It’s our twentieth wedding anniversary.
As I’ve said that to other people I’ve realised that it’s one of those phrases that doesn’t begin to describe or explain or express the truth of what it means.
Yes, we can all understand that on this day in 1996 we had a wedding service and a lunch and speeches and a party, and I became Mrs, but even that doesn’t explain a lot.
Do you remember 6 months after that date when we woke up together on our first holiday, in a rather austere bed and breakfast, and you asked me what I was thinking? My response threw you a little…. ‘I’m lying here thinking that I barely know you and wondering why on earth we got married.’
It wasn’t that I didn’t love you or like being with you – I just had a dawning realization of the enormity of what we’d committed to, and wondered how on earth we’d thought we knew each other well enough to do that. How did anyone, ever know?
We’d been together for 3 years before we married. I don’t think we could have done more to prepare. We went to pre-marital counseling, where we thought it was funny that we seemed to be polar opposites on so many things. How naïve we were?! Turned out our polarity wasn’t always quite so funny in reality.
The early years were full of the loveliness of being together. No longer having to live in different places, but enjoying the combining of our lives. With only two of us we were both able to be who we wanted to be. Our Saturday morning routine where you jumped out of bed early to go to play sport, getting back at midday to find me getting up to watch the end of children’s Saturday morning TV in my PJ’s with a bowl of cereal. Your morning tendencies and my ability to sleep until lunchtime didn’t matter. We had all the time in the world.
We had so much fun. You are so much fun. The holiday to the south of France when we were both so tired we shared one book, which I read for the first three days whilst you slept on the beach, and then we swapped over. When we tried to drink the cheapest wine out of our green plastic picnic mugs each night. Travelling overseas often and easily. Living life to the full.
And then came the birth of our nephew and we looked at each other on the train platform after meeting him for the first time, and said, ‘what are we waiting for?’ We were ready to become a family.
When the pregnancy test was positive you were in bed, and I got in under the duvet beside you and told you the news. We just held on to each other, not saying a word. It was a life changing moment and we knew that words couldn’t contain it.
One month before our fourth wedding anniversary, and five days after we moved into a new house, she arrived. Her birth turned out to be one of the scariest things we’ve both survived. Let’s check that up as number 1 on the traumatic events list! You laughed at me in labour. Much the way you still laugh at things that aren’t funny, or even if they are, they really shouldn’t be laughed at. Laughing until the tears run down your face and you become utterly helpless with laughter. That’s not ever going to change, is it? I hope not. After years of getting mad about it, I realise now that it’s one of the reasons we’ve made it this far. You laugh. You make me laugh. You tell me that it’s going to be ok, and if it’s not, at least we’ve found it funny along the way.
And then two years later we had a building extension that went catastrophically wrong (thank you Victorian terrace) and I remember so well that cold, miserable January day when the builder came towards the 7 months pregnant me, sucking his teeth and saying, ‘I think the upper floor is going to collapse. You probably want to move out.’ I called you and immediately you came home to sort out the building whilst I cried at a friend’s house. Our second daughter was born when we were living in a room in someone else’s house, one week after the oldest had been admitted to hospital dehydrated and very sick with tonsillitis. Our home was still a mess and you were working and parenting and husbanding and project managing. Discussions of kitchen lighting plans at 2am during a late night feeding/ crying session resulted in an overabundance of light in that kitchen.
We moved back to a building site, and began life as a family of four. A few rough years, we’d both probably rather forget, followed. Depression, job stress and eventually a career and geographic move came. We’ve always said since then that those years with tinies are the really, really hard ones. For everyone. There is so much of them and so little of you.
But we moved and life gained equilibrium again. We realised that we’re not the best at communicating with each other, and we worked hard to try to remember that we were always for, and not against, each other. There were holidays and adventures, friends and family and another house move. And then on a weekend trip without children when we partied hard, and took long walks along a windy seawall, we sat in a bar eating tapas, looking out at the sea, and without looking each other in the eye had a discussion about how maybe there was room for another in our family.
And then there was the miscarriage and the hemorrhaging and the long hospital stay and the even longer months of recovery. And you were beside me through it all. Holding my hand and caring for our girls. Cutting my food up when I was too weak to use a knife. Feeding me and loving me back to recovery. And I know that it terrified you. You thought you were losing me as well as the baby. But we both felt there was another child to come. Just in case there wasn’t I went on a desperate quest for a puppy. You came home on a wet, dark, Friday night in January, and when I told you that we were being checked for rehoming a puppy the next morning and you needed to build a fence around our garden you put on your coat and did it. (As an aside , it’s taken me a while – 20 years- to realise that even if you don’t love the crazy spontaneity per se, you always still love me in it. Thank you.)
Just after the puppy came, I found out I was pregnant and I was terrified. I remember calling my Mum to tell her, and I was huddled on the floor by a radiator, crying. I was so scared we’d lose that baby too.
We didn’t and he arrived before he should, not very well at first, but after five days we came home. That first year of his life was magical wasn’t it? Do you remember the first day we walked to the park – with two little girls in their wellies, and the little baby in the big pram with the enormous wheels for muddy walks, and our dog, and you grinned at me because we both knew this was it. This was what we wanted. This was somehow, amazingly our family. Our life. In that first year of his life we had an epic adventure, road tripping across a continent, whilst also managing to fit in another life changing traumatic event (evacuation from the Grand Canyon doesn’t happen to every 6 year old in the middle of the night). We did it. We managed it together. We had good stories to tell. Our 12th wedding anniversary was celebrated in the company of 3 wonderful children after a day of not seeing alligators on an alligator safari tour.
And then we got blasted by the sudden deterioration of our daughter’s health. Our bouncing 7 year old girl with the sparkling eyes and hilarious view of life became a listless, thin child who cried all the time. Weeks of tests on all the parts of her body were an agony to go through. Each time thinking – is it today they’ll find the tumour? Until, the diagnosis of ME was made. No, there was nothing that could be done. Any more questions?
You were abroad with work. I fell apart alone at home. It didn’t get any better did it? Those first six months were terrible. We’ve likened it in retrospect to standing with our backs against each other and our arms linked. We were strong. We were strong for the family, but we didn’t know how to talk to each other about the illness that was ravishing our little girl. It was so painful, but there weren’t words for any of it. And then a few months later, our eldest sustained the injury that has changed her life forever. Her diagnosis was made a few days before Christmas, and I remember on Christmas morning sitting crying by the tree as they opened their presents, and you just looked at me. There weren’t words for any of that either.
We both did our best through all of that. You couldn’t have done more. I couldn’t have done more. You sacrificed holiday so that I could go away with two children for a break from the caring, whilst you stayed home to look after the one who was house bound. You worked from home every Friday morning for a year so that I could go out to study. To have a break from the relentlessness of being housebound which I found so hard.
We got through that too. We committed to enabling our little girl to get better and she did. Amazingly and wonderfully.
We’d been married fifteen years by the time she recovered and we had changed so much in those two years. You had been like a shock absorber. You were steady and unwavering. You never faltered. But you can’t do that without it changing you. After all that we had been through I wanted to throw caution to the wind and embrace every bit of life I could find. I wanted to live and to experience everything. I wanted joy and laughter and celebration. You wanted to keep your family safe and to you, the path I wanted to take, looked full of risks and potholes.
We didn’t know how to talk about any of it did we? We’d carried so much for so long. We were remarkable. You were remarkable and amazing. But we’d stopped holding hands. We didn’t kiss each other goodnight anymore. We socialized separately and disagreed about family plans.
I wish we could just mulligan the next part. I wish it hadn’t been how it was, but it had to be. We came to a crisis point. Life was turned upside down. The foundations of everything were shaken and your instinct was to hold on whilst mine was to let go.
When the shaking stopped we stood on the ground. We faced each other for the first time in a very, very long time. We looked at each other’s faces and listened to each other’s stories and realised that neither of us was who the other had married. In many ways we were unrecognizable, but in many ways we actually knew and understood each other for the very first time.
We pulled everything down and we started from the ground up. Who are you? What do I need to find out about you? What do you like doing? What do you wish you did more of? How do you think we can make this work?
It’s been hard, hard, work. When I told a close friend at the time, how bad things were, he said something which I just remembered again today. ‘If anyone can put the work in to try to sort out a marriage, it’s you two.’ He was right. We are both determined and hard working, with a desire for authenticity and honesty. We wanted to find the good stuff again. I really didn’t believe it was there. Thank you for always believing. Thank you for being doggedly persistent in your determination that being married to each other was the right thing for both of us. We joke now that we have tried every possible combination of therapy – individual, couples, family –it was another of those things that wasn’t so funny at the time, but you kept laughing. Your valentine’s card to me, just before our 18th anniversary ‘There’s no one I’d rather go to marriage counseling with but you’ was a case in point.
When you were sick last year and went into hospital I realised for sure (although I had already known it I think) that I love you in a way that there aren’t words for. People talk about their other half. I’ve always hated that expression because I think everyone is a whole. But as I left you in the hospital in the evenings I felt not like I was leaving half myself behind, but that in leaving you, I was leaving myself. I don’t really know how or why we are each others, but it’s an objective fact. There is no point trying to quantify or understand the mechanics of the relationship. It just is. And it will be.
So here we are. I am so happy that we have shared these twenty years. Every single one of them. Even the really horrible, terrible, awful ones. Because now I know you. And you know me. I think you are a fantastic person. And I think I know what being married to you means.
It means learning to love in a way I never thought possible. It means living through the good and the bad with you as a constant. It means being one. It means seeing myself as I really am, and that can be good and difficult. It means being willing to change, to compromise, to look at things differently because I know that actually there might be a better way than the one I think is best. And even if it’s not better I don’t always need to get things to go my way. It means trusting that you have always got my back, and knowing that I have always got yours. It is saying yes to this amazing opportunity to life live in all its fullness with another human being. You are such a gift to me. I can now see, after twenty years, that even though we are utterly different, and communication can be tricky, and we can’t possibly be all that the other needs, that you have loved me so well. Your intentions are always kind, you have never lied to me, you have never intentionally caused me harm, you never put yourself before me, you love and cherish our children and even in the worst of times you have never given up. Thank you for being my husband.
It is grace.