We dreaded it. From the moment the words slipped from his lips there was gnashing of teeth and long-suffering: Mandatory team-building. Sweet Christmas.
They told us to bring snacks and wear comfortable clothing. They told us to be prepared for inclement weather and outdoor activity. They didn’t share what the activities were or what kind and how much food to bring.
She brought a watermelon.
The largest, biggest, greenest one she could find. When we saw her we snort-laughed. Hiking first. Rock climbing second.
She had to decide. The moment was upon us all. Would she bring it with her? Would she hike with it? Climb with it? Would we have to help her carry it? Actually haul it up the mountain? The struggle.
I’ve always been naive about relationships, partnership, and love. I didn’t date until years after college, but even then I hated the superficiality and insincerity of it. I wanted something permanent, something real. If there was no potential for marriage, dating was purposeless and pointless. First came love, then came marriage.
I believed whole-heartedly, I still believe, that marriage should always follow love (although it doesn’t necessarily precede it). I believe this whole-heartedly, although I understand in ways that I never dreamed I’d understand a) that we can’t always marry the people we love, b) that we shouldn’t always, c) and that love in itself is not a marriage, no matter how much we might wish it.
Marriage, I imagine, requires something much, much more.
He thinks I fell in love on the first date, but it was actually somewhere between the second and third. It happened on the phone as I was fighting sleep and productivity.
I didn’t think someone black would love me, truly. Friends I knew found me weird and prude. Nonconventional, but not in the interesting way. I was militant, but no one knew it. Committed to the idea of heritage and legacy and building healthy, stable, strong, black community. But no one had ever been willing, and I had never met a partner (one I could imagine or one that imagined me).
I wasn’t sure that I wanted marriage or children. I wanted to learn languages, visit places I could hardly pronounce (and learn to pronounce them). I wanted to have my worldview flipped, shaken, and stirred.
Marriage was the aspiration of insecure women with little ambition. I was sophisticated and metropolitan and evolved (Whew! Lol, right?).
Love is What Dreams May Come. It’s sounding your barbaric yawp across the rooftops of the world. It’s losing and sinking and shredding and climbing, and feeling absolutely and completely overcome.
Marriage is surviving the birth of children, or their traumatic and untimely death, or the struggle of not being able to conceive together. It’s growing in faith while your partner loses hers. It’s deciding on churches or abandoning Church. It’s choosing schools, choosing neighborhoods, choosing communities. It’s choosing cities and choosing institutions.
Whose family will feel neglected? Whose family will feel ignored? Do you agree with his parents’ values? Do you want them to help raise your children? Can you survive mental illness? Will there be infidelity? Detachment? Addiction?
What happens to a dream deferred? Will she lose her voice? Her purpose? Her mind?
Who will he become when he loses his mother? Who will you become, in response? Are you capable of being each other’s partner? To comfort without enabling? To construct without undue criticism? From outrage to reform? What if one day he just decides he doesn’t want this kind of life? What if she never changes, never grows, never matures?
He thinks I fell in love because he’s handsome and funny. “Girls just like my face.” But the truth if I can understand it, if I can articulate it, is that I saw him as a husband and father first, and love came second. And for me that was significant because I had neither the time nor the inclination to be anyone’s wife or mother.
We sat across the table telling stories. I hated horror but loved sci-fi. He spent the first half hour trying to explain that I couldn’t do both; there was too much overlap. He wanted sustainability. He hated shortsightedness. It’s why he chose to bike, to give up meat, to run, to make art, and to work with children.
We should be infinitely concerned with what we leave to those who come after and infinitely grateful to those who came before. Everything is art; everything is sacred. When we deny this, we corrupt. We pollute. And we destroy.
If we ever have children, they will love him more than me. And I’ll be jealous at first, but I’ll understand.
He taught me that we can create joy by harvesting information. Information can fundamentally and completely change our lives.
Love is not a marriage. It’s sky rockets in flight. It’s nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.
But marriage, I imagine, is planting a tree while building a house while untangling the roots while creating a garden. And watching the seasons change and the plants bloom and die and bloom and die and choosing to water, replant, and prune over and over and over and over and over and over again.