Saturday, July 17, 2004

The Scrambler

Five years.

Five whole years. Five long years.

And yet, five years that have passed all too quickly.

It’s a commonplace to refer to any tumultuous period of time, like a marriage or raising children, to a rollercoaster. It has its ups and its downs, patrons of this hoary cliché will tell you.

For my money, it’s been closer to that hilariously amusing (though often vomit inducing) funhouse ride, The Scrambler. You know the one. You sit in the car in your booth seat, the bar across your lap, and things begin spinning. You spin along with many others, your car hurtling at theirs, their cars hurtling at yours, you reach apogee then are snapped back into the mix.

Getting married scrambles everything in your life. All the pieces are still there, but they get mixed up, combined, shifted around, hurtled at you at top speeds. What seemed so important the year you got married is less so by the time you’ve been in it awhile. Things change. Your priorities realign themselves.

It’s the great experiment in growing up.

And we’ve been doing it for five whole years. Five long years. Five relatively short years. We’ve been doing it longer than I think most people at our wedding would have bet we could.

The summer we got engaged, the hit radio song was the cheesy "You’re Still the One" by Shania Twain. If you scanned the radio stations of all of midwest America, that song probably was playing at every minute of every hour of every day that summer. If you spent any time in a store of any kind, chances are you heard it on the muzak system. And every time you drove up from Dayton to visit me in Cleveland, it played on the radio; every time you drove home, it followed you from radio tower to radio tower like the memory of your visit; every time we had an argument and you stormed out to the driveway, you came back to the house laughing because as soon as you turned on your car, it was playing. Every time we kissed out in public, we knew the familiar strains of pop-country would come along to crack us up. It even dogged our steps in Canada. And yet, by some ill luck, some weird kind of luck, it became, sort of, our song that summer. The summer we got engaged.

The next summer, we got married. Rain hovered overhead looking to scare us. The historical castle we chose sat, decorated and waiting. My best man gave me the classic out, "Anytime you want to run, I’ll get the car…" The photographers hovered about, catching smiles and frowns and worried looks and laughs. The music started and I went inside. And you came down the antique stairs and into the room. And my heart honestly skipped its regularly scheduled beats. You were, you are, you’ll always be the most beautiful woman I know and in that one moment when I saw you walking into the room, I knew we’d made the right choice. (At least, I knew I’d made the right choice.) It was over before I knew it. Even now, my memories of that half-hour seem to end with your luminescent face as you walked into the room. They start up again somewhere outside, the air cool against my suddenly wet body.

The British Isles was where we spent another great summer. The last summer of traveling. We decided we’d make a good time of it. We saw everything we had time to see. London smashed expectations. Waking up to look out on Georgian fronted hotels. "Mind the gap." The pigeons in Trafalgar Square. The National Gallery’s sensually red Degas. The bus to Scotland, cramped and sleepy and the fear of almost losing me halfway there. Our rental car and its mystifying tape deck. The family castle and all the other castles with their flowers and gardens and the pink bathtub. The duvet at the bed and breakfast that was like sleeping under the earth itself. Seeing the Loch Ness Monster, for real. The apparently warlike kids of Liverpool who make piranhas look like show dogs. The tight, tight streets of Dublin and our next rental car. Clutching my arm as I leaned out for a picture at the Cliffs of Moher. Sheer terror going around the Ring of Kerry the other direction and Bog the Donkey and fries that I wanted then didn’t want, drunkenly marching off to nowhere in particular. Bunratty Castle and your excellent day, picking every thing we did with perfection and precision. Bloomsday as the biggest dud in all of Dublin. And the sad ferryboat taking us back to London where we knew our vacation ended.

The house. What can I say about that? Sometimes, the less said the better. Our millstone, our albatross, our cross. And little by little, our home. Our home. Our where the heart is four walls and roof over our heads. Where we spent the next summer getting pregnant amidst plaster, lathe, paint, caulking, electrical wires, plumber’s putty, skinned knuckles, frayed tempers, screaming fits, gallons of canned beer, and money money money slipping through our fingers.

By far the second best thing we did after getting married, without which we might not have gotten there. There. To the best thing that has happened to either one of us. Our daughter. Every second looking at her beautiful face is like seeing you the instant you walked into that castle and made my heart stop. She is the fulfillment of every promise made right there and then. She is the culmination of our trip to Ireland and Scotland, to your roots; she is the reason for our frantic labors on the house; she is the infinity beginning at the moment of our finite lives coming together. Made in one summer, held all the next, and unstoppable this year. She is our marriage incarnate, one piece from each heart joined together and put on two legs to run out into the world, all smiles and shrieks of delight. She is another woman put here to run my life, another girl who I will always want to talk with, always want to listen to, always want to hold.

She more than anyone, more than anything else, has scrambled us. We have been mixed up and crazy since she got here, and we have scrambled to keep up with her. She has grabbed both our hands and pulled us headlong into the next big change in our lives; she has given us meaning for all the times we wondered if we had any meaning at all.

Out of the first five years have come three people I probably wouldn’t have recognized on that hot summer day in July. We each went in as one person and we have come out five years later as three, each one of us incomplete without the other two mixed in. That one day spawned all this we see around us now, that one day gave birth to this whole world, the world we wake up in, the world we go to sleep in, and the world in which we hold on to each other with everything we’ve got. That day is today again.

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