The Hard Years

We’ve had our share of hard years, you and I.

2011 was a hard year, all the way into 2012. It started out with so much ice that we were stuck in your parents’ house for weeks on end (wonder what that’s like ha ha ha.). Then your car spun out on your way back from work one night, and it was totaled, and I was so glad that you were okay. As long as you were okay, we’d figure out the car situation. 

Except maybe a month later, my car got totaled, too, by some maniac that crashed into it while I was sleeping after teaching a way-too-early morning class. He pushed it all the way up on your parents’ lawn, and pieces were falling off of it. That was right after we both signed on your replacement car, that awesome Toyota Corolla that I still miss. That was a good car. 

And then I had that mess up with my job, the year I was a teaching fellow, scrambling to make it to teach a 7:50 class at my school an hour away, driving on highways that weren’t yet familiar to me well before sunrise, eating a terrible breakfast of pretzel M&Ms and a 5 Hour Energy. I misunderstood the school schedule, nobody bothered to correct me when I asked, and we had a third of my pay taken away overnight.

I remember that day, when I found out what they were doing, and I felt so ashamed and guilty, but you never flinched. You went out that night and got a job, boom, just like that. It wasn’t a great job, no, but it was a job, and right then, having a job was better than having no job. 

It’s ironic to me that 2011-2012 was such a bad year for us, because it was the year we got married. May 22, 2011. 

Remember how neither of us can remember it through a first person lens, just like we’re watching ourselves go through the entire day on a TV screen or something? How surreal is that?

But things got better for the summer, my first summer in Texas, our first summer as a married couple. We found an apartment in Bedford, a really nice one, and I had an internship that paid more than I’d ever made before, easily enough to pay for both of our cars (because I had a new one now, too, so that you could get to your classes in Arlington while I went to work in Southlake) and the really nice apartment in Bedford. Sure, the apartment had an ant problem, but that didn’t bother us–they were our minions and we were their gods.

Sure, the building’s electricity went out with alarming regularity and caused the stove to catch on fire a few times, but we had that great loft where the reptiles were nice and warm, and space for all of our things, and nobody there but the two of us. 

One night that summer, well before sunrise, you turned over in our bed–the inflatable mattress my parents had given us–and asked, “Do you ever get that sinking feeling?” as the mattress deflated and our butts touched the floor. We couldn’t afford a new bed, but we got one anyway, because we needed one, and we laughed the whole time: folding up the air mattress with its many holes, choosing the cheapest queen size bed at Big Lots, trying to get it past all of our boxes into the corner of our bedroom in that really nice apartment in Bedford.

I could’ve stayed there, I think. I didn’t like that summer, what with its temperatures refusing to dip below 100 so we spent way too much on electricity every month just to keep the apartment livable, but I could’ve stayed in the Bedford apartment if things had worked out. If we’d figured out our work situation more quickly, maybe we’d be living in Bedford right now, though our lives would look very different. 

Things started to not work out. The internship ended, and though I’d spent the entirety of my graduate program hearing that internships almost always led to job offers, this one didn’t. Not only that, but the head of the department gave me a furious dressing down when I presented the work I’d done for the internship, telling me that I was terminally unprofessional, which was a shame because I was such a good writer, and that she didn’t see me as employable. As she left the room, me standing there barely composed, my legs shaking, she turned and gave me a saccharine smile. “Congratulations on your wedding,” she said; she looked like Dolores Umbridge.

 I don’t think my confidence in myself has ever recovered from that meeting, but it’s funny because your confidence in me didn’t waver for a second, even when you came home the day after and laughingly told me that you’d lost your job, too. 

That wasn’t the end of Bedford. Our days turned into job hunts, and we spent our nights watching movies on cable. On Halloween, we didn’t have any trick-or-treaters, but we did snuggle on the couch with popcorn and chocolate milk, and it was really nice. 

And then in November, things turned again, like the Wheel of Fortune always does. Without applying for it, I got a job, my favorite job I’ve ever had, and with a substantial increase in pay from what I’d been making at my internship. It still wasn’t a lot, but it was more than enough to keep us comfortable in the Bedford apartment, to keep the cars paid for, maybe even for us to start doing normal things like going to the doctor again or trying to grow our family. 

Christmas in 2011 was absolutely wonderful. It was my first Christmas away from Massachusetts, but I couldn’t feel too homesick. We didn’t splurge, but you understood when I needed a little Christmas, right this very minute, and you accepted that I named our Charlie Brown Christmas tree “Charles Barkley” (however begrudgingly). We had our junkfood feast and you hung the lights. On Christmas Day, we watched fewer Star Wars movies than we planned, but that’s mostly because getting through Attack of the Clones is a chore. I made us cheesy chicken kiev and green beans. 

And things seemed to still be going well. Work was busy, but busy work is a good sign, they say. If you run out of things to do, that’s when you should worry. You looked for work in your field, I came home every day, we did Married Couple Things. In early March, we thought I might be pregnant, but I wasn’t, and then a few days after I wasn’t, I was laid off. 

It came as a surprise and as not a surprise, both at the same time. I’d heard rumors about layoffs all week long, but when it actually came, it was still a blow, even with both my manager and the CEO telling me they’d recommend me to anywhere I wanted. As nice as they were, I still felt no guilt ordering an expensive dessert on the company’s dime that day. 

But just like that, we had no income. You had your savings account that was supposed to be for college, but we didn’t want to spend all of that on rent and car payments. I was hunting for jobs like crazy, but I got nothing. You were applying for everything you could, but you got nothing. 

We were at the end of our rope. We were broke, student loans were beginning to come due, and the recession had settled into our chosen fields in Texas. And we made a hard choice, together.

Because moving up here was a hard choice, and it felt a little bit like failure. We’d tried to make it on our own, but we’d stumbled and fallen, and though my parents didn’t mind having us live in the in-law apartment for a while, it was so quintessentially Millennial of us, wasn’t it? All of our things got packed into a UHaul storage box that we wouldn’t see again for another year. We squeezed what we could into our two cars (my mom drove one), and we took the long road, through Arkansas and Tennessee and Virginia and Pennsylvania and New York and Connecticut and Massachusetts. 

But we were together. We laughed together. We cheered for Bucksnort, Tennessee, and for our savior town of Bristol. We made each other snort laughing about the Mouseketeers summoning Mickey to devour a sacrifice. We had each other, and by the end of that long, hard first year, we’d really put into practice what we’d promised in our marriage vows. We were each other’s best friends, through thick and thin, and we knew that if difficult times came again, we’d weather them together.

And, I mean, weathering them together is infinitely better than weathering them with one of us 2000 miles away from the other.

This year has been rough, too, and it’s only May 22. I got so sick in January and February, so sick that I said to you at one point that I was so sick of being sick and stuck inside because I couldn’t walk around Target without feeling exhausted and winded. As if that were a preview of coming attractions, Covid-19 descended on the world, and we’ve been stuck inside since March. 

Right now, we should be planning our date at the Melting Pot. The kids should be at my parents’ house, having a sleepover because tomorrow is a Saturday. Maybe we’d use some of the free time in the morning to go to Home Depot and order a microwave, but more likely, we’d sleep in until my phone buzzed with my mom asking, “So when are you coming to pick up the kids?”

But we’re not. We’re not even getting a calm day. I’ve got a doctor’s appointment, you’re watching the kids all morning, you’ve got an interview in the afternoon, the best we can really do is a faux-movie date after the kids go to bed. Not the anniversary I’d hoped for.

The truth, though, is that I still wouldn’t trade it for the world, because it’ll be with you. 

Here’s some more truth for you: I still want to go through all the ups and downs of life with you, even nine years after I walked down the aisle having an out-of-body experience. I’m not at that desperate stage of love, where I’m thinking and saying, “I NEED YOU.” You don’t complete me, my dear; I was complete when I met you. But damn, do you make life better. 

I can sit here in our office and ramble on to you about how I’m trying to reconcile my need for this lockdown to end with my desire to keep people safe, and you understand me. You don’t fight with me; when we disagree, you work with me and we find solutions together. We’ve reached that point where we can look at each other over our kids’ heads without saying a word and communicate flawlessly, and I love it. 

I love the way Sam teases us when he catches us kissing, because it means that he knows as well as we know that we don’t just love each other; we really like each other. I love the way Carrie sees us kiss and then does her little dancey dancey walk over to us to get in on the action (heaven forbid we ever show affection to anyone and not show some to Carrie as well). I love how Isaac laughs in confusion when we cuddle on the couch, like we’ve ceased to be Mommy and Daddy and have just become MommyandDaddy, a single conjoined entity. 

I love our nighttime clothes folding sessions while watching whatever series we’ve decided is currently worth our attention. I love the way you squeeze my butt when I roll over in bed, like “hey, I love you.” I love that we’re both able to see what the other really means and work through the actual root issues of any given problem. I love that you both do and don’t let me be the DM’s wife during our Saturday night game (the nat 20s on persuasion rolls are totally legit!). I love that feeling of relief that settles in when you get home from wherever, not just because I’m no longer alone with our three monkeys, but because you’re here, so things will be alright.

This is a bullshit season of our lives, and it’s not the first, and it won’t be the last. But after being married nine years and being together thirteen, I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be than with you. 

I love you, always.

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