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 eighth installment.
March… well, March was rough, there’s no other way to put it. The winter term had been difficult for us both, a darkened canyon of wordless job application dismissals and long winter nights spent worrying about the year to come.
Mid-March usually boasts respite, the beginning of the turn from winter to the dawn of spring, a moment to catch one’s breath before moving on to new classes, new students, new concerts, new opportunities.
But March 2013 wasn’t feeling generous.
There were apparent bright spots on the horizon, as the break approached, despie the lack of our usual end of term / St. Patrick’s day festivities. With so many of our friends having departed for other shores, and those remaining in town largely other-wise occupied, there was less cause for celebration. Still, there appeared to be some reason for optimism, as I had a paper scheduled for presentation at a major international conference, with panelists ranking among the elite in the field, and you had just completed a solid phone interview with a strong school out east; a campus fly-out seemed all-but-assured.
Faced with that prospect, we examined our resources and determined it would not be feasible for both — the conference and the fly-out interview. As I was headed into my ninth month straight month of job rejections (following an interview the previous July, just weeks before the wedding), with two application deadlines also looming, the smart bet was to prepare for the interview that seemed assured. I withdrew from the conference (half of the participants in the seminar did the same, which was moderately comforting), and we waited at home to hear about your interview, rushing through the break in a flurry of new job applications and one brief afternoon trip.
And of course, the news came that you would not be flown East for a further interview, although they promised to contact you again if their first candidates were not all they seemed to be. It was a crushing moment — we had been banking on that interview, had pinned a lot of hopes on the move, had sacrificed our vacation time so you could prep for the phone interview, then be ready to leap on a plane to head out a few days later, as their schedule indicated. We needed to get out of the house to get a little perspective; things seemed very grim indeed.
The air was warm that afternoon, at least, so we headed out on a hike up over the hill to a coffee shop, to smell the spring flowers in the air as we looked over the southern Willamette valley (passing the former abode of two most excellent friends, and missing their company very much in the process). I struggled to find the right words to lift your spirits — I didn’t have much optimism left in me, either. It was hard to fight the feeling that the two job applications I was about to complete, both for teaching positions, were not going to produce any positive results (I never heard back from either position). I was feeling at a complete loss for words that might cheer us both up.
And then it happened — just as we were cresting the last, steepest hill, your cell phone rang. I remember you pausing near the curb, frowning at the caller ID, and commenting that it was a very strange area code. I recognized it immediately as belonging to the city I attended college in, the same college at which you had also recently applied, and tripped over my own tongue hollering for you to “answer it!” I had to resist the urge to seize the phone and answer it myself. You missed the call, but the voicemail message told you I was correct, and they were contacting you to set up an interview.
Just like that, in the blink of an eye, the gloom of the earlier news was swept away, and there was cause for rejoicing again. We finished our trip to the coffee shop and, instead of trying to find a way to lift you out of your doldrums, I joined you in racing wildly across the fields of our combined imaginations, already deciding which would be the best neighborhood to look in for our new rental home (maybe buying our first house), thinking about people I still knew in the area who might be able to help me find work once I got there (maybe a temporary teaching position, as the current department head was my old adviser), and we all-but flew back up over the hill, thinking about the many possibilities that had just opened up before us.
However, March was not going to be merciful in any capacity, and you did not land that job as either. Small loss, in the long run — it was not the best program to work in for the long run anyway, and economic prospects in that area remain somewhat grim. (Still – side note to telephone-begging alumni program at my Alma Mater – the answer is “no”).
Yet that very afternoon has stuck with me over the past year, as it showed me again how quickly fortune can seem to shift, from one positive direction to a negative direction and back again, and all within the span of a few hours. Nothing, quite literally, changed during the course of that day, other than the direction of our thoughts. But it reminded me that life takes unexpected turns, often pointing you directions you had never anticipated. One of those unexpected turns came in my life, many years prior, when my “fall-back” school rejected my graduate program application… and then, when I had started to forget about graduate school, a university on the West Coast sent an acceptance letter at a completely unexpected time. As a result of that letter, I found myself headed west a few short months later, mere days after you headed out from Boston, bound for the same location. We arrived in town days apart from one-another, met quite casually a few weeks later, our circles of friends pulled apart slightly for a few months, and then… well, now here we are!
I’ve told you my thoughts on the wonderful randomness of all of this before, of following an idea off across the mountains to the shore of the Pacific, and finding you — this relationship, “us” – in the process. Of how I knew I would find unexpected people and experiences, but I didn’t know I would meet you specifically, or what would grow out of our time together. Of how I knew there were many more roads to travel together, and that we could continue to expect the unexpected along each road, new people and new places, and that I wanted you to be with me every step of the way. I told you all of this on March 21, 2011 – the night I asked you to marry me, flinging the most important question of my life into the wind blowing off the ocean onto our balcony, my heart beating against my ribcage like a wild animal trying to escape a net. I’m only able to write this today because you said “yes, of course I’ll marry you” — and I’m so glad you did! We’d already come a long way together at that time — but there’s so much more to see, so much more to do, and I’m still absolutely thrilled that we get to do all of this together.
Love you, HP!