How I Learned To Be Grateful

I didn’t know what to expect moving away from home the first time. But the first thing I noticed was the farther we got from home, the more the color faded away.

As we drove down The Alaskan-Canadian highway with our entire lives packed into our poor little Honda Fit, things started to get darker. The trees began to disappear as we drove the last of Alaska. Gone was our straight little two-line highway; the road thinned to a single lane that made the car tilt and screech around corners. The beautiful sky we were used to, with its fluffy clouds and starry nights, hardened to a dull, sad grey.

We had just gotten married, but we had been together for about seven years. I wasn’t even 24; I had been with him for about one third of each of our lives.

My husband and I are opposites. He is introverted; I have a new best friend every week. I am a writer and act on intuition; he is a cook who still measures out his recipes. But we have one thing in common. We both need to prove ourselves. We need something bigger than what our little town had to offer us.

We needed more room to grow before that happened. There was so much we needed to learn. But we were terrified, because we hadn’t experienced anything together yet. We lived with our parents, and then each other. There was no unclaimed baggage, no real financial troubles. We were both middle-class Americans who had decided to drive away from our comfortable bedroom and into the unknown.

These are the kinds of things we talked about over a campfire while we lived off soup and sandwiches. There was no television or internet to distract us from the sky growing darker. Would we be torn apart? What was out there, past our little sheltered lives growing up together? We both cried like children when we left. We dried each other’s tears, just like we had the night before we got married. I didn’t ask him what was wrong, and he didn’t ask me. We already knew.

How do we prepare if we don’t know what’s next?

The first night in our new place, we ate tomato soup for the seventh day in a row. It was on a cardboard box that was turned upside-down on the floor. We had no jobs waiting, $45,000 due in student loans, and I had exactly $3,000 left in my bank account.

It gets better, right? I asked him. I was staring at the boxes surrounding us, full of my belongings. I was wondering when my life got so small.

He looked at our canned tomato soup on our sad little box. This man created six courses for our wedding. He stayed up all night to make the wedding cake by hand for 150 people, and he was eating canned soup.

And then he looked at me, and he laughed.

The only thing we’ve got is each other, he said. There’s no way but up, babe.

We didn’t know where we belonged, but we knew we had each other. And that was a good start.

Before May 13th, 2014, I was spoiled. I wasn’t rich, but I took my life for granted. I got free classes while I earned my degree at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and it took me an extra year because I was too hungover to make it to class. I complained that I only got six hours of sleep, because I was able to hold a string of part-time jobs well enough to feed and house myself. I would complain to my friends if my homework was too hard or if the Alaskan weather was too cold.

I took so much for granted.

The first year I moved we lived off of rice and beans, because my husband was still paying $500 a month to settle his college loans. He didn’t get free classes like I did.

We slept in a tent if we were lucky to find a campsite with an open spot. As we drove South, each night was hotter by ten degrees. The first night I complained that I was cold. By the last two days, we couldn’t sleep because we could barely breathe in our nylon tent and Alaskan sleeping bags. I don’t think I slept two hours that last night, let alone six.

I would have loved to complain to my friends about the lack of sleep, the ever-changing weather, or eating the same thing for a week. But there was no cell service and no internet on that long road, and my friend’s lives were already continuing without me.

We take so much for granted. As adults, our lives have so much to offer, and we have so many things accessible for our entertainment and our comfort. I learned many things on that trip together: I learned that he needs something to do with his hands. If he doesn’t have something to cook or video games, he’ll start to peel the skin away from his fingernails. I learned to keep all of your electronics in the car when sleeping in a tent, in case you wake up soaking wet in three inches of water and mud. I learned that the further the distance between each gas station and each hotel, the higher the price will be.

But the most important thing I learned is to be grateful for everything you can. When we were driving in the pouring down rain at ten p.m. because we couldn’t find an empty campsite, I was grateful for the barren piece of mud we finally set up on at the side of the road. Otherwise we might have had to drive all night.

When I walked into the tiniest little apartment I’ve ever seen in Seattle, I was grateful to have a roof over my head again.

When we sat in that tiny apartment, eating gross canned soup off of a sad little box, I should have been miserable. I think most people would have been, but I also think the line between miserable and feeling fulfilled is perspective.

When the love of my life smiled at me, my perspective changed. I stopped focusing on the boxes piled around me. I stopped focusing on the sad little box. I focused on the way he was smiling at me. We hadn’t been apart for more than a few minutes that whole time — we had reminisced together, cried on each other, and screamed at one another.

But he was still smiling, and I felt nothing but gratitude. It was all uphill from here, and this was all right.