I paid some $17 for the dress I would get married in. It was left over from prom. Periwinkle blue. Clearance.
We had reserved this quaint courtyard at a resort here in the desert. Picture a luminary-lined, low adobe wall. Starlit sky above. Flagstone beneath our feet. Warm desert air after sunset. There was to be music and wine—just a handful of people who mattered most to us. But the stubborn caboose of a monsoon storm fell all the day long and threatened disaster. There was a last minute move to a patio that looked over the city night skyline. We held hands as we read aloud the vows we penned ourselves. He cried tears that gave weight to those promises. We five formed a handheld circle and danced to Garth: It’s Midnight Cinderella. In the end, it was anything but disastrous.
He carried me across the resort room threshold and just that single night we had all to ourselves. The next morning we would wake up–Mr. and Mrs.–to an ordinary day and our ordinary lives would—poof!—begin.
I didn’t know then that six weeks later he’d be called off to war a world away. I didn’t know the subconscious fears that would jar me awake in the middle of so many nights with him there and me here.
I didn’t know then that within the year he’d have to dry my tears when—after thirty years—my mom and dad fell to pieces.
I didn’t know then the trenches we’d trudge through as we sewed bonds and grew love from scratch.
I didn’t know then that standing up for our new family would mean estrangement from his.
I didn’t know then that he’d feel so torn as he stood by my bedside in the minutes just after our son was born—afraid to leave me shaking uncontrollably on the table but equally afraid of what it might mean that they were performing infant CPR on our baby.
I didn’t know then that he’d learn to swaddle that same baby and hold him tight against his chest as he sang “The Gambler” or “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
I didn’t know then the anguish I would feel as he sat opposite me in a hospital emergency room, unable to look me in the eye on the day our son almost drowned. I didn’t know the depths of his patience when—day into week into month into year—he’d hold me tight until the memories of my boy at the bottom of that pool would eventually fade.
I didn’t know then how breaking it would feel to empty my heart into teenage daughters. I didn’t know that I would need someone to come along and restore, bit by bit.
I didn’t know then that I’d wake one morning to a text and see twisted wreckage that one of my babies walked away from—that in that moment, his would be the arms that would ground me.
I didn’t know then the ebb and the flow of marital love–the weight and the weightlessness contained therein. I didn’t know that in our wake, we’d have a life like a rainbow with colors that bleed so seamlessly together that you can’t say for certain where one ends and the next begins. I didn’t know that the love I felt for him as we said our words on that September hill would divide and multiply like cells in new life. I didn’t know that the echo of laughter off our walls and tears cried into a pillow come together to strum a steady heartbeat–life lived. I didn’t know that the first signs of silver in his hair would warm me from the inside out. I didn’t know what it felt like to grow together, instead of apart. I didn’t know faith roots deeper when it’s shared.
I didn’t know how beautiful a mess life with him could be.