A few years ago, I came across an Engagement Announcement and Wedding Invitation that a family member of mine had gotten in the mail. It had a nice, glossy picture of the happy couple: he carrying her in his arms as though he were about to carry her over the threshold (as the tradition goes), and she with her arms wrapped around his neck, her feet playfully kicking the air. Their smiles were bright. “Celebrate with us!” I looked briefly at the invitation and then tossed it aside with the rest of the mail and rolled my eyes. “Idiots”.
At the time, I really held that opinion. I really clung to the self-righteous truth that no young, naive couple had any clue what they were getting themselves into. That if they were smart, they wouldn’t rush into marriage at 24, or at the very least, do it quietly so we don’t all have to watch the two of them walk blindly into an inevitable hurricane and expect us to clap and oooh and aaah and smile along with them. At the time, I obviously had forgotten that my husband and I were also two young idiots not so long ago and that I myself had had a moment of “He’s The One!!” as my heart did flip flops.
I was 19 and had a dentist appointment to have a cavity filled. Jon and I had already been together for about a year. Still new enough that we were gooey about each other, but together long enough that I felt comfortable with him accompanying me to the dentist. He said he wanted to go to Costco anyway to look at some new golf clubs, and since Costco was right next to my dentist, he’d come along. So we hopped in his green truck and happily drove to Winooski, smiling and chattering along the way.
The problem was, that by the age of 19, I had somehow developed a very strong phobia to needles. I’m not sure when that happened, but I do remember sitting on my mother’s lap at the age of 4 or 5, watching a nurse give me a shot in the thigh and becoming hysterical. So much so, that apparently some pregnant nurse had been napping in another office and was jarred awake by my screams and came around the corner all groggy and waddling. Henceforth, 15 years later, I apparently still had that phobia, but didn’t quite know the extent of it until this fateful day.
Once at the dentist’s office, I was called in and I immediately told them that I was feeling a bit nervous about the Novocaine needle and he suggested I have some Nitrous Oxide, which I happily took. Sitting in the dentist’s chair, he placed the mask over my face and I started to breathe in. Jon stood just above me, next to the chair teasing me and telling me to “take a deep breath and suck that stuff down!!”. I started laughing, unsure if it was the laughing gas, or the fact that he always made me laugh no matter what we were doing. Being the anxiety-ridden person I am, humor really is the only way to my heart.
After I was sufficiently sedated, Jon left, the dentist came in and he proceeded to give me a few shots of Novocaine with his absurdly giant needle, and then fill in my cavity. (By the way, I have always brushed my teeth regularly. I have what the dentist called “deep grooves” so no matter how well I brush, I’m prone to getting cavities, m’kay!?). While I didn’t necessarily feel any pain during this whole process, I vividly remember the size of the needle, the feel of pressure in my mouth and one side of my face being numb. I remember him sticking the needle into my gum and shaking it around and such. I guess he really wanted to make sure it had gotten in there good. I was high on laughing gas and one side of my face was completely numb. I can’t remember if Jon had gotten to the point in our relationship where he told me he loved me (he took a long time to get there), but I couldn’t help but think he must have felt that way to voluntarily see me in such a condition.
After all was said and done, the dentist took off my bib and told me I was “all set”. I gingerly hopped out of the dentist chair and went and retrieved Jon from the waiting room and on our way we went to Costco so he could look at some golf clubs. Looking back, it is apparent that I still had some amount of Nitrous Oxide in my system to have been so happily bouncing along with a numb mouth and the recent memory of that hideous needle that had just been shoved into my face. Maybe I had hoped that the needle phobia had somehow disappeared?
But it was at this point that things went terribly wrong.
Walking into Costco, I followed Jon who began weaving in and out of all of the aisles, dodging people with their big carts, looking up and down the shelves trying to find the sporting goods section. By the time we had gotten half-way down the store, I began to feel very weird. His figure began to swing and sway ahead of me. I got clammy all of a sudden. There was a fuzzy buzzing in my head and my heart started to race. I tried to mentally talk myself out of this weirdness. I tried to trick myself into believing that I was “fine” and to just ignore the fact that I felt like I was under water, but to no avail. And that is when I tried to take a deep breath. I tried to breathe in to calm myself, and suddenly felt like my breathing tube had almost completely closed. It felt like all that was left was a tiny, itty-bitty opening allowing only an itty-bitty amount of air to get in. No matter how big of a breathe I tried to take in, hardly any would get in at all…..and that’s when I started to freak.
“I CAN’T BREATHE”!! “I CAN’T BREATHE”!!!
Jon had found some golf clubs, had received one out of the bag and was taking practice swings in the aisle when his hysterical 19-year-old girlfriend with a numb face began yelling, “I CAN’T BREATHE!! I CAN’T BREATHE”!!!
I remember finding a partially exposed pallet and sitting myself down in case I fainted. I remember Jon slowly putting the golf club back in the bag from which he gotten it and walking over to me. I also remember a small group of Costco patrons forming around me, slowing down to stare at me, their purses dangling from their arms as they held on to their enormous carts. One lady had a strong, Long Island accent. She had short dark hair, was slightly chubby, maybe 50ish. She and a few others were pausing, looking at each other, their hands to their mouths as I said again, “I CAN’T BREATHE” and wheezed and hyperventilated.
“Oh my gawd……she can’t breathe…..I’ll cawl an ambulance”. The Long Island Lady started to push her cart toward Help, and that is when Jon came back into view.
“No, no don’t do that”. He squatted down in front of me and put up his arm slowly at her, “No, I think she just needs to calm down a little “. I remember him being so calm. He didn’t seem fazed at all. And he didn’t say I needed to calm down in a patronizing way either. He wasn’t angry or annoyed. He wasn’t rolling his eyes and making me feel anymore ridiculous than I already did. He also didn’t get wrapped up in my hysterics, as Long Island Woman had so quickly done. I remember him looking at me directly in the eyes and saying “let’s get you outside for some air and I’ll get the truck”. Among all the swimming people and shelves and big Costco lights, it was his face that was very still in front of me.
As he put his arm around me and escorted me out of Costco, we made our way to the front of the store where I sad down again in the fresh air and waited for him to get the truck. I don’t think I was hyperventilating at that point, but Long Island Lady and her purse had followed us out and stood near me while Jon got the truck and pulled up in front of us. It was very nice of her to have followed us. I remember him thanking her and getting me loaded up. He reclined my seat, rolled down my window and drove us back home.
After I had calmed down considerably, I opened my eyes to take in the scenery. I was lying on my left-side, facing Jon, the passenger seat reclined all the way back. It was summer and the window was down and I could hear the air blowing through the window. I could also hear the country music station that he always had on. And I could see him, driving along, calm as a cucumber, occasionally looking down at me.
“How we doin?” he asked me at one point. I think I nodded and apologized. But what I remember most about that moment was thinking how he’d handled everything. How he’d handled me. He wasn’t angry. He wasn’t joining in my hysterics. He didn’t even get to buy any golf clubs for himself. That was the very first time I thought to myself: “I think this guy’s the one” and feeling happy and lucky and excited about it.
In just a couple of months, we will celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary and I keep thinking about this day. And I keep thinking about myself a few years ago, rolling my eyes at the engaged couple. How much my opinion has changed since then. What I’ve learned.
I’ve learned how crucial that “We’re so in love” phase actually is. Maybe even essential to a marriage. That after 10 years of marriage, after kids, and bills and stress and the ups and downs of life, a couple can grow apart quite easily if they aren’t careful. That things get hard and scary. We’ve had a jam-packed 10 years of marriage full of good times, hard times, sleep-deprived times. There were times where we said things we didn’t mean, did things we didn’t mean, times that were peaceful and happy, times where we were both hurt and not sure we’d make it, and other times that were downright ugly.
I’ve learned that it’s in those hard times where you look back to when you were young and in love. I’ve learned that it’s that idiotic phase that might just keep you afloat. If you could just dip your finger back into that for a bit and remember the taste of who you both were and how you both were together. Those two lovebirds existed once and are more than likely still in there somewhere beneath the mortgage payments and the “I do more around here than you do” and the stress of raising kids together and holding down jobs.
I’ve learned that it’s actually those early days that can help get you back on track. Remembering them and appreciating them and tapping into those two people when you can. I think that’s the key really.
Or maybe not. …… Maybe the key is just to have more panic attacks in Costco?