It always surprises me — although, after nearly 24 years, less and less often — how little romance has to do with the real nuts and bolts of a marriage. Not that I’m an enemy of romance. Far from it. But the real structural steel and rebar that make a marriage strong are about as far from roses and poetry as…well, structural steel and rebar.
I cannot identify a moment, way back in the late 1980s, when I decided that my wife was the woman for me. I do know there was a day when I could verbalize that idea in my mind, and as I said it to myself, I had the distinct feeling that I had known it for some time. Later on that mind-saying day, I happened to be at my parents’ house. “I’m going to marry Teresa,” I told them matter-of-factly, sort of as if I were saying, “I have a business trip to Toledo next week.” I promised to tell them how the proposal went, whenever I made up my mind to do it. Then I borrowed one of their cars and left.
Some time in the weeks that followed, I shopped for a ring at a jeweler whose store was in a locally famous district for jewelry in Pittsburgh. After I made the deal, I passed a law school classmate as we crossed Liberty Avenue in opposite directions. “Only one thing it can mean when a young man is coming out of the Clark Building,” she chimed. I blushed in confirmation.
It was the beginning of a long and lovely season of wedding planning and festivity. But none of the regalia of romance that followed in the next 18 months confirmed for me the wisdom of my choice. No, it was something much more momentous.
My bride and I wallpapered a small bathroom together and emerged alive, still in love, and still married.
Notice I did not say immediately happy with each other. One does not come out of such an experience beaming. Tight quarters (it was a downstairs powder room), literally back to back, a 45-year-old house built with a relaxed approach to straightness and squareness…that’s a formula for disaster. It took a special kind of calculus to match the pattern she had chosen, work it around the corners that were really cosine-crazy curves, and get the paste on the paper instead of ourselves. Calculus indeed — I can understand why Newton never married.
I think we had been married less than a year when we tackled the wallpaper project — married, bought a townhouse, offered a new job, sold the townhouse, moved to Chicago, got into a temporary apartment, then another, found a house, bought it, started studying for the Illinois bar, got a job for me, and on and on. It was a test. It was marvelous and maddening to have each other, to learn each other, to soldier on and to hang on. I remember those early days with wonder and fondness.
“What did we do on Saturday nights when we lived in Chicago?” I sometimes say as we have a glass of wine and watch the moon rise over our back yard. Sometimes I really don’t recall.
“Well, we were downtown just about every other week,” she says. “Restaurants, bars. We loved the city.” And I remember.
“Yeah,” I say. “We did.”
I don’t mind forgetting all that little stuff. I like being reminded, like I’m discovering it all again. The part I never forget, though, is the day-by-day strengthening of that structure. There have been trying times since, and a great many more joyful times, all romance of a kind laid over that solid structure.
Today we drilled holes in cabinets and drawers to install new hardware. Templates. Measuring. Badly machined screws. A trip to Home Depot. Patience. Give. Take.
[The husband who wrote the above column would like to say that he is no stranger to traditional romance, and that those of you who think he would give his wife a new socket wrench set for their anniversary are sorely mistaken. Although she would like it. That is all.]
© 2014 Adam Barr