Yesterday at work I looked down at my hand and saw my rings there. "I am his wife," I thought to myself with a little start of both sensual pleasure and surprise. It's not that I ever actually forget, it's just that some days pass by with my attention on all the other countless things that fill my day, feeding the dogs, charging the phone, that sort of thing.
At the beginning of this month, we were married half a year; at the end of deployment, I will have been a married woman for a year and a month. I tell myself that this is actually a good thing, because I get two years of being a newly wed, the year when he was gone and the year when he is here. I tell myself that this is what I choose when I choose to marry him a month before he deployed.
And it is true; it was my choice. Just like it was my choice each time to take his call when he was at NTC, just like it was my choice to wait all day in a state of suspended animation and then to dress in a state of unearthly calm, and then drive down through the balmy twilight as though I were trailing behind me all the expectations and plans I had had for my life, as though the long trip and the wind whipped them all free so that I arrived at his door with nothing but my self.
I knew that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I knew that my ignorance of the military life, of deployments, of the language, of the expectations and the customs, the honor and the sacrifice, my ignorance of it all made it at once easier and inevitably excruciating in the future.
When I was a young girl, prone to weaving flowers in my hair to wear to church on Sundays and spending long hours in my room with the dormer windows and white washed, sloping ceiling, I imagined that marriage was a safe and secure harbor, an identity to cover the ragged shreds of self that otherwise I wore and a purpose all at once.
But of course, it is not. Marriage is like opening the flood gates to life, it's to be a house with all the windows wide open to the storm.
"What do you want to do?" he asked me quietly that day, as we sat at the counter in the Country Clerk's office. All around us was the quiet bustle of municipal business being put to order, our clerk busy typing up the documents, pretending not to listen.
He leaned toward me, his whole face a question. We could take the documents and marry anywhere we wanted, somewhere meaningful to us, (our clerk had mentioned several scenic spots) any time in the next two weeks, and then mail them in to be officially recorded. Or we could get married there.
I looked at him, wondering what he was thinking. The moment was full of unsaid things but in the silence of it, my thoughts settled down into a certain clarity, one that transcended the setting, the time; in that moment, everything was quiet.
"I just want to marry you," I said, and the moment broke, his face filled with light; he looked away and nodded. The background intruded, the sounds of children, the hushed voices, the light falling across the dull grey carpet through the wide, glass windows.
He accepted the documents from the clerk and stood, I caught him as he lurched, he had strained his ankle only a day ago, an ankle he had already broken twice in the course of his service and of course he refused to take pain medication and still spent long, hot hours supervising the loading of the rail cars in preparation for deployment.
We sat down in the lobby and looked, almost shyly at the document, to be sure we knew the instructions and where to sign. He signed first, authoritatively, without hesitation. Intent, I wrote out my married name for the first time, concentrating on the new loops, biting my lip.
Then we looked up and at each other, joy like light spreading over our faces.
"Hello Mrs. Indiana," he said with a triumphant grin.
"Hello," I replied, suddenly deliciously shy.
"You're stuck with me now...Ha!" he teased, his blue eyes all dancing with little lights.
That night when I welcomed him for the first time to our bed as my husband, I was caught completely unaware by the holiness of that moment.
I had had over a decade to come to terms with the loss of my virginity to a man who had lied to me, manipulated and humiliated me. I had had ten years to try and come up with a new identity, one that did not hold my virginity as the holy grail of self worth, one that did not relegate me to the bin of second hand goods, out of the package and pawed over, forever marked down.
It had been drilled into my head that the Will of God was like Dante's vision of hell, only in opposite; there were concentric circles of God's will, the highest will, the one that we can meet only through perfect obedience, and then other wills, the ones that He comes up with after we have disobeyed, forever fallen from the first vision of Godliness.
It took me years before I realized how cramped was my understanding of God's ability to redeem. It took me years before I realized the perfect freedom of redemption, of God's utter lack of fear, His utter confidence in His ability to transform our every flawed and bitter human experience into something not just equal to, but greater than our own vision. His creative work wasn't done in six days; He goes on flawlessly creating in every moment of our lives, unflinchingly and with joy.
I like to think back to all those years I didn't know my husband, but still just as much mine, those years my husband threw himself off the rocky ledge into the swimming hole on those humid Indiana nights, how he laughed and drank and lived with all the courage and passion that he holds in his heart. And I think of those years pushing through the mud and snows of Germany that forged him into the man that he is now, with complete confidence in his own strength and knowing without illusion his own weaknesses.
We have said more than once to each other a wish that we had met earlier. But I think the meeting happened at its perfect time. There's no use in longing for things that are impossible. Besides, what is real and true is so much more satisfying in the end.
Even if he is right now in Iraq, in a metal box, sleeping soundly before his next shift and all the pressures and expectations he must meet with. And me, here alone in our house, with the girls and the morning sun and the dust and the quietness of waiting. Despite this, I wouldn't have any other man; I wouldn't have any other life.
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