Looking out the window, I see the expansive ocean peeking out from a layer of cottony clouds. Instead of enjoying my usual Americano with extra hot water prior to boarding, I’ve decided to wait and order a glass of wine once we’re in-flight.
Tim and I will celebrate our twenty-first wedding anniversary tomorrow. We are traveling together – just the two of us – to Croatia. Usually it’s a family trip with a detailed itinerary. Both of us are extremely organized, but I admit my hubby has a special flair for finding amazing travel deals and creating exhaustive Excel spreadsheets filled with hotel timelines and comprehensive air schedules.
Two weeks ago, we were officially diagnosed with empty nest syndrome. Our life’s itinerary has shifted. My head is spinning and my heart is heavy. I want some time to relax, be quiet, and reflect on our newfound normal. I’ve brought a book about daring greatly in this next season of my life.
I sip the white wine I’ve ordered. It’s not good. It’s not even the kind I sort of like, but who cares. Its airplane wine, I remind myself, and it’s doing the job – mellowing my hyper, overly anxious, constantly analyzing mind.
I look at Tim beside me, beginning to close his eyes. He is a hardworking man, linear and systematic. I press my hand on his arm, feeling the warm of his skin under a soft blue polo shirt. He gives me a smile, squeezes my hand, and returns to his slumber. This trip is not about revitalizing our relationship but rather spending uninterrupted time together without our now fully-grown children or a specific travel plan – a healthy and spontaneous second honeymoon.
Resting my head against my seatback and closing my eyes, I travel back twenty-one years. Relaxed as he was, the justice of the peace was a little bothered by our misbehavior during his serious speech about wedding rings and what they symbolize. Honestly, I wasn’t trying to be ill-mannered… I just wanted a peek at my ring! The design of my wedding band was a surprise and I was overcome with childlike excitement. Who could blame me?
“I pronounce you man and wife. You may now kiss the bride.” Tim held me and kissed me, energetically and tenderly, the same way he still does with such warmth and enthusiasm. Two decades later, our public displays of affection often irritate our two teenaged sons. “Get a room,” they quip. Yet they themselves mimic similar fondness with their own lady friends.
We walked back down the aisle all smiles – full of glee and innocence. Maybe a smidgen naïve as to what we were getting ourselves into. Well, I was anyways. And so, our life began.
Because, for me, my life truly did begin when I married Tim.
“Whom can you trust?” my therapist asked me years ago.
“No one, really – except myself,” I said. My father died when I was eleven, my mother remarried a dud only to eventually divorce him. Life was not dependable, nor were the people closest to me. My childhood was spent in survival mode.
“Then that’s your answer,” she whispered.
Yes, I had my answer. I would have to trust my gut. I married a man not knowing for sure if I could trust him not to hurt me or leave me. But my instincts told me that Tim was honest and good. We shared so much in common. We both understood abandonment and how to mask the pain of feeling unloved and alone.
“He lets me be my crazy self,” I told my therapist. “He has a selfless heart and soulful eyes. I think it will work. Even if he is into horseracing and the stock market.”
“He sounds cool,” my therapist observed.
Tim makes careful decisions whereas I prefer to fly by the seat of my pants. Despite our differences, our philosophy of life is the same: if you can’t have fun there’s no sense in doing it. Life for me had always seemed random and risky so what did I have to lose? And at twenty-three what did I know?
I knew I adored Tim. Now at forty-five, I still adore him. I also admire him. Love requires two people who are willing to do the work and not give up. Tim is the warmest, most generous man I’ve ever known. He is my best friend, my comrade, and the only person I would want to navigate the road of life with. I recognized our potential twenty-one years ago. It turns out my instincts were accurate.
Our years together have been a complete whirlwind… and much too full to try and summarize here. Neither of us ever wants to miss anything life has to offer. Our lives are fast, always running in fifth gear. How we manage to avoid burnout I will never know. All marriages can go awry, but we work together. True communication and respect were concepts I’d never understood, let alone experienced, before Tim. We have weathered many storms and we are still solid.
Tim loves me in a way that forces me to love myself more. I remember my first Christmas gift from him. Tucked inside a white shirt box that was wrapped with a satin turquoise bow I found a black sweatshirt with “SAP” embroidered in white block letters across the front. He was reminding me of my “sappiness”, one of the reasons he fell in love with me. It was his way of expressing his own extreme sentimentality – in his uniquely witty way.
What a grand gesture. (Shhh, I seldom wear it!) I pull it out every now and then to remind myself how lucky I am to have this guy in my life. This guy sleeping next to me on the plane. The guy I chose to build a family with. The guy my therapist said sounded cool. The baldheaded guy my sister made snarky comments about. The guy who would never put himself before me, unless it was to save me from a bullet or an oncoming car. The guy with beautiful brown eyes, which light up when he sees me after two days or ten days away. The guy I choose to banter with, share secrets with, drink pinot noir with and be spontaneous with – every damn day of my life.
I’m jostled into the present as we hit rough air and seatbelt signs light up the quiet cabin. I hold onto my glass, not wanting the contents to spill all over my jeans. Flying is kind of like marriage, isn’t it? Turbulence comes and goes. All you can do is hold on tight, hoping for smoother air but never really knowing what the rest of the flight will be like.
I look out at the horizon as we pass over a patch of the Pacific. As the pilot banks a turn, the horizon disappears and shades of green and blue saturate my eyes like the waterlily pond from Monet’s painting. I am reminded of our honeymoon in Giverny, France. I will never forget that magically misty day, standing together on the emerald green footbridge, inhaling fragrant wafts of wisteria.
As the pilot announces our initial decent, I glance over at Tim. I can honestly say that I have fallen in love with every bit of my partner’s soul. My perfectly imperfect partner of twenty-one years. If I was not willing to risk the unusual, I would have had to settle for the ordinary. I ended up with a marriage nothing less than extraordinary!