The Wild Unknown

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“I remember being terrified of where marriage would lead me, but it’s been an extraordinary adventure and only because the one I share it with happens to be a man like no other.”

There’s a manor house in southern England, owned and run by a hardworking hotelier. She keeps the grounds groomed, the premises spotless, the linen crisp, and the standard of food and service commendably high. It’s an ancient establishment; the broad flank of one wall is densely carpeted with centuries-old creeping ivy while some of the trees on the affiliated 30-acre property look as old as the earth itself. Up from the gentle curve of the land the grandeur of the manor’s venerable masonry rises like a pale, monolithic spirit. You can see it miles before you reach it, set in bucolic surrounds like a timeworn jewel in an emerald cradle.

I was married there just over a decade ago, on a day that was uncharacteristically warm for the tail-end of summer. The morning of the wedding was as expected: a dash to the manor before the flowers arrived, a long soak in a claw-foot bath, hair and makeup, lots of ironing. Outside, on an endless rug of verdancy just beyond the manor’s pebbled driveway, male peacocks strutted, concertinaed feathers trailing resplendently. The air was temperate for the approach of autumn, which in some way made what was about to take place seem providential. But I wasn’t thinking about peacocks, providence or the sublimity of the weather; I hardly noticed anything beyond a steadily-growing agitation that needled me from inside. Today would determine forever and there was always a chance forever would disappoint.

I cried. All morning. When my bridesmaids realised I was inconsolable, they called in my husband-to-be who quelled my squall with a few sincere words: “I don’t know what is going to happen beyond today,” he said, blue eyes steady, his hands around mine as warm as mittens, “but whatever happens, we will see it through together.”

In one gently-delivered promise he acknowledged the unpredictability of the adventure to come and proposed a viable way to tackle it. Togetherness has since headed the evolution of our marriage—12 years of sometimes painful maturation, 12 years of leading him through the corridors of my soul. He sees me now as diaphanously as I see him. Our relationship, ever disarming and in many ways extraordinary, has flourished resiliently despite the convolution of the journey so far, from country to country, city to city, challenge to challenge.

Even now, home is yet another foreign landscape, currently shrouded in fog with a searching, biting cold that gnaws at fingers as bones are gnawed by a dog. Colorado’s winter has fittingly arrived in a frigid robe of ankle-deep snow, and with it the advance and retreat of yet another year of intense marital delight. Intense, because we’ve worked to sustain a bond proven by adversity to be unbreakable. Delight, because the dozen irretrievable years have been just that: a delight, even through the grim, shadowy stretches.

Clearer is the gravity of it all when, in retrospect, it’s easy to agree the terrain we have walked has been less than even. I dare say life would have been far more straightforward had we not been prone to upheaval, nor would it have been such a heartbreaking gauntlet had we never entertained the notion of starting a family. Life would probably have been many agreeable things had our choices led us on a clearer, cushier path.

But would I truly have known then, how impenetrably we could stand? Would I still see my husband as my hero and faithful wingman, the bravest soul I’ve fought beside, the purest heart I’ve ever been given charge of, the most beautiful face I’ve ever kissed? Would I still wear his name like a crown or speak of him with unquenchable adoration? Would our relationship ever have settled on solid ground had we never closed ranks and authentically become one? Maybe. Possibly.

All I know is that love—no matter how certain in the beginning—can die. Suffusive apathy smothers the fire and drags into question the idealism of longevity. Couples peer at each other through the silence, secretly longing for the time when conversation was easy, not stilted and threatening as it is now. I meet several women who refuse to talk chivalrously about their men anymore and as many men who daydream about where the magic went.

Hand in hand we have grasped for the heavens, endured bleak cols and bailed our way out of desolate mires.

We are two of the fortunate ones, indivisibly tangled and steeped in wonder. Hand in hand we have grasped for the heavens, endured bleak cols and bailed our way out of desolate mires. It was him and me when we received the terrible news of his father’s death. It was him and me camping two months in a hospital room after I was suddenly taken ill. It was him and me in the grey morning light when I attempted my first fawn-like steps in learning to walk again. It was him and me when the dream of my first published book came true, and it’s him and me when the wolf of anxiety, loneliness and fear skulks at our door. We stand together, pray together, laugh and openly weep together. Our relationship shrouds a quiet awe that grows more obstinate with the passing of time.

It hasn’t always been this way though. Commitment rarely starts out sure of itself. It has taken time and an almighty decision to anchor us in what feels like a perpetual oasis. A few years into marriage, when selfishness still leeched on our good intentions, I made a choice to put him first for fear of my feral temper marring him forever. I decided to forgo the fallacy of love being just a feeling and started to see it for what it really was: a timeless pledge backed in word and action. I practised loving him. Fiercely. Joyfully. He reciprocated, growing confident in “us” until his adoration became a ceaseless torrent that both staggers and steadies me still today.

I’m inebriated with him. Confident in him. Stronger because of him. A shadow without him.

It’s hardly a sacrifice to put another first when they rise each morning with your happiness in mind. A cup of tea prepared before I wake. An extra blanket handed across just in case I might be cold. A playful smile slow and radiant, an unflinching stare that swallows me whole. I love to shrink into him; we click, like Lego. He is deep but no longer fathomless, devoted beyond words. The malady of obsession that consumed us in the beginning is frail and pithy to what time has resolutely forged. I’m inebriated with him. Confident in him. Stronger because of him. A shadow without him.

A lifetime has lapsed since the beginning. Those volatile years of dating with no guarantee we would make it feel like they were lived by someone else. It took five years for my husband to propose; five years to be sure he was sure. And when he was, he dove in like a fish returning to water, never once looking back. What lay ahead, its shape and form, was as ambiguous to him as it was to me, but his mind was already made up to see it through by my side. In retrospect, he understood the way more readily than I did. Since then, our conversations about the unknown—life’s perpetual blindspot—have been similar to one held by Piglet and Pooh so very long ago in the Hundred Acre Wood:

“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”
“Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought.
Piglet was comforted by this.
—A. A. Milne

That’s the thing about adventure, you can never predict where it takes you but you can prepare to embrace, relish, conquer and survive it.

I expect my isolated meltdown on our wedding day would have been warranted had the man I was to marry been void of a similar calm, assuring wisdom. That’s the thing about adventure, you can never predict where it takes you but you can prepare to embrace, relish, conquer and survive it. About the only essentials we stowed in our toolkit before setting off was a heartfelt vow to always be at each other’s side. It was enough. More than enough.

What do I see when I look forward? Much of the same, the unknown is still there, hairy and dark. But I also see a hand so strong I am compelled to hold it, a heart so rare I can’t help but guard it, a face so kind I am powerless to look to it, a man so exquisite I freely give him my all. Do we disagree sometimes? Yes, totally. Do we ever come hurtling back to earth? Often. It’s essential to sensible things like jobs and paying bills that we do. Has the adventure been good so far? No, not good—but phenomenal comes pretty close.

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