Valentine’s Day, 2002 was a great day. I had a girlfriend (a very serious girlfriend) named Kari Schumann (spoiler alert: I married her). She was a cute little blonde thing, smart, with a strong personality. On this particular Valentine’s Day we were both broke but I had a credit card and plans to make the evening special. Top of the Riverfront is St. Louis’ version of the spinning restaurant. Promising stunning views, a piano player, and steak, it was an ideal destination.
We had a reservation for two.
The only problem was that Kari didn’t have a thing to wear. More accurately, she had an outfit selected but not the appropriate shoes. I think. My memory is a little fuzzy on this one. All I know is that she was relatively panicked about the whole thing. What was she going to do! I could tell she wanted the night to be special. For me, that meant the views, the piano player, and filet mignon. For her, it meant the same thing…plus shoes.
The day before Valentine’s Day, someone left money in her mailbox. It was directed at her. No stamp, no return address. I can’t remember if there was a note attached. It was enough to buy her those shoes, fill up her gas tank, and maybe leave her with a little extra. Neither one of us can remember how much it was now. She didn’t know who left it. She still doesn’t. I remember going shoe shopping with her and picking out just the right pair. I believe it was a black pair of boots. Again, my memory is fuzzy.
The funny thing about memories is that they fade–even the important ones. Neither Kari nor I can remember how much money was left, whether or not there was a note attached, or whether or not we went shoe shopping the day before Valentine’s Day or right before we headed off for dinner. That was all twelve years ago this next February.
This is our thirteenth Valentine’s Day together. My wife and I were married on a December night in 2002 at five o’clock in the evening. There were a couple hundred people packed into our church offering their support. The ceremony was imperfect and yet, somehow, flawless. It was a Saturday. That’s about all I remember about the wedding. You forget details about weddings just like you forget details about Valentine’s Days.
What you never forget are the feelings associated with it all. Any love story is full of emotion. Ours is no exception.
We were married young. I was 21, Kari was 19. It’s too bad we didn’t put training wheels on our gift registry, because we could’ve used them. Our first few years were pretty rough–finishing off school, making poor financial decisions, trying to figure out if we loved each other or hated each other’s guts. I was indecisive and a little intimidated by my strong-willed wife. She was insecure and fully expecting me to take a hike at any moment. Like a toddler learning to ride a bike too soon, we had our fair share of scraped knees. And hearts. And egos. The feeling of fear was palpable then.
We were just babies when we started out, but it wasn’t long before we had two babies of our own. They cried loud and made messes and generally caused an awful inconvenience. Kari went into labor with Nora while studying for a final exam. Two weeks later we packed up our little bundle of joy and hauled her an hour to the nursing college where Kari attended and she took her test in between feeding times. Malachi popped out almost three years later–at almost ten pounds–after my pretty wife hauled that boy around in her belly while taking care of cancer patients for nine months. With our son a week old and confined to bed because of jaundice, my wife slipped her recovering body into a bridesmaid’s dress to celebrate her brother’s wedding. We thought being married was work. It turns out being a mom and dad was doubly so. The feeling of weariness is unforgettable.
Every love story has emotion, and the vast majority of feelings are positive. Sure, there have been hard times (see the last two paragraphs). We learned to work it all out. I’m a pretty good dude but can be lazy and clueless at times when my brain needs a break. I forget a lot of stuff, and it took longer than it should’ve to catch on to my wife’s standard for trash bag removal. My wife is a beautiful person, inside and out. At times she can be withdrawn and she strives to accomplish so much that she spends a decent amount of time stressed out. I’m her best friend (and she mine) so I hear about that stress pretty regularly. We’re not unique in these ways. For the most part we’ve managed it well, having started off so unprepared and all. A feeling of resolve is threaded throughout our story.
The early years tested us but we laughed a lot. We played Scrabble and went out to eat and sat around the fire pit with our friends. Our kids wear us out sometimes but are an absolute joy–sharp as a tack, handsome and beautiful little things they are. We all fuss at each other sometimes, but more often we snuggle and hug and play and do stuff. My wife is a great mom. Like any great mom, she thinks she’s an awful mom. My kids are a living testimony to the contrary.
The feeling of joy is greater than any feeling I feel when I think about boot shopping or wedding bells or having no money or moving three times or having babies or bad fights or anything else. I’m filled with joy to have been married to Kari for this long, and that feeling of joy is only surpassed by one other feeling.
That’s the feeling that it’s going to last.
There will never be a day when my wife is no longer my wife. Some may argue there is no way I can know that for sure, but I do. We made vows we intend to keep and we will make it through anything. We work pretty hard to keep our relationship strong. I know people drift apart, and I know there are situations that can’t be reconciled. I don’t mean to make this statement in judgement of anyone else. But I also don’t make it lightly. My wife is going to be my wife until the day she dies. Truthfully, I hope she goes first so she doesn’t have to feel the things I’ll feel when she’s gone. This feeling that it’s going to last is what makes the feeling of joy so joyful.
It’s what powered our feelings of resolve the past eleven years and will power us for many more.
It’s what made us hug each other when we were feeling weary instead of rip each other apart.
It’s what overcame the feelings of fear in those early years when we weren’t sure we could do it.
And the feeling that it was going to last is what propelled me to that ATM in 2002 in the first place. I withdrew some cash, stuffed it in an envelope, and drove to my wife’s house. She was in class or at work or something and I knew she wouldn’t see me. I knew she was broke and needed gas and really wanted to buy some shoes that matched her outfit so we could go to dinner and have a good time. So I disguised my handwriting and wrote her name on it and placed it carefully in her mailbox and then acted surprised when she showed it to me and told me someone had left it there.
The feeling that it was going to last was just an inkling then. It’s been unearthed increasingly since–through fear and weariness and resolve and joy and through life. A life lived together, a life unforgettable, a life full of blessing.
A life that sometimes forgets the details but remembers the feelings.
Always the feelings.
Happy Valentine’s Day, darlin’. Those boots disappeared from your closet a long time ago, but I’d be happy to take you shopping for another pair anytime.
This post originally ran on my blog for our anniversary late last year, thus the comments below. But hey…I still mean it…and it’s Valentine’s Day! Thanks for reading.