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Grow old along with me. Pretty please.

I glanced into the mirror as I rinsed my hands last Sunday morning. The face looking back shocked me: dry skin dotted with acne and a sunspot on the cheek, lines and pores more visible than ever; hair speckled with grays but lacking any lightness ("as we get older, unfortunately our hair loses it's luster," says my rainbow-haired 20-something hairdresser); bloodshot eyes sunken behind puffy folds of skin, crows feet wrinkles forming in their corners; a chin that's quickly moving south and a jawline getting rounder, thanks to the 12 (!) pounds of "winter weight" I'm carrying. (But let's be honest: We know this weight's not going on summer vacation.) I don't like much about this picture.

I shlumped back into bed with a big dramatic sigh. "God, I look old. And I'm fat. And my skin is horrendous. I'm hideous."

"You're beautiful to me. Always," he reassured as he pulled me closer.

"How can you tell? Your eyesight is terrible. You're so old you can't even see me."

He rolled over and wrapped his arms around me, radiating warmth against my back, kissed my neck and ran his hand along my arm to rest on my elbow. He whispered, "I promise, you're beautiful. Always. But...," he tweaked my elbow, "your boob used to be much softer."

As I fell into giggles, he kissed me again. Softly, gently, because he knows I'm fragile right at this moment. We adjusted our round bellies so we fit comfortably next to each other on our sides. I relaxed into that moment as I realized this, yes, this is what it means, the reason we are Us, the reason we are really good together even all these years later. His beard is flecked with gray and his eyes have lines around them, too, but he's so much more handsome; there's wisdom in those grays and laughter in those lines. He gets me. But more, we like each other. We laugh. We roll with the tides of life.

When I picked our wedding song, "Grow Old With Me," it seemed sweet and sentimental: "Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be." I was 24, he was 27. We were so young, we thought we were right in the midst of The Best. Yet growing old together seemed romantic, faraway, idealistic. "Grow old along with me, two branches of one tree."

But here we are, 15 years later, and it's happening. We're growing older together, discovering the best really is yet to be. In fact, the best is happening every day whether or not we're paying attention to it. Two healthy growing kids that challenge and surprise us and fill us with joy; one miscarried baby that shattered our spirits but reminded us how much we yearned to be parents again. Four near-death illnesses that have taught us how to be strong for each other, how to ask for help from those who love us. Two parents' deaths, which showed us that life cannot ever be taken for granted. One layoff, four new jobs, each transition proving that there will never be enough money yet somehow we always live comfortably. One major relocation and life reboot: moving to a new city without even knowing what our rental house looked like, facing foreclosure on our empty house with aplomb, knowing whatever happens next, we will handle it. And every day, through every phase, no matter what, when he comes home, this man wraps his arms around me and I melt. That is my favorite moment of each day. All these years later, I still feel a tiny thrill when I hear the key turn in the door and know he's home. I'm whole.

Today is our wedding anniversary. But he is in the hospital, fighting tremendous pain and feeling scared and helpless. I am at home, caring for our vomiting child and harassing our realtor about our big empty house. It's been a shitty week. I probably should feel sorry for myself, but I don't. Instead I'm looking at photos of us and our kids over the last year, grateful for the smiles and the sunshine and all the excitement and newness we've experienced together. Yes, I hate it when he's sick. It's terrifying and frustrating and maddening. But even when he's not in the hospital I fight back fear of losing him every single day; I often wake in the night to make sure he's breathing beside me. I don't really know how many times I can brace myself for his death before it actually kills me instead.

But this is Us. It's part of who We are. No matter how hard the hardest days are, even the regular days are so worth it -- and the great days, like the time we played hooky and spent the day together meandering through Boothbay, or when we took the kids to the National Zoo in a rain storm -- well, the great days knock my socks off. He is my companion and greatest cheerleader. He is the only person I can be completely honest with. He has given me these amazing children, and when I watch him as a father, I am awed by his wisdom and humor and firm yet patient style. Also, he thinks I'm beautiful no matter what.

So. This is Us. Growing older together. In the prime of our lives, hiking along rocks on the edge of the bay one day, calling an ambulance and clinging to hope the next. Newlywed-me had a slight inkling of how hard marriage can be because I watched my parents struggle through better and worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health. In fact, I almost broke up with him after my mother died because I was so afraid of loving someone so much that I would feel pain and fall apart the way my father did without her. Thank God I stuck with him! Can you imagine what I would have missed out on? I joke sometimes that I wish I'd known about his genetic disposition to Bad Health Things before we'd married...but really, what good would that have done? I adore this man and I love the life we've created. I would have missed out on everything.

I did not realize way back in my 20s when we got married and picked that sappy wedding song that growing old together would be my greatest wish every single day. I also didn't realize, when I said those vows, that our worse would make us better, our poorer would make us richer, and our sickness would make us healthier.

Happy anniversary, lovebug. Grow old along with me. Pretty please.


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