Thirteen years ago today I woke before dawn and slipped outside for an early-morning walk. I was getting married in a few hours and the import of this was something I wanted to experience in quiet. I don’t remember much about my walk except for the quality of the morning – I could write pages and never express, properly, what our dawn is like in the fall – and the stillness of the unfamiliar Aberdeen streets. Apparently I stayed out a while – enough time for my bridesmaids to wake. When they couldn’t find me they briefly wondered if I’d done a runner!
On my wedding day people asked me if Ralph was nervous. Hell no! I remember getting dressed in the downstairs of the church and while plenty of people were antsy – my mom was out of her mind with stress – I could hear Ralph upstairs happily directing the sound for the service. I don’t remember being nervous, either. I was happy. My dad walked me down the aisle – a wonderful memory of his brief return to health, in between bouts of cancer and treatment. Our service used a unity candle and I spilled hot wax while deploying it – everyone in the small service saw, and gasped. A wedding can feel a lot like a performance but at the same time, I was there for me.
After the ceremony we adjourned to my parents’ house, just a block from the church – a few feet from where I sit now. We drank a toast; we played music. The first song we danced to was Abba’s “Dancing Queen”. My father, my mother, my groom, myself – we were so happy that day.
But newlywed memories are painful for me, and have been for some time. The young woman I remember was vulnerable and lost. The husband was a good choice; carrying the child I was carrying to full term, that was a good choice. I made some good choices even though at the time I wasn’t fully aware of how important those choices would come to be. I took a lot for granted, somehow.
Being married to Ralph is today one of my greatest treasures. Time, and pain, have caused me to value my marriage deeply. The pain was exquisite and unrelenting; a chapter in our marriage that I simply am astonished we carried through; that we didn’t split, that we weren’t unfaithful, that we didn’t cause irreparable damage. We suffered so much but somehow we got through. Maybe that’s why I appreciate him so deeply, and why I find within myself that strength unchanneled on my wedding day, that grit and steel I didn’t know I had. I’ve given up on a lot of things in my life but when it came down to it I wouldn’t give up on this. I wanted him and I don’t know why that became one of the only things left to me, even when the pain seemed insurmountable. I held on even when it didn’t make sense. I am glad I did.
Why did my marriage work out? Why did it survive? Why did my husband become someone I respected, as unfairly exacting as I can be? Why did my husband – who I met, and married, when he was just a boy – develop into the most wonderful father, a quality I value more than anything in a man? Why did we suit each other so well? How did we choose one another so well – when we were so ignorant of what would be required?
Ralph is my companion; we walk alongside the other. He is my fidelity to a higher purpose. He alone can hold my hand, can hold my body. He alone can hear the Me no one here does or will.
This morning I don’t take a walk, as I did the day I was a bride. I write a few words here, then I take myself back to bed, and back to the first of my days without children in the home. I take myself back to myself, and I spend the day in contemplation.
Life gives us great gifts, and we throw them away with both our hands.
Sometimes, we hold on to something.
Ralph is a gift to me, and – sobered, I know this to be true.