When people ask Greg how long he’s been married, he declares without faltering, “40 years.” It’s such a sweet sentiment to overhear at a cocktail party, like when he tells people if Whining During Pregnancy were an Olympic sport I’d take gold. I’d also win first place in the more traditional Javelin Throw if only the IOC would allow me to place him as my target at the far end of the field. While his proclamation establishes me as the most youthful looking 65 year old (next to Raquel Welch), we have, in truth, only been married 8 years. We celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary this past month. The milestone was not marked with the same lavishness as it would have been in our pre-children years when we would take a great vacation. We did take a vacation of sorts, but there were no hot towels, European dinners, or ocean-side walks. We were slated to be at a family wedding in New Jersey the day after our anniversary so we decided to strap the kids to the roof and bring the whole ‘Fam Damily’ to the big city to enjoy a few days leading up to the celebration of both our and his cousin’s marital bliss.
If you have traveled with children, you already know that a Mexican drug mule, carrying cocaine in his small intestine, fording the Rio Grande under the gunfire of Arizona cowboys has an easier time getting from point A to point B. The endless hours trapped within a Jeep with three humans determined to destroy each other was eerily reminiscent of Nicholas Cage’s window seat aboard Con-Air.
The trip did improve upon arrival. We booked our stay at a mega hotel in Times Square, which was a strange experience for once locals. Our room towered above buildings, overlooking all of the shoebox apartments we ever lived in while Beauty & The Beast blinked neon through our window. While walking through Times Square used to give rise to fantasies of strangling myself with the camera strap of a Japanese tourist, the proximity to Central Park and Toys R Us proved to be valuable now that we have children. The most convenient aspect to our hotel’s coordinates was the closeness to Hell’s Kitchen, the neighborhood Greg lived in when we began dating, which then became my home once we were engaged. We had our first date at Central Park. Our second date was to an Irish Pub where he forced me to play pool and to embarrass myself by inquiring if a vegetarian could get the Mash sans the Bangers. We once got into a ludicrous fight on the streets which culminated with him bellowing, “You suck, Erin!” while I gave him the finger with one hand and hailed a taxi with the other. It was these tender memories that inspired me to create an homage to our early years together.
While children napped, nestled with bed bugs, I charted an Anniversary Scavenger Hunt. I created clues, complete with rhyming verse, to lead him to significant sites from our courtship. Within each clue’s envelope, I included one of his favorite chocolate bars since this anniversary is traditionally denoted by candy. When I licked the seal on the final clue, I sat back beaming with pride at my creativity and romanticism. It was a strange feeling to be armed with a gift before my mother had to call to remind me of my anniversary and to tell me it’s not too late to wrap myself in cellophane. Kathy Bates, no more! I was the Mayflower of Love, without the scurvy. The Titanic of Affection, without the iceberg and that damn Canadian singing on my helm. I was Danielle Flippin’ Steele this year.
The morning of our anniversary, while seated in a swanky Brasserie beside French children who made ours look like American trash from a Kid Rock video, I gave Greg the first clue. He seemed confused by the Shakespearean-like prose my clever brain devised. Rather than saving the chocolate bar as a piece of this very intricate puzzle I had created, he immediately unsheathed and ate it. He ate the whole Rollos bar, which was irritating not only because we were mid-omelet but because opening candy in front of our kids is like pitching a bucket of chum into shark-infested waters. He figured the first site out effortlessly and we walked briskly there to collect clue #2. The next clue alluded to the ‘house that Jack BILT’, which was a play on words for the building we lived in, The Biltmore, which was built by the Jack Parker Corporation. This is a detail I wouldn’t expect any of you to understand, but I lived with this man in this building for 2 years. We got engaged in this building. During the great power blackout of 2003, we thought we were going to rot to death in this building.
As he stared blankly at the clue, muttering incoherently about baseball stadiums, I began to realize there is a reason those wedding shows always depict the man arranging a scavenger hunt for the woman. We’re good at these things. We retain meaning. We have memories. You show us a dirty sock and it reminds us of the time we were sick in bed with pneumonia and you came over and washed our clothes while flipping the channel between Oxygen and the Sundance Channel as we slurped Ramen Noodles because even though they’re unhealthily high in sodium and remind us of collegiate poverty, they make us feel better when we’re sick. Of course there’s also the fact that we love to wear socks at nighttime in California because even though it’s a temperate climate, it gets a little chilly after dark, and you came to meet our family there during the Christmas holiday, and you stared deep into our eyes while sitting on the lawn of the Spanish Mission when you both realized you were going to get married. While we were wearing socks! See what I mean? We get this shit. We own this shit.
After having to reveal the answer to him, we rushed through the remaining clues – even skipping one altogether – because the kids were starting to revolt in their strollers and we had clearly reached a level of sentiment Greg can only rise to when watching Top Gun. As I packed our belongings away, once back at the hotel, I noticed two clues lay crumpled in the waste basket. I discovered another tossed haphazardly on the bathroom counter. He was not going to save these professions of love, these nuggets of poetry written on hotel stationary. I didn’t expect him to start a scrapbook for all his friends to witness our love story, but I had hoped for a little more reverence than this.
This is a man who has saved every T-ball shirt he ever wore, every ticket stub from a game he attended, every piece of junk mail addressed to him. This is a man who saved a card from his grandmother in which she referred to our children by incorrect names. He doesn’t allow me to throw away lone socks in case – miraculously – its mate reappears after attending Sockapalooza years later. He still has Hooters T Shirts collected from college. He has a Pez dispenser from Easter of 1984 in a drawer. I’m quite sure he would save the rind of cheese if I didn’t throw it away, and I’m still expecting to stumble upon a mason jar filled with his toenail clippings one day.
It may have taken eight years – or 40, depending on who is doing the math – but I have learned my lesson. I have learned that I am better off buying another blue shirt from Brooks Brothers or writing out an IOU for a massage I’ll administer for 45 seconds before falling asleep.
Whatever I do, Mom, you’re going to need to issue that reminder call next year.