A few minutes ago I saw my classmate’s post after she received her first feedback from her advisor since beginning our graduate writing program. Within the space of minutes, she reported that went from feeling curled in a fetal position to feeling Determined.
After my first workshop at graduate school didn’t go so well (the most favorable comment was “weird but interesting”), someone at home asked me if I was going to continue. Well, of course! It’s not so much that I’m a when-the-tough-get-going kind of girl, but that I’m a tell-me-what-I-can’t-do-and-I’ll-try type.
This characteristic has led to some stunningly stupid outcomes. When I was in fourth grade, my brother told me I wasn’t brave enough to jump off the roof where it was two stories high. Well, of course I was! It worked out well for him and for me: he got a chance to practice his Boy Scout first aid skills and I got street cred with my brother.
In the still-early years of my career, I was told I shouldn’t apply for a promotion because I was pregnant. Well, of course I would! Though I didn’t regret it in the long run, I would never advise someone to take a new job when six months along.
Trouble arises when my narrative collides with someone else’s. For example, my husband’s. About nine months after the birth of our first child, we talked seriously of continuing our family. He had waited eight years for his sister, and he believed that having a sibling was a good and a joyful thing. Then I returned home from work one day, fresh from my performance review, and announced to my husband that I’d made a decision. He looked at me expectantly. I’m going to get my M.B.A., I told him enthusiastically. Dead silence. He had his own story arc in mind: happy couple marries, happy couple has some time to enjoy their freedom before settling down, happy couple starts family, happy couple has baby number two within three years (three years seen as ideal spacing), and the family is complete. We were telling different stories to ourselves.
Here is why this is an anniversary story. Today, my husband and I have been married 32 years. Looking for something else over the weekend, I found the notebooks into which we wrote our hopes and fears when we attended an Engaged Encounter retreat four months before our marriage. He wrote of his hopes for five years out, “I want to raise a family with you, badly. To nurture, protect, and to love.” I was a little more tentative. I wrote, “I’d like to be about ready to have our first.”
Marriage and family hadn’t been part of the stories I told myself in my early 20s. It was the Seventies, and I was Going Places. Then I met Todd. I couldn’t imagine life without him, and my narrative changed. I’ve always been the type that opened door number one without much idea of what might lie behind it. When he proposed — complete with a fake plane ticket made out for Mr. and Mrs. Todd Stone to Hawaii — I said yes. Here I come, I said, and there I went.
I wasn’t prepared for marriage. I didn’t know how the story would unfold. I called him “my puppy and my knight in shining armor” when I wrote my betrothal pledge at age twenty-four. (Yes, I really used those words.) Deciding to say “yes” to my love’s proposal was the scariest thing I ever did. And the wisest.
I wrote that I wanted to be “sensitive, supportive, vulnerable, loving, protective, and broad shouldered.” Turned out that my husband was. Every time that I suddenly changed the story line, he wove himself right back in to the narrative.
My story would be incomplete without him.
Dear knight in shining armor: you still are.