Well, today’s my/our eighth wedding anniversary! It should and is something to celebrate, even if the issues of life stand in the way, especially my mama’s boy son Noah. He insists these days on cutting off all PDAs, putting his almost four-foot body in between me and my wife every time he sees us attempting to hug. Despite our son, my full-time job search, the need for rest, new stuff, and debt relief, we’re still hanging in, looking forward to the future, learning from our pasts.
I have a few choice words for those who say that marriage is easier than being single. Those who say this are either delusional or have been married for less than two years. It’s true — and Chris Rock’s right about this — marriage is hard work, work that keeps it in a constant state of renewal. Length of time together doesn’t make it any easier, especially if your marriage is in the midst of serious problems. But marriage need not be drudgery. Communication, finding a way to be yourself while fitting into your spousal and parental roles at the same time — balance — are critical to any marriage’s success and survival. That we’ve made it this far so far is a sign that our love is more than just about sex and romance. It’s about an enduring friendship, having common goals, and learning to accept each other for who we are rather than despite who we are.
I’ve told the story of how my wife and I met, what the first year of dating was like, her involvement in various aspects of my writing life, and her analysis of my situation growing up in Mount Vernon, New York. It’s funny, but given where I was at one point in my life, it’s a wonder that I’m a husband or father at all, much less alive to be able to say these things. After becoming a Christian in ’84, me and my mother had an argument that almost sent me packing to go live with my alcoholic father. It was a nasty argument, born of the frustration of living with four younger siblings between five months and five years old and my abusive stepfather, being on welfare, and sleeping in the living room because the spiritual leader of the local Hebrew-Israelites, the self-proclaimed reincarnated Queen of Sheba, Balkis Makeda, had taken up residence in my mother’s master bedroom since the week before my youngest brother was born.
It all started when I couldn’t control my facial expressions. I was normally blank faced at 616, in order not to upset my mother or piss out my stupid stepfather Maurice. But one day in October ’84, I couldn’t contain the anger and rage that had been building since the day I let the world know I wasn’t a Hebrew-Israelite anymore.
“What’s wrong?,” my mother asked as I stomped back and forth in the living room muttering to myself. “Nothing,” I lied sarcastically, thinking that my mother wasn’t wise enough to read my mind. When she probed further, unusual for her, I said, “Why can’t we get rid of the old hag? Why is she still here? Are you still scared of him?” My mother looked like she was in shock by what I said. “You don’t understand,” she said.
To keep from starting an argument Maurice would hear, I kept my voice to a low grinding tone of pent-up frustration.
“What’s there to understand? I have to do everything around here, and he gets to lay on his sorry ass and Darren doesn’t do anything.”
“Oh, you think you grown now? I take care of you, don’t I? I take care of my kids. I feed you, put a roof over your head, buy the clothes and pay the bills. I . . .”
“Yeah, right Mom. And who helps with that? I do. Who has to go over to Jimme’s to get money for food? I do. Who has to pay for it by not having any friends, any free time, a girlfriend? I do. Because of you, I’ll never live in a house, own a car, have a girlfriend, have sex, or get married. And by the way, we’re on welfare. The federal government pays for the ‘roof over our head’.”
“You don’t have to live here you know. Why don’t you go live with your father?”
“You know what? That’s the best idea you’ve come up with in a long time. I should go live with Jimme, become a drunk like him. At least he doesn’t run me all over the place like you do!”
Though I eventually apologize and unpacked my garbage bags of clothes and other belongings, I realized that the only way to relieve the anger would be to leave 616. I knew that nothing would change for me if I stayed there after high school. But what stuck with me most was what I had said about my future. About not having a place to stay, a car to drive, friends to hang out with or count on, no marriage or other future prospects. Even though I no longer had any plans to commit suicide, I didn’t have any plans to live beyond college, certainly beyond the age of thirty. It was hard enough to get myself through tenth grade or to think about things like taking the SAT. The other teenage stuff would either have to wait or wouldn’t happen at all.
I thought about what I had said to my mother a number of times over the years. During my five days of homelessness at Pitt. When I started dating on a semi-regular basis. After I finally got my drivers license. And when I finally asked for my now wife’s hand in marriage. Given everything I’ve been through, I didn’t think that anyone would ever want to marry me or that I could love anyone enough to risk myself and them in marriage. So despite whatever problems we’ve had over the years, this day makes me fully appreciate the ironies of life and the preciousness that is an enduring loving bond. Angelia, if you’re reading this, Happy Anniversary! I love you very much!