Day 41: Astonished

May 7, 2020

I really hate this damn virus. But it gave us the best anniversary we’ve ever had.

I’d been mourning the romantic trip we’d planned to take at the end of last month, when our daughter was supposed to be away at Calculus Camp and our boys would be, as we thought they would be for the foreseeable future, off at college.

Of course, that didn’t happen.

What happened instead was even better: we had all three kids home with us for our 25th wedding anniversary.

I don’t know about you, but when I had kids, this was the dream — to create a new family that I actually enjoyed spending time with. That’s not how it always went for many years. Individually, each child has been a joy, but together they would wear me down to a nub. This one needed this and this one needed that. Someone hit someone. Someone broke something. Someone COULD NOT COPE.

Sometimes I’d pass a mirror, see my reflection, and startle. I was still there. I’d almost forgotten about my own existence.

Other times I’d crumple in despair, wondering who I’d become and what, if anything, would emerge when this never-ending storm finally passed through my life.

Being married in those days was like reaching out in the dark, feeling for his hand, getting maybe his elbow or his shoulder, and thinking, “Right, okay, thank God you’re still there.” Or it was fighting about who should do what and whose days were worse and who was more tired and who was more worn out — then taking a deep breath, and remembering we were both trying our best, in our different ways.

This quarantine has not been easy on our kids. Each one has struggled in his or her own way. But the kids have been easy on us. Not just easy. They have been a joy, individually and collectively. (I know this isn’t the case for many people. All I can say is — I feel you. Also — it’s not your fault.)

So that is the very best, completely unexpected part of our anniversary. They are home, and we love having them here.

And that would have been more than enough. But there was more.

No, the kids did not make us dinner. Did you think I raised saints?

I made dinner — grilled pork tenderloin, roasted rosemary potatoes and sauteed kale with lemon juice and olive oil. I was all ready to serve it, too, at 6:55 p.m., but my husband was out on one of his walks (he’s mostly in motion), so I lay down on the living room couch and started scrolling through Facebook while I waited for him to get back.

Our friend Glen had sent us a Flintstones video of Fred and friends singing Wilma “Happy Anniversary,” so I was watching that, remembering how much I loved The Flintstones, when I started to hear all this noise on the street outside. There were people yelling and horns honking. I was annoyed, because whoever was doing what, it was interfering with my Flintstones song. Then my daughter, standing at the front door, said, “Mom? Do you want to come here?”

I walked out the front door and there was my husband coming up the driveway and there were some of our best friends on the street, some on foot, some in cars, yelling “Happy Anniversary!” They were the ones honking horns and banging pans, and they were doing it for us.

I asked Bill twice if he organized it, because I couldn’t imagine how else it occurred, but he kept saying no. There were friends from our neighborhood and friends from our temple, and one or two friends who didn’t fit either description. It was astonishing. It took me five full minutes just to process what I was seeing.

It turned out it was the work of my dear friend Orley, whom I met back in 1989 when I spent a semester studying abroad in England. Orley really deserves a blog post of her own sometime, so let me just say for now that I defy anyone to find a better friend than her. My life would not be as good without her in it.

Also. There was Melissa poking through her minivan’s sunroof with a Happy Anniversary sign. There was Paul with his little white dog. There was Melanie with a silver pom-pom and her husband Peter with his camera, recording it all. There was Danielle driving by. There was Karen and Eric, both recovered from the virus, with their dog and their son Adam, sporting a big bright yellow sign, cheering at the foot of our driveway. And Risa and Steve tossing us a silver envelope and Luz leaving us a bouquet of flowers and Damien pumping his fist across the street and Carin and Greg driving by with another homemade sign and Michele and Jeremy waving from the far sidewalk and Karen and Matt and their boys waving multiple signs and yelling and honking as they went past and Jami and her daughter banging pans on our lawn wearing some of the puffiest masks I’ve seen and Anne and her kids smiling and waving from the street and our rabbi and her husband laughing and calling as they joined the moving car parade.

Like I said, astonishing. Thanks to all, including Michelle who helped Orley and Melanie organize, but couldn’t be there because her son was out with the car.

Then we ran inside, gobbled down dinner, and ran back out again to join what our neighbor Patti calls our “viral orchestra.” That means a bunch of our neighbors, gathered in front of someone’s house, banging pots and pans and singing “Happy Birthday” (it started with our middle son’s birthday on April 4, and has continued apace since then. Two birthdays in a row next week!) Last night the birthday boy was our neighbor Ken. When we finished serenading him, the group decided it was our turn.

“What shall we sing?” Anne asked.

“The viral orchestra only knows one song,” Patti replied. And so they sang us “Happy Anniversary” to the tune of “Happy Birthday.”

And still, the day wasn’t over. When we got inside, we hauled out the wedding photos that usually languish in the garage, and marveled over how different everyone looked back then. Then my husband presented a power point he’d made about our lives together (25 years in five slides). By the end, he had me laughing so hard I was crying.

Of course, me being me, all that emotion erupted in a migraine this morning. But that’s why they invented medication.

The medication is pretty strong, and so I’m a bit loopy this afternoon, and not sure if what I wrote above makes much sense. And I don’t have the brain power to go back and edit it into shape.

But — wow. What a day. Brought to us by the coronavirus. Okay, no, not by the coronavirus, which has no upside at all, but by the quarantine. Which can be awful, and wonderful and even, occasionally, astonishing.

Sort of like raising children.

Day 40: Anniversary

May 6, 2020

Twenty-five years is a long time.

In 25 years, you can live at five different addresses, in two different states.

Buy and sell half a dozen cars.

Go on nearly three dozen vacations, large and small.

Raise three very different children.

In 25 years, you can dream some dreams. Gather up your courage. Try to make them come true. Watch one crash, another take off, a third group fizzle out and make way for developments you never saw coming.

The beauty of my last 25 years is I haven’t done any of this alone. For the last quarter century, I’ve had my husband at my side, and he does not disappoint. He keeps showing up and showing up, through all my good, my bad and my ugly. I’m not only grateful. Often, I’m flabbergasted. It’s not easy being married to me. I’ve got a temper. I have sharp opinions and I’m stubborn about sticking to them. I get sick easily, and frequently (nothing life-threatening, but it’s a drag for everyone concerned). Plus, if I can’t find time to write, I’m a first-order grouch.

Still. Here he is. Twenty-five years to the day when we said I do, my husband today gave me the ultimate compliment — he joined Facebook, so he could publicly proclaim his love for me.

I know I’m a lucky woman.

I started getting lucky in January 1993, when I arrived to tour a boarding house on Foxhall Road, in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

I’d just landed a spring internship at the LA Times’ D.C. bureau, but I was only staying five months and no one would rent to me. In a panic, the night before, I huddled for warmth inside a phone booth and called my friend Christine, who was working as a TV reporter in Montana. “Go look for housing in Georgetown,” she said. “Students are always taking out short-term leases.”

That’s how I found myself heading up a staircase as this lanky bald guy in a button down shirt and LL Bean chinos was heading down. We shook hands. He was friendly and cheerful and I momentarily wondered if he was single. Then I turned my attention back to the urgent matter at hand: persuading the landlady she wanted to rent her one single room to me, even though I’d be leaving in May.

Of course, she did, because I was never going to run into Bill again otherwise. I spent my days on K Street, surrounded by other journalists, or up on Capitol Hill, trying to corner lawmakers and their aides; his world was defined by the confines of Georgetown University, where he was in the last year of his medical school degree.

We didn’t look like an obvious couple. I was Jewish. He was Catholic. I was from Los Angeles. He was from small cities on the East Coast. But we laughed at the same jokes. What brought a tear to my eye, brought a tear to his. And when we looked into the future, we both wanted the same thing: a house that felt like a home, filled with kids who defined our family’s life, not fit into it.

We started dating in March, went our separate ways in June (me back to a job in Ventura with the LA Times, him to start a surgery residency in Pittsburgh); dated long distance until we got engaged the following April; he moved to LA in July, 1994 to start an internal medicine residency (surgery turned out not to be his thing); and finally got married on May 6, 1995, at Shutters-on-the-Beach, a hotel in Santa Monica.

In the movies, that’s the end of the story. But as anyone who makes it to middle age knows, that’s only the start. I remember when we went on our honeymoon, how odd it was to call him my husband. That word felt bulky and awkward on my tongue. Now, I think that’s because I didn’t, couldn’t have understood it back then.

A husband, I’ve learned, is someone who you’re tied to with so many connective tissues, one layered on top of the others, that even if you decide to sever them, you can’t heal into the person you were before. A husband changes you, and you change him.

This marriage isn’t always easy, but I never asked it to be. It’s often wonderful, but that’s not a precondition. What it is is the foundation of my happy existence. It’s the miracle I get to take for granted every lucky day of my life.

So, to Bill, the man I am fortunate enough to call my husband — I’m proud and not a little humbled that we’ve made it this far. Happy Silver Anniversary, my love. May there be many, many more.