We were too young. Who the heck lets 22 year olds get married anyway?
We were doing it for all the wrong reasons. I was on the rebound and wanted to prove to myself and the world that someone still wanted me, really. He was escaping a zombie relationship.
He had the name (except for two letters) of the boyfriend I’d imagined to myself at 14. (Hey, I was a very lonely geek girl.) Our engagement announcement caused at least one old friend to tell me I’d finally gone around the bend and needed to be committed.
When he proposed I intended to say no. I had a lot of experience saying no. I’d done it 6 times since turning 18, and that was the serious proposals, not the ones that came out of nowhere and where the guy was a little strange and scary. And there was every reason to say no — every rational reason — No matter how much I loved the US from my year here, marrying him meant losing all the credentials I’d worked so long to get; it meant losing very good job prospects; it meant losing the emotional support of my family; it meant leaving the city I loved; it meant casting everything to venture and going to a strange land and becoming someone else. (You can’t acculturate and remain the same. It’s not possible.)
It was the worst possible time. Saying yes meant that I would leave before I finished my degree, and I only had six months to go.
But I couldn’t say no. The possibility wasn’t there. The words wouldn’t come. Something grabbed hold of me and showed me that while life would go on if I said no, it would be flat and curiously empty.
I said yes. I said yes and said goodbye to security and certainty, not knowing what I was getting instead.
Our best man and matron of honor thought we were out of our minds. Our friends expected me back within the year, to the point they made plans that included me for the following year. My mother tried to talk me out of marrying while buying my wedding shoes. His family decided we had slighted them by not sending them a paper invitation and refused to attend. (Actually because we got married in a civil ceremony six months before, then waited for my green card and went over to get married with two weeks notice, we didn’t see the paper invitations until we were THERE.)
We were of different religions, wildly different backgrounds. We had different tastes in music. He’d never read my favorite books. I’d never watched his favorite shows. (Except Columbo. We could bond over Columbo.)
Our first few years were rocky. I had grown up in the expectation of being a career woman. (Who in heck would marry me, anyway?) My entire effort and orientation was towards work. I’d grown up in a noisy house, full of the comings and goings of an extended family. I defined myself by my degree, by my high grades, by doing well at the one thing I was sure of.
I am not one to take risks. Not that kind of risk. I like security.
My career prospects and certification died when I moved to the States (though I did go back and finish my degree, the next summer, by examination, a risky way to do it.) My teaching certificate meant nothing because the NEA only accepted degrees from a couple of foreign universities, both in the United Kingdom. And the NEA controls the certification exams. I could have passed them, but I didn’t have a code for “institution attended” so the test would be discarded unmarked.
As for translation, there were maybe two openings a year for a full time translator in the US. Neither of them in North Carolina. Neither of them for one of my languages.
He didn’t QUITE make enough for two. Certainly not in the style I’d been accustomed to.
And I knew no one but him. Sometimes while he was at work, the long hours of a beginning programmer, I got so lonely I turned on the TV for background, just so I didn’t imagine all sorts of noises in the house.
I couldn’t cook — thank heavens for cookbooks — and I certainly didn’t know how to manage a household. A couple of times we ran out of money and food a week before the next paycheck, and survived through luck. (His company had parties, and he brought the leftovers home.)
He had no idea how foreign I really was, let alone his being completely ignorant the trouble of living with an incipient, beginning writer, all mood swings and undirected inspiration. Heck, he didn’t know I was a writer. I didn’t either. I thought I’d taken my muse into the woods and shot her dead at fourteen. I was a sensible woman, studying for a sensible job.
It’s been twenty nine years. We only managed to be “financially unworried” for about a year and a half of that time. We’ve moved 8 times, once across the country to a place where neither of us knew anyone. We’ve sacrificed a lot for the sake of my so called writing career with no better excuse than that it makes me saner, compared to what I would be without it.
We’ve adopted too many strays, animal and human. We’ve given up any pretense to fashion. We buy our cars used, then drive them to the ground. We know every thrift store in a hundred mile radius. We know most greasy spoons. If there’s a two-for-one special, a free special or a discount around we probably know about it. It’s how we save the money for the three days 100 miles away that we call “vacation” when we get them, once a year or so.
We’ve never been to the Bahamas. We’ve never taken a cruise. That European tour we meant to do, really soon, when we had the money? It’s been 29 years and we still aren’t even close to having the money. Ditto on visiting our friends in other places, around the world.
What have we done instead? We’ve created a family. We’ve laughed all the laughs. We’ve read a million or two of books and talked them over, endlessly. We’ve discussed EVERYTHING, starting with those early years when we’d stay up till all hours discussing — of all things — religion (not that his co-workers believed that’s why he had dark circles under his eyes.) We’ve tried cooking new stuff. Some of it even worked. We turned looking for pieces of furniture into the equivalent of safaris, to find just the right thing at a price we could afford. We’ve found museums, ogled dinosaur skeletons, walked in parks where we nicknamed the ducks A L’Orange and Peking. We discovered obscure movies, and books and songs and restaurants, and friends. We’ve watched documentaries on fascinating subjects. We’ve learned to remove and install cabinets. And paint walls. And fix drains. And do royalties for indie publishers. And write novels. And make covers. And… and … and… — we’ve learned ALL the things. And had fun doing it.
We’ve got lost then found our way. (Yes, metaphorically, too.) We’ve held hands though a million romantic walks. We’ve raised two boys, now men. Nice men, I think. We’ve researched… everything. We made friends. We’ve lost friends, to distance and to change, and unfortunately to death. We’ve talked. We’ve been silent. (Remember, my love, all those times we saw an older couple next to us, saying nothing, just holding hands across the table at a restaurant, and we felt so sad because they had nothing to say to each other anymore? Now we’re that older couple, and our younger selves had no idea, did they?)
We’ve painted and scraped and built and created. We’ve plotted together over restaurant tables, and the breakfast table, and the middle of the night, when I wake up and go “I’ve got it. That poor character. I have to kill him. But then… what does that last scene look like?” and he turns on the light, and is ready with the smart questions and the probing thoughts.
Our life, had I been alone, would have been… okay. But with him, it’s been… amazing. Surprising. Exciting. Interesting. Unimaginably happy, even through the tears that come — they always come don’t they? — when life hands us not-so-pleasant surprises.
I pulled a hundred lifetimes worth of luck on the day, twenty nine years ago, when he claimed me before G-d and man. A million cosmic jackpots lit up. Three lotteries worth of good fortune were sucked in. A billion universes died, unborn, drained of life, probability, luck.
For that one moment, that one decision, we sucked in the energy of a googleplex of possible futures, full of flying cars and trips to other galaxies.
And then we did it again, and again, for each of the boys. To have them at all, against biological probability — given that my biology is what it is also known as the fertility of a small rock, in the Sahara, at noon — and to have them be who they are: steady and solid and brilliant and, like our marriage, both very much ours and utterly, wildly, wonderfully unexpected.
Galaxies, universes and futures were well lost. I’d sacrifice them again, without a second thought, without a glance over my shoulder, for even the merest chance at what we have had. I’ll ruthlessly sacrifice them again for the chance at another thirty, forty, fifty years. (I’m greedy you see.)
Even if we never hit the big time it will be okay.
I won the cosmic lottery, against all odds, when I married Dan.
Happy anniversary, my love.