They met at a wedding. It was his best friend and her cousin. It was 1978. At the time, he was living in San Diego. She was working through her residency at Children’s Hospital in Detroit. Both the life of the party, though in very different ways. Wedding dance floors since have not been the same.
He was nervous and stared across the room at her as his soon to be married best friend explained. The gaggle of cousins surrounding her laughed and made snide comments about his suit and the guitar he had brought. Their comments changed after hearing him play a couple hours later. She said he was a little goofy at first, but that he had the voice of an angel.
The first year, he wrote her a letter every day. She read them as she fell asleep at night. They travelled together and began finding common interests and goals. He introduced her to his four brothers and two sisters. He had met all of her family at the wedding. She thought his brothers were funny and his sisters were crazy. She was right on both accounts. She loved his dad and admired his mom, most of the time. They were both strong women with a great knack for care giving, cooking, and loving. But they had different ways of going about all three, which means, they butted heads here and there.
Their first real date was on St. Patrick’s Day. Everyone said if they could handle drinking Cork Town’s green beer together, they could handle anything.
He got a job in Michigan and they got married. Both families came together for the beautifully simple celebration. They stood in front of their nearest and dearest and read the vows they had themselves written. He sang to her. And they danced and danced. Some of her cousins joked and tried to give him a hard time. She knew she had made the right decision when he gave it right back.
It wasn’t long after that she called her friends and her family to tell them she was expecting. Everyone made guesses as to if it were a boy or a girl. Her younger brother told her he was happy for them but he missed her at home.
They got their home ready and did all they could to prepare for the coming of their first. She went into labor in late November. Her fellow nurses and trainees whispered in her ear, “Five fingers, five toes,” as the baby’s heart rate dropped and she was rushed into an emergency C-section. He was with her the whole time.
She was tired after the thirty-three hour labor, but when the nurses brought her little boy into her room on the first night, saying he was moving his head, which was casting a shadow on the wall and scaring the other babies in the nursery, she easily found the strength to stay awake. And the two of them spent their first night with their son.
She didn’t go back to work for a long while. The baby took a fair amount of effort. The young one was curious and mischievous. And, to make things even harder, he was diagnosed with severe allergies and asthma.
They moved into a house on the west side of Detroit. The small apartment on the river just wasn’t enough anymore. And, he was progressing within the agency at a tremendous rate. It was time for something new.
They met new friends, some with kids, some without, and started developing a social circle that would later become an advanced network. She thought about returning to work and spent afternoons talking to her sisters and her friends about it. But, he worked so much, so many late nights, she worried that her returning to work would add an unnecessary strain to their relationship and their family, which it seemed, was about to grow.
Once again, she got to call her friends and siblings and say those magic words. “I’m pregnant.” But life has different plans, sometimes. And she lost the baby.
He did his best to be there for her. Her friends and family and his family and his friends reached out and offered care and support, but little helped. The devastation ran deep. Even her son, now nearing his third birthday, who struggled to understand what was happening and why his mom was sad, couldn’t make her laugh the same way.
Time passed and wounds scabbed over. They decided to move, to make a change, to cast a new light on the sadness that was passing.
The mountains seemed as good a place as any. He found a job easily. He had started to make quite a name for himself. They bought a house not far from her sister, who had moved out there a few years earlier. They made quick friends with their neighbors – a contractor who could drive a nail in with one strike, something their now five-year old son found absolutely amazing, an accountant, who, well, was an accountant, a teacher, an artist, a designer, and a mechanic. And, before long, the move proved itself to be just what they needed.
She picked up the phone and called her mom to tell her she had some big news. She was nervous to tell too many people this time around. Being half way across the country made that a bit easier – only her new neighbors could see the bulge.
Their daughter was born in August. She was tiny and a fighter from the start. The five-year old big brother got taken out for his favorite breakfast that morning – clown face waffles with vanilla ice cream, cherries, whipped cream, and chocolate chips. A breakfast reserved for birthdays and injuries only. He was afraid to meet her at first, his sister that is. But he soon fell in love with the role of big brother.
As much as life in Colorado felt great, there was a longing in their hearts. His family was still in Michigan and so was most of hers. So, just months after their daughter came into their lives, they moved back.
They found a house near a lake. He got a job at his old agency, which welcomed him back with wide-open arms. They bought a boat from a new neighbor. He built a play structure in the back yard with her dad’s help. They laid wood floors, because their son, they discovered, was allergic to mites and their pediatrician recommended wood floors over carpet. They added a second story to the house, creating a beautiful master bedroom. They had birthday parties and family gatherings. On Christmas, they would walk the suburban neighborhood with friends, singing carols and laughing about modern decorations.
They sent their kids to summer camps for basketball, soccer, football, filmmaking, acting, and anything else they could find. Their son found love in cinema and literature. Their daughter, still small for her age, but more of fighter than all of them put together, was quickly realized to be a hell of an athlete.
She went back to work for a while, though not as a nurse. She started business after business, leading them to success then moving on to something new. She maintained friendships around the world. They supported their families, and when her dad got sick, they opened their home to him and his wife. It lasted almost a year before he could hold on no longer. The final days were spent in the hospital. She made sure family and love surrounded him. And on his last morning, she brought her mom to see him. The old, Italian smooth talker looked at her and said “Happy birthday,” then he slowly went to sleep.
Her strength and love kept her son from falling to pieces just before his high school graduation – something he has never been able to properly thank her for.
Their son went off to college and their home near the lake suddenly seemed large and remote. They wanted to be closer to their daughter’s school, to his office, and to her social environment. So, they moved once again, though not very far this time.
She found a condo for her mom that was just ten minutes away. Her sister lived equally as close. And his family could make the trip in less time than it normally takes their son to choose which movie to watch as he falls asleep.
She still has all the letters he wrote her that first year. He still writes songs about her. They’ve shared anniversaries, holidays, great joys, intense sorrows, pure satisfactions, they’ve grown, they’ve learned, they’ve seen the world… and always with each other. When he travels for work, he calls her every night. And sometimes she goes with him. She watches his commercials and smiles like she did the first time she heard him sing. She still says he has the voice of an angel.
They make so many people so happy, so inspired, and so proud. Their story is more than a fairy tale, more than a romantic idea, more than anything words can express. It’s a life… not just a life, but my life. I’m the son. They are my parents. And I love them.