Christmas was 8 days away. My new husband and I were on a secluded beach in Aruba. Tennessee was in the middle of a sloshy, wet winter and I wanted a warm destination for my first birthday as Mrs. Howard. One chilly morning before work, I stepped out of a steamy shower and found two tickets to Aruba with a yellow sticky note that read, “Your wish.”
Danny and I were married in July. Southern summer weddings are uncomfortably hot - even more so when the chapel by the lake isn’t air-conditioned. Even worse when my white dress was meant for a different season and a different fiancé. Oh my heavens, unclutch your pearls. I never walked down the aisle in that gown until I married Danny. I loved the dress as soon as I saw it so it stayed with me until I found the groom. Since we knew our vows would be exchanged in muggy conditions with at least 94% humidity, I requested a cold location for our honeymoon. He surprised me with perfection -- a 7-day cruise to Alaska.
A blue and white umbrella, matching lounge chairs and a finished Bloody Mary on the table between us set the stage for the grenade I was about to toss into my new husband’s lap. It was odd calling him my husband and I hadn’t quite adjusted to the moniker Mrs. Howard either. Danny had been my friend and boyfriend for what seemed like forever. Sometimes we acted like an old married couple even though only months had passed since July 8th.
I uncrossed my legs, leaned over on my right hip to face him and studied his profile. His eyes were closed behind sunglasses. I thought he could use more sunscreen on his nose and forehead. I nudged him with the pads of my fingers so that I could admire the fresh polish on the mani/pedi he’d scheduled for me at the resort spa. He turned and smiled a relaxed, sleepy grin as I pointed to the sunscreen. I wasn’t stalling. I didn’t need to work up the courage to talk with him. He was my best friend but I knew that what I had to say would destroy him.
Whenever Danny or the kids tell a story and they mention a guy’s name that hasn’t been previously introduced, we have an on-going inside joke. They’ll repeat the guy’s name -- pause -- look at me, then in a sarcastic higher pitched female tone say, “I had a boyfriend named, (fill in the blank) once.” It’s true. I dated a fair amount so when a guy’s name comes up, especially one I haven’t heard in awhile, I can’t help but say, “I went out with a “Bryan” or I dated a “Todd” once.” <Shrug> So what? I dated. A lot. It was hard for me to find the right guy but honestly, I wasn’t the right girl for any of the guys I dated either. My Dad must not have thought so either because when Danny asked him for his blessing on the proposal, my father asked him, "Do you have any indication she would say yes?" Maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t believe two people fit together like matching pieces but I think they should at least land somewhere in the same puzzle box. So before I said “I do” in 2000, I had mountains of open interviews, took quite a few applications and made every dating candidate take a test drive on my humor scale. Laughter is everything to me. The number of times I guffawed, wet my pants or found myself genuinely happy had a great deal to do with our relationship compatibility.
That’s why it was hard for me to look at my new husband relaxing on this perfect white sand beach - a million miles away from any troubles - and tell him my bad news. I studied his profile over my dark sunglasses, tilted my straw hat further back on my forehead and asked him for a divorce.
“She’s a runner, but she’s worth the race.”
Have you ever seen the movie Runaway Bride starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere? Maggie, played by Roberts is approaching her fourth attempt at completing a wedding ceremony. Maggie’s wedding day jitters get the best of her and she never actually marries any of her fiancés. Richard Gere is the reporter sent to the small town to cover the infamous runaway bride. You can assume how it all works out so now you’re the one shrugging and saying - Oh well, she just hadn’t found the right guy yet and Richard Gere was the one.
True. But that’s not everything.
She had to find herself first.
You see, Danny has always known who he was. Ever since his childhood, he knew he’d be in radio. Hours past his bedtime, he would press a transistor radio against his ear so he could listen to his favorite DJ -- John Records Landecker -- on WLS Chicago AM89. He was born with the radio bug and developed his voice for the industry. He's always been a devoted son and friend. He wanted to be a great father and would work hard to be a compassionate husband. Danny knew who he was, where he came from and what kind of man he wanted to be.
But marrying me was like being married to a different woman every four to six years. I had no idea who I was or who I wanted to be. My core values and spirituality were strong but everything else was a moving target. I kept changing. My hope was that I would grow up to be the person I was meant to be -- eventually. Marriage changed me. Motherhood changed me. Careers changed me. I couldn’t decide if I was wanted to use my strengths from my left brain or right brain since according to every brain test I’ve taken - the divide is equal. I am not the same woman he married and I won’t be the same one in a couple of years. But Danny is ever steady and calm. His boat is battered and tossed by my waves, but he’s a sturdy sailor and knows the ocean.
And here we are -- 18 years later -- still married to the guy I tried to set free only 6 months in. How many times have I’ve pulled away from him? Tugged on his heart to let me go? All the times I pushed him away when I got scared -- and felt like I was losing myself?
But one day, I stopped running away and ran back to him.
Something happened several years ago and our lives changed forever. I saw him differently. He was a man - more human and vulnerable than ever before destroyed by the pain inflicted by those closest to him. I held his shattered heart. I felt his wounds and they were greater than my own. His crumpled, broken soul needed a thin thread of strength to survive the next dawn. I offered all that I had left of my own. We persevered. We sat in the dark brokenness together and pieced and patched what was left. What was meant to break us made us stronger.
A lot of couples have ups and downs and yet they hang on until their ride has come to an end. But Danny and I do a lot of side-to-side and back and forth. Neither of us are dancers so it’s our own broken Tennessee Waltz. It’s our music and we’re the only ones who can hear it. We’re not a perfect couple with matching puzzle pieces. We’re a couple of imperfect people refusing to give up on each other. I plan to spend the years ahead of us convincing him that I may not be the same woman he married, but I’m better every year he loves me.
This is dedicated to the guy who was confident to let me run and dream and discover who I am.
I found the path and it leads back to us and I am better when I’m with you.
18 and counting.