Today is my 27th wedding anniversary, and this year both Anthony and I turn 54. So we’ve officially been married half our lives. To say the wedding was an afterthought isn’t quite right – it was a profound event in which we celebrated our love with friends and family (and some strangers), and we had fun and cried and all that, but it didn’t change our devotion. We had made our lifelong commitment to each other, in our hearts and behaviors, long before a wedding.
A half-life ago, the US economy was just starting to think about pulling out of a deep recession in the wake of Reagan’s devastating trickle-down economic policies. Institutionalized apartheid still existed in South Africa. I was never going to have kids. Newt Gingrich was talking hypocritically about “family values” and really getting me riled up. We were listening to Rage Against the Machine and the Cranberries and Soundgarden and Billy Bragg. 9/11 hadn’t yet happened, and the US hadn’t yet been dragged into a long-term war on false pretenses. Dreamers couldn’t dream legally. It was unimaginable that a conservative justice would write a Supreme Court decision declaring a constitutional right to marriage for all humans, LGBTQ and otherwise. It had been only three years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I could never have imagined a silver-spooned, half-baked business man-turned reality TV star becoming our president by blowing racist dog whistles. And I had never heard of Juneteenth as an important date. I had no idea I was getting married on the celebration day for the end of slavery in America.
Somehow, despite knowing of Juneteenth for some years now, I never made that date connection until this year. I don’t even understand how in the world I missed it. I guess I just wasn’t paying attention; but also perhaps American education and news hadn’t brought it to my attention, or even worse had hidden it. But I know it now.
COVID-19, and the anti-police-brutality peaceful protest movement that’s sweeping across America, have made 2020 one crazy year. I hope we’re all listening, growing, and eventually healing. I hope I’ve thought about race issues with an open heart through the years, and now I hope I can think more deeply and more clearly about these things. I hope I’ve done right things to support social justice and parity and to fight discrimination and hate and violence, and now I hope I can do more and better right things in pursuit of a better world. I hope I’ve believed in and supported our individual responsibility to community, in terms of social justice and physical and mental wellness, and now I hope I can learn to do more to be a responsible human being.
I’m learning slowly, ever so slowly, that I can be a good and useful person already, and also be a person who needs to improve and change in fundamental ways. This is apparently a hard lesson for a lot of us, especially when it comes to race in America. But of course, we can’t grow into wisdom without admitting to our ignorance and mistakes. I can be strong enough to listen when someone tells me I’ve messed up — in the words I’ve chosen, in the actions I’ve taken — and then work towards a more informed, more effective space. I’m working on it.
Meanwhile, in the microcosm of my personal life, COVID-19 quarantining has created space to rediscover my husband. Anthony and I have used the extra time we’ve had in the past few months to jump into old sandboxes together.
We’ve started hitting golf balls again — after a 16 year hiatus on my part! — and even have played a couple of 9-hole rounds on a par-three course. Anthony and I used to be avid, passionate golfers. Every weekend we played, weather permitting. We would hit the driving range at least a couple times a week after work. Our vacations were often golf vacations. We would go to Myrtle Beach, an east coast golf Mecca, and play 14 courses in 7 days. When we visited family, we brought our clubs.
A round of golf was space away from all the worries of our jobs and world news. We could spend 5 hours on a course together, pottering about on green surfaces, whacking balls, chatting and holding hands. Nothing could really come between us except our own grumpiness.
I felt surprisingly anxious about swinging a club again, but it turned out to be a lot like riding a bicycle. Being out there with Anthony has brought up an unexpected sense of peaceful contentment in me. (When we’re out there. Still grumpy elsewhere.)
We’ve also been working in the yard like mad. We’ve built and filled raised vegetable bed boxes; hauled 18 cubic yards of fill dirt, garden dirt, and mulch from here to there; dug trenches to drain a huge temporary pond that forms every spring, and built a walkway into the middle of said pond so Anthony can use a sump pump on it; split plants, moved plants, and installed new plants in old and new beds; cleared half an acre of invasive buckthorn and garlic mustard; and weeded and weeded and weeded.
A couple days ago, we spent four hours digging up a bed of hostas on a steep hillside out back. The soil there is pretty poor and weedy, and we had a couple cubic yards of bulk garden soil waiting to find a final resting place. So we dug out about 50 mostly-mature hostas in an area that’s about 15- to 20-feet square, and carefully weeded. Then we carted the new soil from out front into the back yard, one heaping wheelbarrow trip after another, and spread it all over the area. Then we put all the hostas back. As Anthony said in the evening: four hours of exhausting labor, and nothing has changed.
But it was still a good four hours. Anthony and I trooped around together, dug together, stared at our beloved plants and gardens together, paused for water together, grumbled together about our various middle-aged aches and pains, chatted together about politics and culture and life in 2020. It was a pretty good metaphor for our marriage — getting shit done, one moment at a time, mostly right by each other’s side, content to be together.
As with the wider world, in the little world of my love story with Anthony, I’ve learned that I can be a good partner and friend while also being profoundly imperfect. I’m lucky to have found a mate who understands and accepts that about me. I’m working on being strong enough to listen when he tells me hard things. I know Anthony is too.
Twenty seven years after I got married, and 401 years after slavery arrived on the shores of my nation, there’s still hope. I guess. In this Age of Trump and racist dog whistles, I have to work hard to remind myself that we have taken small steps forward. But I’m ready for us to leap.