I have been told that my husband and I look like a storybook couple. (He has prince-like hair, it’s true.) Or the couple whose photo comes in the frame. We have been together since we were nineteen and met in Paris during college. These facts tend to add to the head-tilting “awwww” factor.
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But we aren’t perfect.
In fact, we almost broke up a few years into our marriage. It was before kids, before things got too complicated, just as he was finishing up law school. He even moved out—we hadn’t lived apart since college except for the year he was studying law in Edinburgh and I was working internships in preparation for our move to New York. I asked him to leave. We had grown apart and become mean to each other, hurt from unhealed, constant wounds. We both thought that’s what love looked like and didn’t know any better. That’s what happens when you meet at nineteen, parts of you stay naïve. But I woke up one day and wanted a different kind of love.
We lived in New York, so even after I asked him to leave, we shared a bed for a month or so, in pajamas sleeping with our backs to each other. We would pass each other and stare at the floor or fight when we caught eyes. I asked him to leave, to “really go.” A big part of us both shattered when he did. He moved in with my best friend and slept on an air mattress in the middle of a room with a dripping leak from the ceiling.
We both were in a lot of therapy at the time, which became separate after we separated. Our therapist believed in us and saw the deep love we had for each other. She would never tell me things from their sessions directly, but would only offer feedback if something I said about him was something she heard in his session, she always showed me the best in him. We stayed connected through her, the umbilical cord to our suffering love.
He begged to take me on dates. I figured I might as well and wanted to see him try in ways he never had to express himself. It was like watching someone trying to ask for directions in a foreign language: awkward, genuine, halting. We walked in the rain to a dumpling place in Chinatown he found especially for me (the exact kind of place he refused to try for years), he took me to art movie houses, he took me to brunch.
Over brunch on my birthday at our favorite spot near “our” apartment, I remember asking for a divorce. I explained that I didn’t know if I could trust him or not feel hurt by his mistakes and neglect that were caused simply by his immaturity. (This is another reason why you leave the boys you date at nineteen and probably forget their names. They are cast to be moved on from.)
It was clear, however, he had grown up and done hard work, but I still wasn’t sure I could move forward, so had asked for the divorce because being married wasn’t important to me anymore. If we were going to fall back in love, our signatures on a piece of paper wouldn’t be the reason.
I remember staring at a beautiful berry salad studded with little nobs of goat cheese, tender mint leaves and a dusting of black pepper as I asked him. (It was brunch in Brooklyn, after all.) We chewed in silence, pausing to pick blackberry seeds from our molars.
He asked to walk me home. Then we pushed our chairs back, left the restaurant, ambled through the nearby park. As we walked, we held hands and wept.
We were old friends, witnesses to each other’s stories, part of each other’s skin. In this moment when we both knew it was over, we couldn’t stop holding hands and weeping, spilling out wishes of what could have been and apologies. It was impossible to let go.
So we didn’t.
I told my best friend about what had happened in the park and he confessed to having seen some massive changes in his roommate. I was told he became kinder, met with our friends and apologized for things he said or little insensitivities, he became proactive. “Why, what, okay,” I thought.
And so we began again, not manufactured like that photo in a frame. We became new somehow, real even. We held hands and really touched each other for the first time. And haven’t stopped holding hands, ten years of marriage and two kids later. We just renewed our vows a few weeks ago in front of our best friends.
I honestly am so grateful for our separation, that time. We grew together like we never had. I came to admire our differences, ones that I wouldn’t know years into our marriage would be of the perfect design to manage my cancer diagnosis and treatment. My love for him now is profound—he is a wonderful father and husband, dedicating his days to our family with a grace and acuity. It is for him that I made this salad again, not with summer berries but with fall stone fruit. Our love changed, like the season, and grew even more beautiful.
I hope for many more seasons ahead.
Stone Fruit Salad with Mint and Goat CheeseServes 2
This salad is intentionally without dressing, a little bit raw, which makes it perfect as a simple side for brunch. It would be lovely with a drizzle of honey balsamic (I love that stuff) and olive oil, but it’s not necessary.
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1 pound ripe stone fruit (here, a mixture of plums and peaches), cut into wedgesLeaves and flowers from 2 sprigs fresh mint2 ounces cold fresh goat cheeseFreshly ground black pepper
Combine stone fruit in serving bowl; scatter with mint. Crumble cheese over fruit and grind black pepper over top. Serve immediately.
This post was originally published in September 2018, right here on this blog. It’s a favorite, so I thought I would post it again! Thank you for being here and continuing to read while I work on new projects. To hear about them, sign up for my monthly newsletter here. I’ll be honored to keep you posted!