In that bright, brick apartment on a busy, oftentimes snowy Chicago street, Radley and I checked off first after first, and on the 3rd of July — a big deal in Chicago, my favorite day of the year — he asked me to marry him. We were 24, in love, and as sure as you can ever be, which actually isn't so sure at all. In that way, the only way, we were sure.
Like anything else, marrying young shapes you. It doesn't define you, but it certainly shapes you. For me, those post-college years marked the first time that my friends and I merged on to different roads moving in different directions, and it felt both surreal and wildly inevitable to be sitting beside Radley during that time. We learned how to live with and around and beside each other. We learned the odd little dance of creating a life with another person: when to bend, when to stand tall, how to lean.
(The how and the when and the why of leaning is most important, I think.)
Radley and I, both of us, we were living a life we hadn't planned. And two springs into our shared, special, unexpected life, and six months before he proposed, I brought him to New York. New York.
With only a few months of my graduate writing program still lying ahead of me, I knew I was on the brink — on the cusp of whatever was to come. Our plan, from the start, had been simple: Two years in Chicago, two years in San Francisco. Our two cities, two years each, and then, who knows? That was the plan. That was our plan. And yet.
It was March, the slushy aftermath of Chicago's "snowpocalypse" still blanketing the city when my mother and I flew to New York for a week- long vacation. We were shameless, starry-eyed, Broadway-and-red-bus loving tourists, and it was during this weighty week — one I knew would be important even as I lived it — that I met Meg. (A connection I've always loved.) In any case, toward the end of our girls' getaway, Radley met me there for his first trip to New York City.
Giddy and anxious, I'd planned each day of our stay down to the last pizza slice. When I love something, or someone, or someplace, I want to share it, and there was just one clear impulse driving me that week: I wanted Radley to love New York. I wanted him to love it as much as I did. Or, at the very least, to not hate it.
He didn't hate it. And he didn't love it, either. He liked the buzz and the food and the beers at McSorley's, but as we sat in a small, cozy pizza parlor on that last night, a tiny red candle between us, I understood what he didn't say: It wasn't the place for him.
What he said instead: That he could see how much I loved New York, and he could feel the pull of that lifelong dream. That if I wanted to, I could live there. That he'd meet me there soon, or maybe right away. That he wanted me to have a life that I loved, and that if it meant a couple years on the opposite coast from where we'd met, he'd be willing to try. He'd come to Chicago, after all, and what was the difference, just a few states further, anyway?
There it was, the life I'd drawn for myself, hanging in the air between us. I felt a buzz that had nothing to do with the beers we were drinking, and a heaviness in my chest where I'd thought I'd feel light. He'd said all the right things, and meant them. And yet.
I was a wreck. I questioned everything. I wrote list after list, made call after call, exhausted every idea and option. There wasn't an angle I didn't consider, not a route I didn't debate. He became more and more excited about a possible East coast adventure. I became more and more sure that I wouldn't live in New York, and that maybe I wasn't ever supposed to.
That spring felt impossibly warm. After a winter for the (literal) record books, Chicago seemed to open up like one of those pop-up children's books — all color and light and surprises. My runs got longer, my mind a bit clearer as I came to understand what I'd never, ever seen coming: A love so big, and a man so mine, that the shape of my dreams had shifted. Not entirely, of course, but just so. Just enough.
That May, this is what I wrote in my diary: I'm full of more love than I ever expected to be, and I'm more sure of Radley than I've ever felt about anything.
Radley proposed that July, and nine weeks later, we boarded a one-way flight to San Francisco. There were new jobs, new (and old) friends, and more Chinese-food picnics on our living room floor before all the furniture arrived. We traded Lake Shore Drive runs for jogs to the Golden Gate Bridge, and after some true trial and error, I finally learned how to properly layer clothes.
It felt as if my life had click-click-clicked into place, and returning to California seemed to lite me up somehow. I felt light, buoyed by the rightness of where I stood, and who I stood beside. That following summer, we were married beneath the arch of two oak trees, his green- brown-gold eyes glowing in the sunlight that slipped through the trees.
This is what I told him.
My best friend,
My brightest light,
My husband from this day forward:
You are the greatest, most magnificent man I've ever known.
You've taught me peace and charity, strength and integrity, the beautiful bliss of life's most simple joys.
You've shown me what it means to be good and true,
what it's like to wake up each day with faith and hope and a fearless, grateful spirit.
I love you for so many reasons, but I love you most for your heart — Your true and kind and open, compassionate heart.
Our love has always felt both incredible and inevitable — a miracle that's meant to be —
And my most cherished blessing is to know that I'm yours.
Today, surrounded by the ones we love,
I vow to honor, inspire, and respect you for the rest of our days.
I'm yours, Radley, forever and always: All that I am now and all that I'll ever be.
In his vows, Radley said, "Since the day we met, I knew I'd be up here next to you. I've never wanted to fight for something more in my entire life." He called me his best friend, his soulmate, and at one point, he said, "I promise to always find time for our love."
Someone told me a few weeks after our wedding that it must feel odd, at twenty-five, to already be half of a whole. I didn't feel that way, though. We weren't one, we were two; I was whole, and so was he. That's what it means, I think, to find love. Real, in-your-bones love.
The thing is, I never expected to meet someone so young; I never expected him. But what a lovely surprise he was, Radley — the man who fell into that space between wanting and needing, the one that blurs the lines between the two.
See, I still don't think I need him — not in a literal sense, anyway — but hell if it doesn't feel like it most days. Real, in-your-bones love.
My husband isn't quite my "other half," and that's not a phrase I relate to. Over the years, and within more than a few diary entries, I've tried to capture what, exactly, he is to me. The words finally came to me one sunny Sunday morning while we were drinking coffee on our deck, the California sun hotter than it should be on a January day.
Radley — he's my New York.