Twenty Augusts Ago

Twenty Augusts ago, my mother took me to the fabric store so that I could pick out the colors and pattern for my marriage quilt. Coming out of a dark breakup, I’d been on a burnt color kick, and chose a burgundy red as the primary color: the color of love, of broken hearts, all in one.

Twenty Augusts ago, on a late and desperate night, I ranted into an online ad in Yahoo Personals about how immature and disrespectful so many men are, and why can’t they just GROW UP and choose a real relationship with a real commitment? (I was nineteen, drunk on broken-heartedness, and my words were much more eloquently displayed than what I can remember here, though still honest and succinct).

Twenty Augusts ago, a quiet blue-eyed airman with a sexy voice and a thick southern accent promised to meet me at Pete’s Kitchen, the grungy, never-closes greasy spoon landmark of Denver that boasts the best breakfast burritos and the saltiest drunks at 2 a.m. He sat across from me eating a club sandwich and hardly saying a word. As he walked me to the car, he plucked at stray threads popping out of my shirt, efficiently snipped them off with his ever-present pocket knife, and grinned beneath those baby blues with a quiet, “I’ll take care of you,” nod.

Nineteen Augusts ago, I married my blue-eyed soldier (two days after his twenty-first birthday) in a small stone church decorated with 1000 paper cranes that I had spent six months folding. We lit a glittery calla lily candle with our tapered-candle flames, and before the reception was over we promised we’d only light it on our anniversary.

Eighteen Augusts ago, my whole family drove across the country to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of my paternal grandparents. I walked around with a video camera interviewing people about their marriage, offering stories and hopes. When I interviewed Bruce, he said to the camera that he hoped he and Karen could be married that long. Everything he said and did was about his love for me.

Seventeen Augusts ago, he bought me a stone nameplate for my desk. I had just finished college that month and was about to start student teaching. He had just discharged himself from his first love, the military, because he knew I wasn’t a military wife. And yet, he thought of me, not his un-enrollment, and had my name engraved in gold, formal lettering to celebrate what was yet to come.

Sixteen Augusts ago, I started my career as a looks-like-them high school teacher with a pretentious department chair, disgruntled students, and so little support that each night began with a sigh or a cry. And he listened to my complaints and minimally praised the job he had and loved, and soothed me with his ever-gentle love.

Fifteen Augusts ago, we were expecting our first child, bursting with anticipation, hope, and happiness. We had just settled in to our first single-family house and were busy painting the nursery a deep blue, deep enough to match his baby blues.

Fourteen Augusts ago, we were first-child parents to our oldest, Isabella, a calm and flirtatious child who would travel under any conditions and not even make a whimper when she had motion sickness or was left in her room for over an hour to play. Bruce became a daddy with rocking coos, meticulous diaper changes, and hours of walking a colicky baby up and down the hallway; all with the same kind calmness he used when snipping my threads on that first date.

Thirteen Augusts ago, it had been a year since we had buried my great aunt Frances. My mother, who considered Frances her second mother, who had helped take care of her for years, both in her home and at her assisted living, was still terribly grief-stricken. But when she began to go through Frances’ things, she discovered many patterns, boxes and boxes of fabric, and hundreds of quilt pieces. So, stricken with overtime at her stressful job as an urban planner for an engineering firm, my mother began to sew Frances’ quilts for her granddaughters as a way of relieving stress and overcoming her grief.

Twelve Augusts ago, our second baby, Mythili, flew in my lap to Boston to meet Bruce in Maine for my cousin’s wedding. Our lives came crashing down between the time we bought the tickets and the wedding date; I had to fly separately because I was four days into my new job as a middle school teacher and Bruce, recently laid off, four days into his new job as a stay-at-home-dad. Meanwhile, he’d flown to Connecticut, sat with my grandmother for a few days, and was in the process of driving her up to the wedding. After the wedding, he would drive her the seven hours home, in the process getting screamed at about directions and Isabella needing food and the car being dirty and everything else an Alzheimer-ridden woman might say. As he told me the story, in his usual calm manner, he promised me that he had never gotten angry with her. (I already knew he hadn’t.) Taking care of my grandmother was simply, to him, an extension of taking care of our family.

Eleven Augusts ago, I planned a second home birth for my third child, but she wouldn’t come out, and when the midwife told me we had to go to the hospital, Bruce held me as I cried, helped me shower, and called my friend Meghan (who had been present at Mythili’s home birth) to let her know, knowing I couldn’t hold it together to talk. He talked to her for a few minutes and softly put the phone to my ear while she consoled me on one side and he whispered in the other, “Don’t worry, you don’t have to say anything.” Because he knew that Meghan knew how much it meant to me, and when he couldn’t find the right words to say to me, he knew what to do. He has always known what to do. And when we were in the hospital and looking into each other’s eyes over our third little girl, and my sister asked, “What’s her name?”, he was the one with the right words: “Riona Francesca,” after my great aunt Frances.

Ten Augusts ago, my mother still had not completed more than a few squares of my quilt, but she had completed two quilts for Mythili and Isabella and was gathering materials from Frances’ heirlooms to create Riona’s.

Nine Augusts ago, after driving to Tennessee and back to celebrate his parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary, I surprised him with a MacBook and an iPod for our tenth anniversary. We didn’t have the money; we had one credit card and three girls and nothing but a tax return for an annual bonus. But his eyes lit up like a shooting star and soon enough he had become such a Mac-tech expert that most of my coworkers regularly had me call Bruce to find a solution rather than asking the tech guy because Bruce was more patient, precise, and would work until he could solve any problem, and they had never met a tech guy quite like him. Neither had I.

Eight Augusts ago, we had two children in school, and we began to feel the weight of August, between one salary, one anniversary, two birthdays, and school starting (with all of its expensive supplies and uniforms) on the same week of two out of three of those events. August began to feel more like a burden than a blessing.

Seven Augusts ago, we enrolled our youngest daughter into preschool, and Bruce finished his associates degree in computer information systems. Life moved forward, August by August.

Six Augusts ago, all three girls had quilts made from materials found in Frances’ house. My mom had joyfully discovered that the lining in between squares in Riona’s quilt was made from nylons. Nylons! For the forty years that my great aunt had worked as a waitress, a maid, a hostess, and a supervisor at the famous Brown Palace Hotel, she had been collecting her old nylons and lining this quilt that now rested on her namesake’s bed.

Five Augusts ago, after quitting my job, renting out our house, storing our things, lending out our car, and un-enrolling our girls from school, we stepped on a plane with ten suitcases and a bicycle and moved to Spain. We had limited job prospects, a pile of debt awaiting us, and Bruce didn’t speak Spanish, but he came anyway, because love is love, a promise is a promise, and if I was going to Spain, he was coming too, to take care of all of us.

Four Augusts ago, we moved into a slumlord rental and Bruce started a job that would make him withdraw into a bitter darkness for three months. Because not every August is bright and thunder-less.

Three Augusts ago, my oldest daughter started middle school, Bruce was working at a job he liked that came with a new rental car every month, and the sun had returned.

Two Augusts ago, with Bruce’s dream job (with full benefits) secured just one month before, we bought our dream house. After just one tour of one house, we made an offer. With easy-to-clean hardwood and tile throughout, a flawless yard, and four bedrooms, the house eased itself around our family as calmly as my husband did, as if it had always been a part of us.

One August ago, I realized that half of my life, exactly to that August, had been spent in Bruce’s gentle arms.

It’s August again. Frances has been gone for almost as long as my oldest daughter has been alive. And my mother, now retired and stripped of workplace stress, has finished the quilt whose fabric I picked out twenty Augusts ago. She brought it to my house today while I was at work, all wrapped up and in an old box that was probably also from Frances’ house. She placed it on my bed for me to open; it is our first king bed and her first king quilt.

Twenty Augusts ago, I picked those colors because they were dark, brooding, and a little broken-hearted.

During the twenty years, between jobs, births of grandchildren, deaths of loved ones, and moving several times, my mother began to stitch the quilt. She struggled with the squares matching up and soon discovered that in order to make the quilt look right, she would have to add paler strips in between each square.

Paler, lighter strips. To balance out the darkness. To contrast the mood I carried with me twenty Augusts ago, just before I met my blue-eyed airman. To make a king-size quilt for our marriage bed, our connected-by-strings, centered-on-love, balance-of-light-and-dark marriage bed.

Twenty Augusts ago, I chose these colors. And with patience and love, my mother has embroidered her name on the quilt, on our hearts, on our anniversary.

Here’s to another twenty Augusts.

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