When the story of my wife and I truly started, we had both crossed all our bridges and had nowhere to go. My mother had flown into town that weekend to see the life I had built in Austin, and the life I was about to leave. After seven years, I felt I had checked the boxes. I had looked and there was nothing to hold onto any longer. It was time to head back home to the Northwest. So we were all at Cosmic Coffee this Friday afternoon, my mother and myself for a happy hour with my department, and my future wife working across the courtyard, across benches and beers, on a workshop she would be leading. She was in the middle of a divorce and had accepted the eventual title of being “the cool aunt who travels a lot.”
From the time she reached out to me that day, asking for a friend to go see A Quiet Place, I had a feeling. I had remembered the many ARD meetings we had spent sitting across from each other over the years, her the interpreter and me the teacher, and the many random things we would talk about before, after, and during these meetings. We undoubtedly connected, but something always kept us apart—relationships, marriages, or the need to head to the next meeting. But something felt different that Friday afternoon. Like we were coming into Paris, about to have our Jesse and Céline moment of truth. I very awkwardly forced my mother into saying goodbye to this woman she had never met as we left the cafe, so sure that in just a matter of weeks or months I would call her and ask her if she remembered “that redhead.” Sure enough, that phone call happened, but only a couple weeks later, during which I broke to my mother, once so excited at the idea of her firstborn son coming home, that I’d be in Austin a while longer.
TO BE SEEN AND UNDERSTOOD
In the months leading up to our marriage, we went through our learning experiences. I explained to her why sudden, emphatic gestures to get my attention put me on edge and made me feel like I was disappointing someone. She explained to me why being quiet and distant wasn’t fair to someone who didn’t know what they did wrong. We went on a month-long trip to Australia and New Zealand in which we got to sign to each other underwater alongside the Great Barrier Reef, where we got to sign our way out of awkward encounters with unusual strangers, and where we got to walk and talk over many, many miles of steps and stops and trips and lunges across the land Down Under. After a particularly frustrating day in Taupo, in which we walked over five miles in cold weather to deal with a flat on our rental car, we slid into a hot springs pool and everything melted away. Just as the steam rose from the surface, we realized how lucky we were to sign with each other, our own private conversation bubble, while others swirled around us.