Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Dear Joel,

It was in September, I think, that we were out on another bike ride. On this particular Saturday, we had chosen the ride we hate to love: High Grade. It's everything its name implies -- fast and potentially scary on the way down, but on the way up it is slow and difficult. It gives me a lot of time to think. As the minutes creep up over the hours, our conversation falls off and all energy is spent on turning the pedals, one stroke at a time, till we get to the top.

I like riding with you because, besides the company, you are often in front, letting me draft behind. Together we go faster than I could on my own (on the flats and downhills, not so much the ups). Sometimes I get ticked because you push harder and faster than I can or want to go. But often I am pleased with the end result. If I pass you, you are encouraging. Almost always, you compliment my tight pants. Even when I'm overwhelmed with fatigue, it makes me roll my eyes with a smile.

This summer we participated in the Triple Bypass, one of the most grueling bike rides in the country. 120 miles, over 10k feet climbing, over 3 (but kind of 4, which they don't really mention) mountain passes. I don't think there were any flat parts - you were either going up or down the whole time. It was, by far, the hardest thing I've ever had to do physically. At the rest stop at the top of Vail Pass, with 92 miles under my belt and 28 to go, I got off my bike, sat down in the grass, and burst into tears. I couldn't stop it. It washed over me. And then I felt dumb. I knew the hardest part was behind me. I was pretty sure I was going to finish. But I was just so tired. You walked off to get me oranges and whatever else, while I buried my face in my hands and then sobbed. I told myself I'd let it go for 15 seconds and then I would stop because staying hydrated was becoming a real concern. You know the rest: some stranger came up to me and gave me a pep talk, you brought me oranges, we got back on our bikes and we finished the race. I didn't cry again until the lady at the end gave me my medal.

I find it interesting that the year I chose to do the toughest physical challenge of my life was also the year I've faced my toughest mental battle. I'm not at all surprised that it's always you who brings me back to where I want to be.

That day, climbing High Grade, I considered how you have been my constant companion through my laughter and tears. I thought about how you've loved me when I'm funny and when I'm not very nice. I thought about how you still laugh at my jokes and stories and comments in a way that makes me feel like I'm one of the wittiest people on the planet. I thought about how you tell me I'm beautiful every single day, even days when I think the only reason you'd say that is for an ulterior motive. I thought about how you work harder than just about anyone I know and how you absolutely love what you do. I thought about how even though you have so much to do, you always make time for a game with Gemma, a slot car race with Donovan, to talk about art/design with Ainsleigh. I thought about how, like at the top of Vail Pass, you recognized that I've not been in the right frame of mind. You didn't make me feel dumb, but respected how I felt, asked what needed to be done, and then continued on with life.

I thought about all of that, and I began to cry (I seem to do that a lot. And no, it wasn't because of the ride this time). I told you I wanted to thank you for being you and for being you for me, if that makes any sense. We celebrated 15 years of marriage this year and I can't believe how happy and comfortable and safe you make me feel. I find it obnoxious when people post about how blissfully happy they are on Facebook or social media or whatever. I find it obnoxious, but you should know that I think we are crushing it. We have this communication thing down. Obviously we're not carefree and oblivious to problems, but we've learned to take the imperfections and the hard stuff and weave it into our lives.

I'm still going to look at you through narrowed eyes when you eat popcorn and don't chew with your mouth closed entirely. You're still going to be annoyed when I get impatient or try to do things too quickly. But we're still finding out new things about each other - just yesterday you were testing a photoshoot on my hand and trying to get me to manipulate my thumb in a way it won't go. "You can't do that?!" you asked incredulously. I tried and tried and then you burst out laughing at how hard I was trying to do something I obviously couldn't.

It's the little things and the big things that make all the difference. Thank you for being all the things to me. I love you more than I could have ever anticipated.