Happy Anniversary, Ace. Part I.

by Alissa

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.  (Unverifiable, but widely attributed to Martin Luther)

Today is our 10th anniversary. What are we doing to mark it? Oh, starting a new life in Oz. Landing somewhere permanently after a decade of practice places.

Except I’m not there yet.

And all we did when it was our anniversary in Newcastle yesterday but not yet our anniversary here was video chat about banking details and e-mail storage hassles. Note: If you’re moving countries and trying to establish credit, save yourself a massive headache and bring original banking statements from the previous year with you.

In happier news, last night Ace and I both downloaded the Sky Map app, which uses GPS to determine which stars we are pointing our devices at, allowing us to learn to name the new-to-us constellations visible from Newcastle. This thrills me.We can even see the southern stars now by pointing the ipad down through the earth toward Australia, but it loses a little something to be staring down at screen/the dirt instead of up at the open night sky.

We are generally terrible at doing special occasions. For example, on our fourth anniversary I drove us on romantically/painfully slow Highway 2 all the way across the wide wide state of Washington while Ace had the flu in the passenger seat. We stopped in Leavenworth for a moderately nice dinner. Then stopped again an hour later for him to leave it on the roadside.

For our fifth anniversary, we tried to stay at a quaint bed and breakfast in Victoria, city of our honeymoon. We invited along good friends who were also celebrating an anniversary and managed to botch their celebration too, when the B&B turned out to be over booked. The B&B guy made us a reservation at a weird motel with outdoor carpet indoors instead. The special Canadian wine we purchased, “with a hint of cherry and soft notes of birch,” was so mouth-puckeringly awful that four of us couldn’t manage to finish the bottle.

10 years in, our inability to *do* anniversaries doesn’t bother me much any more. Some of our anniversaries must have been perfectly nice, but they don’t come immediately to mind. The goodness and ease of our ordinary days together is enough. I miss them. I miss him. It will be so sweet to be together again.

But back to the beginning:

The day before our wedding we planted a tree: a white birch, not a long-lived species, but one suited to the rocky soil and mixed woods at the Lutheran camp where we were married. He was 23. I was 21. The expected lifespan for the birch is between 40 and 80 years, perhaps longer in the mild microclimate of the lake. We could hope to live as long.

I imagined that the planting would be momentous, our friends and family gathered around us in the low golden light of our rehearsal evening as we marked the launching of our life together. The tree would symbolize so many verdant things: our hopes for the growth of our marriage, the merging of our lives. It would be a lasting physical connection to place where we were married, no matter where we might end up living.

Given the above, you can guess where this is going.

The year prior to the wedding was one of near constant unsettledness. My family moved to Jakarta. My mother and sister were evacuated twice (9-11, Bali bombings). My dad contracted dengue fever, also twice. We planned a wedding from Indonesia Montana and Switzerland, where I studied occasionally and spent a lot of time riding trains and eating croissants aux amandes and wondering–in a privileged-yet-weary way–where on earth I would settle, never once suspecting Australia.

And to kick it all off, in a freak June snowstorm, I met the man I now call Ace. Beneath 16 inches of snow, fallen branches, downed power lines, we were marooned together in a converted frat house in Missoula. I had moved in for the summer to have a place to stay before leaving for Fribourg. Ace was staying in the house for a few days while taking a kayak instructor certification course. Neither of us expected to meet anyone that day, least of all each other.

Before the snow hit, I sat down to eat a plate of roasted asparagus at one end of the house’s extended banquet table. Another resident practiced her door-to-door knife sales pitch at the opposite end. Ace sized me up in my ‘Jesus loves me’ puff-painted T-shirt and crystal-studded glasses, and sat down to make conversation.

I noted his strapping muscles, his sunburned nose, and his pile of gear in the corner and dismissed him as yet another flaky Patagonia boy–the dime-a-dozen mountain jocks that populated UM. Those of you who know him as an all-seasons mathlete may be surprised, but back then, he resembled nobody so much as Michaelangelo’s David–beautifully sculpted, rugged, manly, down to the slightly long arms.

I forked a shaft of asparagus (knifeless) and watched the demo girl scissor a penny in half, willing myself not to notice myself noticing him noticing me.

“There’s nothing like a really sharp knife,” he said. “I’d get Henckels, though, not these.”

“Isn’t it illegal to destroy currency?” I half-asked him, half-asked the girl with the shears, and walked away.

The next day the snow fell. The power went out. And then there was nothing to do but build a fire and play Trivial Pursuit. It turned out that he was really good. I don’t usually lose at Trivial Pursuit, so I looked at him again. Together, we are practically unbeatable.

I’m tempted to leave the story at that, but you might wonder what happened with the tree.

Come back later for Part II.