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25 years in love
The other night, when Alix and I were getting ready for bed, I noticed that our toothbrushes were embracing. So I took this picture. It looked like they’d had a long day. You would, too, if you sat in a dark medicine cabinet most of the time, except for when you got yanked out of your holder and scrubbed across a set of grungy teeth. It can’t be fun to be a toothbrush. But it might be rewarding to be part of a pair. When you’re wet and grungy and ragged, it means everything to have someone who will let you lean on them for a little while.
And it means even more when the other person is wet and ragged and grungy and they come to lean on you.
As of today Alix Felsing and I will have been married 25 years, and probably the first thing I should do is apologize to her for starting this essay by comparing us to a couple of old toothbrushes.
We will do some nice things for each other today, and we’ll take some time off to celebrate later, but we’re not taking a big anniversary trip just yet. I’ve gotten mashed up against some deadlines, as usual, and Alix has been saving me from myself, as usual. We are both dedicated to our work, probably a little too much. It is one of the many, many things we have come to understand about each other.
We have been married, if I am counting right, 9,131 days. That is a lot of reps—so many chances to to screw things up, to get things right, to make a moment. We have done all those things, multiple times.
One year we got halfway to Tennessee for Christmas when we figured out we had left all the presents back in Charlotte. Another time we took a nice romantic hike through a park in the Uwharries and came out covered in ticks. We still tell those stories and laugh about them, and my favorite part is that we also laughed about them while they were happening, once we had run out of cuss words.
I’m not about to make this a guide to marriage, but I will say this: Make your partner laugh. We make each other laugh. Two or three times a year something will happen that gets Alix truly tickled, the kind of fit where she’s crying and losing her breath. Her mom lives with us now and a couple of times they’ve both gotten tickled at the same thing and they look so much alike, doubled over and shaking with laughter. There’s just about nothing in my life that makes me happier than that.
Well, except maybe when Alix winks at me across the breakfast table. Or when she walks by and her hand brushes across my back.
The way you spend 25 years together is by spending 9,000-some days together. I don’t think a day has gone by when we haven’t said I love you. The little things matter.
The longer you live, the more you lose. In the time Alix and I have been together, she has lost her dad and I have lost my mom. We’ve both had close friends die. Our first cat got run over and our sweet old yellow Lab mutt died in our arms when we had him put to sleep.
There are other losses, too, ones that don’t show up in the box score but that both of us know about.
One of the things Alix does in her job as an executive coach is teach resilience. One of the goals I have as a writer is to make you feel the depth of emotion in someone else’s life. I’ve come to think that the marriage of those two ideas is the key to being fully human. You have to let yourself feel the heights and depths of this beautiful and painful life, feelings so powerful they can knock you over. Then you have to find a way to get up again.
Alix and I have helped each other up so many times and in so many ways. This is just a small example, as these things go, but it’s the first that comes to mind: Years ago, we flew to Boston so I could interview for a fellowship. I was so nervous and stressed that I got a migraine. I almost never have them and they make me want to drill a hole in my skull. I was moaning in our little hotel room and so Alix went out into an unfamiliar city and brought back soup and ginger ale. She fed me and fixed me a wet washcloth and held me until the pain went away.
I should probably mention here that Alix gets migraines way more often than I do, and more often than not she just plows right through them. She is way tougher than me.
But sometimes resilience doesn’t come from within. Sometimes it comes from someone who props you up until your legs are solid underneath you. Some days I hold Alix up, other days she holds me up, and some days we’re like two drunks leaning into each other as we wobble down the street. It’s not always a pretty sight. But it’s how we make it home.
We have made so many mistakes. The first one was getting married in July. Getting married in the middle of July means your anniversary falls—follow me closely here—in the middle of July. One summer we tried to escape to Wisconsin (where Alix is from), but that year there was a generational heat wave. We spent the hottest night of our lives in a house in Madison without air conditioning.
With climate change, if we want to cool off, we might have to spend our 50th in Greenland.
We have—well, let me speak for myself here—I have made SO many other mistakes in our marriage. I have said and done so many things I shouldn’t have, and probably even worse, not done and not said so many things I should have. Some of them are just dumb fumbles in the moment; others are more deeply embedded in the gap between who I am and who I ought to be. There are times I can’t imagine why someone would want to spend a weekend with me, much less 25 years.
No one on earth knows me better than Alix does, and no one holds me closer. That’s something I don’t know if my brain will ever resolve. But I have come to believe that she believes in me. And there’s no one in the world I believe in more than her.
The first evening Alix and I spent together—she will still firmly tell you that it was NOT a date—was at a Hickory Crawdads baseball game. In a few weeks, in lieu of a big silver anniversary trip, we’re going to drive around this beautiful state and see some baseball games. It’s not a big splashy thing. It’s just the two of us, living our days together, adding up the little moments. She is all I want. This is all I have ever wanted.
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