I had no idea how any of this would go.
That sentence right there… Might as well be my tagline.
I’d finally found myself in a space where I could do more than cry in the bathroom, drink copious amounts of cold brew coffee, and tell folks I’m “fine.” It had been four months since Mom died. And today was his 50th birthday, which created several problems.
First, I had no idea where the Pygmy Hippopotamus was.
I tagged slightly behind him as we entered the African habitat at the Lincoln Park Zoo. We’d just left the penguins and I was floating on a successful burst of waytogo since telling him his big birthday present this year was tickets to the Penguin Encounter. I’d nailed one part of the day and it could all just go horribly wrong from here and I knew the Pygmy Hippopotamus exhibit was somewhere in this building. Because that was the next part.
The hippo. Because that’s where I was going to ask him to marry me.
Which brings us to the second problem.
I was asking this question in a year where I didn’t know if I could take another “no.”
We’d casually discussed marriage. Hell, we were in one another’s wills. On paper, we were already stuck with one another. There’s just a significant difference between STUCK WITH ONE ANOTHER and ADMITTING IT IN A PUBLIC FASHION.
And I was about to ask him to admit it with me in a very public fashion.
As we turned the second corner, we were engulfed in a sea of yellow t-shirts. Hordes of school kids from the Zoo’s summer programs swarmed and the ringing in my head rose up — my body’s first defense against highly public situations. And just as I was running through the whole list of reasons why everything that I’d planned to go down was a patently horrible idea, I saw it.
Which meant I didn’t have a whole lot of time left to think because I’d created this whole… book. A story I’d written encased beneath a mock-up of a National Geographic Magazine cover featuring a hippopotamus that conjured the spirit of our beloved dog Hippopotamus who would…
in roughly 17 pages…
ask him to marry me.
Yeah, I’d conjured-up an entire multi-page, graphically-designed story and invoked the memory of a dead dog in my scheme to ask this man to be my spouse.
And we stood there in front of the sleeping pygmy hippopotamus, swarmed by screeching voices in tiny t-shirts.
I was over-caffeinated, over-anxious, over-stressed.
Which makes it a pretty decent time to hand my beloved a three-ring binder filled with the story I created featuring a picture of an actual hippo that would, on page 17, ask him to marry me.
Flip. Laugh. Flip. Flip. Flip.
“Wait. Are you… asking?”
To properly frame this entire scene in front of a sleeping Pgymy Hippopotamus, let me say that I am a writer and he is an editor by trade.
And at this juncture, apparently my thesis statement wasn’t clear and he had to ASK if my intention with the story I’d crafted was to ASK HIM to MARRY ME.
Lots to unpack there. Lots of super funny shit to unpack.
My response? YES, NOW.
And he nodded. Said “yes.” And we kissed.
In front of a sleeping Pygmy Hippopotamus surrounded by hordes of shrieking school children with the (it turns out) rather distinct scent of… hippo lingering in the air.
August 31, 2018.
It was The Day. We had our marriage license. We’d selected “spouse and spouse.” I’d found something to wear that had both pants and pockets. I’d just gotten my eye makeup to a point where I didn’t look like a desperate Instagram influencer.
And I ruined it all.
Because today was the day I was marrying the one person — the single one in a long line of humans spread over a span of 30-plus years — that my mother genuinely liked. Possibly loved.
And she wasn’t here to see it.
So, I fucked up my eye makeup and wept in the bathroom with the door closed.
Because no matter how complicated my relationship with Mom was. Is. Will always be. Christ, if we could assign “relationship statuses” to our family members on Facebook. I digress.
No matter how complicated that relationship and how unresolved…
I still missed her.
And death proved once again that it lingers in places that only become illuminated when we dare to live.
It was dawn. I’d let the light back in. And I realized there would always be a slight shadow in my heart cast by everything lost. Everyone lost.
And as humans, I think we do a fairly decent job of forgetting that memories don’t swell-up when convenient and grief doesn’t operate on a once-every-six-to-eight-minute schedule like the subway.
I missed her. And I loved him. Equally. And unapologetically.
And that’s how it came to be that we found ourselves in a Lyft with a photographer (the only person we invited to share in our day) on the way to City Hall to be wed, where —
He said “yes.”
I said “hell yes.”
And we walked out the courthouse doors into the Chicago morning sun spouse-and-spouse, three and a half years after a date I never expected to go anywhere when I wasn’t looking for anything in particular.
Just a human being who would shine light into spaces of my heart that I couldn’t see.
And today, I write to you to share that from where I sit, life is, indeed, a massive ball of Are You Fucking Kidding Me?
Because I had no idea how any of this was going to go.
Or how it will go.
And I can’t change how it went.
But I can tell you that dawn finds a way to break. And the best we can do every day is surround ourselves with humans who are 100 percent on board with our brand of weird.
And remind us of the light we can’t see in ourselves on our darkest days.
Photo credit: Bethany Fritz @ Maypole Studios