A 10th Anniversary Card

I met Joanna in the back seat of her roommate’s car. We were driving up to Atlanta for the weekend, and — truth be told — I was pissed off about being there. I had a crush on the roommate, see, and had been thrilled when she offered to give me a ride. I don’t remember much about the drive, actually, except that the roommate kept playing a Spin Doctors CD and flirting with the guy in the passenger’s seat, and that my companion in the back seat spent most of her time listening to classical music on her Walkman. I also noticed, for the first time, just how beautiful Joanna was.

The next day she grabbed me and asked if I wanted to go for a walk. We were staying in a hotel near the Perimeter Mall, and she was bored senseless by the other people in our group. It was one of those evangelical retreats we were on, full of singing and fellowship’ing and meaningful discussions. Joanna had no patience for any of it. Still doesn’t. I mean, she sings from time to time (when no one’s around to hear), and she’s a devoted friend with a sharp and witty mind, but she has zero tolerance for pretense. None. Makes her crazy.

So we escaped to the mall, doing for the first time all of those things we’ve done a thousand times since — telling our stories, trying to make each other laugh, carrying on whole conversations in nothing but sarcasm and irony. She made me wait in Banana Republic while she tried on clothes, and at one point a salesman, assuming I was her boyfriend, gestured toward me and said, “She looked great in that suit, didn’t she?” When she came out of the dressing room, I felt nervous for the only time that day. I wanted to tell her that, yes, she did look beautiful — in the suit, I mean — but there was too much at risk. I could cross a line and screw the whole thing up. Instead, she beat me to the punch, made a joke, and put me at ease. The story of my life.

We got married at the Baptist church in her home town. Baptist, rather than Presbyterian, because it was the only one big enough for all the guests. It was one of those big Southern weddings like you see in the movies, with eight or nine bridesmaids and a reception in the back yard of a yellow Victorian house just a block away from the town square. We were married within walking distance of the tree where Boo Radley would have left surprises for Jem and Scout. (I mean that literally. Harper Lee and her sister Alice sent a nice gift.) It was a perfect day. We all woke up terrified because of the rain — my already-exhausted mother-in-law got on the phone and tracked down the biggest tent this side of Ringling just in case — but by early afternoon the sun was shining and the grass had dried out.

Ten years later, this is what I most remember about our wedding. I remember Bryan, one of my groomsmen, sighing and telling me, sarcastically, that he hated me after seeing Joanna for the first time in her dress. I remember requesting that everyone remain seated while Joanna came down the aisle so that I could have a clear view. I remember her laughing and crying, laughing and crying as she walked toward me — almost six feet tall in her heels but still a good four inches shorter than her father. I remember shaking hands and smiling for pictures and eating cake and never wanting to be more than a few feet away from “my wife.” I remember the pack of little girls who walked up to her and asked if she was a princess. And I remember the perfect moment of silence that greeted us as we drove away from the reception, alone together for the first time that day.

The accepted wisdom is that marriage is hard, that it requires “work” from both partners. But that’s never been my experience. (Granted, living with me is no piece of cake.) Life is hard at times — and we’ve experienced the ugliest it has to offer, believe me — but marriage? As far as I’m concerned, Joanna is the only thing that makes the shit and the boredom and the ugliness worthwhile. I’m still not sure why she grabbed me that day or why I’m the one who gets to share life with her. To say I’m grateful wouldn’t come close to expressing the mystery of it all.

Happy Anniversary, Joanna.