There were supposed to be lilacs.
We weren’t even out of college the day we were married, thirty years ago today. It was a low-budget wedding, and instead of buying flowers for the chapel the plan was for friends to collect lilac blooms from the abundant supply all over campus. That was one of the things that fell through the cracks.
Our first house had a well established lilac hedge when we bought it, and one of the first things we planted here were lilacs. The bloom was really nice this year, they have finally gotten to a nice mature state, just as I’m getting ready to leave. This morning, I decided to clip the lilacs and some of the irises she loved and bring them in as I did every year for her, one last time.
As I was clipping out one of the clusters of the lilac, I realized that the pesky climbing vine that grows all over the place was wrapped around it. I started clipping it out, then I remembered the weed’s name: Bittersweet. I left it in.
This anniversary of ours has been tangled with bittersweet for a long time. On our sixteenth wedding anniversary I was out of town on a business trip when she called to tell me the news that my brother had died suddenly, months short of his forty-fifth birthday. That following summer we planted those irises I clipped this morning, as we poured our grief into a burst of planting all over the yard.
It took us a few years to take our anniversary back from sadness, but ten years ago we took a trip to New York to celebrate our twentieth. We saw “Mama Mia” at the Winter Garden Theater that night, in what started a somewhat ridiculous burst of theater-going that continued over the next seven years. We had second row seats for “Avenue Q” on our twenty-first. They treated us like we were Tony voters.
The morning of our twenty-fifth anniversary I woke up at my parents house, having helped my father bring my mother home from the hospital the night before. I still managed to get home in time for us to go out for dinner, and my mother recovered enough to make it to my niece’s wedding the next week. Barbara always said that was the best wedding she ever attended. We decided we would do our thirtieth up big instead of our 25th. That part didn’t work out so well.
I took the photo I use in the masthead for this blog three years ago, on our twenty-seventh anniversary. We drove up to the top of Mount Washington that day to get to one of our favorite views, and collect ourselves just a few days after we buried my mother.
In the end an anniversary is just a day like any other. It is special for what we decide to remember. I will always remember waking up on the morning of our tenth anniversary to an odd sound and discovering that the toilet tank in our master bath had cracked and was leaking all over the floor. As a result, I spent the day acquiring and installing a large porcelain bowl. Not the anniversary present we had in mind, but such is life. It was worth it just for the story.
Thirty years ago today we vowed to love, honor, and cherish each other as long as we both lived, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer. (No, there was no obey in those vows, not for my uppity Irish girl.) We experienced all of it, top to bottom. Those vows are fulfilled.
This afternoon, I am going to walk down to that chapel where were were wed (yes, I live that close), wearing that ring she gave me, with the one I gave her in my pocket. I am going to think about how the dark green of that Bittersweet vine offsets and brings out the pale colors of the lilacs. I’m going to contemplate what it means to love, honor, and cherish a memory of thirty years, but not a living, breathing person.
Six months ago, when this journey began, so suddenly and unexpectedly, I looked at the year ahead and saw this month of anniversaries, all leading to today, as a key point for me. I wanted to sort through and fix those memories of thirty years before I faced the future with her behind me, instead of beside me.
In one of my early posts, I talked about the skater preparing for a jump, looking backward to get their bearings before the turn. I’ve been looking back a lot these last six months. There have been people all around me who I have barely seen as I struggled fix those memories firmly.
This evening, I will don my kit, join my team and celebrate the minor modern miracle of Jake, the Juggler who danced with death and survived, with his own set of Wounds Retained.
When the tour ends, as they always do, with the cry ‘To the Pub!’, I will raise a glass to the three Youngest Daughters, the women who made made my brother and me the men we are. After that I will raise one to my fellow survivors.
It is time to begin the turn.