Thirty years ago today, Lady Diana married Prince Charles in an extravagant wedding ceremony that was broadcast around the world. I had just turned 21, and was living back at my mom’s house in Kenosha after a short career in door-to-door vacuum cleaner sales and a barren bachelor pad on the north edge of town. Watching the early morning royal wedding coverage, my mind was concentrated, as it had been for a good month, on my younger sister’s friend Amy, who had become a frequent visitor to the house.
I had told Karen how thrilled I was about Amy, and extended what should have been tempting invitations to things like the local screening of the No Nukes concert movie, but Karen simply ignored all of this. Clearly, if anything was going to happen, I was going to have to take the initiative alone.
My chance came just a few hours after the wedding of the century. Amy phoned for Karen, who had left on some errand. I flirted with Amy, and she flirted back. I complained that I had really wanted to take our dog to the beach, but my sisters had instead taken him with them.
“Well, I have a dog,” Amy offered.
With the Who’s “Sea and Sand” blasting on my stereo, I spruced myself up as quickly as I could and flew to Amy’s house in my 1976 Chevy Impala. She set Dink, her little terrier, on the back seat and we headed down to the lakefront. We ultimately drove all over town that day, buying Cokes at convenience stores and talking, talking, talking — about our lives so far, and our hopes and dreams for the future. Amy was thinking of joining the Army or finding some Mafia boss to take care of her. I had become preoccupied with a radio show in Chicago.
Returning Amy home, I asked if her parents would ever let her go out at night — like that night, for instance. An hour or two later, we were off together again. Our first dinner was at Taco Bell, our first movie was Stripes with Bill Murray, and our first kiss was the Fourth of July all over again.
Twenty years ago today, we walked to the front desk of our small hotel in Quebec City, the Maison Ste-Ursule, and asked Maurice, our hotelier, for a taxi to the Palais Du Justice. Amy was wearing a white dress and held a small bouquet of flowers from a nearby farmer’s market, and I was in a black jacket and tie, my shoulder-length hair neatly combed back into a ponytail.
A judge conducted our wedding in French, and a pair of courthouse office ladies served as our witnesses. Returning to the hotel, Maurice said he suspected we had gotten married, and so had provided “something electronic” which was waiting in our room. It was a small, portable TV set, and we turned it on only long enough to see a commercial for Coke-Diète featuring Celine Dion. He also gifted us with a lovely calèche ride around the old city.
An older city — Jerusalem — had actually been my first notion. I was studying the Bible at the time and also reading Skinny Legs and All, and Jerusalem seemed like such an eternal, “center of the world” sort of place. But then the Persian Gulf War began, making the Middle East less appealing, and we saw Quebec on a TV series called Last Train Across Canada. It looked very romantic.
Twenty years ago tonight, after a beautiful dinner at Le Saint-Amour, we used a phone booth near an outdoor music festival to call our family and friends back in the States and tell them we were hitched. In the background, some singer crooned Jackson Browne’s “Rosie” in French.
In our 30 years together, we have endured 107 degrees in an upper apartment without air conditioning and enjoyed fine wines in a castle dining room in Tuscany. We have suffered the deaths of grandparents and both of Amy’s parents, and welcomed wonderful nephews and nieces and great nieces into our families. We have bought used cars and new cars, lost jobs and found new ones, conducted business and paid taxes.
We have danced in a jazz parade in New Orleans, camped in snowy mountains and snorkeled in oceans. We have unclogged drains, dug out stumps, brined turkeys and cooked an excellent Steak au Poivre. We have wrestled with assembly instructions and personal demons, covered untold miles behind the wheel and on our bicycles — a wedding gift from my mom and stepfather, also married 20 years this month.
Have we got this?
While we have always been grateful for the support of family and friends, many of the most wonderful and most trying times have been shared by the two of us alone — just the two of us on a treacherous road, climbing the Blue Ridge Mountains at one in the morning in the rain and fog. Just the two of us blissing out on banana bread and waterfalls along Maui’s Hana Highway and later nearly drowning in that island’s ocean currents. Just the two of us, sobbing on the sofa from the worst possible pain.
In these moments, the thing that Amy has shown me is that she’s in.
No matter what idea we have chased or predicament we have found ourselves in — no matter how humbling or daunting or off-putting a situation may be — she has always been ready to tackle, finesse, prop up, hold steady, or smooth over whatever needed it. I can’t count the times when we have been struggling with one thing or another and I have looked into her eyes to find out, “Have we got this?”
The answer has always been yes, even when I was not so sure myself. Even when I have wanted to just give up — just curl up on the floor in a fetal position and let the worst roll over me — Amy has been there to put an arm around me and offer a hand up.
Bob Dylan once said that “when a man’s looking for a woman, he ain’t looking for a woman who’s an airplane pilot. He’s looking for a woman to help him out and support him, to hold up one end while he holds up another.”
I didn’t know what sort of woman I was looking for, but this is the sort of woman I have found.