December 9, 1984. It is sunny, unseasonably warm for Massachusetts. A good omen. I’m getting married today. It’s my second time around, his first. We’ve both been on our own for several years, and now, after knowing each other for just about nine months, we’re taking the big chance that our instinct is right and we’re meant to spend the rest of our lives together.
Our rabbi—who was Al’s Hebrew School teacher growing up, and my mentor when I landed in this community after my divorce—is performing the wedding. He’s responsible for our meeting. (He gave Al my name and number, then later apologized for not asking my permission first. We’ve laughed about this many times, since.)
After an eventful ceremony (one of our friends, who is helping to hold up our wedding canopy, faints, and my dad steps in to take his place, but we’re so absorbed in each other we don’t notice), after a great party with kosher Chinese food and Klezmer music, we drive to Cape Cod for our honeymoon. We discover the magic of Nauset Beach, in December, at night. The sand is phosphorescent and sparkles in the moonlight.
Thirty years later. A Nor’easter is whipping up the coast, but fortunately it’s bringing only rain and wind, not mountains of snow. We’re going out to dinner tonight to celebrate our anniversary. On Friday, our daughters are coming home from their respective graduate programs for Shabbat dinner, the first time in months we’ve all been together, just the four of us, for a meal. Their idea.
I feel so fortunate to be writing these words. Simple things, dinner out with your husband of three decades, Friday night dinner at home with your grown daughters. We’re thinking about what else we might do, later this year, to celebrate coming this far together. But right now, this feels just right.
Our first year together was fraught with medical crises. Only a month after our wedding, I learned I had some kind of auto-immune disease—maybe rheumatoid arthritis, maybe lupus, maybe scleroderma. Just as I had put my life back together again, it all seemed to be unraveling. Later that first year, Al’s mom had the first of two strokes. Al wore himself out, running back and forth to the hospital to visit her, working and leading a youth group. He came down with mononucleosis, his spleen ruptured, and he needed emergency surgery. When they opened him up, the surgeon found six pints of blood in his abdomen. He was held together by a blood clot.
Al came home from the hospital the day before our first anniversary. In the decades that have followed, we’ve each had our share of medical scares, and we’ve seen Al’s mother and both of my parents through the illnesses that eventually took their lives. We’ve been in and out of hospitals and ER’s with our daughters, too.
But we’ve been lucky. So very lucky. With all the medical challenges, with all the stresses of raising a family and keeping our daughters safe in a troubled world and providing them with a good education and making ends meet and finding work and surviving layoffs and starting my own business—with all of that, and much more, we’re still here. Together.
Over the weekend, Al and I decided to sort through all the books, the many, many books in our home, to give away the ones we no longer want and make room for the ones we want to keep. I can’t take books off the shelves easily. It hurts my hands. So Al did all the moving and shuffling and reorganizing, while we talked through what should go where. Do you want these alphabetized? he asked. Yes, but within categories, I said, like poems, plays, essays. Ok, he said, how about this way? We worked like that for several hours, Saturday night and Sunday, too. We can now find all of our books. But the best part—it was fun.
Maybe it’s taken all that’s come before to be able to sit back and appreciate the simple beauty of being able to organize a few thousand books with your husband on a cold wintery weekend, when your hands don’t work, and his do. It’s the kind of deep, abiding, dependable love you can only discover through traveling a rough road together.
Marriage is hard work, especially with a chronic disease as an unwanted third partner. I wish we could have gotten to this place without my scleroderma. But maybe there was no other way. And I’m very grateful that we’ve made it this far.
Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.