Tuesday, August 2, 2005

marriage, before and after

Here's a piece I wrote called "Marriage: Before and After" that has just been included in Catapult's latest issue entitled "One Flesh". This edition of this excellent online journal highlights aspects of marriage. My article is simply recollections on my relationship with Heather before our wedding day, on our wedding day and after. Check out Catapult for the other articles. It's worth a look.

I hope you enjoy this and that it helps you in some way.


Marriage: Before and After

December 1988

“She would never be interested in a guy like me. No girl would be interested in a guy like me. So, what’s the use?”

I had gotten to the point where I had to talk to her about our relationship. I had thought about her incessantly over the Thanksgiving school break. Meanwhile, she went gallivanting off to Chicago with a couple friends from high school. One of them, in particular, happened to be an “on again-off again boyfriend” type of person, so that made me wonder what she was up to.

I don’t know how this happened, but either this was jealousy or love. I guess the two could feel pretty similar.

All I know is: when she came back from her trip I ached to tell her how I felt. That night, as I broached the subject of becoming more than “just friends”, I felt sure my request would be denied much like a prisoner before a parole board must feel. “Why bother asking? I’m doomed.”

In the new year (after Christmas break), she came back from her home in Ecuador with matching sweaters. One for me and one for her. I think we still have them.

Summer 1989

I went to Ecuador to see where Heather grew up and to meet her parents and brother.

Heather’s mom was named Joy. She had cancer and didn’t complain once. She was inspiring.

Heather’s dad was named Ken. He was confident and drove on narrow mountain roads like James Bond. He was intimidating.

Heather’s brother was named Scott. He got mad when I beat him at squash and basketball. He was irritating.

Some time during that trip, Heather’s dad helped me purchase two18 karat gold wedding bands and Heather’s engagement ring. Afterwards, I asked him for his permission to marry his daughter. He said, “Well, I guess if you didn’t have my permission, I wouldn’t have helped you buy those rings, right?”

I wasn’t sure how to respond to that.

During that visit, he also took me to the emergency room. That Sunday I had consumed large amounts of ice cream, popcorn, greasy chicken and Coca Cola. I suspect it was around midnight (when he had cleaned out the fifth bucket of my vomit) that he decided it was time to take me to the hospital to get a shot to stop the churning. By the time we got there, my stomach had settled. And he was not upset with me at all.

I guess that meant I had his permission to marry his daughter.

November 1989

Heather made me sweat only a year before when she took her trip to Chicago, so I would make her sweat for the proposal.

I had reserved a room on the college campus and had set up “stations” around the room that we would visit before coming to the main attraction in the center of the room (where I would get down on one knee and propose to her).

I actually thought the “stations” idea was a good one, believe it or not. If it indeed turned out “good”, it was because Heather is an incredibly gracious and patient person.

When we started the first of, oh, let’s say…12 stations…she was anxious to get to the good part. But, as we went along she contented herself to wait for the actual proposal.

We had fondu after Heather said “yes”. The room looked like it had been designed in the 70’s. We had no idea how unfashionable we were.

Spring 1991

We were set to get married that summer, but it almost didn’t happen. I was beginning to fall for another girl and, for some reason, felt “stifled”. (Just like a guy, eh?) Heather suddenly found herself powerless to do anything. She was sure she wanted to marry me, but I was not so sure I wanted to marry her.

I made her cry. That’s the main thing I remember from our reckoning. I had seen her cry in the past, but I had never been the cause of it before.

In spite of her tears, I continued acting like a jerk: I let her know I would tell her when I had “made up my mind” about the wedding.

Fortunately, God brought me to my senses. I saw how good Heather was for me. I couldn’t imagine living my life without her.

I still can’t.

August 1991

Everyone told Heather she would burst out in tears during the wedding ceremony. She didn’t. She just kept beaming.

Her mother Joy had died about a year and a half earlier, but she was present in various ways: Joy’s picture was on the platform, Heather was wearing a dress Joy had helped her pick out, and when her father was asked, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” he responded: “Her mother and I do.”

I sang a solo to Heather during the ceremony. I was flat and wished I hadn’t done it. Heather was glad I did.

After the wedding reception, we drove away in a car that Heather’s dad let us use for the honeymoon. Heather promptly started bawling. And they weren’t what one would call “happy tears.”

Year One

We hardly saw each other. I was still going to school and was hired as an assistant drama director at our college. This meant Heather would drop me off in the morning at around 8 and then pick me up that night at around 10. In the mean time, she worked as a secretary at the Billy Graham Association in downtown Minneapolis.

Often, we were so tired at the end of the day, we were forced to choose between one of two options: make love or eat.

That year…

I tried to put together a waterbed with a hardwood frame without the benefit of a drill. I was still attending a Christian college, and was tempted to curse, but I do believe I upheld the covenant I made with the school to conduct myself in a godly manner.

Heather threw a surprise birthday party for me. I didn’t know there were people in the apartment, because they were hiding in my bedroom, waiting for me to come to the back of our home. While they waited quietly, I took a leak in the bathroom with the door open. Heather was begging God I would not step out of the toilet in my “birthday suit.”

It started snowing on Halloween and didn’t stop until November 2. Opening night of “Music Man” was cancelled because of it, but no matter: we got stuck in our apartment with our drama friends. We played games and drank cocoa.

Christmas: we had no tree and no lights until some friends loaned us some extra stuff they had laying around the house. Under the tree, we had six little gifts that totaled no more than 30 dollars altogether. We tried going to midnight mass in an attempt to “start our own traditions”, thinking we’d enjoy it. We didn’t. We cooked a perfect Christmas Eve dinner (complete with turkey, stuffing, and potatoes), but we totally botched breakfast on Christmas morning. Who woulda thunk. Our quiche overflowed but “our cup ranneth over.”

Flash forward

Before leaving Barcelona in May 2001, we had...
-almost given up on having children of our own (after “trying” for over two years).
-worked for a “pastor from hell” in I-won’t-say-where (in case he’s reading this).
-escaped to live in the basement of my father-in-law’s house in Colorado.
-almost given up on finding a mission agency who would take us.
-been told by a psychologist that we needed to learn to fight more.
-discovered what it meant to live together yet all alone.

As a missionary, I had come to doubt my faith. At one point I lay awake in the middle of the night, wondering if there really was a God. I withdrew from my wife.

I’m not sure how we got through it, but we did. I guess you could say it was by sheer grace. Once again, God had saved me from pushing away the one person in my life who, without a doubt, keeps me sane.

When we moved to Madrid, Heather sensed I was withdrawing again. This time, she recognized the warning signs and spoke to me about it early on. A cycle of avoidance had finally been broken.

We fight more often now. At times, it’s even beginning to feel okay.

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