When I was a child in the 80s, my father had a book called In One Day. I became obsessed with reading the short snippets of what happens across the country, the world, the universe–all in just one day. The cartoonish pictures added to the alluring quality. I kept that book close, packing it with my belongings when I moved to college.
Recently, I saw that book again, safely stowed away in a box. By now I’m sure the data is outdated. With a copyright date well over thirty years old, we likely recycle more plastic bottles and eat more Big Macs then back then. Yet, the intrigue of the book is timeless to me. I often think of my life in similar terms, although perhaps one day at a time is too slow. But magnified by months, or years, my life has taken on a shape of its own book.
Fifteen years ago, I married the man who was meant to be my life partner. How did I know this? Was he my soulmate? Did I only have one person in the world of seven billion humans that would stay with me forever, love me forever, and cherish our bond as much as I did? I didn’t think so. But, as an introvert, I am sensitive to human connection. I am not one to take easily to new friends (not in any deep kind of way). It often takes me months, if not years, to forge an enduring relationship. Only a few people have ever found the direct line to my heart, my soul.
Jason was one of those people.
In fifteen years, we’ve had seven homes in five cities and five states: two apartments in Baltimore, Maryland; a house in West Allis, Wisconsin; a tiny furnished apartment in San Diego, California; a larger apartment in Kernersville, North Carolina; until we landed permanently in our second house in Oxford, Ohio.
In fifteen years, we’ve had two dining room tables; the first one met our needs for fourteen years–one that seated only four people and was meant to fit in an eat-in kitchen. Two months ago, we bought our “real” dining room table complete with eight chairs and a leaf (!).
In fifteen years, we’ve had four dogs: a beagle mix with severe separation anxiety and the strength to break out of any enclosure ever created, a black and tan pug rescued from a breeder, a terrier mix who went blind and died at four-years-old from a neurological issue, and a long-haired black pug. Despite our good intentions of adding a furry friend to our family, we got continually got burned. We saw early death too early with all (but the last dog–fingers crossed) and one very threatening eviction letter from a landlord.
In fifteen years, we have both returned to school and finished graduate degrees. We alternated between school and work, we endeavored through each grueling stint, and of course I am back at it again returning to school just in time for our sixteenth year.
In fifteen years, Jason has taught more math classes than we should count (although, according to him, math is the only subject that counts…). I have had seven jobs in three different psychological settings. Most recently I have given my psychology career a break to transition to full-time writing. Perhaps in the next fifteen-year roundup, we’ll all learn how that went.
In fifteen years, we have become parents four times. The first time, we had to watch our daughter’s birth and death culminate on the same day. The next two, we had to make tough choices that arise when pregnancies end. The final pregnancy resulted in our feisty toddler, Evelyn. While none of the pregnancies were easy, and all offered trauma to different degrees, Jason and I survived the seven months Evelyn stayed in my tummy by crying, hugging, and travelling the journey together. We both had a vision of having a child; we silently agreed to ignore how after each loss we said “never again.”
We spent five weeks in the NICU for Evelyn. Jason and I spent hours by her side: we read, we sang songs, we gently took her out of her box, we snuggled her to our chests, we left each night to rest just enough to have the energy to do it all again the next day.
It was both the best and worst experience I’ve had. Monitors beeping, episodes when she stopped breathing, teaching a tiny baby to feed when the instinct isn’t there, and feeling helpless to take care of my own child was heart-wrenching. We watched babies around us perish under even worse circumstances while holding my baby close to my bare skin. Watching Jason sit dutifully by her side, even on the days when I just didn’t feel well enough to do it, was magic.
In fifteen years, Jason dislocated his shoulder twice (not including the additional time before we married), which resulted in two trips to the ER and one shoulder surgery. While the operation was short, the recovery was long. I helped Jason get in his physical therapy chair several times a day, learned how to operate machinery to aid in his healing, made trips to the 24-hour pharmacy when the first pain medication caused him a terrible headache, and ran the world’s fastest clothes shopping trip when I had to find button-up short-sleeve shirts (as they were the only kinds we could get over his arm.) When weeks had gone by, and Jason was ready to drive again, I took him to the high school parking lot and coached him as he practiced with his newly bolted (and tighter) shoulder.
In fifteen years, we have collected more books and CDs than I likely even know we have. Most of it belongs to Jason, and I don’t mind. As long as I’ve known him, he had a love for both. We met (for the second time) under the guise of music and borrowing books. Over the years, he has recommended authors, books, artists, and made me mixed CDs. Although he has evolved over the years to gain new knowledge, new interests, new clothes, and new friends, his core self has remained. I love him for it.
In fifteen years, we have taken six big trips together (and countless mini-trips): our honeymoon to a cabin in Vermont and then Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Disney World, Dominican Republic, England and Scotland, and a road trip up the Pacific coast of California and east to Wisconsin. We have dabbled in experimental trips with Evelyn. In the next fifteen years, the three of us will continue to see the world.
In fifteen years, we have held hands as much as possible. An elderly woman stopped us once on the streets of San Diego just to tell us to never stop holding hands. I think about her often. We’ve haven’t stopped yet.
In fifteen years, we have celebrated a lot. We’ve had a lot to be grateful for, and many days of joy. We have had a combined thirty birthday dinners and birthday treats (mine peach pie, Jason’s brownies). We’ve celebrated the birthday and deathday of our first daughter Sophia for the past eight New Year’s Eves. We’ve celebrated each new home, each move, each graduation. We’ve celebrated Evelyn’s ability to overcome her own obstacles related to her gross motor delay: rolling over, sitting up, standing, pulling to stand on her own, crawling, taking her first steps. When she can run, jump, and can kick a ball without falling over, we’ll celebrate each one of those too. We celebrate every math paper that Jason gets published and every piece of my writing that shows up on a website or in a literary journal. We celebrate good weather, quiet afternoons, waffles for breakfast, coffee dates, and dinners out.
In fifteen years, I’ve given Jason a lot of hair cuts. A lot. Since we met, I have been his barber. We started with a beard trimmer in my small Spanish apartment in Madrid (where we first met), and to this day I trim his head and neck. We’ve since graduated to a real hair trimmer (soon after we made it back to the US, in fact, we headed to Walgreens to make the upgrade). And while he has a bit fewer strands of hair on the very top, but the hair cut tab continues to grow.
In fifteen years, our life story has grown. Our tale has taken on a shape I could not have predicted when I first said “yes” to Jason’s proposal in the mountains of Virginia, or when we packed up the first U-Haul headed to the East Coast. Many things have changed, yet the fundamentals have not. Jason is still the person I trust most in this world. If I had one life-line, he’s it. I love Jason (and I suspect he still loves me). I still defend his honor when others are critical. I have faith in him, even when he has lost it in himself. He does the same for me. I know he is the smartest, wittiest, goofiest, opinionated, most kind-hearted person I have met.
In the next fifteen years, I plan to love him more, take on new adventures through travel, schooling, and watching our Evelyn grow up. By our thirtieth year, Evelyn will be 18. She will graduate high school. Likely, she’ll find her own way into the world. We’ll celebrate. We’ll cry. We’ll pack up her few belongings, and move her out of our home and into the world. We’ll be joyous, grief-filled, happy, and sad.
Our family started as Jason and me. It will end as Jason and me. And through it all, we’ll be holding hands.