We were just babies. Starry-eyed, full of big dreams. Dreams only naïve 18-year-olds can conjure. The day I left for college, you came to pick me up in your rickety old pickup, and we drove to a park to watch the sunrise together. We made promises, big promises. Despite the distance and the time apart, we would make it work. We would love each other forever, just like this.

We thought we knew everything. We didn’t.

And our love changed. It lost a little luster, lost a little shiny-newness. It looked a lot more like hard work. But we did it. We wrote countless emails, talked on the phone, you with your roommate four feet away playing video games and me in the common room of my dorm, our language stilted for the audience of college teens.

“I love you.”

“Mmm-hmm, me too. I gotta go.”

But we took that love and we re-polished it. Soon it was sparkling like a diamond and new again.

I stood in my white dress and you in your sleek, black tux, and we made promises, big promises. There wasn’t going to be any distance anymore, and we would spend all our time together. We would make it work. Just like this, we would love each other forever.

We thought we knew everything. We didn’t.

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Marriage looked less like poetry and a lot more like dirty socks that didn’t quite make it to the hamper. And it looked like a wife sobbing on your birthday and, with dramatic flair, throwing your burnt birthday cake into the trash and apologizing through tears. But it also looked like you smiling and pinching a piece off, “See it’s not so bad . . . oh . . . actually . . . let’s go to Dairy Queen.”

And our love changed again. It lost the clean-pressed edges and the crispness. It looked a lot more like commitment. But we did it. We threw away countless burnt meals, apologized a thousand times for careless words. We rearranged and made space, and we learned the how of living together, pointing our lives and our goals in the same direction.

“I love you.”

“Mmm-hmm, me too. Can you get some more milk at the store?”

We honed our love till it was whole and perfectly rounded, and two years later, we decided it was time to bring another little human into the space we had created. I rushed home and showed you those two little pink lines. We made promises, big promises. We would do everything right, learn everything there was to know for the little boy who was coming.

Just like this, we would love each other forever and that love would wrap around another, too, forever.

We thought we knew everything. We didn’t.

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Things went wrong. And the day we should have been having a baby shower, we were having a funeral for a tiny, tiny life. Our love changed a lot then. It lost all its luster. It looked black and hard. It looked a lot more like battle, in the trenches. It looked like making it to the end of the day and dreading the beginning of another. It was standing under the stars, holding hands because there were no words in our language for the hurt we felt. It looked fierce and even though we were on the same side, it looked a lot like war. And it didn’t feel like we were winning.

“I love you.”

“Me too. I miss him.”

But we did it. We cried a million tears. And then we decided to open our hearts again.

But this time, we knew. We didn’t have to polish anything up. This thing that was our love that started out so shiny and perfect and new, would never, ever be the same again. It had scars. It had a darkness. It had soul-weight.

And it is ready for anything this broken world throws at us.

I don’t love you like I did when we were 18 and promising each other the moon and the stars and all the dreamy space in-between. I don’t love you like I thought I would. This love doesn’t come in verse, and it can’t be found in a Hallmark card. It’s often not pretty, and it’s rarely flowery or sentimental.

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But it is a simple glance across the kitchen table on leftover night. It is a smirk at a shared joke over the tops of our preteens who think they catch everything. It is lounging on the couch sharing the last Thin Mints, and it is a tired peck goodnight after a hard day.

And it is honed and it is fierce and it is battle-tried. Never-ending. And not anything like I thought it would be. But this loveit’s going to last.

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Katie Cervenec

Katie is a mom to boy/boy/girl triplets this side of heaven and one perfect baby boy who she can't wait to see again. She spends her days picking up socks, precariously balancing life, and picking up more socks. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky.