Look at you, so flush with love and naivety in your crinoline and Scarlett O’Hara curls. Wedding day dress up. But you don’t know, twenty-two, what I know now. Thirty-seven and fifteen years later. You don’t know anything about marriage or motherhood or making every moment count.
You don’t know about mortgages and missed opportunities and meeting in the middle. You think you do. That’s the lovely beauty of youth. The endless idealism and optimism that rides the top of the waves, cresting right into the shore of adulthood, so certain and pure.
Bless your heart. You’re only twenty-two.
Fifteen years will pass quickly—in a blur really. You’ll have four different homes and four different children and the constant love of a steady man. You got that part right, twenty-two. You picked a man who’ll stick it out through the thick and thin and threadbare years of lean tables but baby-plump waistlines.
Fifteen years later you’ll understand a smidge more about the mystery of a good marriage. But only a smidge. Because there’s folks like grandparents and church leaders and pillars of the community who’ve been sticking it out for much, much longer, and when you tell them it’s your fifteenth anniversary on that hot July day, they’ll smile with knowing.
Fifteen is barely beginning in the long journey to fifty or sixty or seventy-five.
Oh, twenty-two, you thought that one day was perfect and nothing could be more right, more true, more content. But more is coming.
More blessing. More sadness. More love.
If I could have told you then what I know now, you’d never have believed me. You’d never believe you’ll make selfish decisions or impractical ones; you’ll say hurtful things you nurse into the night on your side of the bed. You’ll say proud things too, and brag about how he loves you even when you’re broken, even when you’re wrong, even when you’re ridiculous with fatigue and deadlines.
Twenty-two, you believe all the right choices add up to a just right life. But standing on the other side of fifteen years, you’ll learn it’s not about right or wrong decisions. Making a life is about handling the choices you weren’t given—like the child with the neurological disorder or the job he believed in until the bitter end or the responsibilities that come with melding two families into one.
You’ll learn, sweet twenty-two. But when you do, promise me, you’ll never lose that spark of naïve idealism—that eternal, hopeful belief everything will all work out in its own time. That dark days can only get brighter and bright days will shore up your soul for the ones to come. Marriage is hard; life is difficult. But the journey through these years, the beauty of growing old with the one person who knows you inside out? More than worth the bumps along the way.
Keep smiling, twenty-two. That look of joy on your face? I want to see it there in another fifteen—or fifty—years.
Originally published in The Elberton Star, July 26, 2017.
P.S. My debut novel, Still Waters, is available for pre-order! It’s a Lowcountry love story about the power of family and forgiveness.