A long, long time ago, I can still remember seeing that silver sports car sitting in the parking lot.
I had just gotten out of Politics of Poetry, a three-hour, monster class that finished at 8 p.m. It wasn’t a happy time in my life, as graduate school spawned record-high self-doubt in my brain, but I do remember feeling relief that the class was over for the week.
As I walked, I noticed it was suddenly spring, with cherry trees blooming and the evening silver with the dregs of daylight. I reached American University’s gravel parking lot at the edge of campus and then made my way to my trusty Ford Escort, for which I still have so much fondness. I opened the door to my car, sat inside it, looked out the front windshield. And that’s when I saw the silver sports car sitting directly in front of me.
It contained the man who would become my husband.
William had driven all the way from Kentucky to Washington, D.C., to surprise the heck out of little, ol’ me.
It was, and I’m sure always will be, the best surprise I ever experienced.
Later this month, William and I will celebrate our 10-year anniversary as husband and wife. I can honestly say it’s been a trip, dear readers, one that has sped along nearly as fast as that sports car, which he still has parked in the garage.
Along the way, Gabrielle grew up. We planted trees in our yard that now tower over us. We’ve renovated our home, practically from the studs. We’ve made friends. We’ve lost parents. We’ve hosted dinners and watched movies. We’ve talked for hours every single day. We’ve traveled. We’ve eaten.
My god, but we’ve eaten.
So much has happened that it often feels like I’m only capable of conceptualizing it as a giant clump, one that lives only as a whole instead of parts, so much so that it can, sometimes, be taken for granted.
But if I think back over 10 years, I see that certain days easily stick out, ones that further defined who we were and what our marriage meant.
There was the day that I was frantically running around the house throwing items in an overnight bag so I could return to the ICU, where William had been admitted for heart failure. I remember being in the pantry, for some reason, and realizing that every item in our home had a memory attached to it, as if an invisible tag, and that all of those memories amounted to one fact: that they all contained him at the heart of them.
I remember talking to William on the phone, in a strange booth at a hospital in Winnipeg, after my dad had his heart attack. I remember William’s voice, always deep but unusually soft that day since he already knew what I could not yet accept.
I remember the first day of our honeymoon, as we stepped on the airplane and the stewardess directed us left instead of right, William’s face as he watched me absorb what was happening, finally able to unveil the secret he’d planned months before.
I remember the day I had my first attempt at artificial insemination, and William asking if he could take a picture of the two Band-aids on my bum for posterity, so we could one day look back at it and remember that that’s how it had all begun.
I remember the day that Gabrielle got her driver’s license, and how I bawled as she drove away, literally watching her tether to us loosen, and William just quietly holding my hand as we followed behind her.
Togetherness is complicated. Sometimes I wonder if you get to know your partner more or less as time goes by. If you meet someone today, for example, do you know them more precisely because you learn who they are now instead of being addled by who they were 20 years before? Are we an amalgamation of our history or do we shed parts of ourselves as time goes by, silently replacing them with slightly different pieces and nuances, telling no one, not even ourselves? And the longer we’re with a partner, how much of ourselves do we wallpaper on to what we think he is, so that we cannot see him without seeing a version of ourselves reflected back at us?
Certainly, I’ve made mistakes. And worse, I probably won’t ever learn how to avoid them completely. I am not, alas, an easy-going girl.
But I know a few things.
I know I married the smartest, most hard-working person I’ve ever known.
I know that I’m the luckiest girl in the world that I met him at all, that that crazy, chance meeting where two people said hello and never said goodbye again could easily, so easily never have happened.
And I know that the only thing to do with that luck is to say thank you and cherish and honor what that day started and what is to come.
So, I take this opportunity in front of all of you — filled with gratitude, love and hope — to say happy anniversary to my one true love.
I love you completely, William Baker.