Thru age I’ve found myself dreaming, scheming, planning, for the future. I accounted for all the variables I could think of. I accounted for a change in fortune, health, even my own personality. When I look to the future at the many things that might be, I understand that I may be a very different person than I was on the days past that I may have glimpsed the current timeline. But in all of these things, I have found it surprising that I have instead changed in ways that I never thought about.
I never really wanted to go to Disneyland. As a kid, I knew it was fun through hearsay from other children that went, and I got excited to hear that my parents considered taking me once. But as a boy, I was not supremely interested in Disney movies, princesses, merchandise, or the whole culture, pervasive in its charming naiveté, that the Disney brand perpetuates. I understood the value it offered to others, but it wasn’t really up my alley. Young days were preferably spent with other boys, dreaming up a thousand different ways we could enter into non-lethal combat with each other: wrestling, sword fighting with sticks, violent games of catch, engineering every system of projectile flinging we could, sword fighting with plastic swords, Nerf darts, debating the legal maximum size of branch or pine cone one could be allowed to throw at another, sword fighting with pool noodles, water gun fights, throwing the water guns at each other in a blind rage, throwing Nerf guns at each other in a blind rage, playing video games, throwing the controllers at each other in a blind rage, throwing Legos at each other in a blind rage, eventually laser tag, airsoft, and paintball mock wars as we got even older. Once, I even got shot in the back with an arrow (without a tip but covered in fire ants) while riding away on my bike. The arrow did not hurt, at least not as much as the fire ants did when they all flew off the arrow and tumbled down my shirt onto my exposed lower backside. Anyway, it was a far cry from the childhood of my wife, who had dolls, Disney princess merchandise, princess t-shirts, princess pajamas, princess Halloween costumes, who grew up watching Disney films over and over again with her sisters and went to Disney theme parks multiple times. Her Christmas lights are Disney-themed, her porcelain figures are Disney-themed, her jewelry boxes are Disney-themed, etc., and to a guy who grew up as a typical boy, uninterested in the bland, palatable, platitudes of a simple, charming storytelling culture, it is almost garish in its flaccid placidity. But even ‘garish’ is an extreme term to use to describe a reaction to something so utterly harmless and joyful. Boy Me is confused, Boy Me has joy when he wins at sports or video games, everything else is consumed in anger, in outwitting, or it is tedious and bitter work. Boy Me dreamed of greatness, Teen Me conspired to provide well for his wife, Young Man Me schemed to provide well for his children and grandchildren and leave them a legacy and dynasty to carry on! Man Me wants to take his wife and kids to Disneyland, to see his cute son or daughter scream and jump around in excitement in a Mickey Mouse hat, to get them to meet Donald or Goofy and ride Space Mountain. What? Hang on here, what happened? Where did all of that grandeur go, where did all of my chutzpah, pride, my cajones disappear to? Don’t I still want all of those things, or have I been beaten down and broken by The Man or my failed ambitions or my stalling career, content and mollified to settle for middle class and the plain delights of middle age? Is this the new answer for me, or just a symptom of my distraction?
It is true that absence makes the heart grow fonder. In that brief moment that I am home alone while my wife is away, I have the opportunity to consider my surroundings. Aesthetically pleasing, it’s decor and organization is far in excess of what Young Man Me settled for as a bachelor. Scrappy, pragmatic me may appreciate a throw pillow or a quilt or a painting or a fake plant or some nice ceramics or fine china. These things make a beautiful home but practically they are expensive and time consuming, beyond the bounds of my desire to pursue. My desire alone, that is. This apartment isn’t mine, and if we settle into a house, it will not be mine either. This place is an expression of our marriage, our relationship, this setting in which I am pleased to be in, knowing that I, singular, would trade in that plastic plant, or chalk-painted furniture, or cutesy basic artwork for cash in a heartbeat. Probably the only pieces in here that would be the same without my wife are the desk and filing cabinet I got for $11 on government auction from a police department of a small town in Texas (a terrific deal if there ever was one). No, this place is not my home, but it is ours, and I’m loathe to ever go back to the way it was when it was just me. Each step I take in these colorful walls is a reinforcement of my shared identity with this person I have committed my life to. The basket of neatly-rolled, plush washcloths atop the commode tank, the printed ceramic toothbrush holder, the musical instruments in their wall-mounts and even my own posters from my bachelor era re-hung into much nicer frames above the TV… I didn’t even want this stuff and actively fought against it at times, but it is mine now too. These are physical reminders that the question isn’t what has happened to ‘me’, it is that ‘we’ have replaced ‘me’, and what does that mean for us? In the daily dose of reality and deadpan reception that my career ambitions get, I find that it is easier for me to change as a person than to try to change the world around me. I find that it I am okay with curbing my ambitions if it is in order to make the people I love happy. I find that there is no honor in being poor, but no dishonor either. I find that it is not only easier, but more pleasing to be content with what you have and to share in each others’ joy than it is to play the sociopathic chess-game of asset accumulation. I have found that I am okay with things that I thought and even swore I never would be okay with. I have found that, even though my parents always said it (I never really bought into it), now that I’m older I really DO appreciate their parenting efforts, and I STILL struggle to reconcile this feeling at times! I have found that with the same charm that Young Man Me used to steal my wife’s heart, she has stolen mine. The once romantic and idealistic self, after becoming cynical and jaded, is renewed again in the face of my beloved’s consistent charm and kindness towards me and the world around her. Personally, I was in a dark place when we were married. The years leading to and after my wedding have been some of the most angry, frustrated, bitter, and resentful years of my life. It wasn’t without cause, I had plenty of reason for it, but before then I never really cared to relish in those feelings like I did as a young man. I don’t know when those feelings really stopped, but I don’t respond to the triggers of my anger like I used to, nor does my bitterness consume my heart. I have found that it is easier to believe in the intangibles again. I have found that it is easier to accept joy again. I don’t know what the requirements are to say that our love runs deep, but I do know that my wife’s love has affected me deeply, it has reached its roots to touch the core of who I am, and I didn’t notice it for years, but I have slowly been changing into a very different man than I thought I was at the outset of our marriage. Who did this? Who did this to me? Is it just explained by the erosion and re-molding of self by my surroundings? It is just the profound effect of simple affection on my life? God surely knows all things, maybe this is of Him, maybe it isn’t. I do know this, I didn’t care about this kids’ theme park before, but I would be happy to go for the first time now as an adult, if only to take my loved ones with me. Like a tree, I cannot tell if it is growing at a glance, but if I observe over time, I see incremental, almost insignificant amounts of change accumulating day by day. Cut me down, examine my life, see how I have grown. The inner rings, the earliest years speak to the heart of who I was, but they are a fraction of what I am today.