So Rachel and I were sitting on the couch last night – well, I was sitting, she had her feet propped up on my lap for her nightly massage – and suddenly she sits up, looks at me and says: “Tomorrow is our tenth anniversary. I almost forgot.”
Because I had forgotten.
We’ve been hip-deep in VBS this week (and, honestly, that’s normal – in our 10 years of marriage, I think we’ve had VBS or some other church-related event going on for nine of our ten anniversaries) so between 200 kids, some crazy preschoolers, a mouse on the loose, and just general lunacy, we’re lucky we remembered we were even married to each other, let alone what day it actually happened.
And we celebrated in our usual, over-the-top manner: I bought her a smart-aleck card, a bottle of Diet Coke and some Peanut M&Ms. She bought me some cupcakes that her and the kids like. We go huge in the Brooks home, I tell ya.
But it’s been the best 10 years of my life. I could never imagine life with anyone else. Through deaths, surgeries, cancers, and multiple job changes, we managed to always find each other and stay sane. She’s been my rock, and I’ve been her comic relief. She’s taught me to stand up for myself and not take (much) crap from anyone. I’ve taught her that there’s no situation so dark that it can’t be a viciously funny joke. She’s taught me that with faith and sharp financial acumen, we can not only survive on one salary, but thrive. I’ve taught her that I shouldn’t even have a prepaid phone card.
I’ve told the story of our first date before, but I can’t remember if I’ve ever written it down. I’ll have to do that soon, but the short version is this: the date went so astoundingly well that Rachel didn’t speak at all the last 45 minutes. When I pulled up to her parent’s house in my car, she simply opened her door, got out, and walked inside. No “goodbye”, no “you suck”, no nothing.
She got out and all I saw was the slamming of her door. From inside my car. I never had time to even get out.
The next day, in the middle of church, feeling lower than a flounder’s colon, I felt the overwhelming conviction from God (and I say God because I emphatically know that it was Him and Him alone who spoke to me) to call Rachel as soon as church was over. I sat there for 45 uncomfortable minutes writhing in spiritual agony because I was almost certain that as soon as Rachel heard my voice on the phone, she would either slam the phone down so hard that it would send a shockwave through the phone line that would disembowel me, or she would do the verbal equivalent.
She did neither.
I called her, and when she heard my voice, she said one word. Not even a word, really. More like a noise. She made one noise: “Uhmmmmn.”
I apologized for the date. I apologized for being an ass. I apologized for wasting her time by being phony, instead of just being myself. I think I even apologized for Rico Suave, Ishtar, and the first Bush presidency while I was at it.
Finally, I wrapped it up. “I hope that we can at least be friends. And I sincerely mean that. I like you because you’re smart, funny, and interesting, and I’d hate to let my stupidity prevent us from being friends.”
For a few seconds, she said nothing. Those seconds passed slower and more painfully than a golf-ball sized kidney stone.
The she said, “Okay.”
It was the world’s greatest okay. The most benevolent okay I’ve ever heard, even to this day. Ten years later, I can still feel the grace infused into that one “Okay.” What I didn’t know at the time was that God was speaking to her, telling her to “Be Gentle. Be Gentle.” She was, and a love I never really thought possible blossomed and continues to right now.
It’s changed, of course, like all relationships do, but I still mean today what I told her not too terribly long after that horrible date.
I love her unconditionally. Even if she were to wake up tomorrow and decide that she no longer loved me, no longer wanted me in her life, I would go to my grave loving her. And now that we have children, and I know that kind of love runs even deeper and stronger, it’s still the same. She could hate me all she wants, but I could never love her less.
It’s that love, that inhuman capacity to care for another person (a capacity that comes only from God), that told me then and still tells me today that she is the only woman for me.
And 100 years from now, that love will not have changed.
Happy anniversary to you, Rachel. I love you.