Tim introduced me to Bruce Cockburn, whose music appears throughout this piece. I hope you’ll listen to each one as they appear, as they define the feeling of that particular era in our relationship. After one of his concerts, I got to meet Bruce briefly. I thanked him for providing the soundtrack to our relationship. Some of that soundtrack is represented here.
On Friday, I had something exciting happen at work. The minute I got in the car to drive home, I texted Tim.
“Can I call you?”
That’s nearly always his answer unless he’s in a meeting. “Sure!” That little exclamation point does a lot of work, showing the openness of this otherwise narrowly focused man, demonstrating his willingness to listen whenever I have something to share.
The only person I wanted to talk to was Tim. He would revel with me, exclaiming as much as I did over the surprise glee over the events of the day. It was exactly how I felt when I drove across country without him, taking my daughter from where we lived in Illinois to camp in Oregon. I wanted him to see all of these incredible things I was seeing. I wanted to see the excitement on his face at the mountains and the plains, the vast sky of Montana and the shimmering mountains of Idaho.
Ours is an unexpected love story, not storybook — more comic book or action movie. We didn’t love through a sweet young romance into marriage as young adults, not through babies and late nights nursing them back to sleep, not through first steps and first words. None of the traditional bonding moments were available to us, as we’d mistakenly spent our childbearing years with the wrong partners creating the right children.
We came together with our own baggage packed to overflowing, carrying our kids’ knapsacks already full of their own stuff. And we set to work right away.
What we didn’t know when we got together as 30 year olds was that he was stumbling through life with an oozing emotional wound, hot and red and filled with pus, that left him frantic with pain every time he moved a certain way.
And I was buckling under the stress of structural damage and a weak foundation. The patch job I’d been maintaining was not holding. I’d pieced it together with spit and bailing wire, but the tectonic shifts that marriage and childrearing and family bring would tumble my emotional stability like a Jenga tower.
So 20 years ago today, we stood defiantly in front of friends and family who had almost all warned that we were making a terrible mistake, and promised to stick with each other for the long haul.
And it has been a HAUL. A nine year battle with his ex-wife, multiple surgeries for one of our kids, infinite IEP meetings, back-to-school nights and band concerts, tense family gatherings (who wants to spend time with a couple you think shouldn’t be together in the first place?), job changes and losses — one time, we both lost our jobs on the same day. THAT was special. –moving and floods and living apart when the only job he could find was two states or more away. Having to move when he was in another state. Him having to drive and going nearly blind when HE was living in another state.
His late-in-life realization that what we thought was bipolar was actually autism.
At a wedding a couple of years ago, the bride and groom asked older married couples for their best marriage advice. I wrote “Turn to each other again and again.” At the time, I didn’t know where that came from, as I was just coming off a 24-hour white-knuckle ride as the passenger as he drove like a very angry bat out of hell from Kansas City to Minneapolis, from clear skies right into a blizzard. I was exhausted and barely containing an intense anger at some of Tim’s behavior on our journey. But the first thing that came to me was that the way to get through life is to turn to your spouse again and again, to reach for them even when it seems hopeless, or maybe especially when it seems hopeless.
As it turns out, that was exactly what we’ve done.
I’ve loved this man since I was 14. I can hardly help that he’s the person I want to turn to. He’s always been the person I want to turn to. That he feels the same about me is the miracle, after everything that’s happened. Everything we’ve waded through.
I won’t skip over the physical draw I’ve felt to Tim that started about a year after we first dated in high school. There is no gaze that matches his intense heat, no touch that makes every nerve ending come to attention, no voice that gives me shivers like his and no kiss so thoroughly and simultaneously steals my breath and fills me with contentment. But that is all the detail I will share.
He’s been right by my side through the most tumultuous moments and the sweetest. He’s held my hand through the worst, like when my dad died, and the best, like when our son earned his Eagle in Scouting and our daughter graduated from college and our youngest proposed to his incredible fiance. His hand is the one I want holding mine as we fall asleep like otters, making sure we don’t float away from each other.
We both have made some massive missteps. We both have things to account for. As we each repair our individual damage, we are well into rebuilding our little collective, using tools and materials that have proven endurance and flexibility. Therapy is an incredible resource for finding and creating the person you want to be. As a couple, we’re unfinished, but confident that what we have started building is more durable and refreshing than what we had previously.
I can’t spend any more time on this, though I woke up full of words I wanted to spill on this page about my wonder over our achievement of making it to twenty years together and I still haven’t spent every syllable. Twenty. Twenty. That doesn’t seem real, but I can’t still my trembling tears. I wouldn’t recommend taking the exact path we have taken to this moment. Ours is no blueprint for anyone else to follow. We stumbled and staggered through many years, blind and broken, and traipsed through dangerous areas that could have swallowed us whole.
But we’ve made it to the best part together, the part where we see each other more clearly than ever, and we STILL want to be the last person each of us talks to at night and the first in the morning. I’m more sure of who I am, and I think he is too, though I won’t speak for him anymore. Not like I once did. He doesn’t need me to.
At 20 years, I feel safe at last saying I am his and he is mine. I don’t know what magic lies in these numbers, or if I am foolishly superstitious, but a shift has happened the last few years, and I feel adhered to him in a way I hadn’t before.
So today feels like an exuberant cry of relief and exultation, at last and all at once, the realization that this man, who has been by turns my rock and the stone in my shoe is now, finally, my fundament, and I am his. We’ve torn down the ruins from before and are building something new with concrete we have mixed ourselves. There’s drainage and structural support and all the other engineering metaphors there are.
I must go to him now for my morning squeeze, and then to sit on our chilly patio and enjoy a steaming cup of coffee and plot our next few hours. This gift that is our marriage keeps moving, but today is ours.