04/05/2013 11:47 am ET | Updated Jun 05, 2013

Skate Key

My husband and I started dating in 1980. I knew him through a group of mutual friends but it wasn't until one night (September 9, 1980 to be exact -- I remember those things) that we had our first planned date. After that, he called me daily at work and asked, "What are you doing tonight?" And there wasn't a night that I wasn't with him. At the time, I was living with my parents although from the moment after our first date, I spent every night at my husband's apartment. My mother had grown accustomed to my coming home from work, taking a shower, getting "dressed up" (clean blue jeans and a black top), and throwing some things into an over-sized purse and saying, "See you tomorrow."

I felt rather nomadic. It was time for me to get my own apartment -- no longer wanting to kiss my mother good-bye while her eyebrows were raised and her face was questioning. Moving to the neighborhood where my husband worked and lived and my parents lived seemed wise. So, during one of my lunch hours, I went apartment hunting and ran into my husband on the street corner near the hospital where he was doing his medical residency.

He was wearing his white hospital coat and holding a paper cup of coffee. Back then, he had longish, dark wavy hair. He said something like "Hey, what are you doing here?" and I said, "Looking for an apartment." He looked a little uneasy. Now, understand, we'd only been "dating" for about six weeks. That night, when I got to his place, he handed me a key to his apartment that had a miniature red roller skate hanging from the key chain. I used to roller skate quite a bit in those days.

"I emptied out a drawer for you," he said. "Maybe you don't need to look for an apartment right now."

Understand, my husband didn't exactly ask me to live with him. But a key and an empty drawer meant something, right? So I stopped the apartment hunt. It took me a few months before I stopped the routine of going home to my parents and showering and changing into fresh jeans and a top. Eventually, the empty drawer filled up, and I took over some space in the closet. And, well, when you finally leave a box of Tampax in the bathroom, you're officially living together. One year after we started dating, we were married. It was a case of heady abandon, passion, love and no doubt that we should be together despite the panic that set in for both of us right before our wedding.
My panic was more subtle and, in my opinion, within the realm of normal cold feet. As my mother drove me to the hotel where we were to be married, I said I wasn't sure if I could "go through with it." My mother drove ahead. "There are 250 people coming tonight. Most of them are strangers to me. Your future in-laws invited the state of New Jersey," she said. Then she pulled the car over to a metered spot and said, "Look, just tell me now if you really can't do this, and I'll cancel the whole damn thing. But really, snap out of it."

My husband, on the other hand, had palpitations two nights before our wedding and hooked himself up to a Holter monitor only to find out it was anxiety and not something organic. On the day of our wedding, he put a "Do Not Disturb" order on his groom's room with a codicil stating "and this includes my bride-to-be."

I was really pissed off.

My husband is still at the same hospital where he worked back then. He's risen through the ranks. I rarely see him "in uniform" because usually I see him when he's in the office and there he wears slacks, a shirt and tie. At the hospital, he wears a white coat. The other day, I had an appointment with an orthopedist whose office is on the grounds of the hospital. My husband met me there -- and he was wearing that white coat. I don't think I've seen it -- or I don't think I've appreciated it -- since 1980.

Be still my heart. I always was a sucker for a guy in uniform.

My husband sat in the room with me while the doctor examined my foot. He waited while the doctor took me in for a fluoroscope. He listened when the doctor said that I have the slightest touch of arthritis from years of dancing. He and the doctor talked about their golf games as the doctor shot cortisone into my foot. Then my husband took me for a slice of pizza and I took a cab home.
So, here's the thing: Nearly thirty-two years of marriage later, my husband whose hair is now gray and shorter (but still wavy) looks really cute in his white coat. If someone with a crystal ball had told me about all the shit we'd go through in thirty-two years of marriage, I would have told my husband that there was no way that I could marry him. I suppose that marriage is not dissimilar to life in general: If someone predicted all the disappointments you would weather, all the rejections you would get, all the sadness you would encounter, you might just bail. Go live somewhere as a recluse. Maybe on a desert island. Just decide that interaction was too much and being alone was safer, easier and less complicated.

Yet we remain together. Of our own volition. Not for our children. Not for parents. Not for friends and relatives or appearances. Neither of us likes it when people say things like "good for you!" when they hear we have been married for upwards of three decades. Our marriage is not an endurance test. This is a romance and a friendship rife with all that romances and friendships suffer: ups, downs, love, hate, joy, sorrow, hurt, pleasure. I'm often suspicious of those couples who say, "We never fight." Seriously? We have knock-down, drag-out doozies. He says I'm relentless; I say he's remote. And then somehow, we meet in the middle -- because I am relentless and he's not really remote, he just sometimes forgets to say what he's thinking. I tell him he should have married a mind reader. He says that a penny for his thoughts is not a high enough price.

In short, after thirty-one years of marriage, although it sometimes feels like Paradise Lost, on days like the other day when he's in his white coat, Paradise remains. It takes me back to a boy who gave me a key attached to a roller skate and, suddenly, there's clarity.