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We were standing around the tiki lounge sharing a scorpion bowl with four or five good friends when the couple next to us struck up conversation. They used salt daddy’s tattoos as an entry point, as strangers often do.
“Nice ink!” Said the woman, a blonde MILF-type with long bleached hair and fake boobs neatly presented in her leopard push-up bra. “My boyfriend just got tattooed today,” and she volunteered the hand of a gruff 40-something man next to her.
“How’s it goin. I’m Beau,” he introduced himself as the MILF gently rotated his saran-wrapped paw in front of us, a mix of brown blood and black ink swirling with the movement. Beau looked the perfect match for this cougar with his tattered denim vest and biker tattoos crawling up a leathery neck.
“Wow, looks great,” we all said through our teeth.
“Where did you get it done?” salt daddy offered. As the boys started talking shop, Miss MILF turned her attention to me. “And aren’t you just the prettiest little thing. Do you have any tattoos love?”
“I do. Actually the one on my husband’s arm is our wedding tattoo, I have the same one on my upper thigh.” As soon as I said it, I regretted it.
“Ohhh! Let me see,” she said in a too-high voice for her age, silicon orbs gently bobbing as she leaned over to grab my hand. I reluctantly lifted my dress to reveal the big gold anchor with a blue compass rose at its center, set against persimmon-red flowers.
“Beautiful,” she admired. “That thing is huge. Let’s hope you two never break up.”
Blondie must have seen my face twisting with the possibility that the wedding tattoo could have a shelf life. My hand softly glossed over the ink, as if to comfort it against traumatic images of losing its other half.
“I mean, Beau had a tattoo from his X wife. I hated it. I made him cover it up,” she backpedaled. “He doesn’t like my X any better than I like his. But now we have each other,” she winked as she excused herself to smoke a cigarette with Beau and half our table.
At first I brushed off her reaction and told myself that this divorcee and her boyfriend were different than us - and different than we would ever be. But as the night went on and our scorpion bowls kept rolling, the comment kept resurfacing in my increasingly drunken thoughts. I replayed the conversation to everyone in our group, imitating the MILF’s voice with a little more sarcasm and snarl as my blood alcohol level got higher. Hers was becoming the voice of the enemy, the voice of my deepest fears.
No one else thought anything of it. “Who cares, just look at them,” salt daddy’s best friend pointed out. “They’re a different breed altogether.”
Still, deep down her skepticism had struck a chord. It feels safe to enter in to the sanctity of marriage, an impenetrable fortress that keeps out doubt and cheating and heartbreak. Right? But you take one look around the world - at divorced parents, at Madmen, at celebrities, at the couple next to you in the tiki lounge - and you can’t deny that the fortress of marriage is often breached.
I doubt anyone ever walks down the aisle thinking, “we’re going to break up one day.” But it happens 50% of the time. So how can I know for sure that we’re any different? That we’re any better than the other half of marriages that will inevitably fail, one breached drawbridge at a time?
I used to feel entirely insecure after watching shows like Madmen. Every time Don Draper cheated on one of his wives, my deep little fear was reinforced. This could happen to me. Every time I heard about a couple that broke up, cheating or otherwise, the same little fear was stoked. This could happen to me.
But we’re stronger, right? We’re better?
When we got home from the bar, I kept telling salt daddy what the MILF had said to me. “I don’t ever want to cover up this tattoo!” I cried.
“You don’t have to,” salt daddy comforted me. “We’re not breaking up. I love you.”
“What if things change? What if we get old and things change,” I slurred.
“You are the most important thing in my life. And that will never change.”
Even as the room started to spin from one too many rum concoctions, I knew he was telling the truth. “You’re the most important thing to me too.”
I went to bed feeling reassured that night, but every so often that looming insecurity of an unknown future finds its way into my thoughts again. I’m learning that instead of seeing those fears as truth, I can take it one day at a time and recognize the truth of our relationship right now. We love each other. We take care of each other. I trust my salt daddy and I trust his intentions with all my heart.
And doesn’t he deserve my trust? He’s no Don Draper. He’s no Don Juan. He’s my salt daddy, and no matter where our relationship takes us, one thing will remain permanently engraved along the way: a gold anchor and blue compass rose, always leading me to true north. Always leading me home.
I remember that in the months leading up to the best day of my life, I could hardly imagine that there would ever be “life after the wedding.” That’s where all the romcoms typically end. Wedding day, kiss the bride, we all go out smiling with confetti and champagne and rolling credits. Happily ever after. She said yes. Case closed. No more stories to tell here.
Almost two years later I’m finding that there are plenty more stories to tell. Stories of saying yes, over and over and over again.
What I’ve learned is that “yes” isn’t just something you say at the altar - it’s something you say every day of your married life. Saying yes to the dirty socks on the floor, to the thrown-out back, to the beat-tired man on the couch. Saying yes to the baggage of big heartbreaks and mini rejections and various degrees of childhood trauma. Even if it’s Louis Vuitton, we’ve all got baggage.
Looking back I realize how naive I was in thinking that all I had to do was say yes one time, and the rest would unfold like a flower. Turns out it’s more like reaching your foot to the first stepping stone in a river creek, and continuing over the course of a lifetime to cross that shifting body of water one rock at a time.
The act of saying yes on your wedding day is the beginning of a hundred thousand yeses. It’s the tip of the iceberg. It’s the first drop of a tropical summer rain. It’s the initial green sprout to emerge from the earth, demanding care and attention to grow to a flowering magnolia tree.
Do you take this man as your lawfully wedded husband?
Do you choose compassion when he’s working late and emotionally checked out?
Do you forgive him for the things he said when he was angry?
Do you forgive him for leaving five Panda Bear chocolate wrappers on the living room floor?
Do you lay down your expectations and allow him to be the man he is?
Do you agree not to take it personally when he’s in a bad mood?
Do you stake a claim of independence, taking responsibility for your own happiness?
Do you commit to using this partnership as a mirror for what you need to work on in yourself?
Do you promise to enjoy the moments of laughter and connection with an open heart?
Saying yes to the fun stuff is easy. Who wouldn’t say yes to the hot sex and the butterflies you feel when his hand quietly links with yours? Who wouldn’t say yes to the fancy dinner dates and laughing under the covers. To swimming in the ocean together, to driving along the foggy coast listening to your favorite album. To a fuzzy face kissing you on New Year’s Eve, to a best friend that holds you when you’re tired and overwhelmed.
Anyone would say yes to that.
What’s harder to say yes to is the baggage that everyone (and I mean everyone) carries with them into a relationship. We all have survival strategies and defense mechanisms and patterns of anxiety that play out over and over again in our lives. Maybe it’s not until marriage that we actually see them for what they are. And that’s why marriage is a beautiful place to unpack that hideous monogrammed luggage, throwing away what you don’t need and gently laundering the rest.
That growth starts with the act of saying yes. Yes, we are in this together. Yes, we are committed to opening up that stench-ridden bag and getting through whatever we find. Yes, we’re not going anywhere. And when this suitcase is done, we’ll move to the next one. It may be smaller and lighter, but there’s always a next one. And so the story unfolds.
Saying yes to my salt daddy has been the best decision of my life - and it continues to be the best decision I make every day. It’s not just saying yes to my best friend and the love of my life. It’s saying yes to myself. Yes, I agree to go to those dark places to see why I’m acting this way. Yes, I agree to see my own hurt behind the blaming. Yes, I agree to let down my pride and let go of the old defenses. I need no guard here. This is a safe place. This is my soul, my union, my man. My partner on the journey.
Even if we have 500 ugly designer suitcases along with us.
How many times have you heard someone say, “my wedding was the best day of my life”?
I vote that women think twice before repeating this tired script. First of all, the concept puts way too much pressure on brides to create “the one perfect day.” Second of all, it suggests that once your wedding is over the best day of your life has already passed. Doesn’t give you much to look forward to does it?
Third of all, is this what you would call the best day of your life?
THE FIRST DANCE
We were supposed to dance to the sweet, slow ballad “Harvest Moon” by Neil Young. Our DJ accidentally played “Blue Moon.” Of course we had never rehearsed a fast-paced dance together, so my eyes widened in terror as salt daddy threw my body around the dance floor and forgot to catch me a few times.
When the dance floor started getting too slim, I feared deep down that the best day of my life was coming to an end. I ran around the reception area to blackmail friends into dancing with me. “Where’s your husband?” One innocent guest asked. “I don’t have a husband!” and I took another drink of whiskey ginger before chucking my half-full goblet into the grass. Someone immediately went to fetch my salt daddy. “Uh, I think the bride is looking for you.”
THE CAKE MESS
I’m told that when the patio started to thin out, I discreetly stood next to the cake table and - when I thought no one was looking - served myself a chunk of chocolate cake with bare hands. As my glazed eyes landed on those of a horrified bridesmaid, I darted silently into the night.
Two of our guests reportedly had sex in the bushes. Doggy style (reportedly).
“Where’s Mark?!” I dragged my wedding planner by one hand, determined to get her that last dance with my salt daddy’s groomsman. “He’s in The Nautical Lounge sleeping,” a guest informed me. I stormed to The Naughty Lounge (as it was soon dubbed) and sat on Mark’s lap. SLAP! “Wake up you jerk. I’ve been planning this party for a whole year.” SLAP. “You can’t sleep through it.” He thanked me later.
When one bridesmaid and her boyfriend came to say goodnight, I begged them not to go. Instead of saying thank you for flying all the way from New York City to attend my wedding, I threatened, “I’ll break your legs if you leave!” They left anyway.
“Help me carry this down the stairs!” I demanded of my bridesman at 3am, dragging a 200 pound honeymoon suitcase from the bridal suite. “My salt daddy is waiting in the car!” No response. A series of loud thumps ensued. When my bridesman saw what I had done, his eyes narrowed with disapproval. “You pushed it down the stairs? What’s wrong with you!” I shrugged. Because I didn’t even remember pushing it.
There are many beautiful memories from my wedding day, but these are the ones my friends recall with the most vivid detail. Was it the best day of my life? I suppose I won’t know that until the last day of my life. But it sure was a damn good one.
Regarding the beast as if for the first time
The creature I know so well
The pet I care for and scold every day
The piece of my home that is ever present
But when I pause to take a good look, holding her to eye level
I see a stranger
A tiny spirit in her own right
Kept but upkeepable
Like any loved one, so close but so distant
Reminding me that nothing wild can be owned
Not bird nor child nor man
Just two friends, regarding each other with wonder
As if for the first time