each others heads above water, when one is exhausted, the other finds the strength to lead and keep going. This role interchanges many times, over and over like a relay of hugs and shoulders, knees hitting the floor, eyes that think they couldn’t possibly cry one more tear, but do anyway, and hands that wipe the tears away, grab hold tight, and swim defiantly towards the surface, because you know things will be alright again, as long as you have each other, and always treat one another as the precious treasure you discovered in those first days of blissful realization.


Our love story is young. We are learning. Brandon is incredible. I love and respect him fiercely. I love him for his strengths and for his weaknesses. He loves me the same. We are finding our way through life with the understanding that I am his, and he is mine for always. That there is much to do and I want to do it all with him.

After three years of very happy marriage, (in spite of some Hollywood level drama going down) we’ve only just gotten started. We know basically nothing, except that whatever happens, we tell one another “I love you” every day, never forget to say “please” and “thank you”, and for the sake of the love we’ve been so blessed to find in each other, we always, always hold the door.


(Wedding Photos by Alyssa Joy of Alyssa Joy Photo)



Note: This love story is part of on ongoing curation in a series called Love Stories that details how couples met and their advice on how to create a long and happy marriage. Want to tell your love story and be a featured Love Story on Happy Little Vows? We'd love to hear it! Check out our HLV Instructions for more details.

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