Today marks my 42nd year on this earth.
You’d think that would be cause for celebration, that it would make me happy and willing to celebrate. It’s not really a day that I see as cause for celebration, not my celebration anyway. There are a couple reasons for this: one is an amazing present given me on my birthday and the other is something I hope you can learn from.
First, the best present I ever got on my birthday was the birth of my daughter, Hannah. That’s right, we share a birthday: July 1st. She was supposed to come two days before. They’d induced Andrea and the labor went horribly wrong. Instead my birthday changed forever. It wasn’t the first coincidental date in my life.
The second reason is more difficult to explain and it’s not something I like to discuss but I promised Rene I’d take on hard topics. With Hannah came reason to celebrate and not dread birthdays. It’s so much more fun seeing the light in your kids’ eyes when they anticipate what their birthday is bringing. I was never jealous of Hannah, I played right into it. I loved every minute of it.
But my 30th birthday is not one that stands as one of my prouder moments. In fact, it’s probably the lowest moment I’d had up until last year. In the beginning of our relationship Andrea went all-out. She made me feel really special. This was at a time when I was coming to terms with feeling special, that someone else thought I was worth that. I tried to do the same for her… though I never got it right.
Somewhere along the way, those best of intentions grew to inflated expectations on my wife’s part. Every birthday I had to either work, due to television ratings periods, or I was unable to decipher exactly what it was she wanted. By the same token, maybe partially due to my failures at her birthday, my day became less and less important. By the time I turned 30, there was no indication she’d even thought about it. But by comparison, my friends did… and they organized a bash to celebrate my turning 30.
What I hadn’t anticipated was how this would make Andrea feel. These same people – two reporters I worked with… female reporters… worked with my brother and got a cake, drinks… all of it. Andrea just had to show up and have fun. Instead, the night turned into one of the worst arguments we’d ever had – and we’d had some doozies. She picked a fight with one of the reporters, screamed at me in front of all of them and stormed out.
I stayed. I can hear you all groaning now. It gets worse, I assure you.
“You know she wants you to go after her,” my friend, the subject of the argument, told me. My brother agreed.
“I don’t know that at all. Not sure I care.”
And this line now lives in infamy in my family… “Because it’s my F*^&ING birthday!”
What my friends and brother told me, after peeling me off the ceiling, was that I had a choice to make. If I was going to be married… I needed to be hands down, all-in, head over heels married. There was no halfway.
You see, my own epiphany was that I hadn’t listened. Neither of us had. If I had communicated, I’d have learned that this party made Andrea feel about two inches tall. I’d also have realized what I knew when I got home: she was waiting for me with a beautiful nightgown she had bought just for that night. She knew it had been a hard year and wanted to make things better. Instead, I sulked and stewed and never said anything. “All I wanted was to have the night with you,” was what she said.
I can’t say we had a perfect marriage or that things were perfect after that. I did tell her I wouldn’t lie and I would talk with her. Sure, we argued, but isn’t arguing communicating? I’d rather we argued than stewing and growing stale. I know my friends in GEM nation can relate so tell me, do you communicate? It’s easy to throw that statement away, but look at this specific example. Are you really talking, or just muddling through?
Marriage is a minefield; a rocky road. But it’s that stress and adventure that make it so compelling. Why? Because of that second coincidental date in my life: my marriage began on March 26th. It’s also the day… eighteen years to the day… it ended and Andrea left this earth. Marriage may be hard, but you share the difficulties. And God, I miss the difficulties.
Otherwise, it’s just your f*&#ing birthday.
More from GEM:
Dave Manoucheri is a writer and journalist based in Sacramento, California. A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog, Our Story Begins, is a chronicle of their daily life after the loss of his wife, Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan.