February 26, 2014
by Katharine Blair
In what was either fortuitous timing or a horrible coincidence (let time be the judge) my birthday is also my anniversary. Today officially marks 18 years of my relationship with Peter however anyone who knew us then knows that the truth begins a number of years before. No matter, today is the official date and it is the one we fail to mark every year. Not sentimental people by nature, both Peter and I scoff at celebrating anniversaries especially given the hassle it seems to do the whole babysitter, reservations, putting on real clothes and going out thing but our true reasons for not marking the occasion are far more indicative of who we are and how we’ve managed to make it this far.
As a child I was asked many times to recount the story of my family. I had five sisters, two fathers, two mothers and more grandparents than some people I knew had family members. My family, while less common it seemed at the time, is what we now refer to as a blended family, the product of one or more marriages that dissolve and reform with new players but somehow managing to maintain a sense of togetherness through the relentless effort of at least some of the adults involved. I had one full sister, three halves and a step, a stepfather I saw more of than my ‘real’ one and an immediate family that spanned three religious traditions, two cities and an extended family that numbered in the dozens. All my life my family’s story has been a narrative of overlapping histories that converge on one point, then entangle themselves before emerging in a completely new configuration. As I grew and people entered and exited the narrative, changing however temporarily the cast of characters, the story at times took on entirely different qualities. At one point I was the second child then the third; I had two homes, then one; I had five sisters then three, then five again. At each point the story I may have told about my family would have been different.
This narrative is something I bring to the family I am building with Peter. I often think ‘when the children are asked they’ll say…’. In part this is my eternal lack of confidence, the part of me that would always rather credit someone else rather than take the risk that I’ll be outed as wrong, but mostly this is because I visualize myself as a writer in the narrative of my own life and my children’s lives and this role is something I have come to see as sacred.
At seventeen Peter and I were never headed for happily ever after. For one, we were too young (who does that any more?) and another, we never really did get along with the ease of a couple that seems destined to each other. Never comfortable to let things lie I am a person who will push too far in a fight, who hates to lose and who has a good dose more stubbornness in her than any normal person should. Peter is laid back to a fault. In times of conflict he shuts down, neither talking nor emoting. An infuriating trait to be sure. No matter how angry, how hurt, you will rarely get Peter to rise to the fight and when you do you may need a new teapot but you will never gey the satisfaction you want from the response.
Peter is steady and surface. His needs are few (coffee, a decent amount of sleep, exclusive right to make your relationship with your computer convoluted and difficult) and exceeding them is as simple as cinnamon buns on the weekend, a tolerance for crass jokes delivered with a self satisfied smile and a well placed ‘why don’t you head to bed?’. I am far more complicated, having written in my mind the responses I want from people and feeling hurt if they don’t materialize. I make things harder than they need be and he is a constant reminder that none of it matters.
Before it begins to sound as if we are the yin to each other’s yang let me be clear that we are not the couple who fawn over each other. He doesn’t complete me, that’s my job, nor do I him. It would be more accurate to say he makes me crazy every day, he does everything the wrong way and it is infuriating to share a space with him if we are both working on getting something done. Our relationship is work. Every day. It is a choice I make and a challenge I choose. It is harder than I ever knew it would be.
Things haven’t always been easy for Peter and I, hell they haven’t always even been good. We’ve had highs (our kids) and lows (money, illness, distance, death) but it stands to reason that after this long it would have been shocking had we never encountered any real obstacles. In our youth we made a number of decisions that have taken us years and years to right. We had a baby long before we could afford one and then, slow learners that we are, we did it again, three times. We’ve seen each other through high school and college and university and graduate school. We’ve propped each other up at the hospital and turned a shamed eye while the other was left to handle something beyond our ability. It has been a long 18 years for sure but we are still young, still changing and still trying to write the narrative of our family and who we want to be.
While running around the neighbourhood one morning earlier this month I listened to Gay Talese describing his marriage with Nan, a woman who had been unfailingly loyal even in the face of his public indiscretions, and he spoke the words I’ve felt so many times. It’s knowing that the other person will never leave that gives the marriage strength. Knowing that I have chosen this man, this family, this life makes it mine to own and work on everyday. I write the narrative of my marriage with my actions and my words. I choose when it’s good and when it’s over and I can decide to stay and dig in and do the work to make it last.
As we build this narrative together it is in this security that I feel free to be my best self, to continue to grow and change. We started as kids. We’ve come this far. We have four beautiful children and forty plus years ahead of us to figure out the wording.