Today is my wife’s birthday. The fact that I haven’t bought her a gift yet is testimony that I have “married up” to a much better person than I could ever be.
I mention Beth occasionally in this space, and she’s always a good sport about it. I think she’s glad I’ve found a creative outlet that doesn’t involve dreaming up wild schemes to upend our family, like past proposals to build a privacy fence in our backyard, buy a Chrysler Crossfire, or move us all to India.
She didn’t even mind Monday’s blog, in which I compared her to a totalitarian regime just because I didn’t want any of her cucumbers. She’s a long-time Sinophile who studied Chinese martial arts and visited that nation several years ago, so she may have even taken it as a compliment.
She could’ve beaten the crap out of me with her expertise in kung fu and tai chi, though using the latter might have taken a while.
The fact that I was fortunate enough to find Beth almost 35 years ago while we were both students at Florida State (she attending grad school in mathematics, me studying how I could extend my pursuit of an undergrad degree indefinitely) is the single most defining event of my life.
I shudder to think where I’d be today without her. Certainly, no other woman would have me. Except maybe the lady who runs the local homeless shelter.
We were friends before we became romantic, which I think is no small contributor to the fact that we’ve been happily married since 1982. We met while working at the student newspaper. First, I was an editor and she was an underling reporter, and then we reversed roles. This laid the groundwork for each of us to boss the other around periodically without resenting it.
We’d hang out casually together after making each night’s deadline, in part because no one else was awake that late. I usually got off a little before she did, and would suggest she’d drop by my apartment on her way home. I could hear the squealing brakes of her vintage VW bug even from the third floor, giving me a few moments for a quick clean-up and a quick thrill that maybe this was evolving into something.
In 1977, she invited me to spend Thanksgiving with her parents in Charleston, after which we’d spend a weekend skiing in the North Carolina mountains. Snowfall that far south in November was extremely rare, but we got lucky and had a great weekend, both on the slopes and in several interior settings as well.
As our relationship blossomed, she finished her studies and began looking for a full-time job in journalism. I was happy to continue knocking around Tallahassee indefinitely but she had the drive to look for something better. She found it hundreds of miles away in the small South Carolina town just outside of Charlotte where she’d received her undergraduate degree.
In April of 1979, she packed up her stuff and moved away. (We retained at least one small connection — she trusted me to keep her cat Marie because her new apartment wouldn’t allow pets.) It was small consolation, though. I cried like a baby as she and the squealing VW left town.
We kept up a long-distance relationship for the next year or so, each taking turns shuttling back and forth between Tallahassee and Rock Hill. I soon saw how empty my life was without her. I kicked myself constantly for missing what may have been my one opportunity for happiness. After one particularly bruising session, I resolved to leave my dissolute life behind and follow her north.
We moved in together in June 1980. It was perhaps the best month of my life. Not only was I now with the woman I loved, but I also found a job I liked enough that it continues to be my career over three decades later.
One night we were lying awake, batting around ideas for a vacation. Having grown up in Miami, I had always wanted to take a Caribbean cruise, and Beth was willing to go along with the idea.
I forget which one of us noted that such a trip would make a great honeymoon. So we decided — what the hell — let’s schedule a marriage right before the sailing date.
(This wasn’t the last time we put the cart before the horse, planning-wise. Eight years later, we’d decide to have a child, in part because I ran out of things to tape with my new video camera).
We planned the whole wedding ourselves, and it turned out great. Since it was October, and we both came from German ancestry, we decided to have an Oktoberfest theme for the reception. We even hired an accordion player so that our beer-sodden guests could polka.
After the honeymoon, we settled comfortably into domestic life. We both advanced in our careers, with Beth eventually becoming the managing editor of her newspaper. We bought a house. We travelled. I took up jogging and tennis while Beth pursued her own separate interests, including writing.
We had resolved not to be a couple “joined at the hip” in everything we did, and that turned out to be a wise decision. (In 1990, however, we did manage to get our hips close enough to conceive our first and only child, Daniel.)
Beth tackled pregnancy with tremendous enthusiasm. She read all the books, and resolved to have as natural a birth experience as possible. We took classes in the “Bradley Method,” an extreme form of Lamaze that emphasized sitting cross-legged on the floor each Friday night with a bunch of hippie types and chiropractors.
Despite our plans, Daniel decided to have a big head and try to come out face-first. Beth labored all night and much of the next day before we (meaning “she”) had to give in and have a cesarean.
To be the best mother she could, Beth left her job at the paper. We saw a lactation specialist so Daniel could nurse despite some initial difficulty in latching on. She gave him full-time attention right up until he left for preschool, and it paid off as he excelled academically.
They say that time flies when you watch your child grow up, and that’s certainly been the case. During the next 20 years, Beth started her own freelance copy-editing business, allowing her to bring in a much-needed second income and still remain at home. We continued to travel, with Daniel in tow, to places as far away as Alaska. When our son was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, a debilitating intestinal ailment, we pulled together to get him the best treatment possible.
Now that he’s stabilized, Beth is back in the labor force, working nights on a “temporary” basis for the last year and a half to help pay for his care. There’s not much sleep to be had as she works the graveyard shift five nights a week. She gets home at 4:30 in the morning, tries to “sleep fast,” as we call it, then is home to answer calls from her editing clients, deal with plumbers and handymen, and help Daniel.
When she returns home in the middle of the night, she tries to come in quietly through the sunroom. But the door into the living room has a squeaky hinge, so I get to hear that she’s arrived safe and sound, even as a lie in bed mostly asleep.
I suppose I could put some grease on that hinge. But it brings back such fond memories of her arrival at my apartment in that noisy old VW some 35 years ago that I think I’ll leave it alone.
Happy birthday, Beth. Thanks for being so loving and patient with a loser like me. I promise I’ll get you that birthday present soon.