Twenty years ago today, SHB and I were married on the SS Norway. Every seat in the room was filled with well-wishers. We knew not one of them.
I had stressed quite a lot about the wedding planning when we first decided to “make it official,” which is odd in retrospect because neither of us were “fantasizing about our wedding day” kinds of people, even back then. Instead, it was a fairly straightforward cost/benefit analysis that drove our decision to get married on the ship where we would spend our honeymoon week.
- Benefits: way less expensive than a traditional wedding ceremony + reception; very easy to organize; low risk of some latent Bridezilla genes expressing themselves.
- Costs: far away; his parents wouldn’t be able to attend because only passengers booked on the entire trip would be allowed onboard.
- Benefit: my parents wouldn’t be able to attend either — and that would bring the potential for drama way down.
- Cost: would we regret not having family there?
In the end, getting married aboard ship won out. The location was great for us, particularly because the SS Norway had once been the beautiful SS France, a transatlantic ship that still had old-school boiler engines (which would eventually be the ship’s downfall, but I digress). After his time doing nuclear propulsion in the Navy, SHB approved of their propulsion system. We added that to the list of benefits in our analysis.
A local Justice of the Peace ran a wedding business with his wife, marrying couples aboard cruise ships while they were docked in Miami. He performed the ceremony itself; she was the business manager, organizer, and (not particularly good) photographer. Because we had “an event” before the ship set sail, SHB and I were allowed to board a few hours early and had the run of the place before it got crowded. I drank a fair amount of the cheap wine they had in the room while we got ready to go. My nerves had started to fray around the edges as the appointed time came closer. Around the same time as general boarding started, we met up with the JP and his wife in one of the bars. We ran through the highlights of the ceremony itself, with a few “how do you want to phrase this?” questions that needed to be answered. (My one memory from that conversation: “NO ‘OBEY’ should be in the vows. Anywhere.”) From there, they guided us to the library — a round, still mostly art-deco styled room full of books and people milling about exploring the ship.
“OKAY! These people are about to get married. Here. Right now. So if you want to stay and witness the ceremony, you can sit down and be quiet. Otherwise, you need to leave NOW.”
The JP’s wife had a very strong voice — the kind that could carry to the back of the room with just a smidge of bite to it that let you know she was accustomed to being obeyed. I picked at my manicure and waited and tried not to let my nervousness show too much.
The JP started the ceremony… and honestly I don’t remember too much about it except a few moments. I remember standing, looking into SHB’s eyes and thinking
“HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING THIS IS THE ONE PERSON I WILL BE WITH FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE HOW IS THIS EVEN HAPPENING I CAN’T BELIEVE HOW LUCKY I AM I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING HOLY SHIT.”
And the kiss. I remember the kiss. A friend of mine had shared her quiet disappointment with me that at her wedding, the kiss had been a massive letdown. A peck. Nothing to it at all. SHB was determined not to disappoint — and he succeeded.
And that’s when I became aware of everyone else in the room again. The room was almost completely full. There weren’t many seats, but they were all taken by clapping, happy strangers. “Mazel Tov!” cried an elderly woman in a velour tracksuit. Everyone wanted to shake our hands. Crying old ladies pulled me close and congratulated us.
I felt completely happy. It was perfect.
Over the past twenty years, SHB and I have been through a lot. We bought a house in Dallas, then sold it a few years later and moved out to California. We have lived with cats and turtles and fish, and despite our care-taking some of them died much sooner than we expected. We’ve each been through several jobs and a few cars, and we moved more times than we would have liked to. We lost my dear aunt and both of his parents. We’ve settled down and found a new hometown. My hair has been at least a dozen colors, while his hairline decided to make a break for it. We’ve been through a startup and an acquisition and here we are going through the startup phase again. I’ve been mostly working from home for the past several months, and that means SHB and I have seen much more of each other than in previous years. In many ways, the past year has brought us even closer, which isn’t something I would have predicted. After a few decades, still opportunities for surprises.
One thing that sticks out to me now is that twenty years — an amount of time that that once seemed an eternity — feels way too short. It’s nowhere near enough time together. A few years ago, we crossed the threshold where we had been together over half my life. I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I have had enough time with SHB. I know there are no guarantees we’ll get another twenty years together — life laughs at those kind of plans, even as we watch our health and complain loudly to each other about our regular trips to the gym. We do it because we hunger for more — more attention, more connection, more stories, more sharing… more time.
There’s never enough time.
SHB: You are the center that makes me strong. You are my comfort in the darkness. You hold me steady as I reach and stretch and fight. I push forward and I know you always have my back. We are our own people, but I prefer me with you WAY MORE than me without you. Thank you for our shared lives together this past twenty years. I love you, SHB. I love you.