I have been married for ten years. Did you get that? Let me repeat. I HAVE BEEN MARRIED FOR TEN YEARS. You know how people talk about dog years? Well, I like to say we count by Air Force years—that’s when every calendar year counts as ten years, so because of that, I want to say, happy 100th anniversary, Scott Johnson! On this day, in 2003, you made me a kept woman, and I want to celebrate by taking a walk through the eleven Decembers we’ve been married. And we’ll start here…
I woke up the morning of my wedding completely at peace. Honestly. I’d written love letters to my husband since long before I knew he was going to be my husband, so when I chose him as the one, I was positively sure I was doing the right thing. I didn’t have jitters or second thoughts, and the only reason I had cold feet was because it was freezing outside. As the day progressed, rain turned to sleet turned to twelve inches of snow on top of frozen ice, and yet, somehow, we were able to fill a sanctuary with almost four hundred people. I walked down the aisle to The Beatles’ “Blackbird” played by a string quartet, and when I got to the end, I let go of my dad’s arm and took Scott Johnson’s hand. It took close to twenty minutes to drive two blocks to our reception, where we danced our first dance to “Fly Me to the Moon,” sung by an ancient man in a forest green crushed velvet tuxedo jacket. Scott danced with my Grandma Hazel—the first dance in her Pentecostal life—and I threw my bouquet completely over the heads of all the single ladies waiting. Magical. The whole thing was just magical.
We were weeks away from finding out where we would be stationed for our first assignment out of pilot training. Knowing we would be moving to one of the coasts and therefore less likely be “home” for Christmas in the coming years, we made the rounds for all the Christmases—visiting all the grandparents and great-grandparents in OK and MO. It would be our second and last Christmas as a family of two, as in this picture, Will had been cooking for about two weeks.
I’m cheating with this picture. It’s not December—it’s the end of November, just after Thanksgiving. We don’t have any family pictures in December because Scott had started his stop and go schedule, which involved very short stops at home before he would go again for weeks at a time. If I look tired, it’s because I was. Will was not a fan of sleeping, and without someone else to take shifts most nights, I was…well, I was the mom of a three-month-old. It was the first of a handful of holiday seasons that Scott celebrated over the phone (and later over Skype or FaceTime).
Scott left for his first official deployment in the fall of 2006, so it was just me and the Will-man in December. While the deployment was difficult, I’d found my rhythm as a part-time single mom, and we were lucky to be part of a flying squadron, which deployed as a whole, so I was never without the support of friends, whose husbands were also deployed. I saved all our emails, and most of my deployment emails involved stories about Will not taking naps and updates about who got kicked off of Big Brother. Scott said things like “i miss you crazy insano madness (that’s a lot).”
Remember when Ugly Sweater parties were actually a thing? Some of our best friends, the Wetzels, hosted this one, and we took on the eat, drink, and be merry challenge with gusto. Scott fell asleep on the couch, and we wrote on his face with markers. We slept on a futon in the loft and ate leftover chicken wings for breakfast. So, basically, it was JUST like college, except we had kids who woke up needing to be fed and diapered. I think we were all just giddy to have husbands around long enough to have a party. At the end of this December, I told Scott it was now or never if we were going to add to the family, and his answer was resoundingly NOW.
Ben was born three days before Thanksgiving, making him the youngest baby in the church when the Christmas Eve service rolled around. This picture—THIS PICTURE—is all of the feelings. There we are, all four of us, feeling like everything was perfect and right in the world. We’d been tasked to be Mary and Joseph for obvious reasons, and Will suggested a re-write, so instead of riding a donkey, this Mary and Joseph had a pet sheep (a sheep who would strip his wool halfway through the service and run out to his Mimi who was sitting in the pews). Fun fact: unbeknownst to me, I had MRSA coursing through my body, a little gift from Ben’s delivery, and two days later, I’d land in the emergency room to be lanced and drained. HOWEVER, in this moment, I’m sitting next to my favorite wild sheep and staring at the child born unto us, and I couldn’t be any more in love with the look on Joseph’s face.
In all of our pictures of December, there isn’t one with all of us, but this picture is perfect. Scott was around a *little* more this year, and we had a good thing going. This was the year of toddler trenches—when some days, I just had to go upstairs and shut the door for fifteen minutes of silence, as soon as Scott walked in the door. And when I was finished with my sanity breaks, I’d come downstairs, and the three of them would be stacking blocks or reading books or watching football, and I saw my future unfolding. Scott was a good husband and a good daddy to these tiny people and a good man, and I felt like the queen of the castle. A somewhat sleep-deprived queen of a relatively disorganized castle, but I wouldn’t have ruled any other way.
Home for Christmas four years in a row! How did we pull that off? Oh, yeah, I remember now—Scott was preparing to leave for weapons school—a six-month program which involved a lot of anxiety for both of us. I remember feeling disconnected for the first time in our marriage, like he was moving into territory without me for some reason. I’d been doing so much “on my own” (I know this concept is preposterous given my wide circle of support, but it felt that way much of the time) for so many years, and something had shifted. It was a fun holiday season, spent in OK with friends and family, but when we pulled back into Charleston, I had a six-month single-parenting stint on my horizon, during which I would have to pack our house for a yet-to-be-determined cross-country move, all while raising two children (and a dog who insisted on peeing at the top of the stairs every day). I was right to be anxious, and so was he.
What a weird year. After Scott was gone for a very stressful, strained six months, we moved from SC to WA, and three months later, he deployed (again!) for the last three months of the year. We’d run the gamut of emotions in those twelve months, asked a lot of hard questions, and gave a lot of ugly answers, and in the end, I think we were both feeling apprehensive about the future to say the least. We were diligently communicating throughout the deployment, both desperate to continue with the momentum we’d gained before he left. My friend, Renee, said of her husband (also a pilot) once, “When I give my husband the chance to be my hero, he does it. Every time.” That had been stuck in my gut this whole year, as we worked through a really trying time in our marriage. I had to come to a place where I trusted Scott to be my hero again instead of approaching him from a place of bitterness and resentment and anger. And that’s when he did this. Unbeknownst to me, Scott organized a surprise “anniversary dinner” with all of my closest friends from OK. What I thought was going to be a night out with one friend was actually THIS. Not pictured: my dad and the boys who stopped by to say hi and I love you, Scott’s best friend, Jefferson, who read a letter on behalf of Scott and delivered flowers, and my mom and mother-in-law, two marble pillars, who held up the roof of our house for us during this year.
What a difference a year makes. And a change of scenery to beautiful WA. And a time when Scott was “home” with just a few short trips for almost six months in a row. We hit our stride again with an astoundingly quick recovery—it’s amazing how things come together when you’re actually together. In Olympia, we found great children’s theater and Thai food and farm stands and chickens—we got chickens!—and a house in the hills where you can see the Olympics on sunny days. We found a church and preschool all in one and hiking trails and a boy scout troop and horseback riding lessons and and a gymnastics gym and highways that will take us north to Canada or south to Voodoo Donuts in Portland. And we were happy—really happy. It was a year of reevaluating EVERYTHING. And on Christmas morning, we woke up TOGETHER, looking a little less Hallmark and a lot more Cousin Eddie, and it was perfect.
And we’ve made it to this December—our last December in WA, as we know we’ll be moving this summer. Right now, the house is a mess of winter coats and decorations and stacks of dishes and school supplies, and tomorrow marks ten years of marriage.
Before bed tonight, you told me you loved me and you were sorry that you fell asleep before I got home from running errands. It’s okay—because when you’re sleeping, and I’m up being a night owl, sometimes I sit on the couch, listening to you puff in the other room and writing love letters for you to read in the morning. I sit on the couch in my ugly pajamas, reminiscing on the life we’ve made together, a gurgling mess while I think about those two babies in the back of the house who are blessed to call you Daddy.
So, on our anniversary—you’re going to go to work, and I’m going to buy groceries and run Ben to preschool and homeschool Will, and then we’re going to meet up at Ben’s Christmas program (6:30—don’t be late!), and we’ll have cookies and juice in the church atrium, where I’ll watch you help our boys and have polite conversation with the teachers and the other parents in that easy way that you do. And then we will grab buy-one-get-one burritos at Chipotle on the way home, tuck our babes into bed, and grub down while we catch up on The Daily Show. I will probably eat some chocolate or maybe a spoonful of peanut butter for dessert, and you can have an extra Cherry Coke if you want. We can play Skip-bo when we’re done eating. After all, we’re celebrating!
And it will be the most perfect and romantic 100th anniversary we’ve ever had. Here’s to 1000 more years. The other night, I was reading our bedtime book with the boys, and I came across this passage that tells how I feel about the future:
“Nicholas, we have what we need. Brave hearts. And sharp minds,” Ombric reminded him. “And as you might recall, we always abandon our plans and end up doing things we never imagined.”
That’s it. I can’t imagine what’s in store.