She said I do twenty-five years ago.
When I proposed, my naive year-old self had a romantic assumption that we would float through life in a current of happiness until we were wheeled into the old-folks home together. Just look at these two kids gazing dreamily off into the future. We had no idea what was in store.
Like any young buck, I felt dominant and impervious. I soon learned the art of compromise. She taught me. We lived in a shoebox (almost literally) for about nine months. Then we bought our first home together. Neither of us was sure we could afford the mortgage. The day the ink dried on the contract, we got out a deck of cards because we knew we wouldn’t sleep. I fell asleep early, she stayed up all night. Foreshadowing…
Somehow we made every payment on time. Kids came; two in that house and two in the next… this house. This home. All girls. My dominance and imperviousness waned greatly. I was outnumbered and often confused. That confusion grew when puberties hit one after another.
We likely set romance aside more than the books would instruct. Our life centered around four little heads of varying blond curliness – Myers Party of Six. I’m not sure we could have done it any differently and I don’t think I would want to. Those were golden days of make-believe, castles, and princesses. We were happy.
I’m certain there were arguments, but I don’t remember them. I would say that is a good sign that we didn’t go to bed mad. But it could as likely be the fact that my memory is shoddy.
Picture the wedding dance floor. The evening starts off with a solo dance – just bride and groom. It is sweet, it is romantic. The focus of everyone in attendance is on them as they glide gracefully across the floor. Then family is introduced. Bride is pulled one way, groom the other. As the evening wears on, the dance floor becomes crowded and the wineglasses empty. The bride and groom still dance with each other, but the time between their dance lengthens. Later, in the dim hours of night, the joyous revelers vying for space separate the bride and groom and she sometimes can’t even see him across the crowded floor. Yet she is content because she knows he is hers and he knows the same – even when the distance seems vast. Through frantic elbows and flailing feet, they reunite for a gentle kiss before being split apart once more.
That is marriage. Marriage isn’t won during the romantic first dance. That is the easy part. No, marriage is won in the subtle accommodations made to stay together through the mayhem of life’s dance floor.
And life can be a belligerent wedding drunk. The kind of idiot that Crazy Uncle Joe has to pluck from the throngs and throw out on his ear.
That younger me never entertained the idea of planning a funeral… certainly not for one of my princesses. And yet I did. Rather, we did. Like in everything this quarter-century, we each contributed to the terrible process in our own way.
And then the aftermath… grieving together, grieving separately, grieving differently. A new dance, but somehow still on the dance floor. That nasty drunk of life spins violently and often throws his weight right between us. This is not how I thought it would be. This is not what I wanted. This is hard but worth fighting for. This is twenty-five years.
And now we stand on the precipice of a less-crowded floor. Slowly, the remaining princesses will find their own castles and ours will empty, thus reminding us of the smiling dancer who should be here. We can never forget. We will always yearn for something different. We are changed people. I can barely relate to the young buck I once was. We are tenderer yet guarded, more fragile but stronger. We are together through some of the hardest and most painful years imaginable. We are together.
This is twenty-five years. It isn’t perfect. It isn’t glamorous – no one would sign up for this heartbreak and we wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It is resilient. It is precious. It is ours.
It is ours…
This is twenty-five years.
In the hopes of dancing through twenty-five more, I envision dance lessons in our future, my dear. Your toes will thank me.