Today is the day that we celebrate 30 years of marriage. It all started when I spotted Angela P. Brown on an MTA bus in Baltimore, MD. I had no idea that the young woman seated a few rows away shared my destination (both literally and figuratively). I wrote about that day in a previous post. As the story goes, she wore a tight skirt and paisley boots; a pensive look and shiny lip gloss. I was intrigued, smitten even. She showed zero interest in me but I had to make my move or forever wonder “what if”? The rest is a 30 year love affair full of laughs, tears, celebrations, and curses. Ours is NOT a perfect marriage, but the foundation rest solidly on love, respect, and mutual admiration. Our three decades together have been wonderful but not without challenges.
Imagine a marriage proposal that goes something like this, “So you wanna just get married?” I would 1,000% do it all over again if I could. But I can’t and I have to live with that failure for the rest of my life. This woman deserved a Hollywood styled surprise proposal and I came up short. And yet, she still said yes.
The wedding was a hot AF October Saturday. We played a passive role in its planning and it probably showed. But we were surrounded by friends and family and that was cool. Some I’m sure thought we would make it while others likely thought it to be a disaster in the making. We knew what we had and that’s all that mattered at the time.
The decade saw the birth of our first child Imani Khadija Lee; a frightening and exhilarating moment in what was, to that date, a two year marriage. Mix an infant baby with a toddler marriage and you have the kind of stress that could break a weak bond. We were lucky to survive but overjoyed to be parents of a beautiful baby girl. I had to be on air at WEAA FM by 5 AM and we only had one car. Finding a daycare situation to accommodate us was difficult and added to the stress. But our commitment to each other and our young family helped us push through.
As if a new marriage and newborn child wasn’t enough of a test, we tossed a relocation in the mix for the hell of it. Moving to a place over 300 miles from family and friends to a place where we knew no one was risky but we embraced the adventure and faced our future head on. Angela and I loaded up the black Nissan Sentra with what wouldn’t fit in the moving truck, strapped 1 year-old Imani in a car seat and headed to Syracuse, NY where the early struggle continued.
We were finally catching our groove in Syracuse. My Job was going pretty well and during this time Angela began her human resources career at Welch Allyn. The ten years invested in this union had already long outlasted that of my parents. In fact, there were very few examples of healthy relationships to learn from in my family. My brother, Roland, and I were determined to make marriage and commitment to family a central part of our identity. But we were making it up as we went along.
To ensure our success in Syracuse we needed to create extended family where none existed. Enter David and Melanie Littlejohn. Along with David’s sister Linda and her husband Langston, the Littlejohns represented the extended family network that we needed to survive in our new home. This was equally important to Imani’s development.
Make no bones about it, these were tough years on the marriage. We purchased our first home and were taking on more debt, living pay check to pay check. But we never fought over money. Disagreements, yes. Fights? No. In fact, fights are rare with us. We allow space for cooling off after heated disagreements and we never have and never will say things to each other that we can’t take back. And intimacy was a challenge during this time in our lives. Busy jobs, active weekends, and a child with a robust social calendar, we struggled to connect organically. For nearly the entire decade, I slept in the guest bedroom because of sleep apnea. Sex was a “by appointment” activity for sure. Sunday night was the night and is was as consistent as the sunrise. We considered it “marriage maintenance” and made sure to never lose physical touch.
So while we were working to keep our heads above water, the decade would take a turn for the worse. In two consecutive summers, Angela and I would lose two of the most important people in our lives. Angela lost her mother, Geraldine, and I lost my brother Roland. Poor Imani lost a grandmother and her uncle. There were bouts of disbelief and depression. For a while after, summers represented sadness. The music of those summers became the soundtrack of tragedy. But we had each other through it all. Never losing our center…the love we had for each other.
Needing to lift our spirits, we chose to counter the loss with an addition to the family and, on a June afternoon in the year 2000, introduced Hadiya Asha Lee to the world. The LA Lakers were on the verge of beating the Pacers for the NBA championship and we were watching in the hospital room. Angie’s water broke early and labor was induced. I nearly fainted when she arrived. I dropped my wife’s leg and tripped over the surgical light cord on my way to the rocking chair. I made the grave mistake of looking down there as Hadiya’s head crowned. Hit simultaneously with the urge to hurl and shit my pants, I once again failed my wife. Left her to fend for herself during the birth of our second child. Hadiya was the joy that we needed. Another beautiful baby girl with an amazing spirit. Our little unit had grown to four and we were determined to be good parents. Through it all, though, we were equally determined not to let parenthood totally consume US. Research has shown that adding children to a marriage can decrease marital satisfaction. We made sure that parental duties were equally divided so no one partner absorbed more than their fair share of stress.
These were/are the good years. This what my wife refers to as “shit is gettin good” years. Debt was declining and income was rising. We purchased and moved into our second home and the girls flourished. But stressful careers and the demands of raising two kids put a strain on the relationship. We hit a rough patch and began to drift away from who we were as a couple. Losing our identity. Our center. Patience, communication, and love for one another is what helped us survive this tricky phase of marriage. A phase where things become almost business like as we divide responsibilities and work to manage those responsibilities. We were merely coexisting and that just wasn’t good enough for us. Increasing communication and being mindful of physical touch is how we began to change the narrative. And we began to clarify and put focus on our shared vision of the future.
Launching one child into the world and settling the other on campus translated into more alone time for Boogie and Bleezie. The much talked about empty nest. A period of stress and angst for many couples faced with detachment from their mom and dad identities. This was not our issue. The early investment in the relationship and our “us against the world” posture served us well. You see, Angela and I learned early on in our marriage that we were all we really had. There was no one investing in us but US. Best friends, lovers, partners cohesive and neatly packaged. So with a nest now empty, discovering life and growing together is how we forge our path. We enjoy and prefer each other’s company. Never losing what attracted us to each other during the early dating stages. We haven’t changed so significantly that we don’t know each other. Intimacy has never been better. We share both dreams and a vision of how to make those dreams come true. Truly living our best lives.
I asked Angela why she thought things worked so well between us and she responded with “marital norms”; and respecting each others space – both physical and metaphorical. Ever the business professional, Angela equates marital norms with workplace norms. That is having a shared understanding of roles and responsibilities and how you relate to and operate within your physical space. I call it having harmonic rhythm. We flow together like a river curving around rocks and banks, moving in the same direction and never diverging. And we have never tried to change each other because we believe that our differences balance us out.
Never Losing Touch
On mornings when I am the last to get out of bed, I walk downstairs to find Angela peddling around in the kitchen. I’ll hug her from behind when she doesn’t expect it or she will immediately walk into my arms for a warm embrace. This can happen all day long if we are not working. Touches, kisses, hugs…it’s hard to imagine being in the same room with her and not having physical contact. My hand resting on her thigh when I am driving. Holding hands for the 15 seconds that either of us can stand PDA as we walk down a city street. It is behavior that we want our children to see. We want them to know what a healthy, loving relationship is supposed to look like. “Couples who don’t maintain an intimate connection through both sexual and non-sexual actions are destined to become virtual strangers.”
The Next 10 & Beyond
Who knows what the future will bring. We plan to retire early and enjoy as much of what life has to offer us as we can. See the world a bit and develop new passions. We are just beginning to write the script and this love story is…TO BE CONTINUED