Riley and I got married nine years and one day ago. We were both twenty-one. I’d loved him for years and been in love with him nearly as long. Riley had loved me for years and been in love with me not nearly as long. On our wedding day we felt like grown ups and looked like babies. I remember falling asleep with him in our hotel room that night - both exhausted and mostly certain about the big choice we’d made together that day. It was the first time I’d slept through the night with a man and I wondered how anything so novel as living with one could ever begin to feel routine.
When we woke up the next morning, he was across the bed from me. In my youthful earnestness, I thought maybe that was a sign of something. I suppose I’d seen too many Julia Roberts’ movies. You know the ones…where the lovely girl wakes up unruffled in the arms of the lovely boy after a night of what I guess I thought was communion through cuddles. I picked at my breakfast that morning and tried to smile through the little niggling insecurities about that distance across the mattress.
It didn’t take me very long to realize that all of this worry was just pretty silly. It, of course, didn’t matter how we spent our time asleep, it mattered how we spent our time awake.
The years that followed were filled with other revelations—some more momentous, some much less. We built and tumbled and gained and lost. We’re older now. My hair is shorter and streaked with silver. My body is softer and streaked with stretch marks. He’s got lines by his eyes and the emotional, spiritual and mental weight on his shoulders sometimes makes them physically ache. In the past nine years, we’ve crashed into each other and held hands and braced ourselves when life crashed into us. All the crashing has polished us up, and while we’ve got a ways to go, I can see eternity reflected in the surface of our union.
We are mostly happy, joyous even. And the babies we’ve made make us laugh and hope and cry and marvel. The good days are full of all the emotions you’d expect. It’s the bad days that are the most telling. You know, the days when the children fight or talk back or Riley and I misunderstand and then go a round or two, even on those days I have moments of panic - even this badness is so much more goodness than I ever expected, please don’t let it go, please don’t take it away, even this everyday kind of day would be more than I could ever hope for, please, let me keep it.
The night before our anniversary, I slipped out of bed after everyone was asleep. Crept into the dark living room, curled up on the couch and cried. Margaret starts full-time school on Monday and I’ve got all the regret I’ve earned along with even more I haven’t done much to deserve. I cried because she’s leaving and I cried because I don’t know if I’ve created a home that inspires a return. I cried because her bedroom walls in this new house are still empty and I cried because sometimes our days are too full. I cried over the time I spent away from her because of my dad’s illness and I cried over the time I waste when she is near. I cried because sometimes the loss that happens in increments - one year, one step, one pull away at a time - seems to have just as many edges as the loss that happens all at once.
The next morning, I woke up to Riley bent over me, whispering in my ear. He held me close and said all the things I knew, despite my tears, and some things I just can’t seem to make myself know, despite their truth. He talked about the books I read the children and the love that fills our house - empty walls be damned. While he talked, I marveled at the man that would cross the distance from his emotional needs to mine. This lovely, but very ruffled girl in the arms of her lovely, but very tired boy. He held me in the dark until it felt light.
He left when we were done talking, nearly late for his early work. The girls woke up and the day that followed was like many other days that follow many other mornings. We ended the evening with a bowl of soup, a walk and a few episodes of Seinfeld. That night Riley and I stretched out in bed and talked, both exhausted and mostly certain about the choices we’re making day in and day out. His eyes reflected the light from the hallway, I could see the new depths the past few years had added to the blue. My good man I knew when he was a boy. In that ordinary moment, like so many other ordinary moment’s we’ve had, I rejoiced. Rejoiced that he has become my expectation, my certainty on the nights and mornings that fall away before my feet, my sustained and sustaining routine.
It’s all so much harder and so much better than all those Julia Roberts' movies.