Twenty years ago today, Jamie and I were married. This picture, taken some time after we were married, probably deserves some explanation. A group of us had discovered that “Sometime’s Funky Street Cafe” (a place down the street from the 500 Rakan Gyokuhoji Temple that seemed to be run by teenagers) carried Red Stripe Beer, and made a night of drinking a lot of it. Having closed down the place, our mötley crüe had three options: go to John Festa’s, the depressing expat hangout downtown; move the celebration to one of our flats, whispering to avoid scandalizing the neighbors; or climb Mount Fuji. The answer seemed obvious enough, so we dropped by a liquor store to buy a giant bottle of sake to open at the peak (the owner was kind enough to sell us a six pack of tiny bottles instead) and hopped the last train and bus to Fuji-san. This photo is probably by 8th station, by which time we were all pretty sober, now determined to reach the summit by dawn. And no, I wasn’t a Tri-Delt; my debonair wife had lent me a sweatshirt since I at some point in the evening decided to do this in a T-shirt.
I think it would have been impossible for us to even begin to guess how our lives would play out over the next twenty years. We are both very different people today than when this photo was taken and I mean much more than the fact that I would be physically unrecognizable to my 21-year-old self. We have become ourselves in ways that I think we are both more happy about than not. Of course, everybody changes, and sometimes that means they grow apart, and that is fine. But that has not been the case for us. At this point in our lives, we’ve been married longer than we haven’t. So much of who I am is indistinguishable from my relationship with my spouse that I cannot imagine being myself without her.
When we got married, our promise was that we would challenge each other to become better people. I don’t know how well I’ve kept that promise to Jamie, but all of those things I am most proud of in myself I owe to her influence. Most people questioned my decision to ask Jamie to marry me when we were both so young. (And many thanks to those of you who either didn’t question it, or didn’t voice those questions.) I will now tell a story that I have never told anyone, including Jamie.
Several months before I asked her to marry me, I had a nightmare. I was 40, but that wasn’t the nightmare. I was back in Southern California, having lived a daring life of intrigue, on leave as a young ambassador to a far off land. I hopped off my motorcycle at a stylish restaurant. When I was seated, I caught the eye of someone who looked familiar: Jamie. After a brief career on the stage, she had opened a series of popular restaurants. We were both successful in our careers, dashingly good looking, and had found our paths through life. And the moment our eyes met, we knew what we had lost. Twenty years we could have been together, and we had at some point thrown that away for what was behind the curtain. I woke up with a rock in the pit of my stomach. The easy thing is to not realize what is right there, right now. To believe that it can’t last.
A few nights ago, we watched O, Brother Where Art Thou, since both boys like that old-timey sound and we had conveniently forgotten about a couple of scenes (Klan rally, frog murder) that would need a bit of explanation. At the beginning of the movie, the analog of Tiresias tells the Soggy Bottom Boys that they will find a treasure, but not the one they seek. The blind seer rides through town at the conclusion, just as the protagonist passes with his newly reunited family. I was explaining to Jasper the meaning that the (not always subtle) Coen Brothers were imparting, and found myself in tears. Here was my treasure, Jamie and our two sons, and I am the luckiest man in the world. All because I asked, and she said yes.