My favorite picture of our wedding makes me sad. It sits on the top shelf in our living room. Next to it, is a seashell my dad gave my mom when they used to be married. There’s a rolled-up newspaper and a mishmash of toys next to it. In it, your hair is thicker; my body is younger. In it, are people who stood next to us that day, loved us, introduced us—some we no longer talk to. In it, I’m laughing and holding my best friend’s hand.
That sunny day in Mexico surrounded by 99 of our most important people, I naively walked down the aisle thinking the credits could roll. I had married my perfect man.
On that day, I gave the best of me . . . I thought that’s how it would always be.
Reality crept in one thing at time. We buried the dog I loved before I met you. The vet came to the house to put him down. You knelt on one knee in your suit before work. You told him you loved him, you tried not to cry. On the hottest night in July, you spent hours digging him a grave in our backyard. We thought we would live in that house forever.
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Getting pregnant was easy, delivering that sweet soul was anything but. Nearly 11 pounds, two days of labor, and a C-section that rivaled even the best horror movies. You were scared, and you tried not to show it, but I knew.
I must have worn that nightgown for two weeks, you jokingly called it “Big Blue.” Not sleeping was hard, feeding was hard, worrying was hard, a sinking feeling inside me that something wasn’t quite right was the hardest. The way he cried at strangers, his early fascination with a TV screen. You didn’t see it, or had the luxury not to, and I resented you for it.
I stayed up late at night Googling “autism.” I didn’t need to. I knew.
The laughing bride you married had turned into a stranger desperate to help our son. People were hard on us, and it broke me down. At family parties, the lion’s share of comments and criticism landed on me as the mom. People would say things like, “You just need to socialize him.” I had no idea how to respond. I’d see you across the room in a conversation, laughing, and I’d never felt more lonely.
Two more babies, the day-to-day of managing a house, work parties, an autism diagnosis. We had to sell the house with the dog in the backyard. Your mom moved into a nursing home, my best friend got cancer. In all of it, I had to be strong. I had to be there—any place but us. I somehow convinced myself I had to do it all alone.
In all of it, you saw the worst of me. In all of it, you got the worst of me.
The crabbiness of a mom who hasn’t slept in days, cleaning up dog throw-up together in the night, short comments in the morning because we were rushing, the exasperation that the mental load of motherhood creates, and most of all the sadness I couldn’t verbalize. I wasn’t that laughing girl in our wedding photo, and I so desperately wanted to be. I searched for her any place I could, I missed being her with you.
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In all of it, I knew you never stopped loving me. I knew it in a way you never made me doubt. In our darkest moments, I questioned a lot—but never that. In my loneliest moments, I knew you were there even when you didn’t know how to help me. In my ugliest times, I never felt like you would leave.
The laughing girl wants you to know she’s still in there . . . somewhere.
In the booth at our favorite Friday night restaurant, in small moments at home when we laugh so hard it’s silent, watching Netflix mysteries and affirming to each other we are way smarter than the couple in whatever show, talking for hours in the kitchen after the kids are in bed.
The worst of me loves you more than the laughing girl ever could. The worst of me appreciates the steadfast love and grace you give that the laughing girl didn’t need. The worst of me will never forget it was your love that carried us through.
A ran across an old picture of us. Not laughing, not the worst of me. I took the old group wedding picture down, dusted off the shelf, and kept my parents’ seashell. I replaced the picture with a better one. Just us.
Laughing girl, the worst of us . . . the moments and phases pass.