Step Two is Today
Originally sent to the POWlist on Tuesday, January 20, 2004.
I used to have this joke, see. It went like this: “I never grew up, people just stared letting me do more stuff.”
It’s a good joke, because it makes a statement that I really mean, just in a lighthearted way. The statement was, all that stuff I felt like I knew as a kid, I really knew. It was the perfect statement for a guy with a ferocious rebellious streak and something to prove.
But in some ways, it kept me a kid. Because some of those things I told myself when I was young are just plain wrong.
Things like: No one will ever love you. Things like: Every relationship is doomed to fail, just like mom and dad. Things like: You will never find anyone who understands you, because you’re not worth understanding.
The older I got, the more the world proved these things right. Every friendship gone bad, every girlfriend gone away, every job turned ugly. I was right. I was right. I was right.
It’s amazing how deep these ideas burrow into you. So deep they just become part of the background noise of your subconscious. Every event is silently judged according to these expectations, stacking up more proof.
I’ll never know how many relationships went bad because I expected them to. How many jobs I ruined because I knew it was just a matter of time. How many experiences I missed out on because I felt I didn’t deserve them.
I probably never would have realized any of this if it weren’t for Heather. Stubborn, stubborn Heather, who loved me even when I was a jerk. Even when I pushed her away. Even when I was angry. Even though she’d been hurt by angry men before.
The bravery she showed in love inspired a bravery in me. A stubborn refusal to let this relationship self-destruct like all the others. We goaded each other into making it work. And then something crazy happened: It actually did work.
And I started to realize that I just never wanted to be without her. So on new year’s eve, hours before the calendar flipped to 2004, after a lovely dinner we cooked together, I asked her to marry me.
Actually, I said, “Wanna get married?”
And she said yes.
Thank God she said yes.
That’s what did it. When she said yes, something changed. The lid of the box was removed and all those weird expectations of failure and sadness floated up to the top. All those childish childhood ideas were suddenly visible. Because, according to the kid in me, that right righteous kid, none of this should be happening. Nowhere in my childhood vision of my adulthood would a woman this beautiful, this smart, this loving, want to marry me.
That kid, he was right about a lot of things. But not about this.
So I’m retiring the old joke. I did grow up. On the cusp of 2004, at 30 years old, I grew up. Or, at least, I started the process of growing up. And step one was saying goodbye to all those expectations of failure.
Step two I’m still not sure about. But I can’t wait to find out.
Added Sunday, July 18: Step two is today, at the top of a hill, with our friends and family all around us. I can’t fucking wait. I love you, Heather.