“In the fell clutch of
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.”
-W.E. Henley, Invictus
Saturday will be a 30-second walk in $1,000 shoes for the
woman I love. The sound of Manolo Blahniks clicking across the stage as she
gets a pleather diploma holder will likely be drowned out by The Midget and I
screaming our damned heads off for her. It’s been 15 years since she started
her journey toward this moment. To call it a moment is almost unfair as well.
She’ll get a half a minute walking across a makeshift stage toward a chancellor
who told the graduating seniors this year not to shake his hand for fear of
H1N1. Knowing the stubborn nature of my wife, she’ll probably tilt forward in
her 4.25-inch heeled shoes and lick the guy across the face, just to prove a
This is her moment and it’s going to be just the way she
wants it to be.
She is graduating from college.
If you’ve ever loved someone the way I love my wife, you’ll
understand this. If you haven’t, I hope some day you do. It’s both the most
amazing and most debilitating thing you will ever experience: when you want
something for someone else so badly and yet all you can do is watch as they
struggle forward toward their goal.
When I was 19, I first saw her, as she flounced through our
college newsroom, heading to meet a mutual friend. I was smitten. I learned
later she was going to school at a college up the road and she was going to be
a genetic engineer. When money ran short, she tapered off of her classes and
took a job as a nurse’s aide. She then moved her major into nursing, with the
idea that there were jobs there to be had and it was close to what she wanted
to do. If she couldn’t cure AIDS, she figured, she could at least help people
who had to cope with the disease.
Eventually, time and money ran out. She shelved her degree,
left the city she loved and went back home to live with her parents. She pulled
long hours at local hospitals and nursing homes while trying to complete her
degree at a local tech school. The tech school wouldn’t allow most of her
credits to transfer, so she almost had to start from scratch. Then, she ran
into an instructor who decided it was her purpose in life to weed out the
“undesirables” from the program. She targeted The Missus. It seemed the journey
She ran away to be with me, working Joe jobs while I
finished the doctorate. We figured there was no sense in her starting the
program when we’d be leaving in two years. She worked at a weight-loss clinic,
a hospital and police department, biding time until we could settle down.
We took a job a few states closer to the family, bought a
house and were ready to start this again. Due to the state’s laws, she wasn’t
eligible for in-state tuition for one year and my benefits couldn’t cover her
tuition until then. Again, she bided her time and waited for her turn. She
entered the program and found that, once again, her credits weren’t going to
transfer and if she wanted to be a nurse, she’d have to start from scratch. She
also found out she’d need to take a course in physical education, which was a
killer for an asthmatic.
She changed majors again, this time to chemistry, and began
the long slow climb again. Like Sisyphus, she kept pushing the rock, knowing
full well something would happen to make it roll down again. It did. We had the
Midget, which knocked her out for a semester, and then she found calculus to
be, well, calculus. Trying to balance life with an infant, a work-a-holic
husband and a full load of courses was too much. Even as I backed off of work
commitments and The Midget got on a schedule, she knew she couldn’t pull off
calc. She changed majors again, this time to English.
About two years ago, her father fell ill. She feared the
worst and almost got it. At that point, we talked about the need to get closer
to home. Our parents were aging, The Midget was getting older and opportunities
in the land of Cheese were sparse. If something came open, we figured, we
should take it. It did, and we did. One year before she was to graduate.
Prior to taking the job, I made the dean swear up and down
she’d be able to finish in a year. I prodded and poked to make sure that all
the credits would transfer, all her stuff would work and that she’d be OK. It’s
cool, he assured me. What he couldn’t do, however, was push her into the
classes she’d need or make them work with our schedule. When all was said and
done, a year, no problem, became three semesters.
Over those three semesters, there have been more problems
than are worth counting. Job stuff, home stuff, health stuff and more. Each
time she takes a step it’s like the storm kicks up harder just to see what she
Unfortunately for The Fates, they don’t understand my wife.Once, when we were dating, she had a
couple drinks and we went out to a Steak and Shake for some bar food. She
ordered a milkshake, which coupled with the booze, the weather and her asthma
was likely to kill her. Of course, I said nothing. The next day, when she was
almost crippled, she asked, “Why didn’t you stop me?” I told her, “There’s no
stopping you. If I had told you no, you would have ordered three of them.”
At this point, any sane person would have quit. Instead, she
endured, like a boxer who has taken a beating beyond comprehension and yet
refuses to fall. I have no idea how she did it. Of all the things I’ve
accomplished in life, none have taken as long or been as hard. And in my life,
I’ve never been as proud of anything as I’m going to be on Saturday, as I watch
the announcer mangle her name as she walks across that stage.
Several years ago, when Sex and the City was still running
on HBO, The Missus wistfully noted how badly she wanted a pair of Manolos. At
the time, they were running about $300 a pair, which I found to be obscene.
However, I told her that when she got her degree, I’d buy her a pair so she
could walk across the stage in style. Some days, I think that those shoes might
have been the primary motivating factor in her degree program. When we got
closer to end, she’d locked in on the pair of shoes from the SATC movie (the
blue ones). By now, they’d risen to nearly $1,000. I judged extra debate
tourneys, sold stuff on eBay and managed to hold back my need for dual exhaust
on The Classic. In the end, I found a pair (on sale, thank God) and got them
for her. A deal is a deal. She’s going out in style.
When Saturday comes and if you have a moment, raise a glass in
honor of my wife and everyone else you know who has found a way to persist when
the goal is too far, the road is too long and the journey is too hard.
I know I will. She is my hero.