With our daughter and me both safely out of the house, my husband Gordon fearlessly pursues his mission to plaster the kitchen ceiling. He’s under strict instructions to remove everything portable before the plaster dust begins to fly, so he takes down the kitchen noticeboard which hasn’t been moved this century.
Leaning the functional side of the noticeboard against the wall in the lounge, he discovers something hidden on the flipside: an invitation to my tenth wedding anniversary party. I say “my” because it is in fact a relic of my previous marriage. Neatly pinned below it is a yellowing newspaper cutting, headlined “Will you make it to 10 years?” In 1999, the average length of a marriage was slightly under a decade. I’d put this proudly on display with the invitation to demonstrate that we’d beaten the odds.
The discovery draws us both up short – Gordon because it’s a reminder that he still has a year to go before he can claim the title of my longest-serving husband, me because it reminds me of the premonition I had that the 10th would be the last anniversary that John and I would share. Although we never discussed it, I think John knew it too.
A month or two before the actual event, we decided to celebrate in style with a party in the garden with all our favourite people. Everyone entered into the spirit of things. Our frail nonegarian neighbours, James and Hester, presented us with a framed poem they’d written specially for the occasion:
“Debbie and John, Debbie and John,
Ten years of your marriage have come and gone.
May the years that lie ahead
Be as good as when you wed.”
We’d recently helped them mark their own silver wedding (their elopement in old age is a story I shall tell another time). It seemed they were passing on to us the baton of romance, assuming we’d outlive them.
But just three months after the party, John was in hospital, newly diagnosed with leukaemia and five months later he died, a week before my 40th birthday. Hester died four days later, at which James declared “I’ll decide this week whether I’m going to carry on living or not,” and hung on just until the spring.
I went through many sadder anniversaries after that – not just his birthday and our wedding, but the date of his diagnosis, the date of his death, the date of the funeral, and so on. Each was a wrenchingly painful milestone.
But don’t feel too sorry for me. On our eleventh anniversary, my racking sobs resounded around a rented room on a Greek island, where my new boyfriend, Gordon, explained away to the concerned landlady that “she is sad because her baby died a year ago today”. We’d already had to tell her we were married to be allowed to rent the room, so he could hardly tell her the truth. I was overawed by his quick thinking – and by his compassion. Maybe that moment sealed our future as a couple.
There have been other difficult anniversaries since: as any parent of a child with a serious lifelong illness will understand, there is “D-Day” – the date of diagnosis. We spent 10th May 2007 in hospital when my daughter Laura, now 8, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. It was 10 days before her 4th birthday.
But rediscovering that old anniversary party invitation has given me a change of direction. In future I’ll be disregarding these dates. What are anniversaries anyway but occasions artificially contrived using a bizarre number base of 365? Next year it’ll be 366 – even dafter. Why wait for another 365 day cycle to be completed before we can celebrate our marriage – or the birth of our daughter 13 months later? If I want to buy Laura a present, I will – I won’t need it to be her birthday to give me permission. After all, I long ago realised that every day can be pancake day if you take the trouble to mix up the pancake batter.
So happy unanniversary, darling. It’s been a great 9 years, 7 months and 4 days.