Note: As explained in this post, in honor of me and my wife’s first year of marriage, I’m going to spend the second year posting monthly reflections of the same month a year earlier. This is the second installment.
Our first wedded month was a strange, perhaps even surreal affair. After the wedding, we said goodbye to family and I promptly returned to teaching a summer writing course (just two days later), before waving goodbye to some of our best friends as they packed up and departed for Los Angeles. What I remember from the start of August is exhaustion — the mental energy that the wedding consumed was staggering, to say the least. As wonderful of an occasion as it was, a lot was required to put it all together, and many friends and family shared in our exhaustion! Even so, August stands out in my mind, thanks to three events that seemed to give form to our first days together as a married couple.
Early in the month, we went to a small Scandinavian cultural heritage festival in a town not far away, which held a unique significance for both of us. I come from Scandinavian-American heritage; you’ve studied Scandinavian culture and languages for years. During our first summer in Oregon, long before we began dating, we met at this same festival by chance, in the company of different friends — one of them would later be the officiant at our wedding. I later heard from this same friend that you were disappointed, because you figured I must be dating the friend I went to the festival with (I was not). Now, here we were, back at the festival for the first time (despite always wanting to go when we were dating, but not being able to), as a married couple. We drifted around and ate street fair food, watched a cooking demonstration, bought t-shirts and hats, and later in the evening, you handed me a dollar so I could pick up a near-mint thrift-store copy of Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. I remember walking around with you and thinking that every once-in-awhile, fate does actually pull a few good tricks; here we were, a married couple with a relationship over half-a-decade old, when the last time we had been there together we had barely been acquainted. I don’t think either of us could have predicted this moment! That evening, as we made our way back to the car in the dusk and headed for home, I felt calm in a way I never had before — here we were, together, married, our life together starting to create a rhythm from the various chords and strings that had led us to this place in time from separate directions.
This sensation was reinforced over the next few weeks. Just a couple of days later, you received a last-minute request to play at a week-long music festival up in the mountains, which you had to depart for immediately. One afternoon while you were gone, I took the pets out into the back yard and began reading the book I picked up at the festival, Crossing to Safety, and my jaw just dropped. Every so often, a book comes along at just the right time and feels as if someone were looking over your life from behind the scenes, then snuck into the frame just ahead of you and placed it right where you would see it, at just the right time. That feeling hit me as I read the first few pages of the novel, a semi-autobiographical piece opening as Stegner and his wife arrive in Madison for his first post-doctorate teaching position. It’s a temporary position, but they quickly make friends with another couple, and settle down to begin their lives together. However, the Stegners receive a rude awakening when his contract is turned down for renewal, and they spend a bittersweet summer with their friends (who are also eventually turned down for renewal a few years later), facing unemployment.
The similarities were hard to ignore. I had just finished my doctorate and spent a painful year on the market; the last interview, in which I was a finalist for the position, resulted in a rejection just before the wedding. Everyone we knew had faced solid rejection over the course of the year, or had taken positions in far away places that promised uncertainty at best. I was awaiting word on whether I would have any teaching employment as an adjunct for the fall, let alone the rest of the year, and I had no idea what we would do. I plunged into the novel and watched it unfold a beautiful story of the two couples as their lives took them in separate directions professionally, yet bound them closer together, and I could imagine the same happening for us and our friends, who had or were starting to scatter. That novel would come back to me again and again over the following year; but I’ll write about it another time.
And then it was the weekend, and I was getting in my car to drive up to the mountains to spend the weekend there with you, while you were at the festival. I hadn’t driven my beloved old beamer up through those mountains since I crossed them on my way to grad school eight years earlier; it felt strange to get behind the wheel and start climbing through the passes. By the end of the weekend, I would realize that it was the last trip I would have with that car; repairs were starting to stack up, and in two months, it would be sold. But that morning, we were both headed to see you, and that was all that mattered.
I cannot really describe the feeling as I drove into the yard of the house where you were staying, and saw you standing by the car, getting an item out of the trunk. Here you were, up in the fresh clean mountain air, that little smile on your face, so bright-eyed and excited and beautiful — my wife. These are the moments that create wordless beauty in the mosaic of life, and I will never forget that image – you, standing against a backdrop of beargrass and ponderosas, the smell of warm pine needles and incense trees filling the air, caught between focusing on the task at hand and excitement that I had finally arrived to see you for the weekend. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve thought of that moment in the last year — it joins a handful of memories I hold close, all the more meaningful because they cannot be properly explained in any written language. I don’t believe I’ve ever been so glad to see anyone in my life, and that entire weekend felt like a magical dream, as short as it was. Exploring a history museum and “pioneer village,” hiking along the river, an impromptu visit to a brewfest, pizza at a restaurant around the corner, and the next morning, a drive up to a mountain lake just a little way south of town — there we were, just married and already off on new adventures!
But the adventures did not end there; a few weeks later, we were off on what we referred to as our “Faux-ny Moon,” a quick 4-day camping / road trip down the Pacific Coast (dog included). Down through the Siskiyous and then the coast highway to the redwoods, back up to camp in the mountains below the Oregon Caves monument — and not once did we turn on the radio. Four days of stopping whenever and wherever we wanted, testing the temperature of the Pacific at any beach we felt like visiting, eating great clam chowder and less-than-great hotel breakfasts, sitting by the fire next to a mountain stream — it wasn’t a beach in Jamaica, or a lavish tour of the capitals of Europe (maybe someday), but that didn’t matter. We talked about the future — by then, I knew I had work at least for the fall — and what the next year might bring. We talked about the wedding, about already missing the friends who had just left and definitely missing the ones who had left town years earlier, and about our recent weekend in the mountains. And we talked about the way all these little threads of our lives had come together in our relationship, friends and family and hopes and dreams mingling with intentions and expectations in the unique blend of life. We were on a budget (and we were good about it, too), but that didn’t matter. We were simply enjoying the time together.
Looking ahead, the fall and the winter would not be quite as kind. But August was golden — almost perfect, in spite of the constant worries of employment and bills to pay, and the anxiety of not knowing just what might come next. The days in between these moments — the festival, the mountains, the ocean — are a formless and dull object, in my memory; the peacefulness and wonder of our time together stands out vividly, almost hyper-real, in contrast. All-in-all, it was a beautiful month, and a wonderful start to our first wedded year.
Dr Josh, why not to try your hand at a novel?