“What color is the bag?” asked the man behind the counter.
I thought for a moment. “It’s white, black, neon purple, green, and orange squiggles. Soft-sided, like a duffel bag”
He blinked at me.
I blinked back.
He raised his eyebrows and muttered Okay.
I’d been at DFW airport all day and had gone literally nowhere, unless you count walking from Gate A24 to Gate B36 as going somewhere. Alex and I had been planning a trip to Kentucky for months. We were going to hike, nap, eat good food, watch TV, not be parents for a few days.
It had rained at DFW airport that morning, so we expected a delay. We didn’t expect American Airlines to cancel our 9am flight to Louisville. Panicked, we rushed to the ticket counter, where they re-booked us on a 12pm flight to Cincinnati. My checked bag was going to go to Louisville, which meant I had the clothes on my back and the llama cross stitch and young adult novel in my backpack. But, we would still get to spend some time in the fresh mountain air, so we were okay.
The 12pm flight kept getting delayed and delayed and delayed. We waited four hours past the supposed departure time and then I had a meltdown at gate B36, wailing “They’re just stringing us along. They’re going to cancel it. We’ve waited here all day. Our vacation is ruined.”
We threw in the towel at 4:45pm, called AA and told them to give us our money back. I also rage tweeted them about how I couldn’t wait until train technology improved and I could bypass having to book tickets on their crappy airline. We canceled the Air B&B in Kentucky with the big red water wheel (and did not get our money back on that).
My brightly-colored bag, which I had sent merrily on its way to the bowels of DFW at 7am that morning, was unfindable, I was told. Which is how I found myself at the baggage claim counter tearfully describing my colorful luggage to a disinterested man tapping incessantly on a computer keyboard.
“It’s going to Cincinnati now,” he told me.
“But *I’m* not even going to Cincinnati anymore. Why would my bag get to go?”
He shrugged his shoulders and handed me back my ID. Even though my bag and I had been in the same building all day, they were still calling it lost.
Alex and I walked with hunched shoulders to wait on our Lyft back to our house.
When I posted about our failed attempt at a weekend getaway on facebook, my friend Megan correctly noted how much time and effort it must have taken for us to prepare our hearts, our house, and our children for us to leave them for four worry-free days. It’s true. Leaving my kids, even in the capable hands of my parents, is no small feat. We had about 10 pages of typed instructions.
We tried to salvage the weekend by spending a few nights in a hotel down in Cedar Hill, which is a suburb south of Dallas, but the whole weekend was colored with a “This isn’t Kentucky” vibe.
Truthfully, Alex and I really needed this weekend to work out.
In August, we started marriage counseling.
Nothing earth-shattering happened. We’re both too tired and too emotionally drained for an affair. Neither of us went behind the other’s back and bought a secret jet ski. We’re both too cheap and too tired to jet ski anyway.
Rather, it was just a slow descent into a slump. The day-to-day maintenance of keeping up with work and home and two boys, each with their own special needs, led us into a rut, one we couldn’t seem to get out of ourselves. After the boys went to bed, we’d spend each evening as Netflix zombies, shuffling up the stairs, collapsing into bed, and doing lights out by 9:30pm.
When we started counseling, I would whisper this secret about marriage counseling across cafe tables to friends, not because I thought it was shameful, but because I felt like the decision to do marriage counseling carried alot of weight. I think mostly it was a revelation to me that the carefree, relatively easy marriage of our youth was a thing of the past and now we had some work to do. Maybe my hushed mutterings to my friends were a form of grieving- grieving the death of a chapter in our marriage when things were easier.
Much like my dearly-departed bag and I, Alex and I hadn’t left the building, but we were still feeling lost.
The thought of having to expend any effort to finding baby sitters every week and schedule one more thing during our already very full days made me want to curl up and die. Instead, we signed up to do video and phone counseling through Regain.us.
Truthfully, just setting aside 45 minutes a week to talk about our marriage helped immediately. Our counselor gave us homework- quizzes to take, books to read- and, us both being perfectionist people-pleasers, we did it. Slowly but surely, some lingering issues came to light.
Basically, neither of us is very good at asking for help and our to-do lists are a million miles long. I’m not good at delegating or letting go of things. Alex struggles with taking time for himself to calm down. We were drowning.
Aging and growing up is hard. We were mere babes when we got married. Our first couple months of married life, we were still in college. Poor, but relatively care-free. We didn’t know it, but our marriage couldn’t always be that way. Of course, it couldn’t. Life becomes more complicated. Parenting has been the challenge that has particularly kicked our asses, but full-time jobs and home ownership were no joke either.
American Airlines did actually deliver my colorful bag in-tact, 36 hours after I dropped it off and went nowhere. I unpacked all my still clean clothes and stowed the bag in its spot in the attic.
It took a while but my bag and I were reunited.
After our disastrous attempt at getting away for a few days, The Baby had a run-of-the-mill surgery a few days later and spent the night in the hospital. The next day, while waiting hours and hours for them to discharge us, he fell asleep. I curled up on the slippery hospital couch to take a nap. Alex sat beside me and picked up my current young adult book, which just so happens to be one of Rick Riordan’s books featuring demigod children of Greek and Roman gods trying to save the world. Although Alex routinely reads textbooks about mushrooms or in depth articles about economic policy, he started reading out loud about Frank Zhang the demigod’s predicament, now that his friends had been turned into shafts of wheat by the god of farming. Al kept having to take breaks to laugh at how absurd the book sounded and soon we were both crying and laughing.
For a brief moment, it felt like we were us again.
I guess I need to rephrase that.
We have always been us.
We were us when things were mostly easy and light and fun.
We were us when we adopted The Kid and when we adopted The Baby.
We were us in the recent months and weeks when marriage felt so hard.
We are us now, continuing to battle the stress of our day-to-day lives and in laugh-crying about Frank Zhang facing off against mythological cows with laser eyes and bad breath.
We are us now, putting our heads together to break away from the rut we’ve been stuck in.
Alex and I routinely recite to one another, “I love you and I need you.”
That has never not been true.
Like me and my lost bag, we are finding our way back to one another, accepting that our marriage has changed as much as our lives have since that fateful day 12 years ago when we said, “Yes”.
Our marriage may have changed, but we are still us.
Beth, you have proven to me AGAIN that you are a MASTERFUL storyteller.
In a zillion years, I could never imagine a lost bag and a marriage transformation being woven into a compelling tale.
SURELY this too will pass. You will survive parenting. There will come the empty nest transition. THEN you will have a HUGE inventory to personal stories. AND you will have honed your writing craft by offering such blog posts.
The life insurance industry says that the average life expectancy is currently about 80 years old. SO between the start of the empty nest transition and your last day, there will surely come an abundance of creative writing units that will thrill, inspire, motivate, encourage, and challenge your readers.
This pressure cooker season is not fun. But it is shaping your character. You will be a fountain of blessings due to the experiences these days.
Thanks, John! That whole line about being refined in the fire sure sounds true