The Sixteenth Year

On August 19th, 1995 at around 5pm in the evening, I slid a tiny golden ring around the slender finger of a beautiful red-haired, milk-skinned young woman and we said a few pretty, significant and self-crafted words that we both thought we meant at the time.  Wearing a smile of unbridled and uncomplicated joy, I looked at her through tear soaked eyes, and told her “I do.”  And I meant it.

We were 22.  And conventional wisdom dictates that now would be the time to say “We thought we had it all figured out.  Boy were we wrong.”

But I’m not going to say that.

I met the young lady in a Freshman vocal performance class in 1991, just several months after I had graduated high school.  She had shining, wild grey eyes, a tumbly mane of red irish curls, and a strong high-soprano singing voice that filled the classroom in a way that most 18-year-old voices could not.  I clearly remember the first time I ever heard her sing.  While most of us chose syrupy or showy musical theatre numbers to sing, she chose an Italian art song.  Our ears were pricked. I got to know her in that class casually, but because I was involved in the Musical Theatre tract in the theatre department, I did not see her very often outside of that particular class.  As luck would have it, the very next semester, she joined the ranks of us musical theatre folks, and I started seeing her around a lot more.  She was a five foot tall firecracker of a personality; energetic, strong, decisive, friendly, exuberant and confident.  She was the type of person that people wanted to get to know.  And if she wanted to get to know you, she would.  She was a living antidote to other people’s shyness.  To someone like myself, who tended toward cautiousness in relationships, and who had cultivated a certain amount of contentment in solitude, she was something quite different.  She seemed brave, and open and alive.  We became friends immediately.

The development in this friendship was due, in no small part, to our new proximity.  We began to have more classes together, we did a few shows together, but somehow, over the course of three or so years, we began to find a lot of joy and comfort in each other’s uncomplicated, easy presence.  We soon became close friends.  By 1994, we did everything together.  Even though I was unaware of any romantic feelings I may have been harboring for her, I knew this: there was no one I’d rather spend my time with.  She was interested in my music collection, she let me recommend things to her and talk endlessly (and almost certainly tediously) about why I loved certain kinds of film and music.  And she was there for me as I transitioned in out of a few romantic relationships that simply were not meant to be.  She listened with the patience of a saint, and advised and comforted when I needed it, and said nothing when there was nothing to be said.  She was the closest confident I had, and the best friend I’d had in a very, very long time.

Falling in love, really falling in love, is a long process.  Admiration, desire and attraction are all a part of it, but to fall in love is something that requires those fickle things and much more.  Falling in love is about the creation of a mutual storyline, and accepting that mutual storyline as the primary lens through which to view the world.  Some might say that it took me a long time to fall in love with this lady.  Perhaps I did.  But that’s how it happened.  It was our story.

I fell in love with this woman, finally and officially, after a long dinner and conversation at a TGI Fridays in Orlando, Florida.  My parents owned a timeshare in the Disney World area, and one year, my brother and I rented a week from them, and we brought friends with us from college.  When thinking about who to bring with me, I instantly thought of her.  There simply was no one else I wanted to send a week in Florida with.  A giant test of compatibility, I’ve always heard, is a couple’s ability to travel together.  A good, multi-day road trip can be a fantastic indicator of whether or not you are willing to put up with each other’s constant bullshit  for a lifetime.  We drove from Muncie, Indiana to Orlando, Florida with complete and total ease.  I still remember driving, open windows, her legs on the dashboard baking in the warming sun, the air flowing through the old car, smoking, singing, talking.

Because we were unrefined college kids from Indiana, we chose TGI Fridays for the first dinner in Florida.  The food was what is was, but free from the restraint of college life and responsibilities, feeling indulgent and particularly grown up, we talked endlessly about  “things that matter.”  She and I had always talked, deeply and honestly, but by the the end of this particular conversation, as I looked into those open irish eyes, I saw something unexpected, but perfectly clear.  My life.  By the end of that conversation, I realized, at 21, that this was the person who I needed in my life’s narrative.  This was the person with whom I wanted to create my life’s story.

And everything else fell into place.  We dated for just under a year before I proposed, officially.  We were married six months later.  When people would ask my wife why we didn’t wait a little longer she would always say “Wait?  Why wait?  When you know, you know.” And we knew.

August 19th, 1995.  We had an outdoor wedding in a garden in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  It rained, heavily, twenty minutes before the ceremony was scheduled to start.  But the sudden clouds and the rain cleared as quickly as they came.  It was 95 degrees outside, even at 5pm, and the rain brought with it a humidity that created a thick, rolling fog after it left.  For years, our friends who were there called our wedding “Brigadoon.”  Sixteen years later, I remember that weekend with the most visceral joy and fondness I have for any weekend of my entire life.  I was surrounded by my favorite people in the world, most of whom are still my favorite people in the world.

I remember putting on my cufflinks in my old bedroom in my parents house, and a song that I had never really paid much attention to came on the radio.  I will forever associate that song with that moment in the bedroom as I put the final touches on my tuxedo and prepared to step out into the new world and alter my life forever.  More than anything, in that moment, I wanted to be close to that woman.  As the unexpected song played in my old bedroom, I stood happily on the edge of this remarkable transition of life with out an ounce of trepidation.

An hour later she, my closest friend, walked down the stone garden path, bathed in the fog of eventide, clothed in radiant white, an inconceivably beautiful smile stretched across her youthful, hopeful face.  She walked towards me.  I reached out to her.  She took my hand …

And 16 years later, I’m still holding it.