Saturday, August 22, 2015

What I Signed Up For Ten Years Ago

A few years ago, before Jeff's injury, we talked about going to Hawaii for our ten-year wedding anniversary. We had honeymooned in Hawaii in 2005, then returned the next year for Jeff's parents' 40th anniversary cruise. We were never big travelers, but we did love going to Hawaii.

We even decided that we'd make a family vacation out of it and take Evie.

She'll be six by then - old enough to have fun and remember the trip for a long time.

And so we made plans.

Then everything changed. And our plans were washed away in the ocean with the setting Hawaiian sun.

Last week - August 20th - was our ten year anniversary. Jeff and I both braced ourselves as the day approached. We talked about having a Hawaiian-themed backyard party with family, highlighted by tropical music and fruity drinks, but that idea fizzled out. It's hard to plan events like that without knowing if Jeff is even going to feel good enough to get into his chair that day.

At one point Jeff told me that he didn't even want to celebrate. He didn't want to be reminded that we aren't where we had planned to be on our ten-year anniversary.

But about a week before the big day, he said he wanted to go out to a local casino and spend a couple hours there together. He doesn't often want to go out in public for extended amounts of time, and honestly, neither do I considering the amount of work involved. But I found I was pleasantly surprised with his suggestion and was really looking forward to it.

In the days leading up to our anniversary, Jeff and I shared wedding stories with Evie. She loves to hear stuff like that. We told her all the funny parts like how during the ceremony, Daddy was so nervous, and as he and I were holding hands, he nearly rubbed the skin off mine with his fidgety fingers. And how we both got dizzy during the ceremony as the yacht we were married on was doing circles in the harbor. And how we had to re-take a bunch of post-ceremony photos because the film wasn't advancing in the photographer's camera (that one actually wasn't so funny - and trying to explain what film is to Evie was a challenge).

On the morning of August 20, we were woken up by a cute little girl saying, "Happy Anniversary!" in a sleepy voice. She had gathered up a few things from around the house and presented them to us in a gift bag with "To Mama and Daddy" written in six-year-old scrawl on the front.

Later that morning, Evie and I got all nostalgic, and we pulled out my wedding dress. She had been asking to try on my "bride dress" as she calls it for a couple years now. (She dressed as a bride two Halloweens ago - thank goodness Jeff was in the hospital at the time because seeing his four year old in a wedding dress would have surely put him there anyway!) So I told her that today was the day she could actually try on my bride dress. Why not? August 20 is as good a day as any for a fancy dress.

She insisted I try it on first. Good news is that it still fit - barely. Bad news is that I could only breathe in it for about 5 minutes. But that was long enough for us to show Daddy and then take a walk around the house with Evie holding the train.

Here we are in our bride dresses

Then it was Evie's turn. I told her that if she wanted to wear the dress, there was one caveat ... she had to let me take pictures. Needless to say she was a willing participant.

We had a wedding photo shoot in her room. She posed and giggled as I snapped away.

It was like looking back into the past and ahead into the future all at the same time.

Afterward, we put the dress back in its plastic bag and hung it in the closet (it lives amongst all of Jeff's medical supplies).

Later that afternoon, I got Jeff dressed and up in his chair, Evie headed out to dinner with the grandparents, and Jeff and I headed to the casino.

I was both excited and anxious at the same time. We had been to this particular casino numerous times, but all before Jeff's injury. So whenever we go somewhere we used to go - when we lived our old life - I always wonder how it will feel to be back now that we're living our new life.

And I'm happy to say that it felt really good. 

We walked/rolled around the entire familiar casino, noting which machines had changed, the bar where we used to get drinks, and the blackjack tables Jeff used to play at. We talked about how flippin loud and obnoxious the slot machines are. We shared a beer. We spent all our allotted gambling money on the Wheel of Fortune machine. We cheered every time we got to spin the wheel and moaned in disappointment when it didn't land on the $1,000 slot. We ate dinner at a little cafe in the casino. It was deserted and quiet - totally our style.

We said we wanted to do this again. Soon.

We were happy.

And that's the point, isn't it? To be happy. Ten years married, and despite everything we've been through, we were happy.

On the way home, we picked up a cake we'd ordered a few days earlier. It was our way of adding a little tropical celebration to our anniversary. It was as close to Hawaii as we were going to get.

That night, we spent the evening doing our "normal" routine. All the stuff that comes with being a quad. We certainly didn't spend the evening the way either one of us would have imagined ten years ago. We didn't go out to a fancy candelight dinner. We didn't come home and share a bottle of wine and relax on the sofa listening to soft music. And we were very much NOT on a tropical island relaxing every stress, worry, and care away. We just can't escape like that anymore. There's simply no way to get around the demands of a spinal cord injury.

Later, as I went into the closet to grab supplies for Jeff, I noticed my wedding dress hanging there, twinkling in the light, surrounded by tubes, gauze, gloves, pills, and creams. The dichotomy hit me in the face. When I wore that dress ten years ago, I had no idea that this is where I would be right now. Like the dress, I was surrounded by stark reminders of an unplanned life.

I've often heard the expression, "I didn't sign up for this" referenced when life doesn't turn out the way you planned. When you are forced into a role you never wanted and never imagined yourself playing.

And while I certainly didn't hope for this life - for my husband to be paralyzed and for me to take care of him - I most definitely signed up for it.

Ten years ago, I vowed to be Jeff's "faithful partner in sickness and in health ... to cherish, honor, and respect him for as long as we both shall live." I made a verbal promise and I signed a marriage contract. If that isn't signing up for something, then I don't know what is.


I look at this picture from ten years ago, and I almost feel sorry for us knowing what's going to happen to our family. Our smiles were so genuine. So bright. So blinded by the hope of a perfect life to come. 

But things didn't exactly turn out that way.

Still, I'm glad we didn't know what was in store for us. We've endured a most harrowing ordeal, we've clung to our vows, and somehow we've managed to still smile on the flip side. Yes, our smiles aren't as bright. Life has weathered our bodies and our spirits. We've seen beyond the blinding sun and faced the storm lurking behind. 

And we've survived.

Now that is something worth celebrating.

Happy 10 years, my Love.


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