In college when Ryan and I began dating or, rather, non-dating—getting to know each other via email vs. candlelit dinners (more on non-dates here)—we were all White Stripes and cigarettes and Dave Chappelle. There were no cutesy nicknames. To me, he was “dude,” and to him, well, I was “dude” too. So were all of our friends. We kept things simple, lest we get distracted from beer pong.
Then Ryan and I got more serious: a little in nature, a lot about each other. In the summer and during holidays, he began to travel back with me to Medfield, the Boston suburb where I grew up. My parents still live in the same house from my youth, the place we moved to when I was two. It would also become the place where “dude” met its fate.
Although at first Ryan and I didn’t have pet names, I’ve always had a nickname. As a toddler, I couldn’t pronounce my sister’s three-syllable name with its s and t and hard g. What resulted is the softer, gooier, “eeya” (always lowercase). Shortly after I began calling her that, I of course had to have a nickname too. And so I became “Russ.”
My favorites are full of contradictions.
I love Mexican food but am allergic to avocados. Hold the guacamole, por favor.
I also really like cursing but have the voice of a small child—high-pitched with a slight lisp. People are always shocked to hear me say fuck (at least the first time).
Then there’s my passion for running, at its peak when I’m dashing to the donut shop.
This happens at least once a year, on Ryan’s birthday. I got the idea to celebrate with donuts instead of cake in 2009. At that point, we had gone on several road trips together, usually kicked off with a stop for breakfast. I would order an egg and cheese on a bagel and Ryan would order a half a dozen donuts. We’d both finish at the same time. Donuts, I realized, were his favorite.
And that’s how this contradiction-birthday-tradition began.
Twenty years from now I imagine not much will have changed. Ryan and I will have a bigger place, maybe two dogs, a sleeper sofa. In five years, I can see us having a baby. That baby becomes a toddler. But what I can’t fathom, for the life of me, is having a teenager who becomes an adult. A full-grown person whom we created is beyond my comprehension, can’t exist yet in my imagined view of us at 50. Not much will have changed because it’s impossible to grasp how much will change.
The unknowns of our married future—including and beyond having a kid—sunk in as I read a piece honoring the New York Times Vows column’s 20th anniversary. To mark the milestone, on May 18, Lois Smith Brady, longtime scribe for the weekly feature, caught up with six couples whose weddings she announced in Vows’ first months. She asked: Two decades in, what’s new?
Once on our way there, driving south on Alewife Brook Parkway, we noticed people hanging out on the median and in the parking lot of the business next door. And they were definitely hanging out.
Some wielded pastels and heavy stock art paper fastened to easels. Others had tripods and cameras equipped with telephoto lenses. All had eyes on a family of red-tailed hawks—two adults and two chicks—in a nest atop a nearby building’s raised signage.
The awe and wonder with which the bird watchers gazed upon these hawks, the sense that what they were witnessing was rare and fleeting: There was a time when Ryan looked at me like this. It was the day he found me hand washing utensils.
So struck was he by this vision that he took a picture (see above). What a miracle of nature!
Sophomore year I lived off-campus in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Harrisonburg sound familiar? You may know it from Chuck Klosterman’s Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: The chapter “Appetite for Replication” recounts his trip there with Paradise City, a GN’R tribute band.
Of the venue where they were playing, Mainstreet Bar & Grill, he writes: “This is the kind of place where you will see a college girl attempting to buy a $2.25 Natural Light on tap with her credit card—and have her card denied.”
That sounds about right. My time in Harrisonburg, attending James Madison University, was rife with bad calls. Sandwiches from Sheetz—a gas station/deli—once if not twice a day, fisherman hats, clove cigarettes . . . and then the night when, just around the corner from Mainstreet, I basically begged to get murdered.
Here’s what happened:
The location: college dorm room. The characters: me and a boy. The scene: Guy is sitting on the edge of his bed. I’m sitting on his lap, facing him, with my ankles crossed behind his back. No, we’re not naked! Get your head out of the gutter. Fully dressed, we are kissing and talking.
I can’t recall our entire conversation word for word, but oh do I remember how it ends.
I’ve known him for years. We’re close, not just in proximity. I stroke his cheek, his stubble rough against my hand. It feels good. I comment on how he’s let it grow out. He replies, this boy I like, “You’ve got some stubble too.”
Holy dagger to the heart.
He wasn’t talking about my legs. He was referring to my upper lip, and I wanted to DIE.
“She worries, as I do, about getting fat.”
That’s a line from Michael Ian Black’s book on marriage and family. “She,” as you might have guessed, is his wife.
“She worries, as I do, about getting fat.”
Reading that, I felt something unexpected. I felt jealous.
How he said it—so matter-of-factly, so unselfconsciously—that’s what I wanted: to express this concern confident that it was normal.
But when I worry about getting fat, it’s more complicated.
Was It Really That Bad?
It’s been nearly 15 years since I had food issues. I still struggle with the term eating disorder. That sounds too official. I never saw a doctor or a therapist, was never hospitalized or diagnosed.
The other night as I was heading to bed, my husband, Ryan, said to me, “Cute outfit.”
“Thank y…” I started to say. Then, taking a good look at what I was wearing, I stopped.
Remember in sixth grade when it was cool to wear men’s boxers as shorts? When after buying the boxers at the Gap, you would bring them to your mom to sew up the pee hole? I still own two pairs of those. That evening I had on the plaid ones.
Do you also remember rolling down the tops of those boxers to make them shorter and your legs look longer? That’s how I was wearing them.
“Aww, sad! For a second I believed you.” I said.
I was almost offended, but having paused to take in the full extent of my getup—the boxers and a men’s large free tee from a work event—I had to admit, his mockery was warranted.
A woman, feeling insecure, asks her husband if he thinks a girl is pretty. She asks accusingly, her open-too-wide eyes and higher-than-normal voice making it clear that “tell me the truth, I won’t get mad” is a trap. So the husband lies. Then the wife gets mad anyway because of the lie, provoking him to backpedal and admit what’s already obvious—the girl is hot. Yes, he does think she’s pretty. In defense of his fib, he explains, “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.” Which only makes things worse. “Why would it hurt my feelings?” the wife asks. “Do you think she’s prettier than I am? Are you attracted to her?”
You’ve seen this episode. Last season alone, NBC offered at least two instances: “Pam’s Replacement” from The Office and “In Between” from Parenthood. I’d bet my left hand (a real beaut! long nail beds and minimal scars) that this fall’s TV lineup gives more examples still. And I’ll be just as annoyed the umpteenth time around as I was the first.
When I first saw his cute face, I didn’t know what to make of him. Actually, that’s an understatement. I didn’t even know what he was. I asked around and learned his name: Marvin. Like me, he was from Boston.
He hung around with a guy, Ryan, whom I’d met at a concert the year before. Some sparks had flown, but now Ryan seemed eager to introduce me to his friend. I said hello to Marvin and did my best to make a good impression. His eyes grew heavy and soon he was asleep.
Not easily won over, huh?
In 2008 I ran the Disney World Marathon. The route wove through the park, beginning and ending at Epcot, with Cinderella’s Castle around mile 10 and Animal Kingdom at about 16.
What kept my legs from crumbling was the mantra repeating in my head: “Trust your training.” My manager at work, a triathlete, had given me that advice before I left for Florida.
I now find myself reaching for that mantra in all sorts of situations: setting up a conference call, slicing a bagel, driving a rental car. I even go to it when my husband Ryan and I are fighting.
Since we’ve been together for more than a decade, there’s a lot of “training” in which I can trust. I’m not referring to training him to be a good husband. Ugh, no, that kind of advice makes me want to barf. What I’m talking about is the practice we’ve had at getting along. Sometimes that requires selfishness. Other times it requires intolerance. Take the case of Mike Tyson versus Gossip Girl.
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