I was a bad kid. A bad kid and a bad teenager.
There was nothing really out of the ordinary about my childhood, though. My parents divorced early, but my mom was wonderful. We had a little family drama, but certainly nothing traumatic or horrible. I was just bad. I had a terrible temper and little patience. When my youngest sister died of bacterial meningitis when I was 15, I dove even further into the deep end. I began cutting and often went to school so trashed that I could barely walk.
Two weeks after my sister’s funeral, I met a boy. I was failing math, he was failing English. He offered me a ride home after school. I accepted. But instead of just dropping me off and leaving, he parked and came inside with me. He introduced himself to my mother, and immediately referred to her as “Mom.”
He leapt onto the couch in my living room, grabbed the television remote, and announced that he was thirsty. “You got any Coke?”
He and I went on to spend the entire summer attached at the hip. We partied hard. I spent many weekends at his house under the guise of spending the night with a friend. The hormones were insane. The sex was insane. The gluttonous, salacious amount of weed and spirits pumped into our barely-pubescent bodies was insane.
It was sometime in December ‘93 when he walked into a recruiting station and joined the Army. He said he would be leaving for basic training two days after Christmas, but, in the same breath, he told me to go ahead and start planning a wedding.
Strangely enough, there was no real overwhelming excitement or emotion. Not because I was not excited, but because it seemed as though I had known all along that I would marry him. There was never any discussion about it between us. It was just always assumed. It made sense. It was a universal truth.
I turned 17 that January. And in April, that boy stepped off an airplane in his Army class As, pushed past his mother and grandmother, swooped me into his arms -- and we totally sucked face right there in the airport.
A couple weeks later, in front of our families and amid whispered bets on how long we would last, we were married. We exchanged rings, for which we paid $89 including tax. Our wedding night was spent in a hotel room watching cartoons and eating pizza.
My mom really didn’t put up much of a defense. Before him, I was on a one-way trip to the hospital or juvenile detention. After him, I suddenly had a reason to be more than who I was. I had a reason to care about myself, and I had someone else to care about. And there was, of course, the fact that I told my mom that if she didn’t let us get married, we’d drive to Mississippi and do it anyway.
Today, my momma would say that her thought process went something like, “If I allowed and helped you do it, at least I knew I would be part of it, and I knew you would at least wear a dress. If I said no, I knew you would do it anyway, and probably wouldn’t even be sober.” Or something like that.
More than anything, though, she liked him from day one. And if you were to ask her now, she would say that beneath all of his Robert Smith punk-ness, she knew there was a man in there.
I stuck out my senior year of high school for 3 months, while my husband was overseas. I got painfully bored, so I moved overseas with him. I got pregnant 3 months later.
That’s when shit got real. Suddenly, it was about more than the two of us. And teenagers are selfish. Rabidly selfish. After our son was born, I spent a lot of time feeling fat and pissed off. My husband spent a lot of time feeling unsure why. When the baby cried, I fed it. Changed it. Bathed it. Held it. I hated every minute of it.
Then I got preggers again. Same thing. Only this baby was bigger and louder. But we kept going, mostly because we didn’t know what else to do. It took quite a long time before we got to the point where we kept going because we wanted to.
I will be 36 years old in January. In 6 months, my husband and I will celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary. Yes, we are still married.
My 15-year-old son looks just like his teenage daddy, complete with long hair and skateboard in hand. My 17-year-old son just bought an engagement ring for his girlfriend. He starts college in January.
We have grown up in some ways, others not. Compared to our peers, we have spent the longest amount of time in “adulthood" dealing with jobs, marriage and parenting. Our kids are the oldest. But in a lot of ways, those peers are much more mature than we are.
They had the traditional college experience. They had a significant amount of time being single. People with those experiences make decisions with their brains, for the most part. They have had time to grow them big and strong and smart. In contrast, my husband and I made those early decisions on gut instinct, or whichever choice sounded the most fun.
But I wouldn’t change it for the world, because we actually DID have fun. We flew by the seat of our pants and did what felt right. Yes, we fucked up a lot. But we’ve gotten it right much more often.
Getting married at any age is easy. Staying married is a bit trickier. Staying happy is the Holy Grail.
It starts with making the decision to grow up together. It’s a journey that has to constantly be planned and replanned, altered, detoured and remapped. Sometimes, the path is blocked by an enormous obstacle. It would be so much easier to go around it, or even go down a different path. The choice to stay on that path must be made by both of you. And you both have to remove the obstacle together, because neither one of you are strong enough alone.
We weathered being teenagers together. We have weathered war, Iraq (twice) and Afghanistan. We are weathering his diagnosis two years ago of multiple sclerosis. And next December, we will weather the end of his Army career. We’re going to kick ass then, too.