Yesterday, someone said to me "You and Matt are always so in love. You've had to overcome so many challenges as a family and yet, you two look at each other like newlyweds. Your kids all seem to really love you. I can't even tell which kids are your's and which are Matt's- you're just.... a family. How did you do it?"
How did we do it?
When I'm asked that question, I usually answer with some version of "We're still on the roller coaster ride. I'm just waiting to see the cool special effects when we explode at the end."
I don't actually expect us to explode at the end.
I don't think there is an 'end' and I think there are always explosions, they happen along the way and you keep on moving. Good days and bad- the good are amazing and the bad kick you hard in the soul.
One thing I know for sure is that Matt is in this with me. He's buckled in and holding on to the safety bar right beside me.
There is a security I have in this relationship that I never had before. I've got some good security with some of my closest friends, but it's one thing to love and support someone as they go through trials, it's HUGE, but it's a different thing to be dealing with those same trials, to have to endure the consequences of weakness and help pay for mistakes with a person- to take on all of the gross stuff as your own, because it's your problem, too.
That's how 'in it' we both are.
Like us or hate us- we choose to be tethered in together.
I trust Matt.
I trust him even when I kind of want to kick him in the leg and I know he wants to do the same to me.
I trust him even when I know I'm right and he's wrong and he has the nerve to actually think HE is right.
I trust him when we reach that part in an argument...I mean... heated debate where we both realize right and wrong are nice, but when it brings contention- all of it is wrong.
I trust him when he drives in Manhattan, but I still step on the imaginary brake and clutch the 'we're all going to die' handle.
I trust him when he places his hands on my head and calls upon the power of God to bring me comfort, to bring healing and to give me strength that I just don't think I have anymore.
I trust him as I look across the room in the temple and he winks at me, every time.
When I met Matt, it rattled me.
He was this funny guy I'd been talking to online and on the phone who was really easy to talk to.
One January night, that funny guy walked in through my front door, our eyes met as I dashed into the other room for my coat. For the first time in as long as I could remember, someone saw me - the me that I don't show everyone, that I certainly didn't show anyone those days. He saw the person I was and wasn't distracted by all of the things I'd done wrong in my life or by the people I'd offended and disappointed.
The last thing either of us needed at the time was a relationship, and a soul mate was totally off the table. We had plans and lives that were newly rebuilt after we'd both been treated like such garbage by our former spouses, people who never stopped to think of anyone but themselves.
That's my short version, we had just been fed so much of their 'you suck' syrup in our marriages, that we stayed because we believed we deserved it, that we had done something to cause them to treat us in a way that decent people don't treat ANYONE.
We both still highly defined ourselves by the flaws our ex spouses were still constantly pointing out and exploiting.
There was no reason to look for or even really want a big, permanent relationship at the time. We were young (at heart) and good (enough) looking and when people acted bad, we could delete their number from our phone and move on to better things.
The timing for a relationship was lousy.
Neither of us was looking for that.
And yet- here was Matt.
He was this tall and handsome guy with the warmest smile. He had an amazing heart and I had never laughed with anyone, the way I did with Matt. He was smart and interested on so many things, he had opinions and listened to those opinions from others. He was a good man with just enough bad boy in him to keep me on my toes.
He quickly became everything to me.
I didn't have any hope that we would last, but I knew that he was going to be my last great love of my life. It was going to be the end of me, but I needed to be with him like I needed to breathe.
So that's what I did, each day, I just breathed him in.
In and out, reviving my heart and taking up so much space in my soul that I had to kick out some of the former residents there.
I had to evict the 18 year old girl, with a split lip and a broken down car, hiding from the boy she adored, but who decided to hit.
I said goodbye to the girl who put a note and a ring in a mailbox in the dead of night, who didn't have the courage to say it was over to someone's face.
I let go of the girl who hid in the bedroom closet, afraid of her mother's rage, vowing to never let anyone get close again.
I released the girl who said she was sorry to a young man, but she didn't love him; the girl who walked out of the room when he broke down, so numb that she felt like she was looking through the eyes of someone else as she closed the door behind her.
I released the girl who sat by the side of a hospital bed, clothes still covered in soot, who begged God to just let her child be okay and if he did, she'd never make another mistake again.
I kicked out the girl who packed up her husband's things and told him to leave and never look back, knowing that was precisely what he would do.
Goodbye to the girl who skipped her own graduation, goodbye to the girl who tried to change bad relationships by wishing on stars and the girl who could not, would not let anyone in.
My love for Matt filled up all of those spaces, knowing that soon, Matt would be gone and those empty rooms would only have a ghost in them.
Matt was leaving and I was not going to ask him to stay.
I'd whisper it, in the too late hours of the nights when we'd fall asleep watching TV at my house. "Stay" was always there, on the tip of my tongue like some kind of prayer I didn't actually dare say out loud or a wish I didn't have the pennies for.
In every conversation, it was always one word away but I was not going to say it to him.
I think I knew that Matt needed to go to Chicago, but it was so hard to not see Chicago was some mistress that was taking him away from me.
Spring came and he flew so far away, but he also flew so high and as he soared, he stretched out his hand to me and I exploded into the skies over Lake Michigan, rocketing to a freedom to be myself and to live my own life that I had never known before.
We married in the summer and when autumn came, we made a together home, forever.
We were both changed and we have made very different choices than we would have made if I had asked him to stay, if I'd have given him the ultimatum that seemed so logical to give at the time and to everyone else.
Chicago kind of forced us to invent a completely new type of relationship than we had ever seen or experienced and I think the changes, the fact that we were creating this family and this life from scratch helped a lot. Nothing we knew really applied, so we came up with something different, something that works for us.
When they ask me how we do it, I think my answer is that we let each other breathe, knowing & trusting that it's the same air. When he breathes in, I breathe out. I take air into my lungs, he releases it. We know that in order to grow as a couple, we have to be okay with growing as individuals. The ability, the choice to build a relationship from two whole people has made it so that when the whirlwind comes raging at us, we get through it and hopefully, we have something that our children know they can tie an anchor to, and no matter what they do, who they choose to become- Matt and I are solid. We are there for them just as we are there for each other and we respect and love them as individuals, just as we do one another. I think that is something we are doing right.
That's my answer today, at least.
Down the road, I may say "Xanax and cake."