When I think back to where Bill and I began, and where we are now, I am in awe. We have come so far. Farther than we ever imagined. We never knew the blessings that life would bring us, and although we are more financially stable than we were back then, the riches I refer to, lie in our experiences. In sharing our life together. Today, I am focusing on the beginning.
We went on our first date, when I was sixteen years old, and a junior in high school. He was in Navy boot camp, and 18 years old. We had our whole life ahead of us. We had no idea that we would be married less than 5 years later, and we would never have imagined that 23 years to the day later, we would be standing at the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center. The second tallest building in the world at that time. We would never have dreamt that we would have three beautiful children. That we would live in China.
Although there is no big story behind the proposal, Bill did ask my dad for permission beforehand. He has always been such a gentleman. His mama did good. We were married in a park in downtown Charleston, under the “wedding tree.” It was a huge, old oak tree with more thick, long branches than I had ever seen on one tree before, or since. The park had been partially destroyed by Hurricane Hugo, but the tree still stood proud. Nearby, a man-made pond with a bridge crossing over it. I wore a dress I ordered through the JC Penny’s catalog, and made all the bouquets myself with silk flowers from the local craft store. We were married by the Navy Chaplin, under God’s natural beauty.
Our reception was at a Holiday Inn on Folly Beach, which we were chauffeured to in our friend’s 1960’s era Camaro convertible. Cherry red. The hotel had also suffered damage from the hurricane, but mostly exterior. It provided the beautiful ocean view we wanted, and was fairly inexpensive, so it worked for us. We had invited about 50 people to the dinner, and a bunch of the guys from his boat (a submarine) afterwards.
A few of Bill’s Navy friends hired their favorite local band, as a gift to us, and another friend deejayed as well. When I caught my veil on fire on a candle, the DJ played “Burnin’ Down the House” by Talking Heads. Bill forgot the tape with our wedding song on it, so it became whatever the band knew that worked. “Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton. We had a cash bar. We didn’t do a receiving line, and we forgot the father/daughter dance (that part broke my heart when we realized it.) Our photographer was either new to the profession, or doing it for fun, so for $100 she handed me a large stack of 4×6 prints. We couldn’t afford a honeymoon. The whole event cost us less than $2,500. Too much for us at the time.
Twenty years later, at the 40th birthday party that Bill threw for me at a local Marriott, he made sure that daddy and I had that dance. He knew how much I had regretted missing it at the wedding. Twenty-five years later, we are finally getting that honeymoon. We have only ever taken two trips by ourselves since the kids were born. A weekend in Chicago at 12 years, and a long weekend in San Francisco a few years ago. This year, we will be gone for nine glorious days. Making more memories.
We began our marriage in a one bedroom apartment. We had a day bed for a couch, a hope chest coffee table, a mini-fridge side table. A mattress on the floor in the bedroom, and a red milk-crate bedside table. We had what appeared to be drug-dealing neighbors. The nighttime people-traffic to their door terrified me on the nights when Bill had to be on the boat, and I would sleep with the lights and TV on. Barely getting a wink. We had strange peach spots on our carpet that seemed to be from something seeping up through the floor, and a shower with a wall that glowed a pinkish-orange. I tried to convince myself that maybe this was due to light coming in from the neighbor’s bathroom. It was one of those big, plastic shower inserts, not tile. Maybe there wasn’t a wall in between? I generally only saw it glowing in the middle of the night, when they didn’t have a light on, though. When it happened once during the day, I had that neighbor come over to see. She ran out of our apartment as fast as she could. I was trying not to freak out about it. That didn’t help. We never did figure out what it was.
Bill received his honorable discharge in 1991, and we moved back to Michigan. Bill was starting his college degree, and I was finishing mine. We lived with his grandfather for the first couple of years, as we were paying for two college educations. It worked well for all of us. Grandpa liked the company, and we could help him out when he needed it. He was helping us out by saving us rent. And from glowing walls and seeping floors. We were on the next step in our young lives.
It is when I think back to our beginning, those two kids, blind to what was to come, just trying to survive, that I am in awe. I am proud of us. We don’t live in a huge house, we can’t buy everything we want, we can’t fly off to an exotic locale at a moments notice, or a year’s notice for that matter. We still have bills, we still have to budget. We are not dollar rich, but when I think about how far we have come, how much we have experienced together, I realize…….we are marriage rich. I wouldn’t have it any other way.