One thing I’ve never doubted was our decision to get married when we did. We met, dated for less than six months, got engaged, and were married that same year.
We were married the summer before my junior year of college, Mike’s senior year.
So many people told us to wait.
I am so glad we didn’t.
We knew how to do college. We figured, why not get married during a period in our life where at least the next one-two years was pretty much figured out? It seemed easier to us to tackle marriage then, rather than wait and have to figure out marriage, our careers, and life in the real world all at once.
So we got married in a fever, as June and Johhny once said, and headed off to our honeymoon in St Louis before returning to our new home, an apartment in our college’s married student housing.
The apartment was small and hot, but we were young and so in love. So we made the most of the space and took advantage of the heat that beckoned us to, you know, not wear too many layers (wiiiiink).
During that first year, we went to school by day and worked the late shift at the campus coffee shop by night. We were both baristas, but Mike was the manager and therefore my boss. Here is a tip. Don’t work FOR your husband your fist year of marriage. What’s more, don’t do a job where he is required to TRAIN you, in his role as manager and your role as employee. Honestly, I have a lot of good memories working that job. We were in close quarters, constantly bumping into each other and keepin that fever burnin, if you know what I mean. Plus, we were on campus and constantly around our friends. We enjoyed the fast pace. We enjoyed the constant smell and taste of coffee. And we enjoyed each other.
Man oh man. Did we ever have some doozy of fights behind those counters. I can’t begin to tell you how much I hated being corrected and trained and corrected and trained some more by my new husband. He had worked at the cafe longer than me, so not only was he MY BOSS, for goodness sake, but he also had more experience/better skills than me. And did that ever burn me. It gets me fired up just thinking about it now, almost 12 years later.
Do NOT tell me how to steam my milk! NO way, No how. I would have left in a huff way more than I did, but you know, I kind of had to stay put because we were getting paid to be there. But anyways.
We didn’t do too much between shifts at the coffee shop and classes. I had homework that I made sure I did. He had homework that he…well, kind of did. We walked to the local library every week to get books and movies and CDs. We had absolutely no money, so the library was literally our only form of entertainment that year. The summer we were married, Mike worked like a dog doing construction to make enough money to cover a year’s worth of rent so that we only had to earn enough during the school year for gas, groceries, and utilities. But that was plenty. I really don’t know how we paid all our bills. We were so incredibly broke.
We survived on eggs and cans of Aldi’s mixed vegetables that I turned into everything under the sun. Add broth and you have soup. Dump it in a casserole dish and add biscuits and you have pot pie. And so on and so forth. It is seriously a miracle that I can even look at an egg, let alone eat one these days. So. Many. Eggs. So many cans of mixed vegetables!
Oh man, you guys. Those were such sweet times. Just me, my man, and a can of mixed vegetables.
Our first year of marriage was a year of extremes. I was extremely happy with my new husband. But I was extremely unhappy at school.
Because Mike’s school offered cheap married student housing, and my school didn’t offer off-campus housing period, we decided that I should be the one to transfer and finish out my degree at his college.
I’m not going to say that was a mistake, because really, there isn’t any point in looking back with regrets. Plus, I learned a lot through that whole experience. (Things like, just because it’s the practical decision doesn’t necessarily make it the right decision.) I’m only tempted to call it a mistake because it was hard, but I also know that just because something is hard doesn’t make it bad or wrong…just, hard. And this was really hard. Like, lose my faith kind of hard.
Mike’s school was a conservative Christian school. I’ll save most of the details of my experience during this time for another post…maybe. (Actually, probably not.) All I’ll say now is that being at this school was one of the hardest and darkest periods of my life. I’ve never felt so confused. I hated all the rules. I hated how people were positioned by the institution to act as judgmental watch dogs of their fellow students. I’ll never forget getting demerits from girls I didn’t know for how I was dressed. I just wanted to scream. I LIVE ON MY OWN! I’M MARRIED! I’M HAVING SEX FOR PETE’S SAKE. And I also happen to be PAYING YOU PEOPLE a ridiculous amount of money so can you PLEASE just let me decide how I should be dressing?
So. Flipping. Stupid.
I hated the falseness that surrounded me. I hated being in a place that was supposed to be all about God but really was just about money and rules and a false sense of superiority. I hated the judgement that was contrived as “right” and “wrong” but was really just a thinly veiled way to control.
I missed my old school. I missed my pretty campus. I missed my old English Department and discussions of Kafka and Russian Literature with my friends. I missed my friends.
There were two bright spots in all of this, of course. There was Mike, my husband and friend and person I loved most in the world. And he was wonderful. We had so much fun together. We worked hard at school and at the coffee shop but outside of that, we mostly just hung out. Just the two of us. We started our marriage while still in college and really, that was the beginning of our growing up, too. And we did it together.
The other bright spot was my new English Department. I met new people. I fell in love with new authors and new ideas. I became the editor of the school newspaper. I was accepted into the honor society and was presented with a whole new world of opportunities. I fell in love with Salinger, a love that has never waned but only grown stronger over the years. I so related with his disdain of the phonies. I resonated with his questions and his distrust. I understood what he meant when he said he didn’t want to just like people – he wanted to respect them.
During our first year of marriage, I was confronted with a set of struggles that I never saw coming. I expected marriage to be hard and honestly, it just wasn’t. Mike and I knew we wanted to be together, and so we made it happen. We’ve continued to make it happen. Through love. Through hard work. And through simply being together. Through reminding ourselves that this is what we want, and this is who we’ve chosen.
It was something deeper, more personal and way more complicated than marriage that shook me our first year. I saw Christians behave in a way that seemed so far outside of who Jesus was and who he said we should be. I saw a culture built on everything except simple truths. I saw everything I had ever believed and experienced called into question.
I asked myself, “Is this what I really want?”
It’s funny, because I think most people probably ask themselves that question during their first year of marriage about the marriage. I asked it about my faith.
Through all of this – all of my struggle and questions and confusion – there was Mike. I don’t really remember him addressing this stuff head on, although I’m sure we talked about it. What I mostly remember is – him. I remember our walks. I remember getting groceries together every Sunday after church. I remember the way he looked when he would interact with customers at the coffee shop. I remember sitting down to eat with him every day for lunch and dinner. I remember the way the ladies at the library would smile when we came in each week. I remember sitting with him on the little stoop outside of our apartment – completely unsure of so many things, yet completely sure, of him.
I remember going on a missions trip with him to New Orleans one month after Katrina hit. I remember the group leader insisting that we stay in separate rooms because the guys and girls had to be separate. I remember Mike, walking up to the leader and saying, no, he wouldn’t be separated from his wife. We’d sleep in the van if necessary. But he wasn’t leaving me because of some stupid rule.
We slept in the van that week. We’d roll out our sleeping bags and gather up some of our clothes and say goodnight to each other in the back of the 15 passenger van. I remember my body feeling so incredibly uncomfortable. I remember my heart feeling so incredibly comforted.
And that, really, is the story of our first year. Some really good things. Some really hard things. Some really big questions and struggles for me. But also, amidst it all, the comfort that comes from knowing that the person sleeping next to you on a pile of dirty clothes in the back of a 15 passenger van, is yours, and it doesn’t matter what questions you have tonight. You’ll figure it all out – together.