Today is my anniversary. Our anniversary. Damon and I have now been married twenty years! Two decades ago, the ceremony took place on our college campus, the day after we graduated from college. Looking back, the frantic pace of it all seems crazy. So many details feel so unlike me. I peer at my own wedding photos as if the two people portrayed are strangers, so convinced am I that neither D. nor I knew our own minds back then. Nor what we were getting into.
What I am certain of, even now, is that I liked Damon from the first time I met him. Not romantically. Just, well – he was so smiley! Happy, musical, interesting. Even today, I still think he’s funny and smart and terribly kind-hearted. Yet we’ve both changed so much. Marriages, too, evolve over time. Damon and I no longer sleep on a futon in a studio apartment, or pay for absolutely everything with credit cards, or stay up all night building and painting shelves just for the heck of it.
Yet we are together, still. And D., knowingly and unknowingly, still brings music to my life, almost daily.
Of course I married him in the first place mainly because he looked like Friedrich from Sound of Music, which was the first movie my mother ever took me to see, the two of us together, there in a fancy theatre in posh Point Loma. And the choice of D. reeked of foreshadowing, which thrilled the English major in me, because of course I was smitten with Friedrich almost as soon as he put the frog in Maria’s pocket. Now here I was with a slightly more grown-up Friedrich version all my own!
Twenty years have passed. There have been a lot of highs and lows. Just like in the movies, marriages overflow with drama. There are plot twists and scene changes, dicey and endearing supporting characters, fashion faux pas…until finally one day you sit back with some popcorn to reminisce, but where to start? Which scenes to hone in on?
Some moments still shine bright even after twenty years in a memory bank…
Back when I was pregnant with Jacob, eighteen years ago, I was terribly nauseous and ill. I lay on the couch day after day, no longer able to work, moaning about how I wished Christmas would come, because then my morning sickness would hopefully be over. Not long after I said that, Damon came home from work one night, still dressed in his Air Force fatigues, and began stringing lights up all over our little apartment. He put a Christmas tree on the end table near the sofa, loaded all the Christmas songs onto our CD player, and voila – Christmas arrived right then and there, two months early, just for me.
Another time, years and years later (in fact, five kids later!), Damon and I took everyone to the beach in the minivan. We drove home tired and grumpy, with everyone sandy, wet, and filthy, so immediately I set to work bathing all the little girls, showering the boys, then hustling everyone into pjs and bed.
The next morning, as Damon was getting ready for work, he stood in the bathroom after his shower, brushing his teeth, shaving, etc…and the whole time he kept laughing and saying, “Wow, it is so nice to be at the beach this morning! I can just feel the sand between my toes, smell the seaweed clinging to wet bathing suits…”
He kept joking, but in reality the tiled bathroom floor was entirely covered in sand from all the kids’ baths and showers the night before. Pretty soon off he went to work, and I went about my day, and lo and behold I never did go back into that bathroom and sweep up all the sand and remove all the wet suits thrown over every surface, still dripping with seaweed and salt water. I just left the entire mess there and again we went to bed. The next morning he dressed for work and again laughed and laughed, saying, “I hoped this sand would still be here. I love living at the beach like this!”
More days passed, and Damon never did clean that bathroom, but he never complained or asked me to do it, either. And he never stopped laughing or having fun with it as well.
Then, a few years ago, Damon went to Hawaii. He had to do this for work, but of course he went for an entire week, and stayed at a five-star resort. Every afternoon he had time to lie on the beach in a hammock strung between two trees and nap. Then, upon waking, he’d walk barefoot across the sand down into the ocean and swim side-by-side with sea turtles. And oh, did I mention that he did all this over Mother’s Day weekend?
Well, he did, and I stayed home, furious at my lot in life. Of course all five kids caught the stomach flu, and I stomped about, washing mountains of soiled laundry and cleaning up oodles of vomit, you know… mothering, for days on end, while he swam with sea turtles.
When he came home I could not speak to him. I was so angry I just couldn’t see straight. How was it that he got to be the dad, the fun one, who received all the love and perks of fathering, yet go off for a week at a time to Hawaii and not father at all? Mothering seemed to me the far, far worse end of the stick, and I was sick of it and sick of my entire life being symbolically dominated by vomit.
Well, this profound depression at the unjust roles of the sexes caused quite a bit of strife between us, because D. felt, justifiably so, that the entire situation was out of his control. What could he do to make it better? he kept asking. There was no answer, except a psychiatrist’s office visit and some prozac for me.
Then, one Thursday night, a year later, he came home from work and unexpectedly told me to pack a suitcase. We were going away. With the kids, of course, but somewhere new, somewhere beautiful, and it was a surprise, and…just go pack already!
Oh, the joy! Away we went to the Balboa Pavilion in Newport Beach, disembarking at the ferry port. Damon was taking us all to Catalina Island for the weekend! I was deliriously happy, and so were the kids.
As we bought our tickets, the woman taking our money looked us over and sighed worriedly. “Are you taking all these kids onto the boat?” she asked ominously. Damon and I nodded, grinning ear to ear.
“It’s a horribly choppy day out there. I wouldn’t do it!” she said sternly. “You’re better off to wait.”
Damon and I looked at the sky, which was sunny. It was windy, but honestly, the weather didn’t seem so bad. And wait? Are you kidding? I’d waited fifteen years already! So off we marched down the gangplank, our own little version of Sound of Music indeed, and we boarded that boat with about five other foolish people, and one dog in a carrier case.
As we set sail, the three crew members said, “This will be a rough crossing. We are at 9, and we don’t go if it’s over 10. This will be the last run for today and we might not even get back. So hold on. And grab several of these barf bags here. You will need them.”
So the journey began and it was horrendous indeed. The boat jerked upwards and down so that you could barely stay in your seat, slamming violently back and forth, hitting the waves like glass. Within five minutes of this roiling, lurching, ceaseless movement everyone on board was vomiting except me and one other woman. Even the little lap dog in the crate was retching, loudly.
As the boat kept churning and bobbing and writhing ever forwards, Damon and the five kids were continuously vomiting. The three stewards who worked on board grasped onto seats and lurched from one vomiting person to the next. Amidst all of this, Damon stood up and led all five kids to an aisle way back behind me, where I wouldn’t hear them crying and moaning and vomiting to no end, and somehow managed, for the entire crossing, to take care of all of them and himself. He left me where I was, clinging to the arm rests in desperation, yet able to stare straight ahead, breathe slowly, not move.
That boat crossing took two hours, and then we had to wait in the harbor for another hour because the waves were too choppy to bring the ferry safely into the cove. It was torturous. Yet Damon dealt with every bit of vomit. Every bit! At one point two of the kids were out on the back balcony, clutching onto a post and vomiting into the open air, as was another boy who’d been on the boat. And Damon weaved his way between the kids in the seat barfing, and the kids out back barfing, all while he, too, barfed!
It was like a scene from a very, very bad movie indeed. In all my years of pregnancy and childbirth and mothering, I had had my absolute fill of vomit. And Damon knew it. He was bound and determined to make my special trip vomit free, and he did! For me! It just about brings a tear to my eye, to think of how symbolic that trip was in so many ways. At last, Damon had to deal with the vomit! And finally I was free to worry solely about me!
Once on land we were all blissfully happy. Our treacherous crossing only heightened the delirium we felt to be once again upright, unbound, free to roam this exotic, new, island paradise.
We stayed on Catalina for two extra days, because we were all so panicked about getting back on that boat that we begged and pleaded not to cross again in bad weather. And Damon laughed, and smiled, and said we would stay on our island paradise until the weather cleared, or until he was forced to charter a helicopter and bring us all home. And he meant it.