In sixth grade, Nita Jo Lively and Dustin Davis met over a bathroom sink as Nita Jo was washing her hands, when boys dared Dustin to go into the girls’ restroom.
The pair have been inseparable best friends ever since — once both sets of parents met and cleared the air about the incident with each other and the principal, of course, they said.
“It was awesome to meet her the first time in junior high, and awesome to meet her the first time in high school,” Dustin said, as his mother stopped him to say he doesn’t have to go through the entire story. “We met in sixth grade, and seventh and eighth. We became best friends by talking.”
Nine years later, Dustin calls Nita Jo as many as 23 times a day, simply to say:
“How are you, princess? I love you, princess.”
Nita Jo only smiles, a bit nervous to talk. Those eight words shape an exact picture of what their love has looked like for the past eight years, their parents said. And on Aug. 27, 2016, the 10th year the pair has been together, both Dustin, 21, and Nita Jo, 19, will be married in the eyes God, their friends and family members. Though the marriage won’t be legally binding, to Dustin’s mother Melissa Davis, her husband Matthew, Nita Jo’s mother Cathy Lively and her husband Boyd, the marriage will be as real as any other wedding, and the families are determined to give the couple the whole nine yards. From the engagement party to the reception, the families are going to give Dustin and Nita Jo the wedding of their dreams, they said.
What makes their love unique isn’t the fact that they’ve been together since junior high, or that both adults were diagnosed with special needs at young ages and can’t live on their own, their parents said.
What makes their love unique is how for the past almost 10 years, the love they’ve displayed for each other is pure, honest and selfless, their parents said. And that is an unstoppable kind of love, they said. As of 4 p.m. Saturday, Dustin and Nita Jo became officially engaged. Dressed as a prince and princess, the couple was surprised with a romantic dinner and characters from their favorite movies and books, at Magic Time Machine, a restaurant where zany characters transport guests in time to their favorite stories. There, Dustin knelt down on one knee and gave Nita Jo the bridal set he and his mother spent hours searching for together.
“It’s a fantasy love story you just don’t hear about,” Melissa said.
“All they want to do is, they want to grow up and be normal. They want to do things like other kids do,” Cathy added.
“They want the same opportunities that everybody else their age has,” Melissa said.
First, Dustin just had to ask his future father-in-law for Nita’s hand and blessing. That’s right, Dustin’s parents made sure he went through all of the steps, albeit happening in a humorous way, they said.
“When they get to my house, Melissa says, ‘I’ve got to go to the bathroom,’” Cathy said. “So, immediately, Dustin says, ‘Boyd, I need to talk to you about something in private. Can we go to your room?’ I’m like, ‘No, not now, she’s in the bathroom.’ So, Boyd says, 'Come on.’ They go in there and I say, ‘Nita Jo, don’t you move,’ and I run down the hall so I can listen. And I’m hoping that Melissa can hear.”
“He asked me, ‘Can I marry your daughter?’ I said, ‘Yeah, are you going to be nice to her and good to her, even when she’s not nice to you?’” Boyd interjected, chuckling. “He said, ‘Yeah.’ I gave him my blessing. I guess that was a couple months ago.”
Both Nita Jo and Dustin are high functioning, special needs adults. Yet, they don’t have the capability to live on their own. So when the couple does get married, each family has a place for the couple to stay for extended visits between in-laws, they said, adding that both families will support the couple equally. Neither set of parents have custody of their children because they’re legal adults, so the couple will be able to choose who they stay with and when they stay with them, the parents said.
When Nita Jo was born, she was diagnosed with mental retardation and slight Down syndrome, which is caused when abnormal cell division results in extra genetic material from chromosome 21. This genetic disorder, which varies in severity, causes lifelong intellectual disability and developmental delays, and in some people it causes health problems, according to the Mayo Clinic. The syndrome affects every one in 700 children, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Dustin is moderately autistic and also has moderate mental retardation and obsessive-compulsive disorder. He was diagnosed at about 2 and a half years old. Both spent days in and out of the hospital for the first couple years of their lives, their parents said.
Both families lived in Blooming Grove, just 10 minutes from each other, when they met. Now Nita Jo and her parents live in Waxahachie. When asked what it meant to see their children grow from multiple hospital visits, to best friends to, to getting engaged, Dustin piped up:
“It means it’s romantic,” he said.
“It’s very special for me because when you have a child with special needs, you immediately lose the hopes and dreams for those kids because the outlook for special needs kids is just not what it is for other children,” Melissa said. “So, when they started growing closer, and really we realized he was serious, Matt and I had a lot of conversations about how this might actually happen. And that’s OK, we’re going to support it however we can. So far, me as the mom of this wonderful adult, just watching it blossom into what it is, has just been very, very heartwarming and very special.”
Marriage has been a topic of conversation for the couple since they met and Cathy and Melissa talked often and decided to just let the friendship develop how it could, said Melissa and Cathy. But to see Dustin’s and Nita’s friendship blossom into love and selfless understanding was wonderful, they said, though not always easy. At one point in eighth or ninth grade, Dustin even gave Nita Jo a promise ring for Christmas. To this day, Nita Jo still has that ring.
“We used to tell them they had to be 30 before they could marry, because they seriously started talking about marriage in eighth grade,” Melissa said. “We used to tell them, you have to be 30. You have to be 30. Then, Cathy and I, just a few months ago, decided, ‘You know what? They’ve got everything and they know what they want. So, Cathy and I said maybe we shouldn’t wait until they’re 30. So, we pulled them into the room and sat them down and said, ‘OK, tell us what marriage means.” And they started telling us, they want to be best friends forever and they want to be married like Mom and Dad, so it’s interesting.”
Dustin said they simply brought up the topic of marriage by talking about it, adding:
“Marriage means that we should love each other.”
“Marriage means I have to live with Dustin forever, and love him and take care of him,” Nita added, smiling.
Both families have seen plenty of examples where Dustin and Nita Jo have displayed exactly that kind of affection, they said. Dustin and Nita Jo went through a lot at school like being picked on by other children for being different. But the pair still chose to attend as many school activities as they could, including school dances, their mothers said.
The first true sign of the friendship becoming more than just a friendship happened at age 14.
“There was a group of them that grew up and went to school together,” Cathy said. “And one of their best friends passed away when she was 14, and that was really hard on them because they both decided they were going to go live with Jesus also. They had me and Melissa worried to death because they were all such good friends. They’ve been through a lot of good times and bad times.”
When their best friend passed, the couple clung to each other. Dustin would come home from school, and say, “Momma, I got to check on Nita Jo. Nita’s really sad today.” So, Matthew and Melissa would let Dustin call Nita Jo, and in return, Nita Jo would want to see Dustin. Cathy and Boyd made multiple trips 10 minutes up the road from their home just to let Nita Jo make sure Dustin was OK, they said.
“They really worried about each other over the next year, year and a half,” Melissa said.
“It was like they couldn’t go a day without seeing each other,” Cathy added. “They thought something was going to happen to one or the other.”
Nita Jo has always wanted somebody special for herself, Cathy said, adding that Nita Jo understands and sees how her mother and father are a couple. Now, she has Dustin, Cathy said.
“She really does love Dustin. She talks about him all the time,” Cathy said as Nita Jo smiled. “When they spend time together, and she comes back, she’s going, ‘I miss Dustin. I miss Dustin.’ And I hear this over and over until she sees Dustin again. Like this morning, they hadn’t seen each other for two days, and Dustin about killed himself getting out of the van to hug her.”
Matthew and Cathy said it’s been fun to watch the couple grow fond of each other over the years, because that love is pure and innocent and they never know what to expect out of Dustin and Nita Jo.
“It’s not a sexual attraction like normal dating relationships,” Melissa said. “I think that it’s amazing that they want to be married and they want to be together forever. After Cathy and I talked to them over the past few months, we really believe they know what they’re doing. They understand being married is forever. So, I just think it’s neat to watch them break the mold.”
Since Nita Jo and her family moved to Waxahachie in 2012, the couple has been separated on and off for about two and a half years. To cope, Nita Jo would always say, ‘I miss old times. I miss old times,’” Cathy said. Dustin would always ask Melissa, ‘Have you heard from Cathy? How’s Nita? How’s Nita doing? Momma, when do I get to see Nita again?'”
The couple would see each other on birthdays and different events, but the moments were too few and far between for the couple, parents said.
Now, whenever they see each other, Dustin immediately runs to Nita Jo to give her that big embrace.
“It’s like a collision, you know it’s going to happen,” Melissa said.
“Then, you don’t get them apart until you pull them apart,” Cathy said. “We’re getting them to where they’re kind of used to each other. They don’t sleep together, but Dustin will stay at my house and Nita Jo will go down there to stay at her house for a couple of days or so at a time. They’re inseparable until you send them to their beds. He’s got his arm around her or is holding her hand the whole time. When he goes home, Nita Jo gets like 23 calls a day.”
Also, until the wedding day, the couple is only allowed to kiss on the cheek. On the big day, the couple will have their first, real kiss. The happy occasion is a blessing from God, Melissa said, adding she truly believes only God can bring that one special person into your life.
“We want to do everything for them. We want to do the engagement party, the bridal shower, and the whole nine yards. The plan is, they’re going to be engaged for a year and a half. And 10 years from the day they met, they will actually have their wedding,” Melissa said.
The planning process has already begun, the families said. Nita Jo and her mother will look for a beautiful wedding dress, and the couple is already picking out their colors, the church and the preacher.
“We’re letting them do it. They’re picking out all the things and they’re making all the decisions,” Cathy said.
“It’s pretty cool, because Nita and I have been friends for a while,” added Serena Davis, Dustin’s sister. “The last time she came over, she brought magazines of wedding dresses and we sat down and looked at all the different dresses. It’s really cool to watch them plan their stuff.”
In today’s society, a stigma often comes along with those with special needs — a stigma that often rakes over the dreams and capabilities those with special needs have, but through the marriage of Dustin and Nita Jo, both families are hoping those who believe the stigma will see what dreams are really all about, they said.
“You have to give these children as much of a normal life as you can. And if that means having a wedding ceremony in front of God, their friends and their families, then that’s what we’re going to do,” Melissa said. “I don’t really think there’s anything that can stop it now.”
When Aug. 27, 2016 comes around, Boyd said he’s looking forward to the moment he can walk his little girl down the aisle, adding the moment’s been a long time coming.
“I’ve been negative and I know all about negativity. But, love overcomes everything,” he said.
Love is pure. It’s forgiving. It never forgets each other. It takes care of and worries about the other, the couple’s parents said. It puts the other one above self, and both Dustin and Nita Jo are good about that, their parents said. They’re both so pure-minded, and they just want to spend the rest of their lives with their best friend, Melissa said.
“I would love to live with Nita for the rest of my life,” Dustin said.