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A couple of weeks ago, I received a new ATM card in the mail. Normally that is not an earthshaking event, but this new card served to remind me that three years have passed since I received the old one. And, since this was the ATM card for the joint account we started just after getting married, it came as a very physical reminder that our third anniversary is coming up this week.

Many people at last week’s conference asked me how married life is going, since the last time most of them saw me was just after we’d gotten engaged. I said, “Well it’s working out so far, but since it’s only been three years, perhaps I’ll wait until at least five or ten to give my final verdict.” They were without exception shocked to hear that so much time had passed since our happy day, and somewhat abashed, as if they were supposed to keep track of such things for someone they barely know.

I have to admit, I myself am somewhat shocked when thinking of it. So much has happened in that short time, it’s almost hard to believe it hasn’t been far longer. In fact, since our third year began with Gabe’s kidney stone and continued shortly thereafter with a fantastic trip to Venice, let’s just say I very much hope that the fourth one will start out a little more quietly.

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The last 48 hours have been a wonderful, terrible microcosm of all that marriage entails: sheer tedium, extreme happiness, strong partnership, and a little bit of pure terror thrown in for good measure. What a fitting way to end our second year of marriage and begin the third.

Wednesday, also known as our second wedding anniversary, started out with a good dose of tedium. Our 9 AM appointment at SEF (Servicos de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras) to get Gabe’s permanent residency card turned out to be yet another two and a half hour marathon of waiting. This time, instead of standing in line like I did for the Metro card, we got to sit — along with a room full of screaming children and people made rude and pushy by the waiting and their desperation to get EU residency. Oh, such fun.

Despite our appointment, we waited in no less than three separate lines. And again, all this waiting was just to have a roughly half-inch thick stack of paperwork checked over by two separate people (with a line for each one), and then turn it in. After all this, Gabe didn’t even actually get his card!

No, they will send us a letter when the card is ready, at which point we get to make yet another appointment (and remember, it took us two weeks to actually get an appointment in the first place) and go back in yet another time to pick up the card. Ridiculous. Why they can’t just send us the card, I do not know. As we’ve established, efficiency is not their middle name around here.

So with that auspicious start to our anniversary, we decided to make the most of the rest of the day… which in this case involved going back to sleep, since I was still pretty sick. We did so, and then went down to the gym for a late-afternoon workout and hot tub/sauna session to see if I couldn’t shake off the last of this cold.

As I sat in the sauna hacking up a lung and sweating profusely, I unexpectedly had my first real solo Portuguese conversation. The woman who came in shortly after me turned out to be trained as a journalist and married to a diplomat, and had taught Portuguese to foreigners while they were stationed in Croatia. So she was the perfect person with whom to practice my language skills, as she didn’t mind correcting me. We made plans to see each other at the gym again, and voila — my first Portuguese friend was made! I was thrilled. Friendship always waits in the most unexpected places.

Finally, for a proper celebration of our big day, we decided simply to walk up to our usual breathtaking miradouro above the house and have a drink up there. This time though, we splurged on glasses of champagne, and sat looking out over our adopted city, bemused by how far we’ve come in two short years. We then made a lovely dinner at home and watched the slideshow of our wedding photos, followed by a couple of celebratory pasteis from the local bakery. What a fitting way to end our second year!

*    *    *

Thus concludes the happiness portion of this tale. Next enters the partnership and terror part, with a small nod back at tedium just for good measure. We spent the entire first day of our third year of marriage in the hospital, after Gabe woke up yesterday morning suffering from terrible abdominal pain.

So I spent the morning running around like the proverbial chicken, simultaneously trying to take care of Gabe, get us both dressed and fed in preparation for what I suspected would be a very long day, and negotiate the Blue Cross bureaucracy to find him a doctor or hospital.

Of course we’d been saying we should find doctors since we got here, but I kept saying, “Oh no, we just have to call Blue Cross and they’ll make an appointment for us when we need one.” At least that’s what their website said, but their website was wrong. All they did in the end was suggest names of hospitals and doctors, and at last told me that we could actually go to anyone, these were just suggestions. Well crap, why didn’t your website just up and say that?!?

Even worse, it turned out that out of the list of four hospitals and doctors they gave me, both doctors were no longer at the clinic they said they were, and the closer hospital did not in fact have an emergency room. Fabulous! Thanks so much Blue Cross. Way to really be there for your subscribers.

By this point Gabe had entered into another pain spasm, so we found him a taxi and got him to the one hospital that did have an urgent care. He basically marched straight into a treatment room without bothering with the line, and by the time I found him, he was already talking to a nurse. Nothing like a man grimacing in agony to get straight past the queues.

I was sent back to stand in line and register him, and, anticipating many forms and bureaucracy, I resigned myself to waiting. Not calmly mind you — now that we were finally at the hospital and he was in someone else’s hands, I was pretty much starting to lose it, especially when confronted with the language barrier. However the lady simply asked for his passport (which of course I hadn’t had the presence of mind to grab before we left), and when I said I didn’t have it, she just had me write down his name, address, and phone number… and that was it! That simple. No way would he have been treated that quickly at an urgent care in the States.

Another large difference in medical care soon presented itself as they took his problem into hand. They never took his vital signs, nor did they consult him on what they were going to do — they just diagnosed a kidney stone (which we had been suspecting as well), and proceeded to treat him for such.

Despite the quick treatment, his pain took a while to subside, and I could only stand by and witness mutely, unable to help or hurry it in any way. The nurses gave him a nitroglycerine pill, which seemed to help eventually, but only after I’d ventured upstairs to try to make him an appointment for a sonogram that afternoon.

Unfortunately none of the three women in that reception spoke English, and what little Portuguese I have had flown the coop at the first sight of my normally imperturbable husband doubled over in pain. So a hilarious pantomime ensued, wherein I gave them the prescription the doctor had written for the sonogram, which made them all shake their heads and look at the appointment book and talk amongst themselves with a general attitude of gloom.

I decided oh what the hell, and let loose some of the tears I’d been valiantly struggling to hold back up to that point. I figured the poor helpless American wife card oughta get me somewhere. Sure enough, after calling urgent care to figure out what this woman was on about, the verdict was passed from the nurse to the first receptionist to the other receptionist (whom I suspect was someone’s teenage daughter visiting her mom at work), who then attempted to translate it into broken English. Bottom line: they would come to get him down in urgent care at 3 PM.

Since it was not even 1 PM, we hurried up and waited. Luckily by this point the medications had taken effect, so Gabe was able to walk around outside with me for a bit, picking up his prescription and sitting in a nearby park for a while, then getting some lunch for me on the way back. I was able to sit on my own for a minute and eat lunch and have a quiet cup of tea, and then the rest of the afternoon was spent waiting in the urgent care for them to come and get him.

By the time they did, the pain was back, so we lurched up to the waiting area up there and continued to wait. Finally the sonogram person saw him, but couldn’t see any stones, at which point she pronounced it might be a kidney infection and we should go back to urgent care and talk to another doctor to see what he said about the test results.

Small problem: the results took another 45 minutes to prepare, during which time we had to sit. And wait. Again. At one point (of course after Gabe had finally managed to drift off in the stiff plastic chair), the little sonogram doctor poked her head out and said, “You’re still here??” Um… yeah!

Finally, an hour and a half after we were originally supposed to get the sonogram, we went back down and saw another doctor, who gruffly informed Gabe that stones can be “the size of mountains, or tiny grains, and sometimes you don’t even see them.” So he stuck to the initial diagnosis, and finally — finally! — we were free, almost 7 hours after we’d gotten there. I took Gabe home, fed him, and put him to bed, then immediately set out for the gym, where I hopped on a treadmill and ran til I was drenched in sweat.

I felt much better after that, which was a good thing, because the rest of the evening was pretty rough. But the good news is that Gabe slept through the night (as did I) without any further pain. He still has more tests and a urologist appointment today, but it will be much much easier for both of us to handle if he’s not in pain the whole time. Not to mention the flight to Venice on Monday, which I’m very much hoping we can still make. We’d originally planned to go yesterday — thank God we didn’t!

All I know is, by the time we get there, we will have more than earned our trip to Italy. This has been a momentous week, both in terms of our health and our relationship, and I think at this point we both need a vacation from our year-long vacation.

Hard to believe that two years ago we were just getting up to deal with last-minute details, take a walk to get out some jitters, and then start getting me pretty. I remember being surprised at how calm I actually was, and how well I had slept under the circumstances, when usually anticipation of a big event is enough to keep me up til the wee hours. Not that one.

I’m finally far enough away from all the planning and stress of our wedding to really look back on how wonderful it all was and have some real nostalgia over it, instead of just being relieved that I never have to do it again. I’m not yet to the point where I wish I could go back and do it all over again, but give me a little more time. I may yet get there.

Although it’s only been two years by the calendar, in relationship years these 24 months have contained more work, tears, laughter, joy, and sorrow than many marriages contain in ten or more. That was the case even before we got married, which was a big reason why we chose to do it as soon as we did. There was never any doubt in either of our minds that this was what we wanted to do, it was just a matter of timing — which turned out to be sooner rather than later.

I’m glad it did, because it has made all the difference in the world to have spent these last two years with a true partner, someone I knew could be counted on no matter what arose. And it continues to make all the difference, here in this strange, foreign land where even the simplest conversation with a stranger is largely beyond me.

To celebrate our two years of marital bliss, we are up and at them early this morning for an appointment that will hopefully get us — at long last — Gabe’s residency card. It has taken us over two weeks just to get an appointment, which is why I say hopefully this will be all that remains in this most tedious of bureaucratic processes.

Waiting in a room of other foreigners trying to get EU residency while I hack up a lung on a regular basis… wow. What an anniversary. We sure know how to party!

Yesterday officially marked our first year of marriage. Some random, mostly unrelated thoughts on the topic are as follows. Enjoy.

  • I enjoy being married far more than I did getting married. Similarly, it turns out I’m a much bigger fan of anniversaries than weddings. I very much enjoyed skipping straight to the vacation and relaxing without all the hullaballoo beforehand.
  • Love, and marriage with it, are not easy. But they are massively rewarding. Duh, I know, but I have talked to a lot of people who actually don’t get this concept.
  • Being married does not mean you are exempt from loneliness. There are some paths your spouse just can’t walk with you. Dammit.
  • I enjoy marriage. I love being married. And at the risk of politicizing a very personal post (isn’t the personal always political?), I don’t think that anyone should be denied that joy, for any reason. Ever.
  • I’m still not used to the fact that I of all people am married. In fact, I’m still amazed that I did not turn out to be the last unmarried person I know. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to it, really.

That’s it, for now. This year has flown by… seems like only yesterday we were huddled in our B&B in Half Moon Bay, stunned and recovering. Here’s to year two!

As of yesterday, two very good friends of mine are now officially engaged. Huzzah! I am to be a bridesmatron, which will be a great honor, as both of these friends played vital roles in our own wedding. In fact, I’m not really sure what we would’ve done without them, and am glad to have a chance to repay the favor so soon.

Unfortunately, I seem to have lost all perspective on the madness of the wedding process. So soon! It must be like giving birth — you just have to totally forget the trauma in order to continue living with any dusting of sanity. I’m already thinking, “Well, she should just remember that it’s not the details that matter, but rather the bigger picture of this wonderful day and what it symbolizes…”

Oh, barf! I can’t believe I have regressed so far. I am truly a Smug Married if I can think that way only four months after my own insanity ended. As you may remember, it wasn’t so long ago that I was arguing with my husband-to-be about the merits of chicken vs. beef and having panic attacks over last-minute RSVPs. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

And yet, here I am already getting caught up in the details of my role in her wedding. We are hosting the rehearsal dinner at our house, which shortens the schedule for our total garden overhaul by about oh, five years. There is a three-foot-deep concrete pit full of green rainwater just off the kitchen patio, people! Are we really going to have all of my friends’ nearest and dearest sitting right there in about four months’ time???

The answer is, of course, yes we are. And the truth is, through my own wedding experience I know that everyone will have a great time, regardless of what the garden looks like. In fact, they probably won’t even notice any of the details I will have worked so hard to perfect. (As long as they’re not sitting directly IN the aforementioned pit of despair, of course.) But because I love my friend, and because I am so overjoyed that she is marrying one of the most loving, wonderful men I’ve ever met… I want everything to be perfect.

I have a confession to make: my husband and I are family junkies. We happily spend about 85% of our meager spare time with one family or the other. Luckily, since it is such a high priority for both of us, we never conflict about how often we go to my parents’ for dinner (at least once a week) or how many weekends we spend with his family (at least once a month). For both of us, the answer is always, “Yes, please.”

This weekend, we got a good hit of family from both sides. We spent most of the weekend with my in-laws, starting off yesterday with a rousing 45-minute play of “The Wizard of Oz,” in which our two nieces aged 6 and 8 absolutely stole the show. (Of course, it could be argued that I am slightly biased.)

Today, his parents hosted a large Hanukkah party for all and sundry, featuring a wide variety of fried items, both savory and sweet. After making our early goodbyes, we made the two-hour drive straight to my parents’ house for my father’s birthday dinner, featuring a wide variety of curried items in honor of his Indian heritage.

Now that we’ve made it back to our own home, the clothes are all unpacked and my lunch made for work tomorrow, I am finally able to sit back on the couch and take a deep breath in preparation for the week ahead. Despite being a family junkie, I am also deeply introverted, and it takes a great deal of effort for me to be around people for a sustained period of time. This is perhaps even more true when it’s people I love, since I pay closer attention to their needs and am less able to distinguish them from my own.

But therein lies the beauty of it all: my fierce love for my own family is rapidly growing to include my husband’s as well. Especially since the wedding, spending time with my in-laws really does feel like I am with relatives of my own, and I have noticed subtle differences in our interactions. For the first time, I spoke to the girls with the authority of a real aunt, and was able to make them finish their broccoli before having any more gelt. Later, at the adult dinner table, I spoke more boldly than I normally would have, which was only partially due to the large quantity of good white wine I was consuming. And when the girls were doing their big numbers during the play, I had tears in my eyes and a grin just as big as if the same blood was in our veins.

As we spend time with my new relatives, I am seeing more and more that I really did gain a family as well a husband. True, my brother and I have a few more years’ worth of personal jokes between us than I do with my sister-in-law. But given time, I will make my own stories with my new family, and over the years I won’t be able to tell the difference between one household and the other.

And for a family junkie like myself, that is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

As it turns out, I am a big fan of marriage. From my vast experience with the thing (that being all of one month now, thank you very much), I can tell you that it’s the way to go.

In fact, now that I think about it, what bothers me when people ask me about married life is that it is such a damn huge question. To put all of these newlywed feelings into mere words is to demean the immensity of the thing. And to try not to use words that are far too much information for a polite coworker’s inquiry in the kitchen, well… that’s even worse.

How do I express to someone, even my closest friends, how huge this new reality is? Is there a way to put into words how thrilling and petrifying it is for a deeply scarred person to suddenly discover love? Can I tell my office mate that the knowledge that I will be waking up to the same back for the rest of my life is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received?

I’m a fairly astute individual, or so I’d like to think, and I have a feeling that I will be reeling from the immensity of it all for quite a bit longer than one month. I will continue to try to put it into words, and I will probably continue to fail. But in the meantime, take my word for it — I could really get used to this whole marriage gig.

Three weeks in, people at work keep asking me how married life is treating me. Truth is, it’s great. But every time they ask, I look at them and wonder just for a second (or maybe five) — what if I just turned around and started crying, saying, “Oh it’s terrible, I made a huge mistake!” How would they react? They would probably make some apologetic noises and slink away to talk about safer topics in the kitchen.

Yesterday, one coworker actually asked me, “So, how’s your marriage?” I thought briefly about turning the question around on him, and then decided against it. Oh no, I thought, that question would be terribly inappropriate! But then, how was it appropriate to ask it of me? Just because I’m a newlywed doesn’t make it any less personal!

It all reminds me of my experience with losing weight. People who knew me “Before” now ask me, “Oh wow, you’re so skinny! Are you OK? Are you eating enough???” Some even make snide comments about anorexia, because you know, that’s exactly the type of comment everyone wants to be rewarded with after working hard to change their body. I always want to ask them right back, “I don’t know, are you eating too much?” Not to be rude or rub it in, but rather to call attention to the fact that these are highly inappropriate questions.

It’s stunning to me that people I barely know have the temerity to ask me about such deeply personal subjects. And just because it’s about a positive development still doesn’t give them the right to ask, especially since — let’s face it — they really don’t give a crap what my answer is.

So why ask? Do these people secretly want me to break down crying, admitting to my marital regrets or an eating disorder? Would that provide them with some quiet satisfaction, to see the beautiful blushing bride in front of them turn into a broken teapot before their very eyes?

Or is it really because they want a little piece of that happiness for themselves, a momentary taste of that world? Perhaps.

I think in reality it’s somewhere in between the two. The first is too cynical, or so my new husband would say. And the second is too sad. In the end, I think it is all just small talk. Even these highly personal questions get trivialized down to form the basis of another inane conversation, a safe topic of conversation that will let you escape easily and return to the myriad details of your own life. They are invasive questions, yes, but they are still safe because no one expects anything but a pat answer in return.

Perhaps one of these days I really will try bursting into tears, just to see what reaction I get. That’ll show ’em.

Last night, we spent a thoroughly enjoyable two hours drinking wine, eating cheese, and viewing our completed wedding photos, as shot by a good friend of mine and her new business parter.

A little over a week ago now, this friend of mine left our mutual day job in order to better pursue her burgeoning photography business. And pursue it she has, in a great deal of style. Many would find a decision like hers scary, as I’m sure she has herself at times. But as someone who has spent their life pushing the boundaries of regular employment, I applaud it. Good for you, my friend.

And really, good for us. The photos were breathtaking, and those behind the cameras succeeded in capturing all the magic of our day without ever being obtrusive or bossy. Best of all, both of them had a true appreciation for the day and its beauty, and they both clearly reveled in their art.

In other words, my friend made a great decision, and I cannot wait to see it pan out. This is definitely the start of a fabulous business partnership, and I could not be happier to see a dear friend take such a daring, marvelous leap into the unknown.

(And if anyone needs a recommendation for wedding photographers, you know where to go.)

Now that the wedding is over, I’m looking at all the stuff I’d labeled “To Deal With After the Wedding” and saying to myself, “Oh dear.” Turns out there’s a lot of crap in that pile.

Unfortunately, most of the items I put off do not fall in the category of easy practical things to do, i.e. folding a month’s worth of laundry and potting the poor bare-root lemon tree we got as a wedding gift quite a while ago.

No, I also mean emotional crap, which until this week has been kept at bay by the sheer enormity of Getting Married. There’s a huge amount going on under the surface, and so far its only manifestation is to make me extremely sensitive to things that would normally only slightly bother me. A graphic scene on TV or in the news, a comment from someone at work… the littlest things are setting me off into all-too-familiar downward spirals.

For example, during our preparations for the wedding, all I cared about (selfishly, I admit) was that my dad could make it to the wedding. I just wanted him to be there, period. And there he was, thank God, and he even got up to give us a brief, quiet blessing.

So my dreams came true, but now reality intrudes once more. It looks as though I’ll soon be taking responsibility for a much larger portion of my father’s care, which at the age of twenty-seven is a somewhat daunting prospect. Hell, at any age it’s daunting.

Even though the wedding was stressful, at least it was fun stress. I mean, having pumpkins with the table numbers carved in them was a last-minute decision, true, but not exactly a life or death matter. (They did turn out damn cool, though.) It’s been a rough return into the real non-wedding world, I have to say. I miss bridezilla…

“Treat history as a springboard, not as an anchor.”

- General John G. Medaris

When I Wrote It

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