Thirteen candles

Thirteen years ago this weekend we were planning a wedding and they were calling for a hurricane. I remember watching in horror a few days before the ceremony as the meteorologist on television showed radar images of a storm heading our way.

“We have the potential for some very, very heavy rain this weekend,” he said.

Oct. 5, 2002, turned out to be a warm, cloudless autumn day. Although the hurricane had passed us by, there was a sniper on loose, shooting people at random in parking lots.

As storms churned in the ocean and a murderer hid in the shadows not far away, we married in a Lutheran church in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, a town without a stoplight. Then we walked down the street with our friends and family and had a party with a jazz band in a little historic museum.

We served almond cake with lemon icing, ran out of red wine before dusk and had to serve white. I was 24 years old and I wore a pink wedding dress partly to prove I could.

Fast forward thirteen years, and they are calling for a hurricane on the weekend before our anniversary. Nine people were killed yesterday in a shooting at a community college in Oregon. The number thirteen isn’t known for its positive omens.

I remember, on the night we married, I waited in our car in a parking lot as Dan got the key to our hotel room overlooking the Potomac River. We would fly to Paris the next day. I promised myself that night that I wouldn’t waste any more of my life eating takeout and watching reality TV shows alone while he worked the night shift as a newspaper editor. I would learn to play piano or go back to school, do volunteer work … something.

Then we had two kids. He stopped being a newspaper editor and became a teacher. Then I became a teacher, and in the process of all this, life got so busy that it’s mostly a blur and I’m not too sure what is my name and what day it is, except that I’ve got the date and agenda on the dry-erase board.

I didn’t change my last name until we’d been married for 10 years.

Is it our anniversary again?

“Do you want to me to make reservations for us to have dinner in Shepherdstown?” I asked Dan earlier this week.

He never answered me. There was no time to consider such things during the hurried workweek.

So I didn’t make reservations.

Women drive ourselves crazy trying to create what happy is supposed to look like. There’s this vision that is partly based on novels we read that were set in 19th-Century England, and also movies starring Julia Roberts or Reese Witherspoon.

So this year, I just didn’t.

Here’s how men do things differently:

Last Christmas Dan got me a T-shirt that says the name of the school where I teach. Every time I wear it, someone stops me in the hallway and asks where I got it. So I asked Dan where he got it.

First he refused to tell me, but then he confessed. He got the shirt at Rite Aid. That’s where he bought my Christmas gifts. He didn’t want to tell me because I always give him a hard time about, well, buying gifts at the drug store.

But everyone loves the shirt and wants one just like it.

So I didn’t make us a reservation this year at the restaurant overlooking the river. I’m not going to bake an almond cake with lemon icing, though it pains me to say it.

So many of our friends have gotten divorced, and some are in the honeymoon phases of their second marriages. When they try to explain, I tell them they don’t need to. I understand. Dan and I have now been married longer than our parents were. I understand divorce. What awes me are the marriages that last for 40 years.

I’ve kept all the promises I made 13 years ago, but only that promise I made to myself – not to be idle, not to fritter away my time in front of the television – that’s the only one that has been easy.


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