As many of you may know, my wife Julie and I fell in love very fast. I knew after our first date that I’d met the woman I would marry and with whom I would grow old. Mot of our friends and family embraced the news with joy. Still, there were some who questioned our sanity. I’ll never forget being told back in 1993 that two of my friends were discussing our relationship. “He thinks he knows what he’s doing,” one said, as if choosing to get married was some folly. I still don’t look at Julie and I together as a choice; I believe it was fate. It’s the only way I can explain how two people, after one month, understood that they were meant to get married, and remain married after 14 years. She is everything to me: lover, friend, support, even guardian. After reading last week’s entry about my friend Matt, Julie commented, “You know, it’s funny, because sometimes I’m still angry because he hurt you … It’s a protection thing.” How blessed am I to have a companion who looks out for me, even against someone who has passed away. I can’t imagine this life’s journey without her. She means everything to me.
It isn’t always easy. There have been adjustments and compromises, but what marriage doesn’t have those things? Through good days and bad, pain and forgiveness, there is always love. Never — never — has there been a lack of love. I know you hear that all of the time (or, sadly, the opposite), but I am amazed that, after 14 years, I am still falling in love with this woman who wakes up beside me every morning. I’m not sure what I thought would happen over time. Perhaps, I thought, it would plateau and we’d settle into some kind of routine, but that hasn’t happened. I don’t think it ever will. The greatest part of being married to her are the intimate details that only we know about each other. To be that close to someone that you know all of their likes and dislikes, that you know how to make them laugh, what to avoid to make them cry, when to leave them alone and when to wrap them in your arms … all of these things are thrilling, to say the least. This leads me to John Prine and Iris Dement, and their touching duet “In Spite of Ourselves.”
Although John Prine is a legend in the music industry, I am still a neophyte to his body of work. In fact, I had never heard a Prine song before I stumbled upon “In Spite of Ourselves,” from his 1999 album of the same name. While searching for songs to round out yet another mix tape, I heard a snippet of this song and fell for it immediately. It made me laugh out loud and smile from ear to ear. From the upbeat, folksy guitar to Prine’s affectionate twangy voice and that brutally honest opening verse, I thought: Here is a song that gets it. This is what marriage is all about. I didn’t have to wait long until Iris Dement chimed in with her own list of predilections about her man. The two of them, together, then sum up their love in one of my favorite choruses in recent years:
In spite of ourselves
We’ll end up a’sittin’ on a rainbow
Against all odds
Honey, we’re the big door prize
We’re gonna spite our noses
Right off of our faces
There won’t be nothin’ but big old hearts
Dancin’ in our eyes
In three and a half minutes, Prine and Dement give us a view of a long lasting relationship between two old souls growing old together and loving it. The characters accept and appreciate the idiosyncrasies of their partner. From the outside looking in, these two may look daft, what with talk of sniffing undies and getting horny from prison movies. Like these two would give a shit, though: It’s their love, and no one else’s. They can see each other for who they really are, and what they see isn’t ugly or strange; it’s real love. I hear this song and I think of the times when it’s just the two of us, Julie and I, lounging on the couch, driving through town, or speaking on the phone two or three times a day. The intimate moments are the ones I treasure: tiny snapshots of our lives that may not be grand, but they reveal the big picture of who we are. For it isn’t the flowers or cards that define our marriage; it is the time we spend together as husband and wife, parents and best friends.
It’s easy to be cynical about Valentine’s Day. But I don’t find anything wrong with celebrating love, particularly in an age when there is so much death and destruction. I wish I could play the guitar and serenade my lovely wife. If I could, I wouldn’t play some sentimental slop or heart-tugging love song. Those have their place, but they’re not the type of love song that makes me think of her. “In Spite of Ourselves” is the type of song that reminds me of Julie. It’s fun. It’s crass. It’s real. It’s us.
“He thinks he knows what he’s doing,” that friend said. Hell yes I did.