Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What the heck is a Silver Anniversary?

Twenty-five years ago today, we were married in a candlelight ceremony that started way too late in the evening. Do you have any idea what time it gets dark in August? It was a different age. George H.W. Bush was president, but we had yet to engage in the Gulf Wars. Mark was driving a black Chevy Celebrity, which I hated. It was so big and boxy. I was driving a hand-me-down 1976 Buick Skylark that had passed from my grandmother to my parents to me. I was grateful for the car and had no complaints. It had a radio and AC, even if it did leak oil. At the time we got married, Mark was newly employed as a computer operator at Alumax. I had just come off a stint as a teaching assistant at PA Governor's School of the Arts, but had no other prospects, just a brand new BFA in Fine Arts. In August of 1990, we didn't have the Internet or email or cell phones or GPS, and I had given half the guests directions to the church which included a wrong turn. We didn't even have DVDs. We went to the movies or we rented video tapes at independently owned video stores. (Blockbuster didn't come to our area until later.) The number one movie in theaters was Ghost, but Dances with Wolves took home the trophy at the Academy Awards that year. Rent for our first apartment, just off the square in Lititz, was $400 a month, which included heat, electric, water, and trash. The U.S.S.R was still intact. Marriage existed only between one man and one woman, which we were--barely. I was 21, and Mark was 22.

As a bride, I wore an off-the-shoulder, ivory gown with a wreath headdress that I thought was timeless, but seems so dated now as we look at the photos. I remember that I picked out Mark's ivory dinner jacket by watching the Soap Opera Awards earlier that year. On the day we were married I had a headache from some questionable blue-green cocktails I had consumed the night before. I ate a hangover breakfast at Burger King and had the first mani/pedi of my life. After a night of barhopping, Mark played golf with his buddies and, not yet having a wife to badger him about sunscreen, got a nice sunburn that showed up great against his ivory dinner jacket in the wedding photos. We registered at Boscov's for a bunch of stuff we no longer own, save our china. Not having many vacation days to play with, we took a short camping trip to Chincoteague, VA, immediately after our wedding, and a more substantial honeymoon trip to Cancun the following year. Our wedding ceremony took place in the Lutheran church of my childhood. We had no intention of keeping the ties with that church after our wedding, but we had yet to find our church home, so we settled for the church we knew. I didn't want my dad to walk me down the aisle, but our minister counseled that this particular ritual represented parents "letting go" which finally convinced me to keep the tradition. I have no idea how it was that Mark's parents "let go" of him.

And so it was when we entered married life. At the time, it meant that my parents could no longer institute a curfew, which they had upheld in the days leading up to our wedding, and that I could park my car on Main Street in Lititz overnight without it being a scandal. I have said before that I got married primarily to be taken seriously as an adult. Not that I didn't love Mark and want to spend my life with him, just that the rush to get married took care of a few other pesky details as well. It wasn't as if I was jumping from one caretaker to another. I considered myself a feminist with enough independent tendencies to stake out my own territories in life. Mark and I were not a fixed unit, but a voluntary union of individuals. I hyphenated my last name not understanding what a pain in the butt it is to have two last names. Today, I would counsel my younger self to just keep my last name and forget the add-on. That, perhaps, comes with its own hurdles, but at least I would know where to find my file at the doctor's office. In spite of our feminist outlook, Mark and I adopted very traditional roles in our marriage. I cooked and sewed. He maintained the cars and the toolbox. We each did our own laundry.

After twenty-five years, the world has changed, the nature of marriage has changed, and we have changed along with it. We have had five different addresses, fourteen different cars, more job titles than I can reasonably count, three dogs, and two kids. We've gone through three mattresses (a fourth is desperately needed), five grills, four lawnmowers and I'm guessing eight televisions--but Mark could tell you for sure. I think we only ever bought two new computers. The rest were put together Frankenstein-style from parts that Mark acquired or bought. The first refrigerator we ever owned is currently my brother's beer fridge. Our first baby's crib had been passed down and used by six children before it fell apart. (No babies were injured.) We have been to 33 different states and five countries together. And Puerto Rico. We have killed a lot of houseplants.

And through all this, I'm not sure I understand any more about marriage than I did when we went into it.  I know it takes flexibility and a commitment to continuing on the path together. You need love, but you don't need the the consistently blissful kind of love. Sometimes love is a verb--a really hard verb that falls somewhere in the category between digging ditches and operating on brain cells. This country is going through a change in what it defines as marriage, but it isn't really a new definition for us. Early in our marriage, we joined the Unitarian Universalist church which, for as long as we were members, performed union ceremonies between same-sex partners. A marriage contract is as much business contract as it is anything else. I believe in divorce. I also believe in what Goldy Hawn has said about her non-marriage to Kurt Russell. "What I do like about the fact that we're not married is that when I wake up in the morning I really do wake up fresh and re-born every day. I know that I could walk out at any moment but we chose to be together." Does marriage keep us from recommitting to our unions each and every day? I don't know. If I believe in divorce and non-marriage, can I really say I believe in marriage? I don't know.

What I do know after being married to Mark for twenty-five years: I love this man, physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Some days more than others. I feel secure maneuvering through the world with him. He has my back, and I have his. I choose him every day. He tests me in every way possible. I am not always comfortable with that. I like who I am when I am with him most of the time. I know I have left parts of myself undeveloped or underdeveloped because he has certain skills and has always been a part of my adult life. I am not sure how I feel about that. I respect Mark as a parent. I am thankful that he was my partner through the main parenting years. (I realize we aren't quite finished yet--and may never be.) I know that we are great traveling partners. Is that a tell for the rest of it? I am glad to navigate this tricky, ever-changing world with someone who is so adept at change and dealing with challenges. If I had to break up the roles, I would say that I am the roots of the operation and he is the wings. And I know, we still have more to teach each other.

I don't think I will ever completely figure out what marriage is exactly or if we are doing it correctly. It's okay. We know how to file our taxes and click off the appropriate boxes when the world makes us declare ourselves. I can live with that. It isn't important what everyone else thinks marriage should or should not be. It only matters that we have agreed to walk this path together and will do so for the foreseeable future. And this silver anniversary thing? Silver: a shiny metal that give me a good excuse to reflect back over many years.

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