One year ago began the week that would change my life forever. We had planned to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary early, simply because our busy schedules and three demanding careers between the two of us made that the only weekend we could make it happen. For months I had been hoping to go away for the weekend, somewhere exciting, just the two of us. We had literally never had a vacation just for us since having children. I guess you could say that this was by choice because we loved going on vacation as a family, but I felt like it was finally time for us to carve out some time that was just for “us.” Leading up to that weekend, which would have been 11 days before our actual anniversary, our lives were hectic to say the least. There were the normal busy daily routines and “married people squabbles” and there were also some pretty difficult days as well. Mark’s mom had a health scare and ended up in the hospital while Mark was out of town, I had 8 photography sessions in 7 days on top of my normal full-time job as a teacher, and heartbreakingly, a dear friend lost his father. We attended the visitation and funeral together, which impacted us deeply. This experience resulted in us having some really profound conversations about our marriage and our hopes for the future…conversations which reassured me that despite disagreements and stressful times, we were still truly walking hand in hand on this journey through life and would always be there for one another…conversations which I will never, ever forget. Still, I was convinced that Mark wasn’t planning anything for our anniversary. I was frantically searching online for a last minute trip up to the very last day.
I was so busy feeling sorry for myself about our impending anniversary weekend not being what I’d hoped for, that I literally had no idea that Mark had actually planned the most romantic, meaningful anniversary gift possible. I woke up Saturday morning and spent the first half of the morning editing photos, still very stressed about meeting deadlines that had I set for myself in my business. Mark spent the entire time sitting in the other room silently while I worked. This was unusual. My mom had come into town, as planned, and had taken the kids to a pumpkin farm that day so that we could have time alone. About midway through the morning I took a break from work, meandered into the bedroom, and flopped myself down on our bed, once again feeling such a mix of exasperation and heartache over this crazy thing called love. Life was getting in the way of it. Moments later, Mark came into our room and sat down next to me. As I lay there, staring at the ceiling he placed a tiny grey box lightly on my chest, saying, “I am not even sure if you want these, but I really wanted to get them for you, which is why I didn’t think we could afford to go on a trip.” I opened up the tiny package to reveal a beautiful pair of sparkling diamond earrings, which from that point on have been a reminder to me of Mark’s incredible devotion and love for me. We all know the saying “diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” but that’s really never been me. Really. I would have never expected or even wanted diamonds for my anniversary present. I actually really just wanted to have someone come and organize my garage for me, but that’s another story. But now when I see those precious stones, resting delicately upon my ears, they remind me how Mark really wanted to do something special for me…something that I would have never expected. And he did. And it didn’t stop there. I stared at the earrings, glimmering in the box, and I began to weep. Mark proceeded to tell me that he had something really special planned and that I should just play along. “Are you game?” he asked.
“Sure…yeah, of course.”
We hopped in the car and Mark took me to the place we first met: a softball field on the east side of Milwaukee near where we both lived at the time. He said, “Let’s take a picture,” and we did. A selfie. “Yuk. I hate selfies,” I said. Mark spent the next 10 minutes trying to convince me to let him post it on Facebook. I’m so much more accustomed to being on the other side of the lens so this was definitely outside of my comfort zone. I insisted that I looked terrible, I don’t like selfies and it drives me crazy when people post photos all over social media trying to act like their lives are perfect. “I don’t want to be those people,” I told him. “But I really just want everyone I know to see, that after 10 years, I love you more than ever.” Okay. You got me, Mark.
We spent the next twelve hours gallivanting around Milwaukee, revisiting the most significant places and reliving the most momentous occasions from our relationship. It was a scavenger hunt of sorts. Mark had written a clue for each one, which he would read to me. I would guess where to venture next and then Mark would navigate to the next stop on this little trek that he had designed just for me. This remarkable expedition emerged as some of the best moments and hours of my life. It was the voyage of “us,” a vacation from the business and busyness of life that was better than any anniversary trip I could have ever dreamed of. Mark gave me that incredible gift. And it was just 3 days before my life as I knew it would change forever.