Today is my fourteenth wedding anniversary. My husband and I are soon coming up on a time when we have been married longer than we were ever single. We got married at 19. We were utter babies and very few dollars to our name. However, we had a lot of love and commitment and I’m still convinced nothing would have been easier if we had waited.
Both of us were forced to grow up quick. I was the oldest of four kids and the child of a single mother. We lived in utter poverty and would have had nothing without public assistance, churches, and the unfailing aid of friends. My mother cleaned houses and after awhile there were a few businesses and doctor’s offices she cleaned in the evenings. I often made dinners, did homework help, baths, and bedtime for my siblings. I had known instability and insecurity in life. I had seen real ugliness. And I knew real happiness when it was in front of me.
My husband’s mother died when he was eight years old. His grieving father focused on work to cope. My sister in law is sixteen years older than my husband and had just started a family of her own. My husband’s aunts lived far away. Eventually, my father in law remarried for a few years. Before that marriage and again after it, my husband was often alone and raising himself. I can’t say I knew any other sixteen year old boys who could cook their own dinner.
From our age, you would probably assume we were high school sweethearts, but we weren’t. We did go to the same high school. Well, I moved to it when I was fifteen. He was in band and I was in chorus, so we were in the same “orbit” but didn’t have any classes together that first year. The next year, I have one vague memory of him as the band and chorus classes had a group trip to Universal Studios in Florida.
At the end of that year, however, there was an event which I clearly recall. There was a banquet for the fine arts classes at the end of term. The graduating seniors gave what they called superlatives to the junior class. Just like one would find in a yearbook, there were things like “Most likely to…” My husband won an award for “most likely to quit the football team to rejoin the band.” In a world where it seemed everyone would rather be the jock than the nerd, my interest was piqued. However, I was in my Willoughby Phase and summer was starting. It was just something that interested me, nothing that I thought about romantically.
When school started again, my Willoughby had proved himself which would have usually made me ripe for some rebound interest. Instead, my personal life came to an absolute head as my brother’s drug addiction (he was only fifteen) came crashing down around us. I remember my senior year of high school as one in which I tried so hard to keep up the appearance that everything was fine and under control while it felt like my world was ending. I took two AP level classes that year–which was a lot for my school. We only offered five (one was available junior year only) and it was strongly discouraged to take more than one. There were times when I had been up all night as my brother raged in the house and I had to walk to the local 7-11 to get the police because it was faster than calling 911. There was even a time when I couldn’t take it anymore and walked several miles to my mom’s friend’s house. Lizzy Bennet’s three miles in muddy petticoats has nothing on me in high heel boots in below freezing weather with a thin coat and it being after midnight. I finished the school year by staying at that friend’s house. It was arranged for me to visit family in Florida for the summer. I couldn’t wait to start college in the fall. I just wanted to start my adult life. Romance was the last thing on my mind.
Throughout the year, I started to notice the man who became my husband seemed interested in me. However, he hardly ever spoke to me. Oh, I have a few memories. There was the time he told me that he (and a friend!! Mustn’t forget the wingman who was at his side) voted me prettiest eyes and smile for the yearbook. He ran away before I could do so much as gape. There was the time he donated blood for part of our AP Government class. He’s deathly afraid of needles. By the end of the day, as most of us music nerds hung out in the band room after school, he was looking pretty pale. I offered him my leftover lunch which seemed to perk him up. Oh, there was the hug he asked for on Senior Night of marching band (I was in the band too by then). I remember the odd feeling of jealousy as I watched a HAREM (yes, an actual harem) of girls come his locks into these ridiculous puffy balls (and not like the now “cool” man bun) to fit under his marching band hat. Most importantly, there was the time he left his friends to come and talk to me as I sat alone on a bench waiting for my mother. I was reading A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks. He happily let me gab about the book.
As time drew on, I thought I could tell he was interested in me. I even journaled about it in my AP English notebook. I wasn’t sure if I should make the first move or if I should even go out with him. I wasn’t sure I wanted anything serious. I wasn’t sure if he was anything like the type that I was interested in (thank heavens not since Willoughbys aren’t really a good type to have). The teacher encouraged me to just try one date. It seems so basic now! Hahaha. Oh to be seventeen again!
I started trying to drop hints. I would go to him for homework help. I would talk about action movies playing and ask if he was interested in seeing them. Then there was my very own Mr. Collins who would just not take a hint. Saying no to an underclassman asking me to prom (when he couldn’t attend on his own) would probably mean I’m also not interested in dating him in any other fashion, right? However, Mr. Collins was a bit persistent and I can’t blame him for that. I wasn’t ever afraid of him, but I did see the possibility to ask a big, tall guy to walk me to class. It worked like a charm in getting Mr. Collins to leave me alone. However, the big, tall guy still didn’t ask me out. Sigh.
Finally, he asked me to prom. Unfortunately, I had other plans and had to say no. He ran away before I could say more. I agonized all weekend long. When we returned to school, I invited him to a church banquet that was held in honor of the graduating seniors each year. That year, I was the only senior, so it was really just for me. He said yes. A few days later, we planned to talk on the phone to arrange things. He never called. Then I tried calling him and got no answer. I tried several times over the weekend. I thought he lost interest! I was spitting mad by the time I saw him again. It turns out, his grandfather had died. Thank goodness I had minded my tongue.
We finally talked on the phone and I mentioned upcoming plans with a friend to go to a place with mini golf, go karts, batting cages, and some arcade games. He asked if he could come. In hindsight, I should have probably run that by my friend who suddenly became the third wheel. Oops! He beat the pants off us in mini golf and air hockey, although he did try to make it even by getting on his knees. He’s over a foot taller than me, so that made us nearly even height.
A few days later was our official first date. You know…if it can be a first date surrounded by 250 people and nearly all of them strangers to him. Now, I appreciate how nervous he must have been but was clueless to it then. After the banquet, a friend had an “after party” sort of thing at her house. However, we mostly split up between our friends. More oops. However, we did get a private good bye (just a platonic hug–or at least platonic on my side).
The next day, I flew to Florida for the summer. He called me every day. He emailed me several times a day. He even called me the day he got his wisdom teeth cut out and he was not supposed to be talking. We talked about everything. I learned he believed in ghosts. His favorite color was hunter green. One of his favorite subjects in history was the Titanic. He knew far more about the American Civil War than our teacher did. He opened my eyes to a different point of view on many things.
It was lovely to get to know him long distance. By the time I returned to Virginia in mid-August, though, I was ready to get to know him in person. We went on a date or two before I was invited back to his house. There was a moment where I was on his porch while he had gone inside for a moment. He came back out and called my name and I swear, the world stopped for a minute. I think I knew I was in love then. It was like I wanted to hear him say my name for the rest of my life.
Oh, but I couldn’t admit it was love then. I couldn’t TRUST. We were inseprable from about that time onward, but I held out. He was ready to say the big L word long before me. I told him I had been hurt before. I told him I couldn’t trust. Bless the man for being patient with me. Whenever he wanted to say he loved me but knew I wasn’t ready to hear it, he would just squeeze my hand.
I suppose most would say I got over that fear pretty fast. By the end of September I was willing to say I loved him and by the middle of November we were officially engaged. At the time, though, it felt like forever as I tried to work past my reasons for distrust.
His family totally disapproved of the engagement and me in particular. What annoyed us the most is the very people who made him become an adult long before his years, suddenly wanted to treat him like a child. I suppose I understand it all more now. I surely hope my children are not mature enough to get married at 19. I hope they haven’t had to be adults in children’s bodies for years by the time they reach a legal age.
Our thirteen month engagement was not without difficulties. Neither has our fourteen year marriage. I thought I loved him when I walked down that aisle. I thought I knew we would handle anything life threw at us and that I could always count on him. Now, I truly know I can. He has seen me at my absolute worst. He has been the calm in my storm. He has held me when I was lonely and broken, wiped my tears when I cried whether he understood them or not. I could describe the ways I have born his ego or moods but it is nothing compared to what he has done for me.
When we married, I thought he was Mr. Darcy. Now, I see shades of Mr. Knightley. He is far wiser than me. I see bits of Mr. Tilney. He can always make me laugh. He is my Colonel Brandon after Willoughby broke my heart. There are pieces of Edward Ferrars and his quiet reserve. Like Edmund, he has been my champion when others have not understood or respected me. Just as Captain Wentworth proved his enduring love for Anne, so has my husband proven his love for me.
I’m a very blessed lady and know that I have the best man out there. Neither one of us are perfect, but we make it work. Of all the love stories I have written, my favorite is my own. My perfect Jane Austen hero is my husband, a combination of all of them.