My friends over at the Skiffy and Fanty show are celebrating a new web site and a new year with a month of joy. To do this, they are publishing an essay almost every day in January. I love the show and think this is a wonderful experiment. I’m honored that they asked me to participate, so I thought I’d share the greatest joy in my life.
On the one hand, I’m relieved to see 2017 in my rear-view mirror. Politics have infused every corner of my world with anxiety and chaos, adding so much stress that it’s impacted my writing. On the other hand, I’ve got a good job, a fantastic wife, and happy, successful, and healthy adult children. We have an empty nest for the first time and are enjoying the next stage in our lives.
Which brings me to the greatest joy in my life. I’ll tell you this secret knowing I can trust you to keep it to yourselves.
I got married in 1989 to this sassy young woman who captivated my every moment. She was like no one I’d ever known, fearless and full of life. I remember clearly the day I realized I was in love with her and the way I understood just how happy my life was going to be with her.
That joy continues to this day.
Now, I’m not a Pollyanna. She has all the same emotions and fears as the rest of us, or her own version of those, but in that time of my life, I was star-struck. How, of all the billions of people on the planet, did this amazing young woman come to be in love with me? To tell you the gods’ honest truth, I am amazed to this day. Sometimes I wake up in the night and just look at her sleeping and wonder how I ever deserved this much love.
I know we’ve had moments of frustration and stress. My job has been problematic at times, and as happens to all people, we’ve changed and evolved in fits and starts. We’ve had moments where we were out of sync in our needs and desires. Raising children, another of my greatest joys, is stressful and so very time consuming that many parents often lose track of their own relationships.
We got pregnant in February of 1990, and our son was born that October. Sometime in the late spring of that year, I abruptly quit my job with plans to go back to college. Kathy was stressed about my abrupt change, which I didn’t exactly communicate to her before upending our life. She was pregnant and a shift manager at a drug store when I quit my job, lost my insurance, and threw our lives into chaos.
But she stuck with me, despite the uncertainty. After our son was born, she went back to college as well, and we spent several years rebuilding our lives in a whole new way. It was during this time, going from undergrad through my masters program, working three part time jobs, that I realized how much I needed to hear her voice.
I’d call her from my night job just to hear about her day. We’d lay in bed together and talk about everything from movies to our fears. Days when we were so busy, or too tired to have our in-depth conversations, I felt bereft of something vital.
After our daughter was born, and we’d been in Seattle for a year, our lives were significantly more stable. I was crawling up the jagged rocks of my writing career, dealing with rejection and failure over and over. I was mailing stories by snail mail, and every day was another day of story rejections. I realized suddenly that while I was getting a thicker skin, each day I went to the mailbox, Kathy would fret and worry about how I was feeling. She hated the loss, hated the way I would look dejected coming back into the house with a fistful of “Alas, this just didn’t move me” form letters.
What she didn’t realize was that as much as that time hurt, just seeing her watching me as I came into the house succored me, salved my pride, and gave me the strength to keep moving forward. The love I saw in that woman showed me that whether or not I ever got published, she was going to love me unconditionally.
That joy bolstered me through killer projects and lonely conventions as I was learning to network and explore what it means to be a successful writer in this culture. I survived those days by calling home and listening to her day, the minutia of our children, and her life. When I came home every night from my day (and sometimes night) job, I looked forward to seeing her and listening to her day. I told her that was the best part of my day, walking in the door, seeing her, anticipating hearing her stories.
Not everyone will understand that simple thing, but to me, it’s the heart of our marriage. You should hear the way she talks about the kids or our dog or her friends. She’s always been busy volunteering or joining committees. When our children were home, she helped them with their day-to-day existence all the while working on her wide variety of crafting experiments. She’s done welding and cross-stitch, tile laying, quilting, knitting, cooking, yard work, and teaching. Every day her life is infused with art and joy that is both amazing and exhausting to her, but always inspiring to me.
To say I’m somewhat obtuse would be an understatement. I’ve always been a writer, even in elementary school, so as far back as I can remember, I’ve lived deep in my own head. I don’t know if this is common or not. I get lost in my own thoughts sometimes and have to be drawn back by my family and friends. Sometimes I think it’s selfish, but mostly I don’t think about it at all.
Once, I came home from a convention and she had framed three eclectic rosaries and hung them around our bedroom. Accompanying them (or so I thought) were framed sheets with what I assumed were various prayers. It took me several days (weeks) to finally pause and read one of them to realize they were the poems I had written to her over the years. I’m an idiot in a lot of ways, but realizing that she loves me always comes as a pleasant surprise.
I cannot imagine how my life would have been without this fearless and brassy woman in it. Trust me, I’m a writer, I can imagine a lot of crazy things, but that exercise eludes me. To be without her is to be bereft of joy; it is as simple as that.
Now that our son is married and living his life, and our daughter is off to college (and Scotland on January 2nd for a semester abroad), we are reconnecting in new and even more fulfilling ways. For a time, we took little trips, weekend jaunts to see things around our region we never had time to do before. For Christmas this year, I bought her concert tickets so we could go experience something different from our daily routine. I’m looking forward to starting dancing lessons again. These are the simple things that make her happy, which doubles the joy for me.
There are a lot of things we have to do in life, work being the biggest time sink — time we trade so we can live good lives, have nice things, go on adventures. Don’t get me wrong, I love my day job. I’m very good at what I do, and the people I work with and for value my contribution, which makes it nice. But I resent the time away from my wife.
As I look back over our thirty years together (dating, engagement, marriage), I know there were missed opportunities, poor choices, inadequate communication. The writer in me wants to invent a time machine and go back and remember those Valentine’s days I forgot or skip that convention when she was having a hard time with me going away again without her.
Alas, that is not to be. What I can do is every day let her know how much joy she brings to my life. Let her see how much I love her, and help her find the happiness in her own version of us.
Relationships are work; don’t ever believe otherwise. If you do not do that work, relationships fail, flounder, and fall apart. You have to be diligent and caring, respectful and joyous. Life is too short to do otherwise.
Thus, for 2018, I am once more embracing the joy of her, spending my time and energy into our relationship to bolster and build upon the thirty-year foundation and pursue a future together with adventure and love.
As a final note, she’s gonna hate that I put this out there. She is not shy about loving me, by any means, but our lives are our own. So, keep this a secret. Don’t tell her I wrote this. If she asks, deny everything!
I wish you much joy in 2018.
J.A. Pitts is an award-winning author who lives in the Pacific Northwest. He is best known for the Sarah Beauhall urban fantasy novels (Black Blade Blues, Honeyed Words, Forged in Fire, and, most recently, Night Terrors). In the dead of winter, he can be found battling the elusive tree squids in the world’s only temperate rainforest. You can find out more about him and his work on his website. He can also be found on Twitter as @JAPittsWriter.