This is the story of how our thirteenth anniversary screwed me over.
A week before the actual anniversary, my seven year old son got ill with the flu. For six days he burned with a high fever along with a string of severe symptoms: vomiting, violent coughing, both restlessness and lethargy. By the end of the week, my husband and I were both ragged with worry and physical fatigue. We postpone any celebrations until the next weekend.
We make plans for a terrific date: the movie, Captain America, followed by a fancy steak dinner.
On Monday, I wake up with a horrendous sore throat, having caught a bug presumably shared by dear son the week prior.
By Wednesday, I could barely speak as my voice gradually turned into a croak with intermittent missing syllables lost to my infected vocal chords.
Thursday, our childcare plans for the terrific date falls through. Instead of reasonably considering alternative options, J and I decided to spontaneously combust into an all out rage fight. Issues
shouted discussed include:
- Why we don’t understand each other.
- Why we are so selfish.
- Why the political instability in Taiwan shapes the futures of our college students.
None of which really had anything to do with why we started fighting in the first place. And remember, I was croaking my way through this fight – with missing syllables. When marital experts advise clear communication, I’m sure they assumed COMPLETE SYLLABLES.
J suggests we postpone our terrific date. Why, I had to know. Well, because we just shouted and stomped and said nasty things to each other and who in the right mind is in the mood to celebrate a wedding anniversary after that? But…but, I argue, if we don’t go on this date, it signals a breach in the foundation of our marital covenant, our children will experience trauma, and the world as we know it comes to an end. Because this is the way my mind works: no Captain America = End of the world.
We’re not going, he says.
Instead of gradually recovering from the common cold which typically lasts 7-10 days, my 8 day cold virus decides to go ahead and creep up into my eyes, giving me a double eye infection. What the what?! Apparently, this is a thing: respiratory viruses don’t just wreak havoc on the respiratory system but can affect vision. Also, now I’m hacking up a lung. Physically, I’m not doing so well. Maritally, things are looking up. We are back to speaking soft, kind words to each other, but it’s still slightly awkward. Emotions are tender; the sting of accusations hurled in the state of anger and confusion are taking time to heal. Our hugs feel a bit manufactured and our routine interactions take on an extra layer of vulnerability, slowly rebuilding trust with every gesture.
J suggests, for a third week in a row, we go out to lunch to celebrate our anniversary. I don’t say no, but I’m tempted to. I am tired of forcing a celebration. I’m tired of pretending to be happy when things are awkward and unsure. Just like the way my infected eyes are glazed over and hidden behind my heavy, prescriptive glasses, I feel shielded and incapable of connecting my true self with this man I am committed to. I feel drained of energy to lift the veil of misunderstanding, mistrust, and mishandled emotions which hang precariously between us.
But I showed up. Like a warrior, I carried on. I didn’t put on a nice dress because I didn’t feel beautiful. I changed out of my sweats and put on black slacks. I briefly combed over the hideous tangles that is my hair presently, checked my infected eyes which are still puffy and red behind my glasses, sighed audibly over the hot mess I am, and just showed up.
The restaurant was beautiful, the meal extravagant, but the date was not magical. There was no grand, romantic gesture, no sparks of rekindled passion. It was just us, two people who have been together for thirteen years, exchanging information regarding our mundane daily lives. At one point, I started getting excited to share something important when a baby in the next booth started high-pitch crying. Who, in the hell, brings their baby to a high end steakhouse, but people intent on destroying everyone else’s romantic ambiance? I wanted to seethe and tell them off, “Hello, I have a struggling marriage I’m trying to revive here, do you MIND?!” But I didn’t, because I, unlike the now screaming baby, maintain some semblance of civilized self-control.
Somewhere between the entree and the dessert, between bout 4 and 16 of baby crying episodes, it occurs to me how much of a metaphor our botched anniversary celebration is for our marriage and for life. We wanted this terrific date in a perfect world where there is no sickness, plans for childcare don’t foil, our emotions are always held in check and our brains are 100% in sync, and where Captain America is the answer to all of our life’s problems. We long for magical experiences where every plan is executed with precision, every category is defined and checked, every emotion neat and contained. But life is not a Hollywood movie, and we are not superheroes. Life is messy and we are oh-so-ordinary – frail to disease, dependent on other imperfect people. We make mistakes and wound those we love.
And just about the time this realization dawn on me, I also began to understand the value of our non-magical date. This is plainly how we keep our marital vows: we make the choice, again and again, to come together despite our imperfections. Despite the puffy eyes, the tired soul, the interruptive baby; despite awkward hugs, tense conversations, missed assumptions, we show up anyway. We make each other laugh a little, roll our eyes at each other’s stupid jokes, he tries to restrain me from killing crying baby parents; with every decision to be present together, we are proclaiming our marriage vows all over again. Each moment we share, no matter how mundane, is a sacred covenant. This is how we live our messy, beautiful life.
It’s not wrong to want or expect magic in marriage and in life. If it happens to you, I’m sure you’ll capture the moment and post it on Facebook for the rest of us to envy. But if every moment is magical then nothing ceases to delight. We must learn to find our joy in the mess and never, ever give up meeting together. When we can find beauty in the margins, then all of a sudden, life feels full and worth showing up for every day.
**This post is a link up with Momastery in honor of the paperback launch of Glennon Melton’s book, Carry on, Warrior. Glennon is the popular blogger who coined the phrase “brutiful”, a combination of beautiful and brutal to capture the essence of our lives. I love this phrase so much I used it in my piece about baby Russell, my friend’s baby with Downs Syndrome.**