On this day fifteen years ago, I woke up with one last name and fell asleep with a new one. Ben and I were married on the same day that eight years before he’d asked me to be his girlfriend in front of his high school locker. He placed headphones over my ears and played me an old song that I loved.
We’ve lived through this date twenty-three times together. When I think back on October 18ths over the years, the thing that stands out the most is that, for the most part, I don’t remember them. I mean, I remember the milestones, the day we started dating and the day we got married. I’m not a monster. And I kind of remember another anniversary, when we’d moved across the country and I was always tired. We’d been married for ten years then, and I fell asleep with our little boys while Ben cleaned the kitchen.
I remember other days, though.
Golden days. When we’d drive on curving roads with falling leaves and talk and laugh and sing. I remember his twinkling eyes when I told him that I was pregnant. Celebrating new jobs, and each of us saying “I think you should do it,” when the other was nervous about taking a leap. I remember funerals and hospice houses – holding his hand as tightly as I could, like it was the only thing in the world to grasp. Those are the rarer days, dotted here and there, that make everything feel more raw and real. When I look back on the last twenty three years, though, what I remember more than those days is how ordinary the rest have been.
Bedhead and sweatshirts and coffee. Making meals and cleaning up. IKEA furniture and hanging mirrors. Always laundry and always holding little ones at night.
I used to think the most meaningful gestures were the grand ones. I dreamt of surprising Ben with a fancy car or a European vacation. (Delusional because I was a public school teacher and then a stay at home mom, so the extra thousands never appeared like I thought they would.) The truest way to show love, I thought, was to make some days feel different than all the others.
I’ve changed my mind. Now I think that greatest show of love is in the being there, really, really being there on every normal day. And I think that’s harder to pull off than any one time treat could ever be.
Of course, do the big stuff too, if you can…that would be wonderful and fun. But that’s not the stuff of it – not the oxygen that keeps a relationship alive. The lifeblood, I think, comes from saying “I do” a thousand times a day.
I do want to hear about want to hear about your meeting.
I do want to hear in exquisite details why you chose that style of kitchen cabinet over another.
I do want to watch Poldark (even though that show is stone-cold crazy).
I do want to play a board game with you and the kids even though my.brain.does.not.work.that.way.
I do think you should start a blog and make no money.
The good news is that we don’t have to wait for the big stuff – there are infinite opportunities for saying I do every day. The bad news is that it seems so easy from a distance, but can feel so hard in the moment – when we just want to do what we want to do and not take anyone else into account. The payoff, though, is maybe the greatest gift you can give yourself – a partner to help you navigate this wily world and the same hand to hold through its peaks and valleys.
Happy anniversary, Ben. I’ll always give you all I’ve got, even when that’s not much at all.