There are a lot of different ways my life could have gone. I think about that a lot--I know you're not supposed to, that it's considered, I don't know, ungrateful somehow to give time and energy to wondering how life could be different if you'd just turned left, instead of right, at that one fork in the road that one time.
I've come to a lot of forks. Knives and spoons, too, honestly. And sometimes I like to sit and wonder what I might be like, what anything would be like, if I'd made different choices. I just do.
I wouldn't have been a teacher. I know that for a fact. I don't know that I regret being one, because it's something that I love and that I'm good at, but it has never really felt like a place I actually belong. I've always felt a little bit like a kid playing school in the basement, with my mom's teacher manuals and an old half-used spiral notebook as my official grade book. More times than I can count, I've thought to myself, "I can't believe these kids are actually writing down what I tell them."
Joe and I got married when we were twenty-four years old. Nine years ago today. It was a beautiful wedding, really like a fairytale. At the reception, when the DJ announced us to our guests, "Mr. and Mrs. Joseph...Bielecki!" we descended from a mezzanine on a winding staircase to the theme song from Disney's Beauty and the Beast. I mean, it doesn't get any more fairytale than that. But when I look around at twenty-four-year-olds I know now, I think...Oh my God. I didn't know anything. We didn't know anything! What did we know, except that we'd already loved each other a very long time, and wanted to spend the rest of our lives feeling like we did on that magical day?
If you're thinking this is going to be all about what makes our marriage perfect and what makes one work, I'm sorry to disappoint you, because I really don't know. We are far from perfect. I really don't know how Joe and I have survived real life, and forks in the road, and really, growing up together. And not just for the nine years we've been married, or the ten years we've been together, but since we were kids. I've been calling the same person for nineteen years with my problems. And if you know me, that means Joe has received a LOT of phone calls, everything from "I'm in the ER" to "I accidentally splashed the juice of a Clorox wipe in my eye, do you think I'll go blind?" Everything from, "My heart is broken," to "My parents are going out for dinner without me!" Everything.
I can't speak for all people, especially in a world where most of them don't stay married, but maybe that's what has worked for us. The everything. Because when I look back on my life, every fork, knife, and spoon, there is one constant. One person who ended up beside me no matter what choice I made...and only half the time on purpose. I think that's pretty remarkable. I've made some pretty bad choices, if you want to know. I've made choices that deliberately put me in the opposite direction from Joe, and then turned around just to see him still right by my side. He's not always happy to be there, and I'm not always glad to discover him there. But in the end, the Universe has been pretty clear: it's where we belong.
When I was in college, my family had two dogs, Sam and Morgan. Sam was awesome and Morgan had issues. Anyway, I came home one afternoon to a house empty of everyone except Sam and Morgan, so it was my job to take them outside. We always had to take our dogs out on leashes back then since we didn't have a fenced yard. I hooked them both up, pushed open the screen door, and went to rest my foot on the top step leading down to the patio so the dogs could run past me and I could hold open the door.
The only thing was, I had completely forgotten that my parents were having the patio redone, and that the back steps which had been there my entire life were simply...gone. And not yet replaced. When I went to lean on that top step to let the dogs go by, I found myself falling out the back door, down, down, down, completely unable to stop the fall in any way, until I crashed on the concrete below, the dogs landed on top of me, and the door slammed shut above my head. (The dogs, bless their hearts, dashed madly away because doing their business was of greater importance than my well-being.)
They call it falling in love because it's just like that...it's unexpected, it's out of control. It's unbelievable! When it's happening, you think, "Oh my God! There's nothing to catch me!" but you can't help it. When Joe and I were first dating, he sent me these song lyrics: "we didn't know, we didn't even try...one minute there was road beneath us, the next just sky."
Our lives have not continued on in that way, because just like that day with my dogs, eventually every fall ends. You land. And, if you're like me, you land on concrete and everything else lands on top of you. In the great scope of my life, it wasn't two dogs, but two children (and another one coming!). I think a lot of people hit the pavement and look around and say, "This doesn't feel as good as the falling part," and that's when they get up and walk away. It's probably never that simple, but in the end, I think the reason why I'm still married to Joe, who hasn't sent me meaningful song lyrics in years, is not because of the falling, but because of the choices. Because I choose him, and will continue to choose him. After nineteen years, I'm no longer surprised to look up and see that he's still there beside me, even when I've followed a path I thought was mine alone. Now, I expect him to be there, because it wouldn't feel right without him.
I have loved Joe through high school, when he broke my heart more than once. I have loved Joe through buying houses, and decorating them, which no one ever told me would cause arguing and disagreement, but it did. I have loved him through new jobs, and old jobs, and no jobs, and living in different cities. He has loved me through kidney stones and thirty-six hour labor and emergency c-sections. I love him every time he tries to surprise me, even though I hate surprises. He loves me despite who I am in the morning, which is something not quite human and feeds on despair and anger.
I think that, as we enter our tenth year of marriage, a milestone, a trophy of sorts, it makes perfect sense that our lives are about to change, AGAIN. And is it like this for everybody, where it can never just be a small change? I'm returning to work after two years off, and we're having a surprise baby after deciding we were out of our baby years. This is so not how I saw things working out...a phrase that makes me laugh because it reminds me of nearly every important thing that's ever happened to me, including the very night I met Joe for the first time. I had smoothed back my hair, put on my swagger, and gone to put the moves on him, Mary Pat style, when he abruptly turned to my friend and started dancing with her.
Maybe that's why I never mind spending time thinking about how different my life could have turned out. Maybe I'd be a professional writer. Maybe I'd live in England. Maybe I wouldn't be germophobic, or so quick to say no to everybody. But I also know that no matter what my life's choices are, they always seem to keep me with Joe.
Happy Anniversary, Joe Bielecki. I chose you all those years ago, and for every moment of every day, past and future, I'll choose you again. You are, in every way, my soul mate.