Me, Matt, Jared, Andie and Hannah, 2010
For once in my life, I get to stand up here and say that I've accomplished something that very few people do. And, I didn't do it alone. No, I had help accomplishing this wonderful something--help from the very person who made this lovely thing possible.
Because, you see, today, we have been married 20 years.
I've had a long time to look back on this life we've made and this unity we've accomplished, but to be truthful, I don't spend a lot of time on retrospection. I'm more of a, "what's next" kind of girl. Memories have crept up on me these last few weeks, though, as the big day drew closer. The Universe's way of making sure I'm paying attention, or maybe, remembering what it's taken to get to this point, I think.
It hasn't been easy.
Pretty much none of it has been easy. But it has been fun. And it has been lively. And there's been very, very few dull moments, and that combined makes up for the difficulty of not only learning to live with another person, but blend your life, your dreams, your passions and your faults into theirs--to learn how to be compatible even when it's clear that you're not--and to learn now to nurture love through it all.
We realized just how not easy this marriage thing was going to be when he asked me to marry him and I said no.
The first time, I said no.
He went to boot camp and left me home, alone, to ponder why I said no. And the answer was heavy and clear. I was afraid to be a military wife; to move 1,300 miles away. I was afraid of losing myself before I'd even found myself. We were both 19.
After 12 weeks, I drove to Great Lakes, IL for his military graduation. Alone for the first time, we sat in a parking lot staring at each other and he asked again, this time, with much more desperation in his eyes. But there was something more. That little love light reflected back at me? It was stronger, and just then, I knew he meant it more. Separation was a little test. A trial, a taste of what was to come for us. But he meant it more than ever and so did I.
I said yes.
Our big wedding dreams were squashed when he received his first military orders. He'd be home on leave for one week. One. Week. And then gone, for possibly up to a year. We arranged a fast, simple wedding, married quickly with our best friends at our sides, and a bottle or two of wine for liquid courage. When I saw him in his shiny, bright white Navy uniform, waiting for me at the "altar," all the doubts flew away and I felt grounded in my decision to take this step. The ceremony was quick, the reception long and a week to the day after we said, "I do," he left for 8 months, leaving me at home once again, alone.
Thus began our 20 years.
Starting a marriage as a military member/spouse was both wickedly unfair and the best thing that could have happened to us. The long separations were excruciating; the 'getting to know you again' periods, awkward. Just when you were getting comfortable with each other, he left. Again.
For four long years.
Yet, in that time apart, I learned to be an independent adult. I went to college and tinkered with writing (big dreams of authorhood one day). I made friends and traveled the East coast. I flew home to visit my family. I missed him everyday.
He sent letters that smelled like cologne and once a month, if I was lucky, he'd call at 3 a.m. after waiting in line for hours to use the phone in some foreign port. I cried while he tried to talk and our few minutes of voice time was quickly over. Then he'd hang up and I'd wonder--
Do I have enough trust/love/faith/backbone for this? How do you make a lifetime out of a few blessed moments?
Here's the thing. Back home in the civilian world, days, weeks, months went by in which we still only had a few moments that counted. Between double and triple jobs, college, moving, and life, time came and time went. Bringing with it:
Three beautiful children
Ramen noodles every night for a month
Fights. Arguments. Making up.
Tears, tears, some laughter and a hell of a lot more tears
Near death illnesses
More near misses than I care to count
Learning to be a person that grows with someone, not a person who shrinks and caves without speaking his/her mind.
The evolution of best friends that still choose to be a team because they remember that love is what got them into this mess of a life to begin with.
There is one moment in our 20 years that creeps into my mind every now and then. He'd just come home from a six-month cruise with the Navy and we were walking on the boardwalk on Virginia Beach. Hurricane Felix had gone through a few days earlier and the beach was reopened and packed with tourists. We'd had a fight about something (who knows what) and he stormed off. I sat on the park bench on the boardwalk, digging my toes into the sand as the tourists went by. I wasn't alone, but I felt alone until I remembered that I just needed to talk to my best friend about what happened.
My best friend would understand; would make it better.
Yeah, that best friend. How can I be furious with the only person I wanted to talk to? The very person who made me so damn mad in the first place? How the hell did that work exactly?
It worked because there is no separation between the lover and the friend, and my heart recognized that delineation wasn't possible. And in all the years since, through the good and the ugly, I remember that there is no line that divides us.
We are still a team, and our 20 year romance is still going. Another 20 years? Only time will tell, but I'd say the odds are in our favor.