I was Beverly Theresa Curtin back then. Twenty years old. A senior at Bridgewater State, the college my father chose for me. I commuted. He bought me a used car which, because he financed it, cost more than my four-year tuition. He did not want me to get married in January of my senior year. “You won’t finish school. You’ll drop out,” he said. I was the first in the family to attend college. I promised I would graduate.
And so he walked me down the steps of my childhood home, 9 Davis Road, a small cape in a neighborhood of capes, which GI loans and hard work financed, then down the aisle of the new St. Bernadette Church in Randolph, built across the street from the abandoned, smaller one where Janet Butler and I had giggled our way through so many novenas. January 20, 1968, dawned sunny and mild. It was a Saturday. My mother was 42, blonde and pretty. My father was 44, his hair thick and black. My bridesmaids, six of them, wore red velvet and carried white muffs. My gown was old-fashioned white. White lace. White gloves. White veil.
Half a century is a long time to be married. My parents didn’t live to make it 50 years. Neither did my husband’s parents or any of our grandparents. Till death do us part, our younger selves vowed, death a fairy tale, romantic and tragic, like Tony’s death in “West Side Story.” Untimely and wrenching like Ali McGraw’s in “Love Story.” Everything I knew back then about life and death, I had learned from the movies. Or read about in books.
We danced to “More” on our wedding day. “More than the greatest love the world has known, this is the love I give to you alone.” I believed these words. I believed that no one had ever loved the way we loved.
For months after our wedding, for the first few years, I would handwrite notes and pin them to my new husband’s clothes, husband a word I loved to say, like “Jesus.” It was an incantation, a prayer, a word that made me want to bow my head. “I miss you.” “I love you.” I wrote. “Don’t have too much fun without me.”
But of course he had fun without me. And I had fun without him. Because that’s a part of it, isn’t it? That’s how you stay married for 50 years. You give each other space. You let each other grow.
Did we argue? Of course we did. There were times I would have packed my bags and left if I’d had a better place to go. But what was better? “Remember?” I said, even then. “Remember the night the car battery died and we were parking and Jimmy Dolan rescued us. How did that happen? How did he know?” “Remember that night we had dinner somewhere. At a long table, outside. And the moon was full?” “Remember my mother’s voice? Your father’s Neru jacket? Your mother’s mushroom soup? Remember?”
Remember, I tell my grown-up kids now. Remember why you fell in love. Remember what made you want to spend the rest of your lives with the person you chose. Remember the good times when there are bad times.
And there will be bad times.
But the good times will trump them.
I kept a small calendar taped to my bedroom mirror in the months leading up to my wedding. I marked off the days, one by one. I was in such a hurry to begin my new life. I look at that calendar now and try to remember the girl I was then. Did I invent her? Was I ever that young? My husband says yes. We both were.
He likes to tell the story of how we met. It was a June day. He was buying milk for his mother. I was the new girl behind the counter. He remembers what I was wearing.
He looks at me now and sees me then. No one else does. I see him, too, a skinny 20-year-old. We were kids together. We had kids together. Now we are growing old together. Beverly Theresa Curtin. That’s the name on my college degree. My father insisted.
But Beverly Beckham is who I am.
Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.