Taido and I are celebrating our 19th wedding anniversary today, so it seems like as good a time as any to tell you our love story.
Since you already know the end to this story, it might be helpful to start in the middle, when it looked like maybe I would not end up with Taido.
Because I was engaged to be married to someone else.
A Story about Love
At the age of twenty, I was about to complete my third year of college. It was the week before exams and I was staying with my younger cousins while their parents were away on a trip. I think they were in Toronto.
I was getting my cousins off to school in the mornings, heading to my classes and then coming back to get them in the afternoons, making them dinner and putting them to bed. After they were in bed, I divided my time between studying for my upcoming finals and planning for a wedding that was to take place in July.
I was living at the same sort of frantic pace I had been keeping throughout college, but it had been speeding to a dizzying frenzy in recent months. I blame this frenzy for the fact that I was not really thinking about what my life was going to look like after the wedding. I was just focused on getting to that day.
I began to have nightmares that week. Even though I was dead tired from the long days, I started waking up all night long from dreams about a wedding day that were all too real. I kept trying to brush them off, feeling like I was just worn down from all the stress, but after three or four nights of walking down the aisle in my dreams and realizing that I did not want to be there, I called my sister in a panic. She was away at college in Illinois and was herself about to be taking finals.
I told her that I was beginning to have serious doubts about whether or not I should be getting married.
“Just wait until I get home next week,” she said. “Don’t do anything yet. I will help you figure it out when I get home.”
We both knew that telling my mother that I was considering calling off the wedding would create a firestorm for which I might need the moral support of my sister, but I could not wait.
When I told Anna that I didn’t want to get married, I was unearthing a doubt that was buried within me by speaking it out loud. Once I gave voice to it, I knew it was over. I had to set everything else aside and deal with it as soon as possible.
When my aunt and uncle returned, I called Anna and told her I was going out of town to try to sort it all out. I left a note at my parents’ house saying I was having doubts about the wedding, and then I packed a bag and headed for the only place I could think straight.
I set up a tent and began to write. I wrote for about four days straight. I wrote my fingers to the bone.
First I wrote in my notebook, just trying to puzzle out how I had reached this place. I let myself remember the moments over the past months that should have been greater signs to me had I allowed them to be.
In particular, there was a phone conversation back in March where my fiancé was entertaining my husband-to-be. They were both in France, traveling together. Absurd but true.
I remember being on the phone with one but having the urge to speak to the other and not being quite sure how to ask. In the end, I hung up without talking to Taido and felt the loss of a simple hello a little stronger than I should have.
I brushed those feelings aside.
I returned to my studies, my work and my wedding plans.
Taido had been traveling all year, so he was not around to distract me with his quiet presence.
We had dated the year before I left for my own adventure in Europe.
We had promised to write. I had broken that promise. Now we had both put it behind us.
Or had we?
In one of my recurring dreams, I walked down the aisle and ran over to Taido in tears, begging him to stop me from making a huge mistake.
It was humiliating and desperate. The stuff of movies, not real life.
I remember that it was raining at the campground. I remember the drips hitting the outside of the tent, while I sat inside with a flashlight and a notebook. All alone in that sacred space, I finally realized in my heart that the problem was not just that I did not want to get married, but that I was marrying the wrong person.
It is important somehow for me to admit this out loud, because the next steps involved the necessary separating of these two truths. Whatever my eventual future held, the next piece of the painful process was extricating myself from an engagement.
The next morning I started writing letters.
I apologized to all the people involved. To the guy. To my bridesmaids. To extended family members and my mother’s friends who were working to make my wedding beautiful. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Trying to explain myself.
Somehow I think I thought that I could write my way out of the mess I had created.
Of course, eventually, I would have to return to town and face the music.
The phone calls.
My mother’s fury.
My sister came home and helped me return dresses and gifts. She stood by me while my mother refused to speak to me and my dad made jokes. I whispered to her at night in our room that I had carelessly thrown away my relationship with the one I truly loved. Now I would never get married. Never love again. I would go to my grave with my undying love for someone who could never possibly forgive me.
It might be helpful to mention here that I had a tendency to be dramatic.
Even now, I don’t know why I did not finish my finals, wait for Anna to get home and then break everything off instead of leaving town in the middle of the school term, creating A Great Scene. Apparently when my parents found my note, they were afraid that I was going to kill myself. They called Anna frantic, telling her that I had disappeared and asking her if she knew anything. My mom drove around trying to find me. She was so relieved when I came home, but then she quickly moved from relieved to wringing her hands and exhaustion at the state of things.
So it is quite understandable that when Taido returned from his travels in Europe, Mother let me know in no uncertain terms that she expected me to keep my distance. She felt, somewhat justifiably, that I should be doing penance.
And in my own way, I was. I was nursing my private drama of walking the earth with a heart full of love for someone I had hurt too deeply to confess. I knew I had wounded a lot of people, but I felt the weight of one more than all the others. I wore black all summer.
I remember attending my first wedding after I had called mine off. I had not wanted to go, but my father was performing the wedding and my mother had poured on the guilt. I arrived late, dressed all in black (including lipstick) and sat near the back. A crazy friend of my dad’s who arrived even later than me, slipped in and sat next to me in the back. “Don’t worry,” he leaned over and whispered to me, “I’m pretty sure that lipstick will come off.”
Taido was not home for long. He soon left to spend most of the summer in Japan and China. I saw him briefly in between his trips at church.
He returned again at the end of the summer only for a few weeks. He was heading to Chicago to start seminary. Before he left, I sat him down and made a speech worthy of a Shakespeare comedy. Only I thought for certain I was in a tragedy. I confessed to him that I still loved him. I wanted him to know that even though I knew he could never forgive me, I would be here.
He told me that I could write to him.
I wrote him every day. Sometimes twice a day.
It was my last semester of school. I stacked all of my classes into two days and substitute taught on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I could not wait to be done with school. I started making plans to leave the country again as soon as I graduated in December.
In November, Taido came home from school for Thanksgiving. At the beginning of the week, he asked me not to leave the country.
He spent much of the week at our house, and it was almost like our early dating days again.
At the end of the week, he proposed.
He said he would be back at Christmas, and that he did not want to leave town again without me.
Sometimes I still cannot believe it.
I wanted to elope. I had already planned a wedding. Now I just wanted to get married.
In the end we decided to have a wedding. On New Year’s Eve, we had a beautiful celebration and all my mother’s friends turned it into a grand potluck. My dad, who does not shy away from the truth, told the whole story of our courtship and break up at the service. I am tear-stained in every picture. But gloriously happy.
Every once in a while I still have the same recurring nightmare. I dream I am walking down the aisle to get married to someone besides Taido. Or sometimes I dream that I see Taido somewhere and I have to tell him that I am married to someone else. They are the most gut-wrenching and terrible dreams and frequently I wake up from them in tears. But one thing never changes. When I wake up in the morning, I am overwhelmed with joy to roll over and see that YES, I am married to Taido.
Awash with relief, I am grateful again to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am married to the right person.
I have often wished that our love story followed a more pure progression, and that I could take back all the pain I caused to him and others in this story. It is always humbling to remember. To the people that I hurt and for the years I took off of my mother’s life, I am still so very sorry.
Parts of this story can still creep up and cause me a lot of shame and grief on a dark day, but I believe that these events have given me a gift that somehow God knew I would need. Maybe in order to stay married, I needed to have a story that would be such a strong banisher of doubts. I needed to have to fight harder. I needed to be brought to my knees in thinking I had lost everything. Some days it is helpful still to remember that I had to weep and to beg in order to be with Taido.
On this anniversary, I am more than overjoyed to be falling asleep again in the arms of the one I love.