I met my now-husband in a computer lab on the campus of our small-town New England college. I’d just returned home from an abroad experience that he’d completed the year before, and was itching to talk to someone who knew where I was coming from. I remember bounding over, introducing myself, saying some excited words, and then exiting. He came into the lobby a few minutes later and found me sitting in a big, college-lobby chair.
“Is there a number where you’re staying where I could call you to hang out or something?” is a close representation of what he said.
“Yeah!” was my response.
So that week, we went for a walk and sat in a park and talked a lot. It was lovely, and unlike anything I’d ever experienced - the ease, the lack of me trying too hard.
I called him a few days later to make plans for the following week. Once the day and time were set, I tried to segue into some harmless small talk, and was met instead with, “Unless you have something important you need to talk about, I need to go. It’s my friend’s birthday.”
Stunned, I stammered that I didn’t have anything of consequence to discuss, confirmed our plan, hung up the phone, beamed, and shouted up the stairs to my mother and sister that that was the guy I was going to marry.
He was immediately all the things I didn’t know I needed; he did not play games or mince words. When I called him a few weeks into our relationship and told him that I really needed some space, his response was, “Okay. Call me when you want to hang out.” Which caused me to hit redial and sealed the deal, really.
We were together for five years before we married, Tim needing to know the things he needed to know before being ready to step into the tradition of marriage. It was not a decision he took lightly, marrying me, not because he wasn’t sure about me, but because he needed to know he could commit fully to the institution - to the notion of forever.
It’s clear to everyone around us that we work together, that what we have going on is something special. Friends ask us relationship questions, and marvel at how easy ours seems to be. And while we struggle with certain things - Tim’s quiet when I need words, my words when he needs quiet - our relationship has always been more ease than not.
And so you can see now why it came as a shock a few months ago when we didn't know if we were going to make it.
To be clear, I mean that we truly didn't know if we could successfully remain married.
It stunned both of us, this realization, and the question - can we or can't we? - came down on us quickly and surely.
It was inconceivable, us being in this place.
Last year was among the worst of our lives together, knocked out of first place only by the year that my father died. My husband had grabbed hold of a potentially exciting work opportunity that quickly turned into a living nightmare. I won’t rehash details here, but trust me when I tell you that 'work life' and 'home life' were impossible to separate. 'Life' - all of it - was difficult to manage.
Having spent hours and hours with a therapist, both alone and occasionally together before we married, we had many good skills and tools for communication, and so I think we assumed we were making it through the murkiness mostly unscathed. We went on a few dates, parented well together, and maintained our home and general life in a way that seemed good enough, when 'good enough' was all we could muster.
I scarcely remember last winter, but what I do recall doesn't scream "Watch out for divorce!". We shoveled together, gave our kids a lovely Christmas, spent New Year's home, just us.
And so I can't even really tell you what tipped our scale, what made the falling snow turn into an avalanche. But when it happened, when we looked at each other and could hardly make out each other's features under the weight of the white, we knew it was time to do something.
And so a week later we sat in two chairs at our therapist's office, telling our sides of things. It was excruciating. Not because any new information was coming out - we were saying the same things we'd been saying for years - but because hearing it reflected back and realizing how bad - just how far away - things had really gotten was terrifying.
After our hour, as we walked outside, I was both numb and in tears. "I just didn't know it was this bad. This is bad."
That night, I climbed into our bed and clicked off the light. I inched my body as close to the edge as I could, board straight, blankets up tight to my chin.
My inner loop, again and again, was "I don't know how we're going to make it." I truly couldn't see a feasible re-entry strategy. And then I thought about my kids. I couldn't imagine them being children of divorce, couldn't bear to think about them shuttling from house to house like I'd done as a kid. And so they became my guide posts. "We can't do that. But we can't do this, either,” I thought. “Now what."
We lay there silently for awhile, awful moments of uncertainty. He spoke first, asking hard questions. I answered honestly even though I was scared I was going to hurt him, and in that, in the hard and the scared and the uncertain, the avalanche that had almost buried us picked up speed again, leaving us behind, gasping for air.
He touched me and I flinched. Then he rolled over and quietly commanded that we would not divorce, that we were the real deal, that I would not leave him and he would not leave me and we would change this. Period.
I started heaving then, nodding in agreement.
He started talking. A lot. Years of pent-up words.
I continued crying in equal measure.
We moved closer to each other, touched hands.
"How did we get here?" I said, finally. "This place, this is for other people. This isn't for us."
"I know," he said.
"I don't ever want to do this again. Not like this."
We fell asleep a tangle of arms and legs and pulses, breathing new life into each other.
The next morning I woke up startled.
I walked into the kitchen and looked at my husband, looked at the man I'd met more than a decade earlier.
We were new again.
We'd scraped the bottom, had nearly suffocated, and instead had fought our way out, had insisted on more.
I felt nervous around him in that new way, like I was getting to know him again for the first time.
Which, of course, I was.
The intervening months have etched us deeper into each other.
I want to be with him, want to smell him, want him to brush by me in the kitchen, his arm skimming my back.
The kids, energetically aware of the goodness that’s flowing, watch us kiss and flirt from around corners, smirking when we catch them catching us.
Just the other night, we had to say goodbye. We’d spent close to a week on an island vacation, and it was time for him to return home, while the children and I would remain a week longer. As he tossed his backpack onto his shoulders, I cried new-love tears. I longed for him as he stood before me.
As he walked away, my husband looked into my shiny eyes with his shiny eyes, his hand on my waist, a kiss and a whisper and then gone.
And I thought, "Oh, thank you. Thank you for this."*E