Riding the Waves of Life Together

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photo by: Natalie Haywood

photo by: Natalie Haywood

“I find myself at times stopping in disbelief at the fact that I am married to Brandy Hedrick, my friend from college,” Billy Eldridge gushed of his wife of 10 years. “I have a solidarity with her that I wish I could describe. I respect her capacity for grace and love, balanced with a certain sense of moxie. It’s sexy as hell.”

“Billy always champions for me and makes me believe in myself when I feel insecure or scared,” Brandy explained. “I have seen how hard he continually works on himself— to be a better counselor, father, and husband. He is truly the most self-aware person I know. Yes, he is handsome, really witty, and one of the smartest people I have ever met, but the biggest thing is that he is kind—really kind. He knows no judgement. He is my partner, my best friend.”

Billy and Brandy were not high school sweethearts, though, logistically, they could have been. “Our story is serendipitous,” said Brandy. “We both grew up in Texarkana with the same sets of friends, attended the same parties, church events, and never met. My first job was at The Buckle at Central Mall. It was his first job, too. I got fired a month before he got hired. We both attended Texarkana College our first year out of high school. We took the same classes from the same instructors, but on different days.” They were living parallel lives.

Then, in August of 1996, both having transferred to the University of Arkansas for their sophomore years, Brandy and Billy finally met in Fayetteville, through Billy’s roommate, whom Brandy was dating. “We were college buddies from then on,” Brandy said.

But, upon graduation, their paths diverged. Billy moved back to Texarkana, “to finish college, get married, and go to work, because that’s what you do, right?” he laughed. “I was pretty sure I had life figured out and what it would look like for the next 60 years.”

Brandy did the opposite, traveling the world (visiting 36 countries in total), taking teaching jobs throughout the U.S., earning her master’s degree, and then taking a corporate job in Dallas. While Billy had moved back to Texarkana voluntarily, Brandy’s hand was forced: in 2007, at age 29, doctors discovered a brain tumor. “I needed help after trying to ‘do it on my own’ for a year,” she said, “so I bought a house in Texarkana

to be close to my parents. After surgery and recovery, my plan was to move back to Dallas.”

But, in May 2008, she and Billy reconnected, when she called him to invite him and his wife to her 30th birthday party. He reported that he was getting a divorce. “I recall her reassurance that everything was going to be okay,” Billy said. “It sure didn’t feel like everything was going to be okay. Well, she was right, as she usually is.”

Over chips and salsa at La Casa Rosa, they discussed their respective recoveries. “He kissed me on my doorstep, and we were married six weeks later at La Casa Rosa with our parents and my rabbi,” Brandy said. Not long after, Brandy became pregnant with their first child. “After the chemo and surgery, the doctors were not sure if I would be able to have children,” she said. “Now we have three little miracles.”

When they’re not at home with their children, Brandy and Billy are working to uplift other children and families within the community. Brandy, after having worked in education for 17 years, is now the Executive Director of CASA and the Children’s Advocacy Center of Texarkana. “We work to push back darkness and bring light and hope to children and families that have suffered from child abuse and neglect,” she explained. “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t cry or my heart doesn’t break, but the team of heroes in our building are working to make the world a better place for our community.”

Billy, a Licensed Professional Counselor, runs Olive Tree Counseling, a practice named after the baby he and Brandy lost before term, Olive Grace. Specializing in marriage counseling, adolescents, and addiction, his career today is far from what it was post-graduation. “I was in construction-related fields for the first part of my career,” he said. “Somewhere along the way, I lost a part of myself and burned out. I found myself in a self-destructive spiral, and one of the few things that helped me get my life back together was therapy. I am grateful I get to participate in a profession that helped save my life.”

Neither of their jobs is for the faint of heart—and neither is marriage. Fortunately, Brandy and Billy are both cut from a strong-yet-soft cloth. “I admire Billy. He inspires me to be a better person,” Brandy said. “I call him my little Buddha. I think his struggles have given him wisdom beyond his years. I can be complicated, and he has a calmness and peace that he carries with him.”

Billy had similar words about his wife. “She is brave and bold, with a tender heart of compassion,” he said. “It’s humbling to know I’m the guy that gets to do life with her. I love watching her fight for what’s right and good in the world.”

Together, they are raising their children to continue their legacy of humble, sustained servitude. “We argue, mess up, and act selfish, but we want our children to know that life is messy and that we try to do the right thing,” Brandy said. “The world needs kindness and love, and [our children] were created to make the world a better place. We can only hope and pray that the lessons stick. And, in between all of that, you throw a dance party and eat pizza.

“When I was 17, Randy Jones told me, ‘Life is about riding the waves. Just when you think everything is smooth, bam! A wave takes you down. It’s all about how you ride the waves,’” she continued. “I like riding the waves with Billy. We have some big waves, and I wouldn’t want to ride the waves with anyone else.”