Losing the Key to Marriage (and Finding It Again)

But I thought you had it

Now that we’ve been married for over a month, people have stopped asking about the wedding. Instead, they pose the seemingly innocuous question of “How’s married life?”

“Oh, you know,” I say. “Not that different, really.”

It’s an oddly personal question that pretends to be conversational. “How do you think people would respond if I said it’s terrible?” I asked Jared. “Married life sucks.” We laughed about it and agreed that being married feels very much like being engaged, but without a wedding to plan. Which is true, mostly.

I didn’t feel married until we had our first fight. Our vows were still fresh in my mind, because it had only been six hours since we’d said them. In the oddly rushed fifteen minutes after the band stopped playing and before the two guest shuttles departed, neither of us thought to locate our one shared key to our rental cottage. We were hustled to the backseat of my parents’ car as it started to rain, everyone anxious that the bride and groom wouldn’t get involved in the cleanup.

I realized it as my dad drove us down the long, winding road toward our little cottage. Jared was falling asleep in my lap, cushioned by the folds of my crumpled wedding dress. A combination of emotions and celebratory Jaeger shots had taken their toll, and he was done; I had a sinking feeling that the key hadn’t made it in the car.

“Hey Jared,” I asked, “do you have the key?”

He didn’t. I borrowed my dad’s phone to call my sisters, not realizing that their phones were both locked in the trunk. I rang my friend whose number hadn’t changed since 1997 because it was the only other one I had memorized. No one on her shuttle had the key. I insisted that my parents drop us off anyway because I didn’t want them to get involved with the needle-in-a-haystack search. Worst-case scenario, I’d walk up to the main house and knock; surely they would have a spare key and take pity on a wet bride.

Once my parents left, we combusted. Jared and I ended up shouting at each other in frustration; the last of the wedding tension rose up and let loose. It was ugly, irrational, and totally unnecessary, but the worst fights are usually like that. Learning to fight has been an ongoing project for us, and being married didn’t change that.

Something ticked over in me mid-argument, and I realized that, all going well, I was going to have occasional fights with this man for the rest of my life. We couldn’t avoid it completely, so we really should try to do a better job when it happens. These two people yelling on the porch in the fancy clothes, they weren’t the best versions of us, and I knew that. This particular fight may have been happening on our wedding night, but it didn’t get to set the tone for our marriage.

“Let’s not do this,” I said. “I’m going to get a spare key.” I marched up to the house, muddy dress hitched up as I went through the puddles (but false eyelashes firmly in place, those things really do defy logic), and knocked.

No one answered.

I shuffled back down the driveway, listening to the pitiful sound of my dress dragging behind me over the concrete. It was time for plan C: spend the night in the hammock with the mosquitoes. Our marriage could start fresh in the morning; I had no more emotion to give. When I got to the front door, it was open.

“I popped out the window screen,” Jared said. “Took about two seconds.”

We stayed up, talking it out like two people who had just vowed to spend their lives together. We agreed that we wouldn’t let the key episode spoil our memories of the wedding, which had been close to perfect. In a way it seems like denial to refuse to remember the argument, but what I remember now is not the way we fought. It’s the way that I still wanted to be married, even though we had temporarily brought out the worst in each other.

The key turned up the next day. The story is still hazy; it was in someone’s pocket, apparently, but no one can explain how it got there. It’s not important, and by then it didn’t matter anymore. The wound on our young marriage was already healing. We are learning to be more careful with our fledgling marriage, to bring each other up even when it’s easier to wear each other down.

Married life has not unlocked any secrets or changed our day-to-day; it is the same life, but somehow it already seems like more.

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