They say marriage is a journey. I think it’s more of a poem, punctuated by the refrain of a couplet that grows comfortable and familiar and soft in the middle over time.
Do you remember our first stanza, how the car broke down in the center of Zagreb, testing our mettle while we waited for your father to arrive?
On the way to your family’s apartment, you two chatted in a language I did not yet understand, while I thought to myself, It’s too soon to meet them. Your mother smiled at me warmly. She was ironing your father’s underwear when we arrived.
I warned you that I wasn’t from the ironers. “I’m telling you now,” I said, aware that this wouldn’t be our only hurdle, “just in case it’s a deal-breaker.”
My mind had not yet envisioned our life together, yet my words revealed what my heart already knew. It was as if we’d met earlier, long before our separate angels tapped us on the divot above our lips and made us forget the Torah of our love, casting us down into the world to find one another.
And yet, how could I not forgive them this un-remembering? After all, it was the angels who would later put in a good word with the Master of the Universe, landing me a gig in your city of all the cities in all the countries of the world at that singular moment in our lives.
For the next six months, we rode the tram together until I became familiar with the landscape and learned the lyrics to Beži Jankec, the folk ode to beli Zagreb grad, the beautiful city of your birth.
We climbed the steps to the top of the Old Town, embracing the bird’s-eye view, and walked the cobblestones for hours, even in the rain, gathering more of the story the angels made us leave behind.
One winter day, against the backdrop of a smoky blue sky, we boarded a train from the Central Station to a village an hour beyond the city. The entire country seemed to be hiding indoors, leaving us to seek refuge from the cold on the empty streets, braced against one another. I thought, This is how we will always be, you and I.
We kept writing, new stanzas blossoming like flowers in a garden.
My return to America.
Our marriage beneath the chuppah of my grandfather’s tallis.
The building of a home, when we still felt we had all the time in the world.
From the beginning, we sought simple blessings – a walk in the park, a gem of a used book, the splitting of a black and white cookie (you get the chocolate, I get the side with the white icing), a two-month-old movie at the $2 theater.
We worked hard, and on Shabbos we rested.
We took the subway around New York, the second city we would love together. At Coney Island, we rode the Cyclone at my insistence and you hated it. When we had the opportunity, we traveled the world.
We bought our first car when we moved boroughs and our first apartment when we moved states. We welcomed our sons into the Covenant of Avraham, upgrading to a minivan, taking them on the road, showing them the vast and diverse beauty with which G-d created His world.
The joy and laughter have tallied up over time, but there’s been sorrow, too. There always is. That’s the first rule of the road, if you travel together long enough.
We buried your mom and uncle and my grandmother. We’ve mourned dreams that eluded us, moments that passed us by, losses and disappointments that left holes in our hearts, but thank G-d, never broke us apart.
Do you recall a time when our roots were not entwined, or when we did not walk this earth hand in hand? Nor can I.
Do you remember that episode of The Today Show? The one featuring couples asked to share the secret to 50 years of conjugal longevity. We were newlyweds at the time, leaning in and listening closely, wanting desperately to reach that milestone in a universe where the odds are in no marriage’s favor.
Now halfway there, ourselves middle-aged, we continue to come up with our own answers while searching for the rest of the story that once slipped through the palms of our hands.
I know it’s no small blessing that we’re still here, or that my heart still skips a beat when you come through the front door at the end of the day.