On 19 Years of Marriage

On the occasion of my 19th wedding anniversary, I would like to give thanks to my vacuum cleaner, a wedding gift from 1990, which still works- even if it is much shabbier looking than it once was… just like a couple I know ☺

I would also like to give attention to the number 9 because that couple’s 19th anniversary falls on May 19 in this year, 2009. That’s a lot of nines for Casey and me! I’ve been thinking about it for months now- most likely nine of them.

In my mother’s tarot, 9, is “the Hermit,” highlighted by this quote,  “The finest thing in the world is knowing how to belong to oneself.”

This isn’t the most “romantic” sentiment for an anniversary, but it’s “right on” when it comes to a healthy relationship.

It is this self-knowing, fumbling its expression in our togetherness, that defines my young, but seasoned marriage as it matures and regresses, withers and blossoms, dances and fades.

The “Hermit” year is considered one of completion, introspection and space– which might explain why my original idea of a big celebration on May 19, 2009 at 19:00 (“army” time to keep the 9s) didn’t seem to flow when the time came- particularly since I never know whether Casey or I will be dancing or fading on any given occasion. And given that May 19 falls on a Tuesday- not exactly a party day.

And yet, there are many other 9 associations to consider– like the number of lives a cat has, and “the whole nine yards,” and “cloud nine,” or “dressed to the nines” and the nine months of pregnancy.

Now seems like a good time for me to pause and give a nod to the 9 bridesmaids of my wedding party, most of whom were my younger sisters- which reminds me that I am, in fact, one of nine children, something I didn’t learn until I was 19.

This segues nicely into my current writing project, a memoir (go figure!) entitled, “19” which leads me to consider that it is the number “19” that I should be exploring.

19 is the number for the Sun, representing the principle of collaboration, teamwork, partnership and co-operation. Again, not very sexy, but our 19 years of marital adventure are rooted in partnership for sure- with deep gratitude.

Mother’s tarot aside, I don’t know how we got this far inside this institution. It was Casey’s idea in the first place. The thought of marriage gave me sweaty palms. I finally made peace with it by realizing that my fear provided just the “twist” I needed to swallow the idea of “forever”. Since 50% of marriages fail, I resolved to think of my wedding day commitment as a day-to-day one rather a lifetime proposal.

I started writing a handful of years before I met Casey, and by the time I opened my 19th journal, we were backpacking through Europe on our honeymoon in the summer of 1990.  While reading through old journals for my memoir project, I have that classic thought about us as a couple: “How did we make it?” This visitation on our past helps put things in perspective.  While we have deep appreciation for the fire of our early days, Casey and I are both relieved to be here now without the personal struggles of youth.

At this point, I think I’ve excavated all the 9 and 19 relationships that I can, and despite their great relativity, neither captures the essence of our marriage.

In desire of something sexier or at least more soulful, I return to my mother’s tarot and search until I decide upon the number: 0. Not zero, as in nothing, but zero, as in The Fool, which celebrates the state of ecstasy and wonder and tell us, “Fear Not. What is not real, never was and never will be. What is, always was and cannot be destroyed.”

After 19 years of marriage, I wonder what of Casey and me is “real”? I look back to the very first moment our eyes caught… a moment that brought us together as bodies and souls and personalities.   A quarter of a century later, and my sense of this energy is more spherical than linear- a round, global mass of past and future, love and resentment, separation and togetherness… and the dance goes on.

I can no more say that this relationship ends “here” than I can say it began “there.” I know that no matter where time takes us, Casey and I will always be a part of each other in space and story and essence.

Nineteen years ago this May, my groom arrived hungover with broken blood vessels circling his eyes from a night of vomiting. In that moment at the church, I both loved and detested my husband to be, but there was no turning back- our ball of energy had already been set it motion.

My uncle Pastor preached about loving and accepting each other in our darkest, ugliest moments. It seemed a strange choice of sermons for a wedding day, but it was glaringly relevant.

The minister of my Sunday school days was with us as well and after our vows, he had the entire gathering stand up and take hands to form a circle of 200, connected to our betrothal.  On the spot, he had them each promise to be there with us through good times and bad.

I certainly can’t offer gratitude for the vacuum cleaner without thanking all those who stood in that circle 19 years ago- and all those who stand there now- and all those who will walk with us into the day by day of our future- and then, all those who came long before us and all those who will come long after our time on this earth has ended.

Beside our marriage bed these 19 years is a wedding prayer that reads, “In joining your lives together may you be granted the awareness to live each day with the knowledge that there is no promise of tomorrow on this earth.”

Our dear friend “Joy” is living this awareness in “real” time. A few weeks ago, her husband Steve had a heart attack and died just after reading a bedtime story to their son Seth. At age 2, Seth is still waiting for daddy to come home while 4 year old Lucas simply asks, “Why?” and 8 year old Molly cries herself to sleep; and our friend Joy suddenly finds herself without her partner of 19 years.

In her eyes, I can see that bald reality that there IS no promise of tomorrow on this earth; And yet we live our lives- or rather we don’t “LIVE” our lives- aligned with this truth.

How do we keep such preciousness ALIVE in our day-to-day world? How does a marriage include partnership and self-knowing while all the time renewing the vital ALIVENESS in the gift of love?

This is not a question that took me 19 years to ask. It was there on my wedding day, chosen in the lyrics of this song,

“If it’s magic … Then with it why aren’t we as careful… As making sure we dress in style…  Posing pictures with a smile…  Keeping danger from a child?”

One of the most precious gifts of my relationship with Casey has been “ease”.  It wasn’t until we became parents that we began to know what it meant when people said, “Relationships take work.” I wish they had been more specific.

18 months into parenting, we opened our weary eyes to find that there was nothing left “alive” between us. It was a sobering time, and it made us wonder how any marriage could survive when our blissful one could be  so covertly devastated.

I began to liken marital health to lung cancer. It too had no outward symptoms until the last stages. “Start spending time together now,” I’d caution new parents, “Before you realize you need it.”

I’m embarrassed to admit that last May was the first time that Casey and I did the “work” of getting away for a weekend alone since becoming parents thirteen years ago. Ironically that long-awaited getaway was flanked with crisis.

Casey’s elderly father was very sick and the closer we go to our trip, the worse his condition became. We cancelled our plans to Maine and stayed locally in the event we needed to make a sudden trip home to New Jersey.

At this same time, Casey was in the throws of interviewing for a teaching position in our town. His second interview was the week of our anniversary and our entire family was beside ourselves with joy and anticipation.  We would all be together at one school.

The morning of our departure, Casey received a phone call with the crushing news that someone else had been offered the position. We drove out of Marlboro in tears and our weekend away together was spent in the depth of grief and worry and confusion- about work, about belonging, about parents and about life.

Through it all, Casey came to the realization that none of it really mattered as much as the gift of our love. I remember exactly where we were when he shared that clarity.

That night, we soaked our pain in a Jacuzzi tub and then crawled into a luxurious bed to watch separate movies on our laptops. Casey needed bald “humor” and I wanted “romance.”

“We can’t do this on our anniversary,” he said, offering to watch the movie I had chosen.  I shared his concern for the obvious disconnect, but then shared a revelation. “Casey, we’ve been together longer than most couples we know, “ I said, “I think we get to start making the rules.”

When we returned home two days later, we were steeped in appreciation for what we had created in a lifetime together. This sustained us through the loss of Casey’s father and the loss of a job and many more months without one.

Almost a full year later and there are no plans to go away for our anniversary and no funds to manage it. With a new job and a contract for the fall, there is the promise of stability, but we don’t feel it. Casey has begun the brave but fumbling ascent into the work of mid-life and I have finally succumbed to the calling of full-time writing.

Though I’ve tried, I can’t find the solid ground upon which to celebrate our 19th. And yet, there is great hope in this year of 2009, for what lies beneath us is fertile and alive.

And that’s so much sexier than stability.

Happy Beltane all… Wishing you green and fertile relationships with the land, your spirit and each other!

Kelly Salasin, May 1, 2009

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One thought on “On 19 Years of Marriage

  1. This is so poignant and perfectly sums up a 19 yr marriage. I thank you so much for your insight! This is what great writing means to me and you are a great writer.

    Like

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