This morning on our way to school my youngest daughter asked how long after Chris and I were married was her oldest sister born. I stared ahead at the road, thoughts racing. How do I answer this one?
Chris and I met in June of 1999. I was 26 and Chris was 32. A year before we met I had ended a serious relationship that I had deluded myself into thinking was going to culminate into a marriage. When it didn’t, I decided I was done dating. The next relationship I had was going to be with the man I would eventually marry. When I met Chris I knew pretty quickly that he had potential to be that person.
Chris was only in Atlanta for a year before he would head to Baltimore for his anesthesia residency at Johns Hopkins. After only a few weeks of dating I recognized that I had serious feelings for Chris and needed to know if he had a long term plan. I asked if he imagined that I would go to Baltimore with him a year later, he said he would. I said that I would not be willing to move to Baltimore as his girlfriend. So, I guess that’s how he proposed, or how I proposed.
Over the next couple of weeks we shared the news with our families. It was a general statement, we’d get married at some point. We were the 1999 version of pinned. On one stop of the trip I started feeling rather ill and became nauseous at the smell of coffee. I was too tired to get up for a family breakfast and instead stayed in bed for much of the trip.
After returning to Atlanta, we met with several of the Emory residents for a weekly trivia night at a local bar. In those days you could still smoke inside and the smoke was bothering me, as was the smell of beer. Chris mentioned to his friend (a medical resident) that I’d been feeling ill, nauseous, tired. His friend looked at the two of us like we were insane. “Have you taken a pregnancy test ? Cause it’s not like you need a doctor to figure this one out.”
Sunday morning we did just that. And of course it came up positive. We looked at a calendar and Chris had a long weekend the weekend of October 15th, we’d marry on that Friday and have the weekend for a honeymoon. For some reason we thought we’d wait until we returned from the honeymoon to tell out families about getting married or about the pregnancy. Maybe we had some inkling of how ludicrous it might appear, maybe we feared it was ludicrous, maybe we feared that we were making an insane mistake, or that we had no idea what we were doing. In retrospect, we had no idea what we were doing. We were jumping in and hoping for the best.
I bought a blue dress on clearance at TJ Maxx. We found a Unitarian Universalist minister in the phone book. I think the entire wedding, license, minister, dress, some blue candles from Pier One, a plant from our porch and a sheer white curtain from Goodwill (for decoration) cost a few hundred dollars. I bought Chris a Frank Lloyd Wright book and he bought me a onsie that said “sprout” on it and said he bought it as a way of demonstrating that he was committed to our growing family.
We spent the weekend in Helen,GA where we bought a handmade quilt and ate at the “fanciest” restaurant (it smelled like mold) and stayed at an old B&B aptly named “Grandpa’s Room”. The Braves were in the World Series, I remember because as we fell asleep beneath the canopy bed, a cool breeze drifting in the open window, as an old radio was broadcasting the game. I remember laying on Chris’s chest, thinking how amazing our family would be.
The phone calls on Monday weren’t great, but we had already decided it was going to be easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. Seven months later, my beautiful, headstrong Madeline was born and I’ve waited 14 years for one of my three daughters to do the math.
So, I shared the story with them of our brief love affair and quick marriage. How strange it felt for them to have grown up not knowing this was the story of how we began; how our family started.
I’m not sure why I kept it a secret from them, embarrassment maybe, fear of judgement, apprehension that they might feel compelled to repeat our slipshod romance one day. But the truth is we were in love, we wanted to believe that we could make a life together, we were idealistic. And some days we did make it work, and we struggled sometimes, but we made the right choice. That should not be a secret.


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