Our 21st wedding anniversary is just around the corner. Last year, when we hit the 20 year mark, I was all about the celebration. This year, I’m all about the reflection. How did we make it this far? Was it anything we did or is just because of sheer, dumb luck?
Truth is, because we were both this side of old when we married at the age of 37, getting married was a bit of a leap of faith. As certain as I was that “this was the one” I was also well aware of how often I screw up.
The one thing that has served me well throughout my life is that I believe in the power of story. Our own stories are everything. Now, embarking on a new marriage, we were about to start that “new chapter” — a well-worn phrase that depicts something so new that we approach it with wonder and anticipation, just like when we’re reading a gripping novel.
For me — my story is very visual. My memories are solidified in mental paintings — splashes of color and texture. The memories that I hold dearest are the ones that play like blockbuster hits across the big screen. I love the images of life.
Our wedding was the stuff of fairy tales and is the one day I would do over again, if I could, without changing anything. The images from that day are vintage: my gown with its iridescent sparkly embellishments and long, silk train . . . my handsome husband whose broad smile drew me down the aisle of the church . . . our golden rings . . . the traditional wreaths, with circles of pearls, on our heads.
Fast forward to a year later as we started to nest for the arrival of our new baby. Nothing will test a marriage or teach you important lessons like having a baby — and we were just beginning. The true test of children was still over the horizon.
We imagined a darling nursery in peach for our baby girl. My husband had put in crown molding with a trim below. It was now time to paint.
I was very pregnant and not able to do much. There’d be no climbing of ladders since my center of gravity was thrown way, way off. But I could do the little things that might help the process move more quickly, more efficiently.
The ladder had been set up; the paint set atop the ladder, with a screwdriver beside it to ease its opening. Brushes and rollers were in the corner of the room. My husband left to go gather the tarps and I was left in the room kind of twiddling my thumbs.
I don’t much like twiddling my thumbs so I thought I would help. I carefully pried the can of paint open and used the stirring stick to stir the paint into a rich shade of peach. I then gently placed the lid back on the paint.
Rob came back into the room and I offered to start getting the tarps set up. It was the little things like arranging plastic on the ground that I could still do. I remember thinking “I should tell Rob that I already stirred the paint.”
At the same moment that thought crossed my mind, out of the corner of my eye I saw Rob innocently pick up the can of paint — and this is where my mental memory goes into slow motion, almost stop-action, frame by frame.
He lifted the paint can, his hands wrapped around it.
And like a bartender might shake a martini, he started to shake the can.
The lid flew off — and paint . . . beautiful peach paint . . . flew in swirls and arced around the room. You could almost hear the splatter as it hit the window, the walls, the carpeted floor.
I can still hear my gasp and Rob’s shouts. And then quiet. Such deafening quiet.
“I think we should sell the house,” I offered. Rob was not amused.
He quickly flew into action, trying to sop up the peach paint from the beige carpet, wiping off the windows. Cursing under — and over — his breath. We rented a carpet cleaner and ran that thing over and over the carpet until I was sure the carpet threads would be sucked up with the paint. In the end, after the carpet dried, it looked clean. That is, if you stood at the door of the room and looked in. But if you stood at the window and looked towards the door, you would forever see a swath of peach emblazoned on the rug.
We couldn’t afford to replace the carpet, so as it is with so much of home ownership, we chose to live with it. We reasoned that no one would be standing at the window looking out towards the door. Well, except for us — and the baby.
It took a little while for my heart to lift out of the bottom of the paint can where it had sunk. It took a few days before Rob and I could laugh at the story and ourselves, imagining how it might become family folklore as we would tell our daughter about the funny things that happened on our way to becoming parents.
Family folklore has lessons embedded in the stories. That day, we learned that the littlest approaches to life (like whether you shake or stir the paint) can be sources of frustration — but they can also cement a relationship through negotiation, if we only know to talk about them. We learned to talk about everything — to anticipate how our quirky world views and life hacks might splash paint all over our endeavors. We also learned that all is not lost, even when the paint flies.