Last night we packed a cold pasta salad and drove down the street, pool noodles and towels in hand. We keyed in, chose a table and spooned dinner onto paper plates. And then we bowed our heads, giving thanks for the food but also for more.
Nine months ago things were different.
Nine months ago the sky was that eerie green and the heat pressed down, wet. There was just the stir of a wind. Silence. But the horizon loomed dark. There was the matter of selling a home and moving into a rental and building another home and moving 1600 miles.
Nine months ago there came a bruise bubbling up from under the surface of bliss.
Nine months ago I sat next to him in a car as we drove to a marriage counselor for our first appointment. I don’t remember whether the radio played but I do know that his words came crushing like a rockslide. My neck went weak beneath the weight and my head toppled against the window. Shallow breaths. Roaring static. Slicing words not like a blunt-edge knife but precise like a scalpel. Blinding kaleidoscope pictures in eyes that wouldn’t focus. It all caved in and I tell you assuredly that my heart skipped a beat. I physically felt the jump of it, the miss–the void of so constant a bodily rhythm. He got me out of the car and steadied me against it. I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t see and every sensation buzzed so vivid through me. Just barely I stayed upright externally but on the inside everything was a heap, a pile of ashes flittering away one by one. Sometimes writers exaggerate for effect but this is not that. This is me returning to that moment and piecing together the words to show, not tell.
We think we’re so strong, until we aren’t. I believed that I might die then and there.
I didn’t. He rubbed hands hard against my arms, my shoulders, in weighted strokes. He prayed fearful prayers. Desperate ones.
The counselor prayed, too.
They’re called panic attacks for a reason. It’s a full-blown assault. Under siege. Captive.
There would be more of them in the days and weeks to come. More tears. Prayers on knees and face down on bare floor. Prayers that erupted halfway through into something twisted and gnarled and then dissolved–abandoned in faulty faith.
We fought ourselves. We fought each other. It was both inward and out.
The house was so small–our voices carried. We’d lace up and go walking to protect the sanctity of little ears. I cannot count for you the circles we trod on that tired track. The work of it. The burden. Mile after mile after weary, weary mile. Cling and repel. Fire and Ice. Love and hate. All of it so tangled a human knot. I don’t have to look back to know–I knew it even then that alongside our two sets of prints there was a third. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.
Scripture carried me through. I wrote it on cards and taped them strategically in view. I had a war wall in the house but also in my head. Trust in the Lord with all your heart. In all your ways submit to Him. It carried me when my legs couldn’t. And two friends, they carried me too. One night he curled under his desk at work to sleep while I curled on the couch, alone but for the wine. So late into the night. Together with a friend most true I simultaneously watched a television show–texts flying back and forth–and she was there for me in the most perfect way, despite the miles between us. If you could see it rehashed on a giant movie screen you’d agree at the perfectness of it all. It was the stuff girlfriends are made of.
There was one night at dinner. Kids seated in our temporary folding chairs around a temporary folding table in that temporary kitchen. He said something and I flashed hot and quite literally stabbed him with my fork and then I pushed back from the table and I left. Dare I say it was the bottom?
I can’t say how long it went on but it feels like the whole life of a different person. It was a time of sludge. Bitter citrus peels on the tongue. A heavy metal band and strobe lights and cigarette smoke. Glass shards. The reek of vomit and bile. It was shipwreck starvation and loneliness intensified by having once known something so different.
I can’t pinpoint the curve in the road but ever so eventually we came to one and started the turn. One foot at a time. More together than apart.
He (heavenly He) used that time of sludge to grow me. He grew him. He grew us.
It was a February morning. We stood in the desert behind that temporary house and we laid some things to rest. We wrote words on paper and we dug a hole and we buried them and we prayed, prayed, prayed. We’d never spend another night there again. We got in the car and we drove for miles–across state lines and over fault lines–until we came home.
On the anniversary of our first kiss we will stand with sand between our toes and we will speak vows all over again. Because still, even after all of it–especially after all of it–we really, really do.