Ten years ago today I was eighteen. I had been living in Chicago for less than six months, and the second quarter of my first year in college was well underway. While I had been entrenched in “adulthood” for nearly a year at that point, I still felt like a child. In nearly every respect, I was merely a child. A lost infantile brain trapped inside a body legally declared a man’s.
Like any child, I was insecure, unsure of the direction in which I was heading, and doing my best to fake having my shit together, lest I shatter the visage that I wasn’t completely scared out of my wits. Considering my late teens were pockmarked by bouts of depression, every day at that point felt like a battle that was on the verge of being lost.
The morning of the fifth of February, two thousand five, however, began a little bit differently. I know it was a Saturday—as my computer’s calendar is kind enough to remind me—but I don’t recall much else about what occurred after I awoke, aside from the giddiness wriggling its way through my bones. There was no way I could possibly predict that my evening would end with me standing in the plaza adjacent to Tribune Tower, kissing the girl I was about to ask to join me in what was almost certainly an exercise in futility: a semi-long-distant relationship. This was a mindset I had adopted after a few botched starts at other relationships, and I was convinced I wasn’t good enough for anyone.
The girl was still in high school. Though since she had spent more time in high school than I had spent out of it at that point, I felt as though our mindsets wouldn’t diverge drastically. It made sense to me, that we should be together. Since meeting on Myspace months before, we had been inseparable in our digital lives. We messaged each other incessantly on AIM. We talked on the phone nearly every night, the hours melting away in a matter of seconds. We joked. We talked about Lord of the Rings. We said, “I like you,” and we said it a lot, never venturing much further beyond those words. One could deduce, however, from the tone of our voices that we meant something else: “I really like you.”
I did really like her. So much so that I could barely contain my excitement knowing that we were going to spend the evening together, starting off with a romantic meal at Bennigan’s, of all places.
I liked her so much I was excited about going to Bennigan’s.
And so I was facing this girl that night—flanked by strands of white lights that were doing their damnedest to warm up the freezing cold plaza—working up the nerve to bring my lips close enough to hers to where we could touch them together in some bizarre human gesture of romance. When I finally did, all was right with the world, and I asked her if she would go out with me.
A lot of things happen in the course of ten years. Break-ups happen. Make-ups happen. Fuck-ups happen.
Forgiveness happens, even when all logic points to forgiveness being the fuck-uppiest of all fuck-ups. There are instances in which you make mistakes where you still to this very day do not understand how you were fortunate enough to find someone so gracious to accept you for who you are, and work with you to make you a better person.
Deaths happen. Loved ones leave us and their marks are left forever upon our person. The loved ones they leave us with help us make sense of the world when nothing makes sense any longer. You think about death, the inevitability of it, and all of that existential crap. At one point you realize that your own death doesn’t scare you, but you still think about others dying with such vigor, such obsession. It dawns on you that you’re finally aware that truly loving someone means that their departure would leave you permanently in shambles. You would recover. You would strengthen with time. You would never be the same. Irreparably damaged.
Happiness happens. It happens where you least expect it. Happiness weasels its way into your life when you wake up in the morning and you see her next to you in bed. To be clear, this is no different than any other morning, but it’s in that moment where you truly feel it. A moment of clarity where reality halts and true focus on what is important is achieved.
Life happens. You get caught up in each and every tedious day, and those days blend together into a mess of laughter and heartache and frustration and successes and failures and love and hate and hunger and friendships and travel and moving and suddenly you’re looking back on it all. All of it. And all of it is just one wild blur in your mind. Flitting glimpses of your past occasionally intrude, but when you stop to think of it all, to make sense of any of it, it’s nearly impossible.
There’s a constant that I’ve been able to hold on to, though, and that constant is this girl. My Myspace girl. Seven years to the day into our exercise in futility, our partnership together culminated in a wedding. It is still one of the best things that has ever happened to me, and one of my most vivid memories. By all rights I shouldn’t have even had the privilege of being able to call myself her husband. And yet, here we are: ten years later. Growing from two nervous kids standing under the Christmas lights, to two adults that have somehow found their best friends in one another.
Considering how self-conscious, self-sabotaging, and private I am, it really is absurd that I was able to form this connection with another person in the first place. Over the years, I’ve learned to fake having my shit together a lot more effectively than I was capable of at eighteen. The mask I wear each day shelters me from the hostile reality in which I’m so afraid to immerse myself. But I get to take it off for her.
I’m not perfect at that, mind you, and she’ll be the first to express her frustration at my secretive nature. But she’s never wavered in her mission to understand me and help me be the person I long to be. I can only hope I have been successful at reciprocating even a modicum of everything she’s done for me. I know I’ll spend the remainder of my days trying to live up to that potential.
Sometimes I overwhelm myself just by thinking about what I love most about my wife, Gia. The thought of someone asking me that makes me want to retreat indefinitely into the dark recesses of my mind, never to return, because the ability to articulate a sufficient response feels like such an insurmountable task. To pinpoint specific qualities in someone who embodies the ideal person is impossible, and my answer would inevitably vary at any given moment.
Ten years is a long fucking time, when you think about it. In my case, it’s over a third of my life. To be friends with someone that long is a feat in and of itself, but to spend each day with them, play games with them, watch movies with them, eat food with them, travel with them, kiss them, make love with them, and still wake up next to them every morning wanting to do it all over again…
That’s what I love most about my wife. I love that she’s my best friend and that she knows me better than anyone. She knows me, and I’m okay with that. For the first time in my life, I’m okay with that.
Today is the fifth of February, two thousand fifteen. I’ve lived in Chicago for over ten years, far longer than I ever expected to. I’ve been entrenched in “adulthood” for awhile now, and I still feel like a scared, lost child just trying to fake having his shit together until he finally figures it all out. But I’ve realized that nearly everyone experiences that, in one way or another. I’m not as alone as I imagined I was at eighteen.
So much of who I am now can be attributed to the wonderful people who have been there for me over the years, the most prevalent of whom is my Myspace girl. I can’t possibly predict how this evening will end, or what I’ll know ten years from now. But from everything she’s shown me thus far, I know that I’m going to be okay as long as I have her with me on this journey.