September 27, 2017: A Last Anniversary

I wrote that September 1st marked our present season. After the anniversary of our engagement and Matt’s birthday, came our wedding anniversary. One year ago today, we celebrated our last anniversary together.

I remember a text message sent to me by a friend on September 27, 2017. I don’t have a record of the text message anymore. It exists only in my imperfect memory, which marked the words because of the breadth of despair and hope churned up by that text. The text message read similar to: I know it’s not the anniversary you wanted, but I hope you have a little fun.

I responded with the certainty that next year would be better, and anyway, next year was more important. Next year (this year, now) marked ten years.

I spent the day researching dishwashers and Matt took calls for work. He seemed to be doing better—struggling to process and respond to questions—but better. More engaged with the kids. More engaged in his work. More engaged in our life. I didn’t mind a quiet anniversary because I knew we’d have a do-over next year. We were on an upswing, on the road to a miracle cure.

Unsurprisingly, today’s post is difficult to write. I’m not sure there are words to capture this day, which should be a tenth anniversary with Matt, but is instead a first anniversary without Matt. Even if there are words to capture this day, I’m not sure I’d want to write them, because my intention has never been to take this story into those very darkest corners.

So, I’m left searching for a story to write. And the only story that comes to mind is the story of September 27, 2008. Which makes sense. The story of September 27th doesn’t belong to our year of hope. The story of September 27th will always belong to 2008.

The day wasn’t perfect.

We woke to overcast skies and rain in the forecast. I panicked—my hair! our lakeside pictures!—it wasn’t supposed to rain on our wedding day. We took pictures inside, I cried about my hair (bridezilla?), and we were reminded repeatedly of the old Russian superstition: rain on your wedding day is good luck. (Despite what Alanis Morissette suggests in her song.)

At the reception, we asked the band to only play two minutes of our wedding song—because we’d only learned two minutes worth of dance moves. The band ignored our instructions and played the entire song, forcing us to repeat the same three moves a few dozen times. By the end, Matt and I were embarrassed and annoyed—and doubled over in laughter. We knew we’d always have a good story to tell.

So no, the day wasn’t perfect. But the day was nothing short of magic.

Two hundred and fourteen people gathered to celebrate our wedding. The number was memorable and significant because two hundred fourteen is my favorite number. I remember when the final RSVP arrived just a week before the wedding. I told Matt it was a sign. He told me we didn’t need any signs.

Matt and I attempted to blend two cultures when we got married. For him, North Jersey Jewish. For me, first generation Russian American. We held our reception in a catering hall in North Jersey and brought in a Russian caterer from Brighton Beach (a heavily Russian section of Brooklyn). We eschewed a formal dinner hour in favor of family style courses that rolled out one after another. We added personalized shot glasses to the tables and encouraged guests to toast us with vodka shots. At the end of the night, we patted ourselves on the back for a job well done. We’d blended two cultures and thrown an awesome party.

I remember the moment Matt slipped the wedding ring onto my finger.

I remember the way he held my hand as we walked into the reception as husband and wife.

I remember the way my cheeks hurt from smiling too much.

I remember the joy of saying husband and hearing him say wife.

I remember the champagne on the flight on the way to our honeymoon.

I remember the moment we realized neither of us had any sense of direction and we walked in lost circles around Paris.

I remember the sun warming our faces on the Amalfi Coast.

I remember all of it and I still wish I remembered more.

Our wedding song wasn’t particularly meaningful to us when we picked it. Matt’s sister introduced us to the John Legend song Stay With You and we liked the lyrics and the melody. Since then, I’ve come to find that the song couldn’t have been a more perfect fit.

Oh I’ll stay with you through the ups and the downs

Oh I’ll stay with you when no one else is around

And when the dark clouds arise

I will stay by your side

I know we’ll be alright

I will stay with you

On those worst days, those long days in hospice when I was helpless and hopeless and Matt wasn’t Matt, all I could do during the hours between visitors was fill the silence in our room with this song. All I could do was stay and hope he knew he wasn’t alone.

Today is the story of a last and a first. Today simply hurts. But today’s hurt does not change tomorrow’s hope.

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