The Big Two Five

Twenty-five years, just about any way you look at it, is a lot of years. It’s a honking huge number of years. A human being, any human being, will stumble from creation all the way into young adulthood in 25 years. A teenager who sticks around 25 more years hobbles fully into middle age. A 25-year-old adult who works at something for 25 years — anything, really — will become pretty good at it.

Twenty-five years is a hefty chunk of life. Yet, especially for those of us who’ve been through a couple of those chunks, and knowing too well that another block of that size is guaranteed to no one, nowhere, in any contract … 25 years is nothing. It’s a quick snap of the fingers. A hiccup.

I know a lot went on in the past 25 years. But they’re gone? Already? What happened?

I know what happened, of course. I remember. My wife and I raised one of those human beings from a screaming pile of spit-up into a young man on his own. We had jobs here. Jobs there. Raucously good times. And some bad ones. Colds, the flu, a surgery or two. Fortune and accidents. Miserable haircuts. Graying hair. Reading glasses. 401ks.

We cut lawns. Bought cars. Vacuumed the floor. Ate a lot of bad meals, and some good ones. Paid a lot of bills. Met deadlines. Missed some. Enjoyed vacations. Stayed home in a pandemic.

I remember, all right. I remember because of one unblinking light, one steady beam, one fantastically kind, sneakily and savagely funny, whip smart, steadfast, beautiful woman, a patron saint to foster dogs, a loyal and giving friend, the best mom a kid could ever have, and my best friend. She’s my forever partner, the love of my life, and the one sure thing in my life over the past 25 years.

To Mary Jo: Happy Anniversary, hon. Twenty-five years. This is a big one.

Marriage, if we’re going to be honest here, is a wildly preposterous throw of the dice. You pledge yourself to one person for the rest of your life when you have no idea what the rest of your life’s going to be like. You vow to stick by this person ’til the “death do us part” thing, even though you know everything — every damn thing — is going to change. You. Your betrothed. The world. Your hair. Everything.

It’s just about the biggest leap of faith a human being can make. In agreeing to marry someone, at least in the traditional sense of marriage, you’re saying, “I’m going to stick by you as we barrel through all these hairpin turns and blind corners. We’re almost guaranteed to skid off the road at some point. But we’ll do this, you and I, because I think I know who you are, and I think you know who I am. Deep down. In our souls. In the very human core of our beings. And I think we can be great together. And even if we change, which we absolutely will, and even when things change that we can’t imagine at this point — because we don’t know what lies ahead of us on this crazy winding road that we’re about to take — I’m with you. All the way. No matter what. You in?”

Twenty five years ago today, on a snowy afternoon in Cincinnati — back in another century, for God’s sake — Mary Jo and I agreed to that bargain. We had each wrecked on that road before, so we were both a little leery about stepping into the marriage machine again. Despite that, or maybe because of it, we strapped in. We said our vows in front of a small gathering of friends and family. We tied the knot. Because we had faith. In each other.

And here we are.

(Or, as in the above and below photos, there we were, a little more than 25 years ago, hair and all.)

Toma, me, Mary Jo, and Cody.

My wife and I have, because we’re being honest here, yelled at times in the past 25 years. At each other. At our son. At the world. About some important things, rarely. Almost all the time, it’s about stupid stuff best soon papered over and nearly always easily forgotten. That’s marriage. We saw that coming.

I have, and I’m probably not alone among men of my generation in my lameness, allowed my romantic gestures to backslide over the past two decades plus, too. There’s not much excuse for that. Life gets in the way, sure. Life has a way of doing that. But I knew that coming in. I should be better. Still, I think Mary Jo realizes that the romantic spark lives in me. I sure hope she knows.

We don’t — again, being honest — say “I love you,” as often as we did when we were single or in those first few years of marriage. For me, I never wanted those words to become second nature, to be as rote as a peck on the cheek on the way out the door or as common as a Hallmark card. They’re special words, in my mind, not meant to be used as readily as “I’ll be right back” or “Stay safe.”

But I don’t say those words enough. I know. I should say them more. Today, I think, would be a good start.

This day marks 25 years of togetherness, of leaning on each other, of sharing both the mundane and the wondrous. Of endless trips to Target for cereal and a stunning morning hike through Canyonlands. Of dusty baseball practices at the local park and running around on a small soccer pitch in a tiny town in Italy. Of a slew of awful school plays and a trip to listen to a future president talk. Of a forgettable house in Columbus, Ohio, and our home in Georgia. Of walks in the neighborhood, through big cities and small towns, and amid the redwoods in California. Of holidays in Cincinnati and spring weeks at the beach.

These 25 years have had laughter, and some tears, and quiet, earnest, honest, super-personal talks between the two of us — about our son, Luke, about life, about being young and growing older. About everything. About nothing. We’ve shared snarky, private jokes. We’ve enjoyed the quiet of us, too.

I remember a trip to Disney World when our marriage was relatively new and our role as parents even newer. Luke must’ve been 4 or 5 at the time. We weren’t expecting anything from our little spin down to Orlando other than long lines in the hot sun, pushy crowds, and a check off the parental must-do list. But the day turned out to be, corny as it may sound, of a dream.

The weather was perfect, the lines short. Luke was wide-eyed enthralled. It was one of those days that, even as we lived it, we knew would be forever memorable. We reveled in our son’s beautifully pure childhood joy. Everything was new. Everything was exciting. The three of us must have gone on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin a half-dozen times that day. No sooner did we step out of our own private space capsule, where Luke sat between us handling the zappers and lasers, than our little boy would look up and say, “Again! Again!”

None of that — the simple and the magical, the noise and the stillness, the dreary and the dreamy — could have happened without the love, the trust, and the leap of blind faith that Mary Jo and I took 25 years ago today. So if you’re reading, Mary Jo — and I’ll bet you are — know this:

I love you, hon. Thanks for being you, and thanks for allowing me to be me. Thanks for being there, always there. And thanks for agreeing, those 25 years ago, to go on this ever-thrilling ride with me.

In the words of a little boy we know: “Again! Again!”

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