Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Scratch-and-dent marriage: Feb. 14, 2010

I wrote this column as a kind of love letter to my husband and our life together -- a life that is admittedly imperfect (duh), but genuinely wonderful in a lot of very important ways. It was a nice column. He liked it.

Then, somewhere around the summer of 2010, we started beating the shit out of our marriage. Several really unfortunate factors converged, we lost sight of each other and we drove it right into the ditch. We had endured hard times before, but never anything like this. Before, those hard times had drawn us closer -- had cemented my conviction that we are both immeasurably better together than we could ever be apart.

Not this time. This time we spun away from each other. It was terrifying. And at some point in those dark months, I had this flash of realization: We can break this thing. We can break it in a way that it will never be right again, and then nothing will make sense anymore. 

So now this column is exceptionally powerful for me. It's from a time before I knew how wrong things could go. It's from a time before I knew how hard I was willing to fight for us.

I will fight. And I've got the scars to prove it.

My real-life, high-mileage Valentine's Day story

    I've heard this saying, that a plane is safer to fly once it's gone some distance -- 10,000 miles or something. I don't know. It's probably a myth, urban legend, something people say to make you feel better as you warily board an aircraft that has obviously seen a lot of use.

    The idea that something battered and tested is better than something shiny and new goes against a lot of what our culture tells us. But it also makes a certain kind of sense, doesn't it? The idea that, fresh out of the factory, with the paint still gleaming, maybe that plane is more likely to sputter. To stall. To dip. Because maybe someone on the shift that installed the anti-sputter, anti-stall, anti-dip thingy was distracted. And until the plane has time to work out the kinks, to make a few cross-continental hops, maybe you don't know what kind of ride you're really on.

    I have been thinking about this idea a lot lately because, suddenly, our friends are divorcing. We'll be married 11 years in May, and over the last 18 months or so, a pretty alarming contingent of the little married fleet that took off around the time we did has crashed in the trees.

    I think about this fairly often. I wonder why it’s happening. It makes me a little sick to my stomach, to be honest. Sometimes it keeps me awake. I told my mother about it. "The same thing happened to us," she said. "Around the time we'd been married 10 years, our friends started getting divorced."

    Somehow, that was not a comfort.

May 2, 1999. A very good day.
    Here's the other thing: I will be 38 next week. I was 27 when I stood in a cool, dim church and said, in front of pretty much everyone I had ever loved, that this was forever. And let's be honest. Who at 27 has even the slightest idea what forever is all about?

    At 38, my ability to understand forever is probably only slightly more evolved, but we have seen some weather, my husband and me. There have been times when the treetops were close, when we struggled to make this thing, this craft that is our marriage, fly straight and true. We have been strapped into our seats, white-knuckled, bickering.

    We have also enjoyed years of smooth, blue views. We have welcomed our beautiful boys to this world, marveled together at our improbable, overwhelming luck. We have walked together down the street, holding hands, chatting companionably while our baby babbled in his stroller. We have shared our fries because, really, two orders would be too much.

    We have seen a little bit of almost everything. And even when it's been rough - when I was sick, when he was hurt, when he lost his job and we sold our house and every single day was hard - I have been so grateful that I found him, that he found me too, and that we both want more than anything to keep this thing in the air.

    I guess they wrote those vows that way because they know things get complicated, as long as you both shall live. In sickness and in health. For richer or for poorer. In the event of a water landing, your seat cushion can be used as a flotation device.

    My dear husband, here is what I know at 38 that I could only have suspected at 27: No matter what, you will always be the love of my life. The captain has turned off the fasten seatbelt sign. Feel free to move about the cabin.


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