love, marriage, music, musings

Writing about my scars for the past nineteen years…

It’s time for another goofy selfie. Today’s featured photo was taken in Innsbruck, Austria, in August 2020. We’re both a bit broader and greyer.

Good morning, everybody. It’s November 16th, which means it’s my wedding anniversary. Nineteen years ago, Bill and I tied the knot under somewhat scary circumstances. He was a 38 year old man who had been through divorce, bankruptcy, foreclosure, domestic violence, and 9/11 at the Pentagon. I was 30 years old and recently graduated from a double master’s degree program that had put me in a lot of debt.

We met in a chat room in 1999. He was newly separated from Ex and had recently rejoined the Army as a full time officer. I had just started grad school and didn’t know anyone. We fell into a friendship in November of that year, finally meeting in person in 2001. When 9/11 struck and no one knew we were dating, we decided to go public… and not long after that, we got engaged.

I know I used this photo last year, but it’s really a good representation of us… and how we are. And we don’t have any recent photos of us. Maybe we’ll take one this weekend.

Now, here I sit, pretty much debt free, but never having used those degrees I spent three long years working to earn. Bill is retired. The last nineteen years have been full of adventure and, for the most part, a lot of fun. I talked to Bill and my mom last night. Bill is in Poland on business. Mom is in Virginia, watching ships pass from the windows of her apartment, which offer great views of the Chesapeake Bay. I didn’t have much to say to Bill, since I last saw him at 4:00am Monday morning, before he flew to Warsaw.

To my mom, I said I was surprised by how well marriage has worked out for Bill and me. Especially considering how and where we met. Lots of people had doubts about the feasibility of our relationship. My mom, especially, was creeped out that we met on the Internet. She thought it was WEIRD. Years later, she admitted she was wrong to doubt us.

My career didn’t work out the way I had hoped it might. Now I think that’s probably a blessing, even if it’s hard on my ego. I had always wanted to be a writer. Sure enough, that’s what I am. Almost every day, I write something, even if lately, I’ve been putting up a lot of reposts. I don’t mind the reposts, since a lot of them eventually do get read, especially the book reviews. The reposts are, for the most part, from days when I had good thoughts to put down, and I see nothing wrong with recycling stuff. I live in a country where recycling is the law. Aside from that, sometimes I just can’t think of anything I want to write about that badly. That’s not a bad thing. Taking the odd day off is good for the soul and helps me recharge, and sometimes old posts are still entertaining or educational.

This morning, I was reading some old posts I’d written. I was trying to think of what I wanted to write about today. I found a post I wrote called “My Special Brand of Shitty Sunshine“. I had forgotten what it was about, but was intrigued by the title. One might think that post would be full of vitriol. Actually, it’s a fairly thoughtful post inspired by Caleb Wilde, the guy who runs the Facebook page for Confessions of a Funeral Director. I wrote it on May 19, 2019, after having read an insightful post Caleb had written. I was struck by his thoughts on why he writes, and I related to it so much so that I quoted him:

Speak and write about your scars, not your open wounds. That’s the axiom you’re supposed to follow as a writer.

Anyone who regularly reads my writing knows that I often write about my scars. However, like Caleb, I also write about my gaping wounds. Sometimes people don’t know how to take some of my more “honest” thoughts, especially about certain subjects. I have occasionally been on the receiving end of unsolicited advice about some of my content or opinions. Some have warned me that sometimes I come off like an ass. Of course, that only stands to reason, because just like almost everyone else out there, sometimes I actually AM an ass. I’m just being authentic. 🙂

On the other hand, people have also told me that many times, the posts about my open wounds are useful. They relate to them, or are entertained by them. Or, sometimes they SHOW me the posts are useful to them, by stabbing me in the back and talking trash about me to a certain mutual former landlady, or to likeminded people who don’t like me and want to stir up shit among themselves. While I’d rather people didn’t use my writings to cause trouble, there’s not much I can do to stop people from doing what they’re going to do. That’s the price I pay for writing down my thoughts and sharing them. Besides, since we left Stuttgart, most of that juvenile crap has stopped, since I have made a point of not engaging with most of the military community in Wiesbaden.

I know a lot of people make lifelong friends through ties to the military. My parents had some dear, wonderful friends from my dad’s 22 years in the Air Force. Bill and I have made a few friends, too. But, by and large, I’ve found that trying to make friends with most people is kind of a fruitless exercise. It’s kind of like dating. You date someone for awhile and break up… and sometimes you can be friends afterwards, but a lot of times, there’s too much pain and the relationship falls apart. I haven’t dated much in my lifetime, but I have found that I’ve had a lot of “friends” who turned out to be temporary. On the other hand, I’ve had other friends who have been around for decades, even if very few of them are “close friends”.

Maybe finding real friends is more like panning for gold, which in some ways, is harder in the age of the Internet. It’s easier to find “friends”, but harder to find quality friends. A lot of people think I’m weird, anyway, and don’t take the time to get to know me well. But, in fairness, I don’t invest a lot of time in them, either, because I sense that they don’t quite accept me the way I am. At my age, changing for the sake of a friendship that will probably be temporary isn’t worth the effort. So, those who take me as I am, like Bill… and even my mom, these days, are people I make an effort to keep in my life. There are a few true friends, too… including a couple of people I’ve never met in person and know little about.

But, in all seriousness, having been associated with the military lifestyle for the past 19 years, I gotta say that as much as I loved living in Stuttgart– especially since a total of six of our years as a couple were spent there– it really is the most toxic place we’ve ever lived. It’s even more toxic and dramatic than living on Fort Belvoir was. We spent four years living there, and we saw a LOT of drama. And that was before Facebook or Twitter! Stuttgart the second time was even worse, even though we didn’t live in a stairwell apartment but, in fairness, that probably was because of social media.

Caleb continues with this: “Burnout, secondary trauma, PTSD, depression, fear, disassociation, social anxiety . . . these are all a part of my concoction of diagnosed open wounds (more on the diagnosed part of things when I’m feeling up to talking about it). And these wounds rarely have time to heal when their source is your job. For some of us, like me, writing from our scars isn’t entirely possible because some wounds just remain . . . open.

Well… he’s a funeral director, so he’s bound to see and hear a lot of sad stories. He’s not unlike a bartender or a mental health counselor of any stripe. I wrote the post that fathered this one in May 2019, before COVID-19 was a thing. Caleb’s business is bound to be even more difficult today than it was two and a half years ago. In fact, it occurs to me that I haven’t seen any recent posts by him. I just checked his Facebook page, and it looks like the last fresh post from him dates November 13, 2020. I can only assume that he’s very busy with his work. I hope nothing worse has happened.

But this is what he posted, almost a year ago… and I guess it offers some explanation:

There’s a sliver of time in a person’s life when society actually encourages us to care for ourselves. That sliver of time we’re afforded for self-care happens when we experience a loss. After we lose someone or something, it’s like all of a sudden everyone around us becomes caring and encouraging with phrases like:

“You can get through this!”

“It’s okay to express your feelings.”

And . . . “You need to take some time for yourself.”

And for a minute we believe them. We allow ourselves to let our space get a little dirty. Or maybe we stop shaving. Maybe we order out and watch more Netflix. During a loss, we let ourselves take care of ourselves.

But in the back of our minds we have an imaginary clock that’s counting down the days til self-care takes a back seat to “responsibility.”

Right now all of us are experiencing a loss. A loss of normality, of the rhythms were used to dancing to. Just like with the loss of a loved one, we’re suddenly having to learn an entirely new dance with no promise that the old dance will ever play again.

We’re friends, right? You’re here because you’ve read something I’ve written and you connected to it. So, as your friend, let me tell you:

“You can get through this.” There’s no promise the end of this will be the same as the beginning. It won’t be. But we can get to the other side.

“It’s okay to express your feelings.”

A lot of us don’t like the COVID versions of ourselves and that’s okay. It’s okay to be less patient, less stable. Take all the time you need to accept yourself as you are right now.

“You need to take some time for yourself.”

You can stay safe and not be a martyr. Nobody is asking us to sacrifice ourselves. Do something you like (the pic is me doing something I like). Stay away from things you hate. Train your mind to think on things you enjoy, not things that make you angry and fearful. You have total permission to care for yourself. I’ve been telling myself that it’s okay to be a little more patient and gracious to myself right now. I give that same grace and patience to the families I serve at the funeral home. I don’t have to starve myself of what I give.

I don’t know what Caleb Wilde is up to right now. I hope he’s alright, and the realities of life in 2021 haven’t buried him, either figuratively or literally. It occurs to me, though, that his writings about his scars and gaping wounds have inspired me, and taught me new things. Likewise, I hope some of the things I write are inspirational, educational, entertaining, or even just offer some reaction of some sort. Even if that reaction is disgust or anger… or something else negative.

I’m sitting here writing this post today, on our 19th anniversary, mainly because 19 years ago, we said “I do.” I didn’t go off and work for a public health agency or take a job as a social worker. I didn’t become a grant writer or lobbyist. I didn’t do what I had been planning to do when Bill and I had that chance meeting in a javascript chat room, back in 1999. We later progressed to mIRC, and then Yahoo! Messenger, which is where I got the news that he’d survived 9/11. I remember the first time I heard his voice was over VoIP, rather than on the phone or in person. I never thought that would lead us to marriage. In fact, I never thought we’d meet in person, let alone become husband and wife. I have to admit our partnership has really worked flawlessly on all levels, in spite of everything, including COVID… 😉 And yes, it’s worked out “in spite of ourselves”, too…

Wish COVID-19 hadn’t taken John Prine… because this song could be our theme song.

And… just as I’m about to close today’s musings, James Taylor’s song, “Daddy’s All Gone” just came on. As I sit here, wishing Bill was home on our anniversary, and I’m reminded that his career has taken him away so many times… though so far, not permanently… I realize how prescient that song could have been for him. He wasn’t a James Taylor fan before he met me, but he’s come to appreciate his music. I’m sure I’ve played “Daddy’s All Gone” for Bill. It might have made him choke up, especially given that he missed out on raising his daughters.

This song has meaning for Bill…
And this song has meaning for me… especially this particular version.

We were supposed to see James play in Frankfurt on February 11. We have second row seats. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has fucked that up, and James had to postpone his European tour. I hope he gets here eventually. I really could use another show by him. I’m not surprised the tour was postponed, though. A year ago, we were supposed to see Keb’ Mo’ play in Mainz. He has postponed that show three times. At this writing, we’re due to use our tickets for last year’s concert on May 11, 2022. I had to look it up, because I can’t keep all of the updates straight anymore.

Well, I guess I’ve prattled on long enough. Those songs remind me I really need to practice guitar. Thanks to COVID-19, I may have more time for practicing, because I fear there may be another lockdown soon. Anyway… we’ll probably do something celebratory over the weekend. And maybe I’ll put up the fucking Christmas decorations while he’s gone. Wow… this year has flown by. Before we know it, I’ll be thinking about what to write on our 20th wedding anniversary.

Edited to add… Bill and I walked down the aisle to “Highland Cathedral”. I just happened to stumble across this rendition, and now I’m a blubbering mess. Seriously… it is GORGEOUS.

I could listen to this all day.

Standard
Bill, family

Life… and death… goes on.

Today is the 18th anniversary of my marriage to Bill. We usually take trips for our anniversary. This year we couldn’t go anywhere because of COVID-19. Bill went to work because there’s a big project he’s working on. I’m reminded that last year, he had a TDY that started the day after our anniversary. I went with him on that trip, because it was to Wroclaw, Poland, and Wroclaw is a neat town. That was before the pandemic radically changed everything.

A week ago, we learned of Bill’s dad’s passing. Bill was already dressed and ready to go to work when he found out about it. I told him he needed to tell his co-workers that he wasn’t coming in. That was a good decision, since he did need some time to process the news and the fact that we were not going to be able to go to Tennessee for the funeral. A few days ago, a relative sent Bill a picture of his father in his casket. He had said he’d wanted to see the photo, but I think it was a shock to see his dad laid out like that… not looking like the man he knew. Part of it might have been because he’d been very sick, and part might have been that when someone’s soul leaves their body, the body simply turns into a shell of what it once was.

The news about Bill’s dad came less than a month after my cousin lost his husband to liver cancer. And it came a week before I found out my cousin, Karen, passed away from colon cancer. I wasn’t very close to Karen, although we had some things in common. Like me, she was a musical person. Like me, she loved visiting our grandmother’s house in Natural Bridge, Virginia. But she was much more religious than I am and we had very different political views. She was also significantly older and lived in a different state. I never got to know her as well as I might have, although her presence in our family was one of great prominence. She was the eldest grandchild on both sides of her family, and very much a leader among us. By contrast, I am one of the youngest grandchildren on my dad’s side and the youngest on my mom’s side (which consists of my three sisters and my cousin Sue).

2020 has really been a surreal year so far. It started off fine. We visited France three times between Christmas 2019 and February 2020. Bill’s mom came to visit, and he went to the States for business and found time to stop in Utah to finally see his daughter, her husband, and his two grandchildren. It was the first time he’d seen Catherine since 2004, when she was just eleven years old. She’s now grown into a beautiful, thoughtful, and kind young woman. As much as I complained about the Mormons over the years, I am grateful there were good people in the church who helped her escape her mother and launch a more normal life. Obviously, she had some good role models to emulate. And it was such a joy for Bill to see her and meet her family. It had been fifteen long years, and clearly, they have missed each other so much. It took awhile, but we finally learned that we weren’t in the Twilight Zone, after all. ‘Nuff said about that.

Then the pandemic struck, just as Bill was returning from that trip. Everything changed. Bill had to work from home. We tried to adopt a dog, only to have it escape its transport on the way to us and get hit by a car. We sued our former landlady, and Bill got asked to be a witness in a lawsuit. We did some traveling, but it was a different mood, with constant worry about masking and personal hygiene and not getting sick. And then we adopted Noyzi, the street dog from Kosovo, who has stolen our hearts.

It hasn’t been all bad. There have been some unexpected moments of joy as we’ve adapted to this depressing pandemic experience. I’ve loved having more time with my husband, who isn’t able to jet off to faraway places for work right now. We’ve been eating more meals at home, although I do really miss getting dressed up and going places. I’ve loved getting to know Noyzi, who amazes us every day as he adapts to life as a pet in Germany rather than one of many dogs in a group home in Kosovo.

I would have liked to have gone somewhere special to celebrate our special day today. The last 18 years have flown by, and we’re still happy together. But it’s not a bad thing to be home, safe and well, and enjoying the company of Arran and Noyzi. I didn’t expect to suddenly lose three relatives within a span of a few weeks, though. It really makes one stop and think how fleeting and fragile life can be.

Well… I think I’ll take the opportunity to make some music today. Maybe someone will like it. Maybe someone won’t. But at least it’ll keep me out of trouble. And I expect Bill will bring home some bubbly for tonight.

Edited to add… this was our wedding song and I somehow never did it for YouTube. So here it is…
Standard
marriage, nostalgia, religion

My religious “experience”…

It’s very early in the morning in the United States and I just traded comments with the man who hired me to work at a Presbyterian church camp back in 1993. At the time, I was definitely not a fan of church. I was raised mainstream Presbyterian, which is a fairly laid back denomination as churches go. I still hated attending every week. I found it a colossal bore and a waste of time.

Going to church was something I was forced to do, and it wasn’t even something we did as a family, mainly because my mom was always the organist and my dad was always in the choir. My sisters were grown and gone for most of my childhood. I found church dreadfully dull, and I wasn’t interested in it at all. I didn’t listen to the sermons, sing the hymns, or want to be part of any of the activities, although I was frequently compelled to do things like go to vacation Bible school and take the church’s confirmation class. When I was a teenager, I was also required by my parents to go to a career counseling class at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, North Carolina. That school has since been renamed St. Andrew’s University. I remember not wanting to go on that trip and finding the experience “creepy”, although now I think I would have enjoyed going to that university myself. Fat lot of good the trip did for me anyway, although I ended up having some fun on it.

Despite going to church for many years, I didn’t know anything about church or religion or the Bible. I was basically a warm shell sitting in a pew, forced to be there every week and hating it. So why in the world would I have wanted to work at a Presbyterian church camp? It was mainly because I wanted to escape my parents’ house. I would rather be in a religious environment, sleeping in a platform tent, than living with my parents. In those days, my dad and I barely got along and my mom was stressed out keeping the business going. It was a hostile environment. Being at camp all summer spared me from having to be in that environment.

It turned out that church job was one of the best work experiences I’ve ever had. But I do remember being very nervous about working at a religious summer camp. Back in the 70s and 80s, a lot of churches had summer camps. In the area where I grew up, there was Makemie Woods. I remember being forced to go there a time or two when I was a child, though I never had to attend camp there. It looks like Makemie Woods is closed now. A lot of summer camps have ceased to operate, mainly because kids don’t want to go to camp anymore. They’d rather be online. I remember Paddy Run was at risk of closing, until my friend Amy got involved in saving it. Amy worked with me at Camp Paddy Run, as did a lot of other really cool people.

I remember the day I met my former boss, Simon. I walked up to him at a summer camp recruitment event held at my college. I had just spoken to a representative from Camp Fincastle, which was another Presbyterian camp located near where my dad’s family lives. I wasn’t all that impressed by the Camp Fincastle people, and it looks like now, Camp Fincastle no longer exists. But then I saw Simon standing by himself at a table. He wore jeans and a white sweatshirt that had the Very Fine juice company logo on it. He had short brown hair, wore glasses, and a cross around his neck. Before I knew what was happening, I was talking to Simon about being a camp counselor. He said they had enough counselors, but they needed a cook. And I said I’d be a better cook than counselor anyway. A few days later, after checking my references, that same man hired me. I remember thinking he was very uptight. Boy, was I ever wrong! But that didn’t change how I felt almost dread when it turned out he wanted to hire me to be the church camp’s cook! I wondered how I would cope with the religion.

I remember arriving at Camp Paddy Run in June 1993. It was, and still is, a very beautiful location. There was a huge meadow, enclosed by mountains on either side and a vast forest. There was a crude little church space out in the meadow, with weather worn splintery benches, a fire pit, and a cross that was strung together with rope. Deep in the woods, there was Paddy’s Run, a mountain creek, where kids would go rock hopping. There were cabins and “hogans”, and a garage that stored the canoes and camping equipment served as our staff lounge. I remember at night, the stars were absolutely incredible. There was no light pollution at all, so you could see so many stars in the summer sky. If I were inclined to be religious, I would say that God chose Camp Paddy Run to be a sacred place. I wish I had more pictures of it.

It took me awhile to get used to church camp life. I was pretty quiet at first. I wasn’t familiar with the Bible, despite going to church and Sunday School my whole life. I knew nothing about the origins of the Presbyterian Church, or the fact that my ancestry has a lot to do with why my family is mostly Presbyterian. I didn’t know anything about why church services are set up the way they are, and I didn’t enjoy “devotions” or “vespers”. I had nothing much to say during those meetings. Despite having gone to Sunday school and church and being raised in a religious extended family, I was never taught much about Christianity. My dad took me to church every week because it was something people did. It was the expected thing to do. But we never talked about religion at home. We didn’t pray before meals or bedtime (except when I was very little). So when I worked at the church camp, I wasn’t necessarily the best model of Christ-like behavior. I did get in trouble for cussing, too.

At camp, every day started early and ended late. It was my job to cook, and I was good at it. I had three teenaged guys working with me and we ended up becoming friends. I was introduced to canoeing, which was something I had never tried before I worked at camp. I also went on some wonderful hikes in the woods and found swimming holes, one of which had a natural slide. I slept on an uncomfortable cot in a platform tent with two or three other women, depending on the week. The pay wasn’t much, but I had few expenses. It was a healthy lifestyle, far away from “civilization”. I ended up enjoying the experience so much that I went back in 1994. Then, the following year, partly based on my church camp experience, I joined the Peace Corps.

I’m still not a very religious person, although I do enjoy sacred music. Perhaps that’s where my relationship with God is strongest. I don’t do a lot of praying and don’t feel comfortable in offering prayers to people. I still find religion kind of icky, especially since it’s been co-opted by powerful people who want to use it to promote their own agendas. And yet, that job working at a church camp gave me so much… especially in friendships. I still have many friends from that time period, including my former boss, who was a minister for some time and officiated at my wedding to Bill.

Simon has since left the ministry and become a Catholic. I’m not exactly sure what led him to take that step, although he clearly feels most authentic as a Catholic. His wife is still a Protestant. Talking to him now, I see that maybe it was a case of his being somewhat of a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. When I met him, thinking he was this very uptight religious person, I didn’t know that he was also a bit nuts like me. He has a great sense of humor, loves outrageous rock music from the 70s, wears nail polish, and has both earrings and long hair. In the 90s, he had to appear to be someone he wasn’t really. Now that he’s no longer a minister, he can be himself. That must be very liberating for him, although I’m sure the decision to leave his life’s work was extremely difficult. If I know him, he did a lot of praying and soul searching before he took that step.

Simon later became a certified nursing assistant and worked in a psychiatric hospital. I’m sure his skills as a minister were useful when he worked at that job. He recently had to stop working there due to health reasons and family responsibilities.

Like me, my former boss spent a lot of time in school. He’s earned a couple of master’s degrees that he doesn’t use for paid employment. He’s also a bit of an eccentric, like I am. Like me, he found his soul mate and has enjoyed a long, happy union. He’s married to a wonderful woman with whom he enjoys a great marriage and has three lovely daughters. I look up to my former boss as an example. He’s yet another person who didn’t take the conventional road through life.

Bill and I will soon celebrate our eighteenth wedding anniversary. Although the years haven’t always been easy… they’ve all been fun. We still love each other very much. I’m so grateful we were able to have our wedding officiated by someone who is a true friend. He made the ceremony very special and meaningful. We still talk about what he said to us during our wedding. And despite all of the little hassles that come up in our daily lives, we remain committed to each other and happy to be in each other’s lives. I realize how very fortunate we are every day, especially when I go a little nuts.

So… even though I know people read this blog and think all kinds of things about me, the truth is, I’ve been blessed with a lot of good things in life. And I have many good people in my life, too. Especially Bill… I could not have asked for a better partner. When I look back on my pathway through life, I realize that every decision I made, before we first encountered each other in a chat room back in 1999, led me to him. Even working at a church summer camp when I am not particularly religious myself.

I’m also really glad I grew up Presbyterian. If I had to go to church, I’m glad it was one that embraces education and scholarly research. I’m glad I didn’t come away from the experience with religious baggage. The Presbyterians also have the distinction of being from Scotland, too.

And now I have to decide what to get him for our anniversary, since we can’t travel anywhere. Wonder what Hallmark says the 18th anniversary present is. Guess I’ll go find out, especially now that the power is back on.

Standard
anniversary

Oh… how we danced on the night we were wed!

Uh… actually, we didn’t do much dancing on November 16, 2002. I think we danced once, mainly because Bill doesn’t dance and I was wearing a big white dress that didn’t lend itself to moving around. And we didn’t do any horizontal dancing, either, because we were both too tired and I was being visited by Aunt Flow. She showed up right after the ceremony, right on schedule. So there wasn’t any dancing and, in fact, our wedding was fraught with tensions ranging from dealing with the obnoxious caterer, the irritating florist, my organist mom getting pissed off that the organist kept messing up hymns during our rehearsal, my father-in-law fainting right before we said our vows, and our photographer going into combat mode and taking pictures of the whole thing… It was probably the worst day of our marriage so far. 😉

The night before our wedding, Bill was very nervous. His mom tried to comfort him by saying, “Don’t worry, Bill. No one ever died at the altar.” Imagine Bill’s horror when, just as we were about to say our vows, Bill’s father starts to collapse. It turned out he’d locked his knees, trying to emulate the soldiers in their uniforms, and that caused him to faint. He was revived and we said our vows, but the first thing Bill thought of as his dad was having his sinking spell was that his dad was going to die at the altar at Virginia Military Institute, right in front of the huge mural of the Battle of New Market.

And then, we weren’t officially married until about two weeks after the wedding, because the court clerk of Rockbridge County misplaced our marriage license and wouldn’t cooperate with us in trying to find it. I’ve already written the story about that, and how Bill had to use his powers of persuasion to get that mess sorted out. We have definitely had our challenges since that rainy day in November 2002.

Despite the issues we faced at the wedding, it was still a wonderful day. My former boss, then a Presbyterian minister, was the officiant. We had beautiful music, including “Highland Cathedral”, and several other gorgeous hymns. My friend, Robert, a gifted pastry chef, made our cake for us. We got some lovely photos and no one said or did anything embarrassing or illegal. All in all, it was a successful day regardless. And the good news is, things have gotten even better as time has passed.

Hard to believe I walked down the aisle to this majestic piece 17 years ago… we had a piper and an organist and it was beautiful. Maybe not as beautiful as this rendition… but it kicked some ass.

Today, we’ve been married for 17 years. They’ve all been good years, despite everything that has happened. Look at everything we’ve weathered! Here’s a list:

  • Nine moves, twice to Germany and once within Germany
  • Bill’s narcissistic ex wife and her smear campaigns
  • Shunning from his daughters and ex stepson
  • Multiple job changes
  • My prolonged unemployment and subsequent early retirement from the career for which I spent three years and many thousands of dollars in training
  • Manipulative family drama from my family
  • Manipulative family drama from his family
  • Deployment and extended TDYs
  • War
  • Military retirement
  • My father’s death
  • My mother’s breast cancer
  • Bill’s financial recovery from his first marriage, to include bankruptcy and foreclosure
  • My student loans
  • Facebook
  • Bad living situations
  • Tyrannical and intrusive landlords (and there have been a couple)
  • Abusive boss in a war zone
  • Infertility
  • Extreme child support payments
  • Bill’s decision to leave Mormonism
  • Health scares
  • Co-dependency
  • My depression and anxiety
  • Losing four rescue dogs to diseases

I’m sure I can think of more items to add to this already impressive list of the challenges we’ve faced. It’s more fun to think of our victories, though. Here’s a list:

  • Exploring life in five states and Germany
  • Visiting more countries than I can count
  • Mom has been cancer free since 2014
  • Bill reuniting with one of his daughters and meeting his grandchildren and son-in-law on Skype
  • Finally being completely left alone by Bill’s ex
  • Multiple job successes
  • Bill earning two master’s degrees
  • Paying off my student loans for my three degrees
  • My writing and music career, which some people appreciate and for which I have earned some actual money
  • Deciding to distance ourselves from family dramas on both sides
  • Confronting people who are abusive and taking legal action when necessary
  • Full financial recovery so that Bill’s credit score is now as good as mine is
  • Better living situations
  • Military retirement
  • Church free Sundays
  • Ending child support
  • Realizing that not having children isn’t the end of the world
  • Being basically healthy– neither of us has been hospitalized yet
  • Being more assertive instead of resorting to ineffective behaviors
  • Surviving war… and not having PTSD
  • Absence makes the heart grow fonder… TDYs and deployments can be blessings
  • Realizing that Facebook isn’t the end all, be all
  • Realizing that my dad and other relatives who have passed on are no longer in pain or suffering
  • Most of the time, I’m not depressed or anxious and I no longer require medication
  • Adopting five awesome dogs and making a commitment to keep giving a loving home to dogs who need them
  • Working hard to eliminate and minimize debts
  • Bill’s work being recognized and appreciated, and getting to live in Germany, which despite everything, is a great place to live.

We have had our share of trials, but I can truly say that as much as I loved Bill on our wedding day, I love him so much more seventeen years later. He is a wonderful, kind-hearted, decent, responsible, intelligent, honorable man, who loves and cares for me like no other. I will always be eternally grateful that we found each other and decided to share our lives. I think it would be very difficult for me to find another man who understands and appreciates me as much as Bill does. Not everyone can take my personality, my sense of humor, or my very distinctive, cackling laugh.

Bwahahahaha! This was just one of the challenges of our wedding day. And yes, we had rain, too! Guess it was good luck!

As I was writing the above lists, I suddenly remembered that day in early August 2007. Bill had been in Iraq for six months, working as a deputy for a very abusive boss who was later very publicly fired from the Army. Although Bill was never in much physical danger when he was downrange, he had a boss who enjoyed abusing him and others who worked with them. It was probably the longest six months of Bill’s life.

I spent those months alone with our two dogs in a brand new house at Fort Belvoir. Although I missed Bill terribly, I took care of myself and the dogs, and started to prepare us for our first move to Germany. Bill got a temporary bump in pay, so I took the opportunity to start paying off debts. I paid off his credit cards and bumped up my student loan payments by $20. I remember thinking we’d never get beyond those debts. Hell, even five years ago, I still owed $40,000 on my student loans. As of last year, they’re gone.

And then there was that day in August when Bill came home from war. I drove to Ronald Reagan International Airport in Washington, DC– otherwise known as National– to wait for him to emerge. There was Bill in his uniform, a look of sheer delight on his face when he saw me. His boss walked ahead of me to greet his family and Bill came charging toward me and enveloped me in a tight hug that almost knocked me over. It was a true movie moment. People were standing around us, watching the reunion. We went home, where I had decorated the house with streamers and balloons, and baked him his favorite chocolate cake… and we spent several days making up for all of the sex we didn’t have while he was gone. Six weeks later, we moved to Germany, where things continued to improve.

The first five years of our marriage were tough, especially financially… but things got a lot easier after Bill went to war. That was when we were finally able to get ahead financially. Moving to Germany also helped, since we got extra money there, and I was making some money from writing. By the time we left Germany in 2009, two of the three kids for whom Bill was paying child support aged out. And two years after that, number three turned 18 and refused to speak to Bill, so we reclaimed her share of the money, too. We started being able to take nice vacations, put money in savings, retire debts, and invest for our future together. Through it all, we loved and trusted each other. Even when we were broke, we were happy just being together. Now that we’re no longer broke, we’re still happy and thriving.

Considering how and where we met, and everything that seemed to be against us, it’s crazy to think we’ve survived everything for so long. In fact, I’m sure a lot of people were certain we’d wind up divorced. But it’s all working out beautifully… so much so that I’ve adopted Keb’ Mo’s lovely song “Life is Beautiful” as our theme. Because it just keeps getting better… despite everything.

I have got to see this man play live. Fortunately, he’ll be in Europe again soon.
My best selfie partner.

Well… here’s to 17 great years with the best husband (for me, at least) ever. And here’s to at least 17 more. Now, time to pack a bag for our night in Frankfurt and days in Poland. It will be yet another fine adventure!

Standard
anniversary

17 years…

In two weeks, it will be our 17th wedding anniversary. I haven’t bought Bill a gift yet. Truth be told, after 17 years, it gets hard to decide what to buy for one’s love… I had the same problem a few years ago, as evidenced in my Facebook memories. I posted that I couldn’t decide what to get Bill for our eleventh year, and my former shrink and current friend suggested steel. He’d looked it up on Hallmark.com, which helpfully offers tips on gift buying for beleaguered spouses who can’t think of the perfect present at anniversary time.

Steel for the 11th anniversary? Perfect. “Handcuffs it is, then!” I cheerfully posted. But I’ve already given Bill handcuffs. In fact, they were the very first gift I ever bought for him. I did it on a dare.

We were dating, and had confessed to being a trifle kinky. Somehow, in the course of talking about kink, he told me his preferences for handcuffs. He said he wanted black ones, because they don’t reflect light and are easier to conceal. When I learned that he had survived September 11th, 2001 in the Pentagon, I decided it was appropriate to give him a congratulatory gift. I went on eBay and made my very first purchase… a pair of black, professional grade Smith & Wesson cuffs. I even remember the name of the vendor– Patty Wagon Express.

Bill has a pair of these. I think he determined I was the woman for him when I sent him this as a “gag” gift.

I sent them with my compliments to Bill, who said that he was very… ahem… excited to receive them, even though I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve even tried them on. It’s the thought that counts, right? Is it any wonder we were engaged a few months later?

So anyway, last night I went looking for a gift for our 17th year. A number of sources indicated that for the 17th year, it’s appropriate to give your partner furniture. We are in dire need of a new couch for our TV room. We threw out the shitty futon we bought when we moved into our last house because it was a cheap piece of crap and uncomfortable to sit upon, even though it had been one of Zane’s favorite places to lounge.

I was excited at the prospect of buying furniture. Hell, I could even make it kinky! There are stores out there in Internetland that specialize in sexy stuff. We live in Germany, where there are sex stores aplenty, even at the airport! There are lots of craftsmen around, too. I bet I could find a sexy Barcalounger that would spice things up at our house as the long, dark, winter approaches. Bill could force me to watch movies like The Matrix and The Big Lebowski (which I’ve seen three times now and still don’t enjoy) while I mainline wine through a bong.

But I was still curious to find out what Hallmark had to say about our upcoming anniversary, so I went looking… and Hallmark suggests wine and spirits! Like we don’t already have enough of that shit in our house! I don’t think I’m going to buy him any wine or spirits. I probably won’t buy him a kinky recliner, either. I’d never be able to get it up the stairs.

As it is, we’re planning to spend our anniversary night at a beautiful five star hotel in Frankfurt. I’ll find us a nice restaurant where we can toast seventeen good years together.

Then, the next day, we’re flying to Wroclaw, Poland, where Bill has to work all week, and I’ll be fucking around, looking for things to do and people to see. We have been to Wroclaw before, but we only spent a few hours there. It was in 2008, when we spent our sixth anniversary in Bolaslaweic, Poland with stops in Dresden and Prague. We spent the first weekend at our first luxury hotel in Dresden… absolutely a fabulous city. Then we spent five nights at the Blue Beetroot, a boutique hotel that was once an old barn. The British owners are of Polish descent and moved from London to make their hotel the hottest pottery stop in the district. We had a surprisingly good time in 2008, and eleven years later, they’ve added even more to it. Then on our anniversary weekend, we spent a couple of nights in Prague— also a fabulous town I’d love to see again. Of course, we had the benefit of our trusty Toyota when we visited Poland the first time. This time, we’re forced to fly due to company policy.

We’re more like Jack and Chrissy.

Maybe that’s enough. God knows, we have enough crap in our house. There’s no telling when the next move will be. It could be next year. It could be five years from now. Maybe it’s better to just collect memories than stuff to lug around. I still like the idea of a sadomasochistic Barcalounger, though. Sometimes even boring housewives like a dash of spice after seventeen years.

Standard