The rest of the world was preparing for Christmas. I woke on the sofa in our living room after a night spent binge-watching Netflix the night before. On one side of the sofa was the twinkling of the lights of our Christmas tree, and on the other side was John, also asleep on the loveseat for the same reason as I was.
Our thirteenth anniversary.
And I just stared at him for a while without his knowledge. I never took note of how his hair has started to thin at his hairline just a bit. I could see that the way his eyes have started to crinkle in the periphery when he smiles completely go away when he sleeps. He has Evan’s and Zach’s dark lashes, that curling, dark fringe women buy high-end mascara to achieve.
I found myself doing what I always do at any milestone: reflecting back. What our thirteenth year of marriage has brought us. It was just a few short months ago that I stood there with all of my medical knowledge flooding my brain while the cardiologist told us what he had found. When he said those words to me: “He really should have open-heart surgery, but my colleagues and I just do not think he would have survived long enough to get the blood thinners out of his system first.” He used my husband’s name and “survive” in the same sentence. And more than anything, I was afraid of that combination. For the first time in our marriage, John became a mere mortal like the rest of us and the idea that there will come a time when one of us will die entered my mind. That’s been hard to deal with from that day and beyond.
And the day they told us that some weird symptoms Evan was having were signs of a brain tumor. We each dealt with it in our own way—he with blind optimism and me with incessant tears— but we did it together. We seamlessly kicked into action as a team to get Evan the imaging studies, the appointments with specialists, and anything else we needed. And when Evan wasn’t looking, we held onto each other and we got through it to the news that Evan was fine.
He finished school this year. He belittles that in the face of what I accomplished this year. But it is what he wanted and he did it on his terms. He has spent years taking a class here or there, in the background while I was in the foreground doing something of my own. And he has started and stopped his classes with no complaints and no questions asked, based on what I was doing or had planned. Whenever it just wasn’t in the cards for both of us to be in school at the same time, he was always the one to drop out or put his on hold. He never would let me make that sacrifice.
And my MBA. Oh, John, my MBA. His MBA. The man has tirelessly chauffeured me around from this class and that class, this meeting and that meeting. he has rubbed my back when I studied and my shoulders were holding just too much tension. He has awakened from a dead sleep to run to the nearest 24-hour store when the printer ran out of ink for that big paper that was due in the morning. My favorite was, while I was pulling an all-nighter in preparation for my huge finance final at the end and my financial calculator died, he returned with both the replacement and a box of my favorite chocolates. And wasn’t it him, all of those years ago, who made that now-famous (in this family, anyway) statement to his dean? “My wife is too smart. What can I do to help her get back into school?” He saw in me what my mom once saw, what I had stopped seeing in myself. What I had given up on.
Those were some of the big things. In between, there were a million little things. And our marriage isn’t perfect. He pisses me off at times, breaks my heart at others. And at the end of each year, in the mashup of Christmas, our anniversary, New Years, and my birthday, I always wish for us to have an easier year next year. This year was no different. But the fact remains that we have been together long enough that our lives have become this intricately-woven tapestry, and you simply can no longer tell where his thread ends and mine begins. He understands me, and I understand him. We belong together. We will get through the bad, the trying, and will celebrate the good together. I cannot live without him.
Here’s to another year. And all it brings us.