Death is a son-of-a-bitch
TUESDAY, September 7 – Was our wedding day the happiest day of my life, as romantic souls insist? No, that honor was reserved for the day our oldest son was born, followed a nanosecond later by the moment our youngest son first saw the light of day.
Our wedding day was special, of course, attended by so many friends and family members who had travelled to the States especially for us in order to witness our exchange of solemn vows. On a Saturday in 1996 in a Catholic chapel in Princeton, Jenn (in a clear voice and self-assured) and I (in a voice strangled by emotion) spoke the following words:
I take you for my lawful spouse, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.’
‘Until death do us part.’ And then the groom was permitted to kiss his bride. It was a traditional service. We opted for a Catholic ceremony, in deference to the faith of our parents, but also because we wanted to lend a spiritual touch to this festive day.
The event followed American tradition: reception and dinner in a restaurant, followed by the opening dance and then drinks in abundance. Jenn and I had rehearsed a tango which, true to tradition, went wrong. We had to start over twice before I succeeded in leading my brand-new bride around the dance floor. Sheer hell.
Our anniversary didn’t mean a great deal to me. Just one of those obligatory events, a tribute to the ‘happiest day of our lives’, when the husband is expected to come home with flowers or celebrate the occasion with a lunch or dinner at some romantic venue.
Women see all this in a different light, and Jennifer was no different. So we always went out for dinner, to a restaurant we didn’t usually frequent. I have a special recollection of our tenth anniversary, because of the news that was about to break. We were living in London and later that day Tony Blair would formally confirm that he was resigning as British Prime Minister. We had lunch reservations at one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants. I had no choice, and with a grand gesture I turned off my cell phone. Not on vibrate mode, but completely off. The foreign correspondent was temporarily incommunicado. Looking back, a trifle melodramatic.
In any case, each anniversary was well and truly celebrated: we made time for each other, dressed to the nines, and dined in top-flight restaurants. A glass of champagne and a bit of reflection on the past year were a traditional part of the celebration.
I found the letter we wrote each other, in which we looked forward ten years, full of plans and aspirations. She wrote: ‘In ten years, we’ll be drinking coffee in a pastry shop in PARIS, while Sander and Eamonn think they are very cool sitting at another table all by themselves trying to order beer (Sander) and speak French with the waitress (Eamonn).’
My future with Jenn: ‘In ten years, we’ll be living in the Hudson Valley, working from home, saving money for that Bed & Breakfast we’re opening in twenty years.’
I also stumbled upon the card that Jennifer wrote last year.
Thirteen years ago, Hurricane Fran blew through overnight, and in the morning the sky was dazzling blue and swept clear of clouds. It was hot, and muggy, and our friends were there.
We have dwelt in a lot of ongoing turbulence over the years. Today, the sky is blue, and we are here.
Sometimes we find ourselves choosing the same card. Or agreeing on the same place to live. Surprising, and yet not.
Let us not want more than this: accepting fully what the other can give. Unreservedly.
When we are content, then we have enough.
The message was obvious. Although here and there it is a bit cryptic, but clear enough for the both of us. We realized how deep our love was anchored, but also the precipices we had conquered and the deep valleys we had crossed. A year ago was thirteen years into our marriage and almost eighteen years since we met and we still knew the value of our relationship.
We loved each other, no matter how you looked at it and in spite of all sorts of events that are no longer relevant. Death has separated us. Death is a son-of-a-bitch.