The Traditional Gift for 5th Wedding Anniversary is Wood… Yes, I Would

In the middle of the world going crazy about the Olympics, the 50th anniversary of the ‘British Invasion’ and the Beatles, the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, and the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Bill, a simple 5th wedding anniversary celebration hardly seems worth mentioning.

Photo of Wedding dance

First Dance

Except that today, it’s ours, and I think it’s pretty special. I think he’s pretty special too.

I looked up online to find out what the anniversary gift is supposed to be this year.  It’s wood… given all the snow outside tonight, I just hope that doesn’t mean another tree is going to fall on this house. That happened in 2003, the year before I met Joe.

And actually that tree had a lot to do with our courtship, if you can call it that these days.

For Joe, 2003/2004 was a miserable time. For me 2003/2004 was a miserable time. We sat for most of the first month we met in 2004 talking about who had the worst year- he took the gold medal in that contest for all the wrong reasons. We bonded over strength in adversity, surviving, and being lost.

Joe was a cop for 35 years, the last several serving as the Deputy Chief- surely safe from harm there, except that a fluke event changed his history.

On his day off he was taking out the trash when a neighbor came over and announced that someone was “discharging a firearm at the bottom of the hill” (spoken like a true engineer). Joe got his service weapon and his police radio and called it in, then walked down the hill to the intersection.  Several actions took place and in the end, a 34 year record of never having to fire his weapon was broken. And so was he.

Though he received a medal of valor for saving a fire fighter’s life, and the criminal survived to go to prison, Joe had a wife who lay dying of a brain tumor at home. The last thing he needed was to go through the mandatory investigation that follows every service shooting event. But protocol demands, we comply.

Less than 6 months later, while Joe and his then-wife were visiting her family for what they figured to be the last time, Hurricane Isabel toppled a huge 75-year-old oak tree and crushed his house, all the way through to the basement. When the same neighbor called and said they needed to come home quickly, he didn’t have a clue how bad it was, they just gathered up and drove the 8 hours home in the pelting rain.

He navigated the process of demolition, rebuilding, nursing homes, retirement, hospice and a funeral over the next 7 months. I knew he was widowed when we met online, but I didn’t know how recently. I knew he would tell me what he needed to when it became important for me to know.

I left Azerbaijan at the end of the summer of 2004, bound for Kodiak Alaska. But I stayed less than 5 days when it was discovered that the finances of the company were not sound enough to support my contract, meaning I could be out of a new job before I even got started. I had to make some very quick decisions in the midst of being torn over wanting to start anew and leaving Baku after 10 years of very satisfying work and friendships. This upheaval was almost more than I could manage.

So many questions to be answered. Fortunately, I did have a house in Houston so I resigned and headed home to sort it all out. This felt like an epic failure. In the end I decided Washington DC was a better match for my skills, so I bought a car and drove to DC.

I stayed with various friends while I searched for a job and a place to live- and I feel grateful everyday for those friends. Finally, I thought, I had the pieces in place. I packed my “life in a box” and my two suitcases in my new car and went to get my keys… only to discover that the apartment wasn’t ready. I was too embarrassed to go back, and but had nowhere forward to go.

Resilience ...Tested in Major Stress

Resilience …Tested in Major Stress

And so it was that I found myself on my 49th birthday, alone, confused and bewildered at how I could fall so far so fast. I had rented a hotel room online only to find it so shabby that I spent the night in my car. An all-night FedEx office was across the street, so at 1:00 a.m. I went to check my email, doing the only thing that felt normal to me.

It was there that I saw the online dating site banner ad and decided to change my luck. I had no business dating, given that I didn’t have the first clue who I was or would become. But I would soon. I would.

Joe had no business dating so soon either, but soon he would. And we did.

On our first dinner date I came back to his house and found boxes everywhere. His home was in as bad a shape as mine was empty. He needed me, I could see. And I needed to be necessary. So we helped each other mend.

For two people for whom loyalty is paramount, this was a bond.  And it was that bond that held up when we were dating others, just to make sure. It was that bond that held up when I landed in the hospital for 8 days after a routine outpatient surgery went wrong.

But you know, somewhere along the line, we had to think, was that enough to build a relationship on?

I saw a post the other day from Julla Gonzalez over at entitled ” To the girls who travel: Don’t date a guy who doesn’t travel. It’s a very clever post in response to another post to the guys, “Don’t Date A Girl Who Travels.”  These posts were describing the very struggles that Joe and I had to reconcile before we made a real mess of our lives.

Would an expat become a housecat, or will the beat cop patrol the world with her?

Wedding Cake, multi-tiered

The Cake I Made For The Reception

In a post last fall on Dating, Expat Style, I wrote:

In an interesting way, I did meet a very nice American guy. But what about that shared culture?

  • He’s an Irish Catholic; I’m a Scots Protestant.
  • He’s north; I’m south.
  • He loved Johnny Unitas and the old Baltimore Colts, Notre Dame, and Hockey.
  • I love Peyton Manning and the old Indianapolis Colts, Purdue (for my daughter) and… Hockey!

A little tongue-in-cheek yes, and really glosses over the serious conversations we had to have about travel and whether I might want to go back overseas to work, especially given the success I had had there and the failure I felt like at home. It would be a natural reaction.

But no, we decided that if it was to work, it had to be at home (well, his home; I had to make this my home).

That was 10 years ago this year. And 5 years ago  Valentine’s Day  February 14th, we got married.

Valentine’s Day sounds sweet, but truthfully, it hasn’t always been a piece of cake. This Repatriation adjustment has been something I have continued to struggle with for several years. In fact, with all the turmoil in Washington DC over this recession mess, it never has felt right. At least not until the New Year dawned in 2013.

It was then that I made a Resolution to change my perspective and began to turn things around. I embraced my expat culture instead of denying it, began sharing these lessons learned and started cultivating friends around the world again (uh, yes, that would be each of you!)

As I told Julla in a comment to her dating and travel post, ”

“We’ve traveled the US, Puerto Rico, England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain. Notice a pattern? All places with golf courses. That’s the secret. I get to travel and play golf, he gets to play golf as he travels. We both get to be who we are and get to enrich the experiences of the other with our own knowledge. So, yes it can be done.

He doesn’t understand my blog about the former Soviet Union, and has no desire to go there… but maybe one day when golf becomes a draw, who knows?”

So, in the midst of all these momentous occasions and anniversaries, I want to pause and write this letter to my husband, just to tell him on this 5th anniversary of “wood” that if we had that conversation again today, I’d still say, yes.  Yes, I “would.”

I guess for our 25th, I’ll be saying Yes, I “silver”? (In case some of you want to look that one up,  here’s a link to the tradition list.)


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