In her new book, This Side Up: The Road to a Renovated Life, author Amy Mangan shares her experiences with job loss, financial shame, home displacement, illness and caregiving. This is an excerpt.
When I got married, it was a last-minute decision after driving home from dinner downtown. The only guests were Griffin and Gilly [our two children, now in their 20s], who were in the car with Mike and me.
We pulled over to a vacant lot for our ad hoc ceremony. Mike didn’t turn off the car. Instead, he switched on his hazard lights and left the driver’s door open (maybe a for a quick pre-wedding jitters escape?). It may have been the shortest wedding ever, except for one technicality. We were already married.
Which is why we decided to do it all over again.
December marked our 25th year of marriage, a milestone that reassured and confounded me. There is beauty in longevity and shared history and I had always been a big fan of both. But, man oh man, there’s that unknowing part of a relationship.
If, many years ago, I’d have seen the Mangan Marriage Spoiler Trailer of challenges Mike and I would face, I would have put down my large bag of buttered popcorn, sprinted back to the ticket booth and demanded a showing of the Nora Ephron version of us. Not the one Francis Ford Coppola would have directed, all dark and ominous with sad violin music playing in the background. Give me light and happy, I would demand! With an upbeat soundtrack. And Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
Yet, that’s not the real world or a real marriage.
Here was the part that confounded me after 25 years — the real parts of being together had become the very heart of what made us, well, us. When we were scared and worried and stressed. When reality hit us square in the eyes. When we retreated to our respective corners in muted resignation that today would not be a good day to figure out the questions of life. And when we would meet in the middle to acknowledge nobody else was going to save us better than ourselves.
‘Our Share of Hard’
We found a way. Sometimes not always the best way. Sometimes not harmoniously. God knows, I was thankful for the happy times. Yet when the weight of the world was sitting on top of my chest, I found comfort in knowing that Mike was beside me to hold the anvil of anxiety for a while.
We had continued to have our share of hard. But we woke up every day, finding a way to get through the difficult and inhaling deep, long breaths of the easy when it came along.
And the easy part was Griffin and Gillian. Always. We were mindful of the gifts of our children along with a network of family and friends in a community of love like nothing I’d experienced anywhere else. And we had each other.
A Wedding Was in Order
Dinner downtown had been a rare treat, a perfect time for an anniversary celebration, Mike said. I wore a new black T-shirt dress a friend had brought to my home from a store where she worked, along with a few other outfits for my slimmed down figure.
I’d lost 20 pounds since September, an effect of the unsolicited stress diet I was on while caring for Gilly [who had been diagnosed with epilepsy]. Not the way I would recommend losing weight, but my post-menopausal body welcomed the absence of my usual belly fat.
Now that my face wasn’t round and puffy, I cut my hair short in a pixie-style, joking it was my Justin Bieber look. Mike loved it. I liked it, too. I felt stronger with my short hair, free, liberated.
On the drive home, Mike turned down a street to show the children the church where we were married. A fire had claimed First Baptist Church decades ago. All that was left was the vacant property. It took about a second for us to decide a wedding was in order.
We hopped out of the car, laughing like school kids. Griffin walked me down the grassy aisle as Gilly and Mike waited in the middle of the lot. Holding hands, Mike and I shared what it meant to be married to each other.
A New Version of Our Vows
“I, Mike Mangan, take thee, Amy Mangan…”
“…with the Justin Bieber haircut,” I interrupted.
“With the Justin Bieber haircut,” Mike added with a big grin.
“To keep being my lawfully-wedded wife in sickness or in health, for richer or poorer, but we’re totally cool if we have a little more rich in our lives,” Mike said, chuckling as he squeezed my hand. “But, all joking aside, it doesn’t matter what we have as long as we have each other.”
Mike’s eyes welled with tears while Griffin and Gilly stood close by. Cars slowly drove past us to stare briefly at the family in the field.
“And, I, Amy Mangan, take thee, Mike Mangan…”
“With the George Clooney haircut,” Mike added.
“With the George Clooney haircut that I still think is too short,” I said.
“Be nice,” Mike mockingly joked. “It’s our wedding.”
“To keep being my lawfully-wedded husband in sickness or health, for richer or poorer, for more foot massages and viewing rights to the TV…”
“Hey, I didn’t ask for that,” Mike quipped.
“You had your chance, mister.”
“’Till death do us part — which I hope is a very long time from now because I have so much more I want to share with you,” I said, suddenly overcome with emotion. “So much we need to make up for. I do love you, Mike Mangan, for as long as we both shall live and then some.”
“I love you, too, sweetheart,” Mike said and we both cried, shedding tears for the recognition of what we’d been through since we’d last stood at that very spot a quarter of a lifetime earlier.
“We now pronounce you husband and wife!” Griffin and Gilly said in unison.
As Mike and I kissed, I looked up and saw a shooting star in the chilly, star-lit sky. But it was actually an airplane.
Just like a Nora Ephron movie. Almost.
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