Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Valentine -- I'll Be Dirt Poor with you Anytime.

Dave proposed to me after we'd been dating about a month. I was 22. He was 26. It was a sweet and shabby proposal in a Red Roof Inn off of I-95.

He said, "I need to spill my guts."

I said, "Shoot."

"I like you."

I'd kind of figured he'd liked me. We'd just been to his family reunion -- Shrivers living on a shetland pony farm in a very Grey Gardens kind of mansion. It was gothic and really personal and revealing. We swung by my parents' house in Delaware. It was all very sudden meet-the-parents seriousness.

I said, "That doesn't constitute spilling your guts."

He said, "Okay then. I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you."

I said, "Okay."

And that was that. We were married in less than a year. In retrospect, it was very 1956.

Five years later, I was six months pregnant with our second kid and we were already living below the poverty level when Dave quit his job. It was the best decision we ever made.

Let me back up. His first real job out of grad school was as editor of the local weekly at $17,000 per year. It sounds like shit money now, and it was then too. We rented out two spare bedrooms in our three bedroom condo. A boarding house. I served fishsticks, telling foreigners it was "quintessential American cuisine." Not an outright lie.

But then Dave got promoted to the nearby daily.His boss is a man Dave wonders if he'd take a swing at if he ever saw him again. (Dave's not the type to take swings at people.) There was an error in the paper -- in an obit. The boss called him in, power-tripping, and said, "I could fire you for this, but I know you have a kid on the way and need the insurance."

Dave was pissed. He showed up back at home in the middle of the afternoon. "I want to quit, but I know he's right."

I looked up the cost to keep our insurance going. "Are you willing to wait tables?"

"Of course."

He went back and quit.

The boss had made me a burden, roped around Dave's neck, dragging him under. We cut the rope. It felt essential.

Dave was working on some freelance by this point already. So we went all freelance. I had the baby in January and he covered stories, wrote 'em up, went back out to cover another one while I polished -- a toddler at my feet and a newborn, wrapped in my bathrobe. That February he wrote 41 stories in 28 days for the bigger local daily -- plus a piece for Baltimore Magazine and alumni mags. We made it work. We didn't know much, but we knew how to work together. We could hustle.

Eventually he got a real job, a cushy one, and I went back to writing fiction and, for the first time, some poems -- with a toddler at my feet and a newborn wrapped in my bathrobe. Eventually I'd make enough money writing novels for him to come home altogether and for us to work side by side, all the time.

And now that's how it is. We share an office. I bat my ideas his way and he bats them back. We talk at each other and over each other, and make each other laugh really hard. At the end of every day, he goes to bed with the youngest, early. I stay up late. I wake him up when I get into bed and we talk about the day as if we hadn't spent all of it together. Then he falls back asleep. In the morning he lets me sleep, not sure when I dozed off. And the day starts over again.

Today, we're actually across the country from each other. I'm writing this from a hotel in LA with a view of the hills. He's at home, managing our loud house.

I told him it's Valentine's Day tomorrow.

He said, "I know. People keep asking me what I'm getting you. Shove some chocolate in your mouth, okay?"

I said, "You shove some chocolate in your mouth."

Here's wishing all of you some chocolate shoved in your mouths. Happy Valentine's Day.