I met him when I was 16 and when people ask how we met, I don’t have the romantic story, the meet cute as it were. I merely stumbled into the room, the bravado of youth on my lips as my 18 year old, best friend remarked at my appearance, “Sirena, you look like shit.”
I want to say that I answered the statement with decorum and grace but I didn’t. I was a 16 year old girl after all and I had been running around gathering the supplies for said friend’s baby shower. So my reply was as colorful as the gift wrapped presents in my bag, “Of course I look like shit. I have been running my ass all over this fucking town for you.”
And with that said, I turned to find three, very stunned people standing behind me. James, his sister and his mother, all of them down from Ontario for the baby shower. I remember my face turning 50 shades of red as I murmured an apology and I felt flustered as James stared at me, his brown eyes sparkling with mirth. He has told me over the years that he fell in love with me at that moment. I have always laughed and said, “Well, at least you knew what you were getting before you bought it.”
James had come down to British Columbia to meet his baby nephew. We spent the next 2 weeks getting to know each other and while we didn’t say much, I felt a connection to him. The morning he left to go back to Ontario, I felt my heart break and I couldn’t explain why. I cried for the opportunity I was losing and I spent the hours before everyone woke up wishing that I could see him again.
I did, within a month, James had moved to BC and within a few weeks, we were dating. He didn’t ask me out. There were no dates. One day we weren’t together, playing sword fights in the autumn sun with a large group of friends; laughing as the empty, 2 litre pop bottles that we were brandishing as swords smashed against one another. And then we were; walking together as the warmth of the autumn day disappeared into a crisp evening and he wrapped his arms around me to fight off the chill. And I realized then that I had found something special, something that meant so much more than the school girl crushes that I had had before.
When I was 17, I moved in with James, much to the dismay of my mother but I ignored her words and in the middle of our latest fight, I packed my bags and stormed out. Maybe it wasn’t the best way to start my life with James but things are what they are.
It wasn’t right for me to start it the other way either, when I stood in front of him, telling him all the things that I wouldn’t put up with...
“If you hit me, I’ll leave you...”
“If we have kids together and you hit them, we’ll leave you and you will never see them again...”
“If you cheat on me, if you had loved me at all, don’t lie to me; tell me so we can let each other go...”
“I won’t marry you...ever...so don’t ask.”
Scars rained down on him with my words. All the pain, hurt, distrust that had broken me by this point were laid bare at his feet and all he could say to me was,
“I won’t hit you; I love you.”
“I won’t hit my kids; I love you.”
“I won’t cheat; I love you.”
“And maybe someday...”
And during those first few months together, when I would wake up in the middle of the night, tears wracking my body, he wouldn’t pull me close. He would lie still, staring at my back as I cried and it was in those moments that I felt safest. He didn’t touch me, didn’t force me to take comfort from him. On nights when I wanted to rail against the world, against him, he would quietly accept it, rising to the challenge of my fight. James knew from the very beginning what I needed and he would wait patiently for me to return to bed. To fall asleep against him as his arms were finally able to wrap themselves around me and protect me from all the hurt that plagued my dreams. I fell in love with him more every day as I realized that his words and actions were the same.
By 18, James realized BC was not where he wanted to be and he made the decision to move back to Ontario. He asked me to go with him. At first I said no, but at the thought of losing him, of not taking that step wrenched my heart from me and I said yes. Waiting for the plane was one of the scariest moments of my life. I was giving myself completely to the man sitting beside me and I was trusting in him to keep me safe in the strange place I was heading.
And life went on. I learned new things, met new people and I realized that my home didn’t have to be in BC. It was here with the man I loved. But still, I couldn’t make the commitment. He would ask and I would say no, I am not getting married...
...at 18, I laughed.
...at 19, I cried. “How could you want a girl that was already broken when you met her?”
But I wasn’t sure if I was broken anymore. I felt the scars, felt the hard lines on my soul and I knew that he was slowly fixing me. Making me trust, making me hope, making me realize that I was worth something...worth loving.
So I didn’t scoff at his idea of marriage as much and when we decided to get married, it wasn’t him getting down on bended knee; he knew me better than I knew myself, knew that it would frighten me away. He waited for me to say the words, to tell him that I was ready for something more. And when I did, he jumped at the chance and we started planning our wedding.
It wasn’t until a month before our wedding that he took me out for a romantic dinner and then walked me down by the river. He stopped by a large pine tree, its needles green with life; he got down on his knee and asked me to marry him. In his nervousness, he slipped the ring on the wrong finger and I laughed to hide the tears in my eyes as I said, “Did you think I was going to say no this close to the day? You’re mother would kill me.”
When the wedding day arrived, I didn’t panic like I have heard other brides have done. I went to sleep the night before, a letter of love that James had written sitting on my pillow, and I woke up feeling calm. There were no doubts, no second thoughts that had me wondering if I should call it off. At the age of 21, a young bride to many, I was ready. So I said I do to my true love and realized that the part I thought had been broken wasn’t anymore and it was the man standing before me that had fixed it...fixed me.
And today, as I celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary and 20 years together, I say I do again. The years have flown by. We have had good times, bad times and even boring times. We have held each other, cried together, celebrated the birth of not one, but two, amazing children. We have found each other again and again when we have drifted apart. Through it all, James has kept the promises that he made to that scared 17 year old girl and he has made and fulfilled new ones along the way.
I am so thankful for my life with my husband. Thankful that he was patient with the broken girl he found swearing in a kitchen and helped her find her way. Without him I would not be whole. He is my everything and I could not imagine a day without him. So James, today, I want you to know that I love you with all my soul and I am honored that you spent the last 20 years with me and look forward to 50 more.