NS June 13th, 2011
Dear Noble Husband,
The first thing I ever learned about you was that you didn’t like Americans. This was conveyed to me by a third party, our mutual acquaintance, just before he introduced us at a beer festival in Germany.
I was about to turn 19 and had been in Europe for less than a week. I was a dreamer, a firecracker, a poet and all around wildchild…or at least I liked to think so. Despite my desire to blend in with the natives and distance myself from the white-sock-wearing, flag-waving tourists, I felt annoyance or perhaps even patriotism flush my cheeks. Fiercely determined to prove you wrong, I engaged you in half-hearted conversation, hoping to convey the effortlessly cool nonchalance of someone much older and more experienced.
To my surprise, you didn’t brush me off as a silly, naive, American girl and we kept chatting. A few days later, you invited me and my friends to the pub. By the end of the evening we were the only ones left at the table, so absorbed in conversation that the others had left. The rest, as they say, is history.
Dear Little Sis,
Your birthday is June 13th. You would’ve been 30 today had you ever made it past 7.
You know that I stopped believing in God not many years after you left, but for some reason I still imagine you up there on a fluffy white cloud, eating lemon drops, doodling in your sketch book and watching my life unfold. I don’t know if you had anything to do with making mine and Noble Husband’s paths cross that day 13 years ago in Germany, but I like to believe that, if not cosmic design, it was a coincidence that had your name on it somewhere.
Now here we are, 13 years since that June 13th day. We have experienced the difficulty and yearning of a long-distance relationship, the tumultuous nature of international moves and the maddening but exhilarating nature of learning one another’s cultures. You’ve held me many times over the years while I cried tears of desperate heartsickness for those I left behind, listened silently as I railed against the British way of life with which I had a love/hate relationship for the first few years, and have always done everything within your power to help me maintain my connections to ‘home’, even though this is my home now. You are my home.
Together we have survived the upheaval of creating and parenting two small humans, our past lives picked up and shaken vigorously like a snow globe, each flake a tear, an argument, a broken night, a hole we never thought we’d dig ourselves out of but always did. Now the flakes have settled and all that lay beneath our feet is a beautiful blanket of snowfall, the years of their childhoods stretched out before us in what seems an endless landscape right now but which we both know will melt away much too quickly. When they leave home, the bubble we have created will be picked up and shaken again, setting us off on another rollercoaster of emotion but also, I hope, on another great adventure.
One of the things I love most about you, what I have always loved most about you, is your kind and gentle heart. Though you are a ‘man’s man’ in so many other ways, you have never been afraid to show emotion when it comes to your family. You tell me every single day how beautiful I am and how much you love me and, more importantly, you say the same to both our children. Your affectionate and playful nature has blossomed since you became a father, increasing your confidence and assurance of your place in this world. I cannot imagine feeling more content and silently joyful than when I watch you play with and care for our children.
Last weekened, we all went for a walk by the river. It was meant to be a sunny day but in typical British fashion it turned cloudy and began to rain just as we started to unpack our picnic. I grumbled and wondered if we should eat in the car. You said, “Nonsense!” and found a cluster of trees that would give us shelter while we ate. Afterwards, once the rain had stopped, you excitedly led us on a riverside walk. We took it in turns to carry Noble Boy on our shoulders and answer the dozens of daily questions posed by Noble Girl, about anything and everything. Finally, we all grew tired and cold and turned back. You joined hands with Noble Girl, who in turn grabbed her brother’s hand. At your suggestion, he then offered me his grubby palm so that we’d all be linked in a line. I twined my fingers around his and looked down at his beaming face, his enjoyment of our family hand-hold so innocent and perfect to behold. I smiled back and then looked up just in time to lock eyes with you. It was only for a second and we didn’t say anything but in that glance we shared identical sentiments: unconditional love for our children and eternal gratitude that we found each other and were sharing this experience together.
They say the eyes are the windows to the soul but I never knew before that moment how remarkably accurate that saying is.
The bittersweet truth is that if you were still here, I wouldn’t be where or who I am today. Would my life be better because you were still in it? Undoubtedly. But in some ways, I wonder if the only reason I found this happiness I have now, the one I hold in my heart right this very moment, is because your death gave me the strength and the determination to make things work, to make my relationships count and to treasure each moment I have with those I love.
I wish it could’ve been different. I wish you were walking into a room filled with a thousand balloons, all your closest friends and family shouting out ‘Surprise!’ and proffering a candle-laden cake with your name written in hand-piped icing, along with something jokily derisory about being old now. I wish I knew what your face would look like today and what our relationship would be like. Would you be an artist? Would we be close? Would you be taller or shorter than me?
But also in that picture in my mind, I know that when you entered the room and smiled at me, I would be with a different husband, with different children. Or perhaps no husband or children at all. Hell, maybe I wouldn’t be there either.
If I ever allow myself to wonder what my life would be like if we hadn’t met 13 years ago, on that 13th day of June, I draw a complete blank. Sure, there may have been exciting alternatives, a parallel universe in which I led either a completely different life or one much the same as I have now but with different characters. The beauty and agony of life is that I will never know. But frankly, I’m enjoying this life, the one I have with you, too much to care.
There’s not much point trying to imagine a present or future based on a past that can’t be changed, I know. Like in those ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books we loved as kids, once you’ve chosen your path (or the path has chosen you), you must see it through to the end. No skipping around, no cheating, no regrets for the course not taken. And if you go back and do the same adventure again after you’ve seen all the possible answers, you’d always know in the back of your mind that you made those choices because they were mapped out for you by others, not because you felt them in your gut.
Fate is what led us to the place we are now, but Future is where we go from there.
Thank you both for making my life indescribably richer than it ever could’ve been if I hadn’t known you, even for a little while.