The other day, I sat on my sofa and cried. Alone, into a Jenny Craig meal (ant-sized portion of chicken fettuccini), my husband away for business. Staring blankly at the television screen, I was for some reason compelled to tears.
It was one year ago this past week that Dan and I got married. And I am emotional at the memory.
I remember that time as being one of the greats in my life. And not because I needed a man to complete me, since I was okay with the prospect of living single for however long that meant. But because it was perfect.
Now, I pick up one of the many photo albums that linger around our Pulte-designed townhouse and browse the wedding pictures. There we are, on the bridge that connects Pennsylvania to New Jersey, New Hope to Stockton, real hope to reality, the river to the ends of the earth.
We look dreamy.
I turn the page to another, and am drawn to my open smile, glowing brightly in the tea lights. I am laughing. We all are. The whole crowd. While we can’t see everybody in the cropped photo, I remember it in Technicolor: My then 72-year-old father, raising his glass to us, telling the story of me and Dan as if we were celebrities being roasted and he was the Dean Martin of ceremonies.
I turn the paper again to find the new husband and wife, bodies pressed together like bashful lovers. He is looking down at her bouquet of white hydrangeas. She is looking mischievously at the camera from the side of her eyes. They — we — look like quiet sinners. Catalogue models for a special section on aging in the Sunday newspaper. Look. The boomers get married — and it can still be magical.
We look carefree, blissfully rapt. And we were. We still are. Despite all we’ve been through since then.
I love my husband. And I adore our life together. And now, tonight especially, I am overwhelmed by a kaleidoscope of emotions that are retrospective of our first year. Joy. Melancholy. Sadness. Anger. Frustration. Elation. Anxiety. Euphoria. Calm.
As I look back at all that we’ve endured over the past 12 months, it feels funny to look at the two oblivious people in the pictures. They had no idea they’d spend their first year dodging the shrapnel of other people’s insecurities. And still find their way, on the anniversary of their middle-aged innocence, to happiness.
There we are. Two people in a picture book, with no idea of what lies in wait. We only knew, in that moment, we were to walk the short but soulful aisle at the Centre Bridge Inn. Our friends from the four corners of everywhere sitting in tightly wound rows, watching the song of our vows rise up against the mist of a postcard river — and the flock of dense trees that made it shimmer.
We had no idea we’d sell our home to buyers with no morals — people who would try to squeeze the life out of us before backing out of the deal illegally on a technicality a few weeks before we were set to close on another property.
We had no idea that instead of getting swept away by exquisite rites of passage, we’d get swept away by a long, painful, and unnecessary custody battle for Dan’s youngest daughter. One that put us on trial for something imaginary – and was the manifest of somebody else’s fiction and anxiety.
We had no idea that, on top of the stress and pressure of managing a newly doubled mortgage, we’d have to take out a $35,000 second-home loan barely one month after moving. To pay the lawyers, now flush, to defend us for doing, well, absolutely nothing.
To the contrary, I cannot imagine any other way we could have been more loving and caring of C.
We had no idea how hard the pointless extraction of a child from her father would be on not only him, but on my once-idealized version of a young marriage. For four long months — as long as we were not allowed to see C — I was married to a man who, while considerate to my needs, was rightly tearful and distracted.
I had no idea that we’d swap pleasure trips, big nights out, and all spirited celebration for sadness and despair — until C was allowed back into our lives.
I had no idea that Dan’s other daughter, who I adore, would have another baby and, just as I’d gotten used to being a grandmother, tell me she’s moving 11 hours away. That we’d get another rescue dog named Elvis, who’d try my patience with every accident in the house and irrational barking at strangers. That I’d put a dent in my husband’s beloved convertible.
That we’d fall into bed every night exhausted from things younger brides and grooms might only dream about – or fear.
It’s been a full-moon experience. Bright and brooding all at once. Every day.
And yet, one year later, as I look back on what I didn’t know before the day I got married, I can say with confidence I’d do it all over again. Because I love my husband and our life together. External forces be damned. Shoo fly. Get out of here. Go flood another river. You’ll never make it through our levees.
They’re too thick.
I love being married. And in our very short union, I’ve learned something invaluable (or rather, had it reconfirmed): Nothing is guaranteed — or predictable. The best we can do is just look as far out as our aging eyes will let us, plan for the worst, hope for the best, and be thankful we’re not alone.