It wasn’t nerves or even excitement that woke me up shortly after dawn on my wedding day. It was a desire to get some time swimming in the heated pool of the Michigan compound where we were staying and would be weeping over vows in a little more than 13 hours.
Swimming has always been a preferred way of bringing the body and mind to attention first thing in the morning, get my exercise and do some thinking. Troubleshooting. Active meditation. I didn’t have cold feet. I wasn’t questioning my decision to marry Katie, I just wanted some time to myself before our friends and family staying with us at the compound woke up and I had to go back to playing host.
I have always preferred being by myself, especially before or after big social events. And there is no bigger, more social event than one’s own wedding. I needed to focus—submerge myself under the water, fight its resistance, smooth out my breathing, stretch my muscles—become totally in tune with my whole self. This would be the last moments I would ever have to be alone as a man without jewelry. Unless, of course, I got divorced. But I didn’t want to consider that on my wedding day. I may be a cynic when it comes to matters of the heart but I’m not a monster.
Of all the advice I received as the news spread of our engagement a year before, the most helpful was, of course, the most true, and the advice most often given: Your wedding day goes by extremely fast. All the time you spent planning it and looking forward to it, it’s all over in what feels like whatever is faster than an instant. Try to take time to step back and appreciate it if you can.
And so, about halfway through the reception, I managed to sneak off the dance floor, away from the tables and the dear guests, and out into the field, over by the tennis and basketball courts, on the edge of the woods where the mosquitoes were congregated. Blanketed in the near-distant sound of revelry and the white light of a near-full moon, I looked in on the party, the party that existed solely for me and Katie, the party that wouldn’t have happened if Katie hadn’t done 99.99 percent of everything to put the whole thing together. I looked in on my party—our party—and watched and listened to my dearest friends and treasured family dance and sing and laugh and drink and eat and celebrate. I considered the night and how beautiful it was and how lucky we were that the rain that had been teasing us all week had held off, that the clouds parted and the sun warmed our compound to just the right temperature so that no one was too chilly or too hot.
I took that advice and I made it happen. I held on to those moments out there with the blood-sucking bugs and the moonlight, but otherwise by myself. It was perfect. And I thought that if I can always remember my wedding like this, I can always appreciate, in the darker, harder times that I am loved and that I am capable of love.
And I stood there thinking about this and appreciating as hard as I could long enough to finish taking a piss onto what I hoped was a mosquito nest before returning back to the glow of the tent lights and wide smiles of our guests.
I didn’t want to get married. I didn’t want to live with a woman. I didn’t want a serious girlfriend.
When Katie found me, I was perfectly content with my life the way it was and most of my days had me feeling happy more than they had me feeling anything else. It had been my experience that the price I paid for romance was frustration, disappointment, self-loathing and regret. I was not angry or resentful or bitter because of any of this. I was single. I was, well, I was happy.
I was too sensitive in relationships. I took things too personally. I countered by lashing out then begging forgiveness and begging for love, and then retreating and seeking solitude. I was better, more productive, happier on my own. When I had relationships, I had relationship problems and I focused too intensely on them and I overcorrected and I… I just wasn’t good at being anything but routinely afraid everything was going to go to shit because ultimately, everything always did.
That’s what love is. Everyone fails until you stop failing. And you don't know if that's going to happen until one of you dies or, ideally, you both die together like in Beetlejuice.
When I was single, I never felt alone. I had friends and family I could love. When I needed or wanted a date, I found a date. When I needed or wanted to get laid, I got laid. Hell, that was part of the fun. There are certainly benefits to being single. The greatest of all is that Christmas is a whole lot more affordable. And where that’s the time of the year other people get lonely, I got busy capitalizing on their loneliness.
I wasn’t scum—most of the time. I was just a young, single guy with a decent job, a decent apartment, a clean car, a 21-speed bike, a collection of stories that were charming enough, and a cable package and running tab at the local bookstore to otherwise keep me occupied. What did I need a girlfriend for?
Katie and I met at a bar. Our first conversation was a debate. I don’t recall how it started. I used to walk the alley behind my Bucktown apartment at night hunting rats with my air pistol BB gun. Katie made the case that it was uncool.
“Why?” I asked.
“They have a right to be there just as much as you do.”
She had a point. It’s not like they were in my apartment. I was actually on their turf. Smart girl, I thought. She also hated the idea of me wielding an air gun within city limits but would go on to enjoy its stress relieving powers months after that first night when after a long day, I took her to the alley and showed her how to fire her frustrations into the guts of a rotting Halloween Jack-O-Lantern.
Katie was a whisky drinker. She was an artist. Her apartment had interesting books and magazines and a dog named Eddie. She was an incredible cook and she was funny, on top of being smart, and caring and interesting and beautiful. She rejected my initial proposition to have her carry me home on her bike’s handlebars. That was a good thing because I had a rule that I never slept with women that I actually liked. And I liked Katie.
We shared a circle of friends (but had never met despite attending the same theatre fundraising events and her being an audience member at one of my plays), which forced me to not totally abandon things once they settled in as I was wont to do. I didn’t want to upset any friends. Plus, the more I hung out with Katie, the more I liked her. It was a trend I now know would become routine in our lives.
We can trace the start of our relationship to late July. By mid-October we were official. Boyfriend-girlfriend kind of official. She called me one night, frustrated at the uncertainty of that boyfriend-girlfriend-ness.
“What do you expect from this relationship?” she asked me.
“Not much,” I said. “I want us to give each other permission to be who we’re going to be.”
A week later, while I worked against a deadline on a Saturday night, she texted me, “Check your front door.” I was afraid she’d be standing there, ready to play, Eddie probably in tow. I was annoyed as I stood up from my unfinished script and walked to the door. I had told her I needed the weekend to be all about the work. No play. No time for love, Dr. Jones.
Hanging from my apartment door’s knob was a bag of tacos, chips and guacamole, and a grapefruit soda from Picante, my favorite taco joint in town. I looked down the block then up the block. Katie was nowhere to be found. I texted her a thank you. “I thought you might be hungry. Enjoy! Happy writing!” she wrote back.
I had known lots of girls and had lots of girlfriends. None of them had ever understood my need for solitude like that. Yeah… I like Katie.
I nearly drove the car off the fucking road when she said, “Why don’t we just get a place together?”
“Why do you want to ruin things” I shot back, like a total asshole.
I knew that if Katie and I moved in together, that was it. We’d have to get married. And then have kids. And then get old and die. Because I was not going to move in with her just to see how things played out. I had been there before. I was not going back. And, really, I was concerned about Katie. She was so wonderful and sweet and maintained a fairly positive opinion of people. Living with me, I was sure, would soil her view, her hopes, her plans. Because my decision to be a forever bachelor had just as much to do with how awful I could be with how awful women could be.
Like I’ve said, I liked Katie, and I didn’t want to subject her to the grumpy, rage-fueled misery that was relationship me.
She did all the work to find the apartment. Broke her ass finding doing it. I made her promise me I could always have my own office. She agreed. She found us a great place. A much nicer place than where I was living. My half of the rent would be less than what I was paying at my bachelor pad. Katie had done well, again. A pattern was beginning to reveal itself: Katie would be the engine to drive us forward and I would be the pain in the ass who was overly calculated and slow to come around to the future.
In my defense, it was out of concern for our lives. We were happy, why risk fucking it up? I have found that many women are unable to be content with their happiness. They constantly want to be happier. Boyfriend-girlfriend. Not enough. Let’s live together. That’s not enough now. Let’s get married. And now let’s have a kid. And another one. And on and on… This leaves little time to enjoy the time we have to enjoy our enjoyment. You see?
I often feel like brides should take a moment to step away from their wedding, go out by the trees and take a squat over a mosquito nest and piss all over it while watching all that you love take place. Just kick back a moment or two and enjoy it. Because in the next moment, it’s gone.
That next moment will bring you to a year later.
Katie still gets frustrated with me because I’m slow to come around to new ideas, to life changes. Well, she calls it slow, I call it calculated. But once I’m on board, I go with the throttle all the way down, the sail at a broad reach. There’s frustration but I think, mostly, we understand this about each other. She wants to move, move, move, advance, advance, advance. I want to cruise a little bit. My furious need to advance is committed to my work. And it makes me miserable. I want to take my family slow because I want to enjoy my family. Katie and Eddie are the greatest things to ever happen to me, and perhaps to this planet.
Yeah, my wife and dog are better than yours. But I’m biased, of course. And I have to say that, of course. Because they’re both standing over my goddamn shoulder as I write this in my own office in our apartment because I never get any fucking time to myself!
That’s not true. As I write this, Katie and Eddie are napping in the bedroom. It’s four hours before the midnight marking our first anniversary. This has been a fast and exciting year. Things have happened. Good things. Sad things. Katie things, David things. I still struggle with being in a relationship. It has nothing to do with how I feel about Katie but how I feel about me and how I feel Katie might feel about me. And, at times, how Eddie might feel about me.
But as I got closer to this first anniversary, I realized that September 10th is going to be the new beginning of each year. This is the time when we look back in reflection at what has passed as well as forward in anticipation for what's to come. September 10th, our wedding day, will be to me like everyone else's New Year's Day.
Because if Katie has proved anything to me, it's that she only gets better. I was 37 on our wedding day. I was in no rush to get married for the sake of societal pressuring or that idiotic need humans have convinced themselves of that they must be coupled up. I was only going to get married if it was absolutely necessary. And when it came to Katie, it apparently was.
The night before we were married, before going off to sleep away from each other to avoid seeing each other until the first look thing people do, we swapped wedding gifts. Mine to her was an antique, Edwardian jewelry box. Hers to me was a song she commissioned to the front man of Braid, one of my favorite bands, and a member of several other great bands, Bob Nanna. It's his business and it's called Downwrite and, holy shit! My soon-to-be-wife got the guy who wrote so many of the songs that tended to my so often wounded heart long before Katie was even an idea in my life to write a song about us. And then she got him to cover our wedding song, You've Made Me So Very Happy. And then she got him to record a full-band version of my favorite song of all time, Brandy (You're a Fine Girl). This proves, again, that Katie is the God of Gift Giving.
Give our song by Nanna a listen. It's called Wrap Me Up. And while Bob Nanna rocks, my wife, Katie Himmel, rocks even harder. I'm glad she took me from my solitude and loves me enough to leave me alone enough to appreciate all that she has done and all that she is. And that's why I just had to marry her.