BY JE’DON HOLLOWAY-TALLEY
Special to the Birmingham Times
“You Had Me at Hello’’ highlights married couples and the love that binds them. If you would like to be considered for a future “Hello’’ column, or know someone, please send nominations to Erica Wright firstname.lastname@example.org. Include the couple’s name, contact number(s) and what makes their love story unique.
KAREN AND DARNELL JOHNSON
Married: Feb. 14, 2010
Met: November 2009, at Martini’s Ultra Lounge in Hoover. Karen was fresh out of a long-term relationship and was headed to the club for a girl’s night out which was “something I never did unless it was a Spoken Word event,” said Karen, who used to perform as a singer. “And [upon her arrival] here is my future husband [working security] and I told everyone that night that Darnell was my future husband. I was immediately taken by his aura and only had eyes for him.”
Darnell said that he recalled Karen approaching him at the end of the night. “She came up to me when everybody was leaving and we were talking, and when she asked me for my number the first thing I was thinking was ‘I’m a security guard at a club, she only wants my number so they can get in the club’, but there was something totally different about her,” he said.
Karen recalled exchanging numbers but keeping it platonic for a couple of weeks. “I went from never going to the club to going every single weekend for about a month straight until I finally asked him if he wanted to go out,” Karen laughed.
First date: December 2009, at Matthews Bar and Grill in Downtown Birmingham.
“I had invited him to a spoken-word event that I was performing in to hear me sing and do poetry and he was late. The event started at 7, and at 8:30 he still wasn’t there,” Karen said. “And I had called him and texted him [got no response] and had decided I was not ever going to call him again, I had deleted his number too. But right before I went on stage he shows up two hours and a half hours late.”
“I think I was asleep… but I successfully made it to the date and had a great time, and from that point on we were inseparable. And hearing her sing that night was when I put two and two together and realized she was the same girl I heard singing months ago at the other spoken word show at Martini’s. Her voice caught my attention, it rang through the building so lovely and I was like, ‘wow who was that?’” Darnell remembered. “I love her voice, it does something to me…she has a frequency that gets to me.”
The turn: Serious conversations about Karen and Darnell’s future happened early on in their courtship and after about a month, “we had already decided we wanted to be together and get married,” Karen said. “January 2010, we scheduled a breakfast meeting with my mom at Hardy’s in Vestavia Hills for them to meet. I told her I thought I was going to marry this man and that it was getting serious real fast.”
Darnell said the breakfast was typical of a mother who wanted to see “who my daughter is dating and why she’s so into you?” he said. “She asked me do I know what I’m getting into? and if I was ready for this? and I answered ‘yes’ and ‘yes’. I knew I wanted her as my wife and was ready to start this journey with her.”
“My mom gave her blessing, she liked his genuineness and saw that he would be a good fit for me,” Karen said.
The proposal: In January 2010, at Karen’s place in Hoover. “We talked about how we’d both found someone we wanted to be with and get married to, and his 30th birthday was approaching (February 14), so we said why not do it on that day,” Karen said.
“It was a mutually agreed-upon decision,” Darnell said.
The wedding: Downtown Birmingham Courthouse, officiated by Judge Boohaker. Their colors were baby blue and cream. Darnell wore a baby blue shirt and cream tie and Karen wore a cream dress. Both of their mothers and a few family members attended their nuptials.
Most memorable for the bride and groom was Darnell’s mother’s health scare.
“His mom had a heart attack at our wedding,” Karen said. “She kept her composure and held it to herself [during the ceremony] but after everything was over she told us her chest was in pain and she needed to see a doctor. We rushed her to St. Vincent’s hospital and spent the next two days there. It made me nervous,” said Karen, it’s like, who’s Wedding Day does this happen on? I thought for a moment it wasn’t a good sign.”
“She’s alive and well today and is a wonderful mother and grandmother,” Darnell said.
Words of wisdom: “Keep it real,” Darnell said. “Communicate and be open to the individual’s personality. Don’t go in with expectation thinking your spouse is going to be [a certain way] because you think they are going to be someone or something [they haven’t communicated]. We’ve been through financial hardships, we had to create a budget and make sure that we are each aware of what we’re spending and adding to the overall bigger picture of what we want as a family.”
“Reinforce the lines of communication and keep them open,” Karen said. “Be honest and vulnerable. I had pretty bad postpartum [depression] after our daughter, and that was a crucial point in my life. Having to share those feelings with my husband was key. And asking for help, and not just being overwhelmed. You have to let your spouse in to help you with your problems if you decided to create a life with this person.”
Happily ever after: The Johnson’s have two children — son, Malachi, 7, daughter Micah, 5 — and one on the way Mercy, due December 2020.
Karen, 36, is a West End native and Hoover High School grad. She attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in social psychology and now is employed in financing and commercial lending.
Darnell, 40, is an Inglenook native, Woodlawn High School grad, and teaches carpentry at Build Up [school program] in Ensley.
Since the onset of COVID-19 in March, Karen has been working from home and helping the children with remote learning. Darnell is still in the field working with his students.