To my husband on our fourth anniversary
I was sitting on the back porch of a house in El Salvador. It was night. You were thousands of miles away, and yet I always felt like you were right beside me that summer. I could hear the wild life of a strange country buzzing and hooting in the trees as I dialed your phone number and readied myself to unveil the plan I’d been scheming for weeks: “Ry, I have a proposition for you,” I began after a few minutes of small talk.
“Okay?” you responded, the curiosity evident in your voice.
“What if we got married in December instead of May, took winter semester off of school, and came back here—to live and volunteer at the orphanage?”
You were silent. You were thinking. Then finally you asked, “Could we make a difference to the kids, Rach?”
So I started to talk. And I talked and talked and talked.
And at the end of all of my talking, you said five words: “Okay, Rachel. Let’s do it.”<
You trusted me.
And so we spent the first three months of our marriage in El Salvador. We slept in a single bed together—the only bed that the orphanage offered us. We got chased by mangy dogs on our morning runs and then came home to freezing cold showers. We did our laundry in the bathtub. We got in fights when we were lost on the city buses and were both too stubborn to ask for directions. We ate powdered mashed potatoes and PBJ sandwiches almost every day.
I jumped off a cliff and “butt flopped” into Lake Atitlan. You valiantly tried to save me as I writhed and sobbed in pain, floating on my back in the choppy water. You updated me every hour on the status of the bruises on my backside and patiently listened to me whimper as my sore hiney endured the bumpy bus rides.
We played with the niños. We played and played and played. You sat with Carlitos every day, reading books in your faltering Spanish and pointing out the pictures. You blew bubbles with Inecita for hours on end, talked to Cindi even though she couldn’t talk back, and pushed Edwin’s wheelchair through the obstacle course at top speed.
I loved you for it.
Several months later, I was home in Colorado visiting my dad, and you were in Utah, searching for our first married apartment. I remember calling you from the phone in the blue room and then sitting down on the bed, eager to hear about all of the great housing options you had undoubtedly found for us.
You were excited. “Rachel, I found a perfect place for us to live. And it’s only $400 a month, including all of the utilities!!”
“$400 a month?!” I asked, a red flag waving in my mind. “Ryan, what’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing! I mean, it is an attic apartment, so it’s a little small, and there’s not a lot of storage space…but I think we can make it work.”
I was skeptical. “It must be really small for it to be only $400 a month…”
“Well…” you began hesitantly, and the red flag waved faster, “there is one little quirk with the place: the tub is in the corner of the bathroom, under the slant of the attic ceiling, so you can’t really stand up when you are showering.”
I was silent. I was stunned. “You can’t stand up when you are showering?” I repeated, the concern evident in my voice.
So you talked. And you talked and talked and talked. And, somehow, you convinced me that an inconvenient shower was worth all of the money that we would save.
I couldn’t believe it when I heard myself saying those five magic words: “Okay, Ryan. Let’s do it.”
I trusted you.
And so, we moved into the attic. And for a year, we spent every morning standing hunched over in the bathtub, holding the shower hose over our heads as we tried to spray off the soap and shampoo as quickly as possible. We learned to cook in that teeny apartment, and I threw temper tantrums when we burned several pork roasts and dropped a chicken potpie on the open oven door. (We ate the pie anyway.) We stayed up late grading papers—you were always willing to help me during that insane first year of teaching—and we rarely went out on Friday nights because I fell asleep on the couch by 6:00 p.m.
I made you a scrapbook of our first year of marriage for Valentine’s Day that year—and a waiter at the Olive Garden accidentally dumped a pitcher of water all over it. The poor kid was mortified, but we didn’t yell at him for it.
We worked a lot. We worked and worked and worked—you on finishing your undergrad, me on teaching 200 teenagers to write. And when I was too tired to get up in the morning, you made me breakfast and ironed my skirt and lifted me out of bed with a hug.
I loved you for it.
You graduated from BYU and got accepted to dental school. We packed up our little attic in Provo and flew across the country to find a new apartment, a new teaching job, and a new life. When we first drove into Buffalo, New York in a rental car, it was night. We were 1500 miles away from home, and it was raining. We didn’t know a soul in that cold, grimy city.
“Babe,” I said, surveying the abandoned, boarded up warehouse outside the passenger-side window. “What are we doing here?”
You too looked around us—and then started to laugh. “I don’t know, Rachel. But I think we can make the best of it, don’t you?”
Shaking my head in amazement, I said the familiar words: “Okay, Ryan. Let’s do it.”
We trusted each other.
And so we settled into life in the Buff. We got lost finding the Wegmans grocery store for the first time. We drove all over town to pick up furniture that we’d found on CraigsList. We got in a fight after I insisted that the new apartment needed to be completely organized within a week and you insisted that there was no rush. We met the neighbors, some delightful and others scary, and accustomed ourselves to colorful language that we didn’t often hear in Provo. We tried chicken wings. You started dental school. I started teaching in a nearby suburb.
I was shocked to receive a phone call on my way home from work one day: “Rachel, we’ve been robbed.” The thief had made off with my laptop, my bike, our digital camera, and your electric razor. We were a little scared—and then we got over it.
We loved the people of Buffalo. We loved and loved and loved. We invited neighbors and young couples from church over for dinner (we had perfected the pork roast and chicken potpie by that time) and couldn’t believe how lucky we were to know them. We drove Deborah to church and took the Cookie Club kids on bike rides. You became the neighborhood favorite, and I became slightly overwhelmed by the incessant sound of the doorbell and the pleas of “Can Mr. Ryan play?” I sometimes watched you from an upstairs window, playing tennis with little Lawrence and David in the driveway.
I loved you for it.
December 28, 2009
This morning, I woke up thinking about the years that have passed and the years that are still to come. I rested my head on your chest and smiled.
I trust us.
“Happy anniversary, Ry,” I said quietly.
In your sleep, you put a hand on my hair and murmured, “Happy anniversary, Wife.”
You’ve always been beside me.
And I love you for it.