On New Year’s Day back in 1994, I stood up with a guy named Trevor and we promised to spend our lives as partners, doing what is good for each other and for the world around us, and loving each other whether we feel like it or not.
Because our anniversary is on January 1, it’s really easy to remember. It also feels like a natural time to celebrate a new beginning together as we start a new calendar. This seems fitting and sounds sort of romantic. But on looking back, it might not have been the best idea. You see, I recently realized our relationship has been a series of bad beginnings.
On our first date, we went with a group to a concert a few hours from where we went to college. We planned to show up late so we could miss the opening act and get right to the performance by Toad the Wet Sprocket, one of our favorite bands. Happily, we timed it perfectly. Unfortunately, it turned out Toad the Wet Sprocket was the opening act. We heard their last song as we were walking in, then we spent an hour or so listening to a bad singer play mediocre songs and wax bitterly over his frustration that nearly everyone in the theater (seriously, there were about 10 people left) had taken off after the opening act.
Shortly after we started dating, Trevor gave me a ride home from school over break. This was the first time he met my parents. After the exchange of pleasantries, nature called and Trevor went upstairs to use the bathroom. I’ve never asked for the details, but somehow he clogged the toilet–and it overflowed enthusiastically. Water flowed so freely and abundantly, it flooded the bathroom and found its way through the floor, raining through the ceiling of the first story.
This was a bad way to start a relationship with his future in-laws. Fortunately, my parents are gracious people.
A few months later, I stayed with Trevor’s family for a week so I could hang out with him and get to know them better. They put me up in a guest bedroom in the basement, which I found perfectly comfortable–expect for the smell. I don’t think anyone should be surprised when basements smell a little funny, so I didn’t fret over it much. But after a couple of days, we all had to admit it wasn’t a typical basement smell. And it seemed to be growing stronger. After another day or two, the family launched an aggressive investigation and found the source of the smell: a package of rotting meat someone had accidentally left out of the freezer.
Another inauspicious beginning.
On the day we got married, my eyes were shining, my cheeks were flushed, and I was breathless. From excitement? Perhaps a bit, but mostly because I had a fever and a lung infection. The day after our wedding, after a drive to Colorado, I finally went to the doctor and was diagnosed with pneumonia. The doctor squelched our plan for a honeymoon at Trevor’s grandparents’ cabin in the mountains because I was too sick to go to high altitude. Since we had no other plan and no money, we spent a couple of nights at Trevor’s parents’ house, sleeping on two twin beds of different heights, pushed together. At least they had long rid the house of the smell of rotting meat.
His parents felt sorry for us and sent us to a five-star hotel, the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, for a weekend. So we did get a mini-honeymoon before we headed back to our apartment in Illinois–but pneumonia tends to act as a retardant on the flames of romance.
Yes, a questionable beginning.
We moved to Colorado almost a year later so Trevor could go to seminary. We stayed in his parents’ basement (yes, the basement of rotting-meat fame) for a couple of months while we worked to clear out and paint a house some generous relatives had offered as a rent-free place to live as caretakers. It seemed like a good idea until we finally moved in after a lot of work and a lot more expense than we expected to sink into a rent-free home. The neighbors couldn’t conceal their disappointment when they realized we were actually going to live there rather than tear down the old house, which sat surrounded by mansions in Denver’s most exclusive community.
It got worse on our first night there, when the sewer backed up (are you detecting a theme?)–not just a toilet, but the entire system. The next day, we discovered the leach field had dried up while the house had sat vacant. The septic tank couldn’t drain and had to be pumped out occasionally while the house’s owners deliberated over whether to repair the problem or connect the home to the city sewer system. This meant an open cesspool in the backyard, providing access to the septic tank, with an orange plastic fence around it and the distinct smell of sewer permeating the air. The neighbors were thrilled–and so were we.
Even after the sewer was hooked up, the hole filled in and the orange fence removed, we continued to attract the rancor of our neighbors. We drove old cars–one of which I damaged in a car accident and we chose not to repair–that attracted the attention of the local police, who pulled us over for no reason and followed us home on more than one occasion. We acquired the planet’s two strangest dogs, who were both skilled at escaping our yard and toying with the neighborhood’s well-groomed and well-behaved canines. We hosted youth group events at our house–until the neighbors developed the habit of automatically calling the police when the first teenager showed up.
Because I was driving two-and-a-half to three hours a day to and from work, after a year we decided to move and shorten my commute. When we stopped to figure it out, we realized we had spent more money living in that rent-free house than we would have spent to rent an apartment for a year.
When we moved to Alaska a few years later, we spent our first two weeks in The Last Frontier living in a camper in someone’s front yard, waiting for our rental house to be available. Oh, and it rained the entire time.
A few years later, back in Colorado, we bought our first house. We closed on August 31, 2001–11 days before September 11, when the value of our property quickly fell from an all-time high.
Two years and one more kid later, we moved into a brand-new house. While we were moving in, we accidentally locked ourselves out of the house. We called a locksmith who couldn’t open the new locks, so he attacked the door with a sledgehammer. This unconventional technique was effective but left us with a damaged door.
Later that first night in the house, our four-year-old got sick and started vomiting. While we were doing laundry to clean up after her–you’re not going to believe this–the sewer backed up! The next day, we complained to the builder, who discovered that during the building process, they had forgotten to connect the house to the sewer line.
When I got a job in Illinois, I moved by myself so Trevor and our kids could stay until the school year was over and our house sold. We had put the house on the market a couple of months earlier, right at the beginning of the slide in the housing market that eventually led to a crash and triggered the recession we’re still trying to dig our way out of.
My first night away, Trevor’s dad died after a long battle with an autoimmune disorder and two liver transplants. I flew back for the funeral, then spent the next three months living 1,000 miles away from my family, waiting for a buyer for our house–until we couldn’t stand our separation any longer and the rest of the family joined me in Illinois. That bad beginning lasted five years, before the elusive buyer showed up and bought that house in Colorado.
In the meantime, we moved into our current home in Illinois. A few weeks after we settled in, we discovered in the most unpleasant way possible–you guessed it, a sewer backup–that the lovely old tree in our backyard had intertwined its roots in the pipes in our yard. We had to spend a few thousand dollars to clear them out and create a clean-out entry point so they could be cleared out with less expense in the future. Not a great way to start our lives in a new place.
Most of these stories–not all–make us laugh in hindsight. So does the pattern of sewer problems, which I just picked up on as I was writing this–although I assure you those experiences were never funny at the time.
With so many bad beginnings behind us, perhaps we should be nervous as we start another year together. Who knows what this year holds? Yet the more years we spend together, the more we are ready for whatever life throws our way. No matter what bad beginning this may be–and no matter how many times we have to start again under laughable (eventually, anyway) circumstances, I want this guy next to me.
Happy anniversary, Trevor!
© 2012 Amy Simpson.