"Loyd, I don't need to take my cell phone, do I?" I slipped my purse strap onto my shoulder and looked at my phone in its charger.
"No, I have mine." He held it up.
"You won't leave me, right?" I smiled and poked his ribs.
"No way." He gathered me in his arms. "You took all the best of me, so come get the rest of me."
I buried my face in his chest and hugged him back. "Wow, that was good. Did you think of that? Are those words original?"
He held me at arms' length and hung his head. "No. They're words from a Bread song."
"Timely lyrics quoted very well." I took his hand, and we walked out of our room and into the snow. Through the magic of falling flakes, we made our way to a favorite restaurant to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary.
The next morning, the last day of our weeklong celebration in Tahoe, Loyd played that Bread song. With no warning, just after I got up, the music and lyrics filled the room. Loyd stood up, pulled me close, and started to dance.
I listened to the words as we moved around the room.
"You have taken the heart of me and left just a part of me.
Look, look, look what you've done.
Well, you took all the best of me, so come get the rest of me.
Look back. Finish what you've begun …"
Tears slipped down my cheeks and wet Loyd's chest. We are growing old together. When we married at 18 and 21 years of age, this was our desire. And now it's true; all these years later, we have taken the best of each other. Right from the beginning, we took each other's futures as we planned one together.
We took each other's youth. We went to college and worked to pay our tuition and bills, until we conceived our son at age 20 and Loyd had to get serious about supporting a family.
I took Loyd's energy as he left home early and returned late to earn our living. He took my idealism as I suffered bedridden through the pregnancy.
We took part of each other's souls when he coached me through childbirth and we held that baby between us. We took each other's individualism as we became a family.
He took my strength as I mothered his children and cared for our home. I took his power as I often failed to show him respect. He took my dreams when he failed to show me affection.
Our children grew up, we sent them to college, and they married. The years tumbled by. Along the way Loyd and I took each other's best thoughts, most encouraging words, and glowing moments of success. We each gathered the other into ourselves as tentacles of connection entwined our lives.
Now we are grandparents with some gray hair, and we've stored up a multitude of shared memories. Many of these memories are private. No one but the two of us has an inkling of all we've shared. By taking the best of each other, we've filled a treasure chest with intangibles, so growing old together has made us rich.
When the song was done, Loyd sat down and looked straight at me. "Does anyone desire that anymore? Do any young couples dream of growing old together?"
We're wedding photographers, and we've witnessed many couples going into marriage with little hope that it will last forever. They say things like "at my next wedding," expecting a series of unions. These young people have all heard the media's much-touted statistic that 50 percent of the marriages in this country end in divorce, so they figure they have a 50-50 chance. Some make the vows with no commitment behind them.
One bride giggled, "Good thing I'm getting married young so I'll still be pretty for my next wedding."
One bridesmaid laughed, "I'll marry the first time for money and the second time for love."
In our business, there was a time when no one walked down the aisle expecting their marriage to end in divorce, but times have changed, so I understood what my husband was thinking.
"There are some, Loyd. Remember that couple who danced their last dance to Adam Sandler's song 'I Want to Grow Old with You' from The Wedding Singer movie? It was so sweet. Remember how the groom forgot the CD and worked so hard to find someone to go get it for him? The DJ tried to get the groom to settle for another, but he had to have that song.
"Remember that other couple who danced their first dance to the song from Moulin Rouge, "Come What May"? They looked at each other and promised to stay committed and choose to love each other no matter what life brought them.
"A lot of couples still dream of growing old together."
That was our dream, and we are achieving it. We have had plenty of opportunities to quit on this relationship. Life can get messy, and our marriage has had its share of messes. We could have split up many times and zipped the intertwined tentacles free, but we were afraid of Swiss cheese holes. So we chose to look fearlessly at the mistakes, confusion, and disasters and work to clean them up. Staying married hasn't been easy, but our hard work has brought us to this sweet time of celebration.
Loyd and I enjoy a loving and lasting relationship, and we choose to talk openly about our married life to give others the hope that they too can enjoy a loving, lasting relationship. We could fail to speak, because our marriage isn't and never has been perfect. We each bring flaws into the union, so our marriage is hard work. We are struggling human beings who sometimes fail but also sometimes conquer, and our long-term marriage witnesses to the fact that the marriage partnership can survive all kinds of problems if the partners do the hard work required.
Loyd is starting to look like an old man, but when I look at him I will always see the handsome boy I walked down the aisle to and into a life with, because I choose to look back. And I plan to finish what I've begun.
Sherry Van Zante married Loyd when she was 18. Decades later, marriage is the hardest, but also the best, thing she's ever done. She and Loyd live on the central coast of California.