Each winter, when temperatures start dropping and I take to wearing your old grey hoodie around the house, I can’t help but remember our first winter together. Only five years ago you took me for a hike in the hills of Santa Monica on an unseasonably warm day in December, but the hike was boring so we got back in the car and got lost and even though that’s one of my pet peeves somehow I wasn’t peeved, and we ended up in Malibu hiking through the shaded canyon and we sat on a log by a waterfall and ate the lunch you packed: gourmet sandwiches with avocado and bottles of iced tea, for which you even remembered to bring lemon wedges. It was the kind of first date—though we didn’t call it a date—that seemed to go on forever, and we were shy as we told our stories, timidly revealing bits of ourselves. I’d known you since you were sixteen and I was nineteen; now in my late twenties I had to keep reminding myself that you were no longer a teenage boy but a man, a man with a degree and some travel experience and a future career as an engineer.
Two days before Christmas you sprung an idea on me: let’s go to the Getty museum. Our second date. And so I drove through the foothills in a torrential downpour, terrified of my hydroplaning Geo Prism but exhilarated at the thought of a day at the museum with you. We splashed into the museum and you looked at a painting so closely that your nose almost touched it and a security guard asked you to step back. We walked outside and the rain had stopped and we stood looking out at Los Angeles under its charcoal blanket of storm clouds and for the first time but not the last we shared a sense of awe, and I stood as close as I dared to you and wondered what it would feel like to kiss you.
A week later we drove to San Luis Obispo, your old college town, for the day; our third date. You’d packed snacks—small, bright orange clementines and little bags of trail mix and chocolate. I peeled two clementines for you to eat as you drove. You showed me all your favorite places, and we took a canoe out on Morro Bay and walked along the sand and we saw an otter pop his head out of the water on our way back to the shore. Later we climbed up on rocks to watch the sunset, and I said I was cold so you put your arm around me. You were wearing this grey hoodie. And I couldn’t believe how much I felt for this man who used to be this boy I knew.
When the weather gets cold I think about how I fell in love with you that winter, so fast it shocked me and scared me to death. I remember being so lovesick I could barely eat, all I could think about was you with your scruffy beard and the way you threw your head back when you laughed.
That was five years ago. But, when it gets cold, I also think back to four years ago, our second winter. I think back to our frenzied wedding planning, to the fear I felt as I approached marriage, so terrified of losing myself forever, that it would end badly for me, that this dream would die a terrible death once I said “I do” and sealed my fate. But you were perfect. Our day was perfect. This was also a sunny December day, but not so warm. The California light filtered perfectly through the oak trees, our friend Michael played guitar, I floated down a dirt aisle to a sea of faces turned toward me and beaming…the fear had left me, but it returned the next day. All through our Hawaiian honeymoon I was a basketcase, sure that you would mistreat me and let me down somehow. We had terrible, blow out fights in the middle of our timeshare condo in paradise.
Those first few months of our marriage were the worst of my life. I was so afraid—all the issues I’d managed to bury for so many years were like land mines now, and you were a casualty. You fought back, you withdrew, you hardened, you lived up to my fears—I pushed you there. It all felt like such a mistake. We didn’t have a bed yet; we slept on a futon in the middle of the living room, and I couldn’t believe you were the same person I fell in love with just a year ago, the gentle guy in the grey hoodie. I couldn’t believe I was the same woman, the one who let herself fall head over heels in love.
The next winter, we went to Palm Springs to celebrate our first anniversary. We wrote new wedding vows and read them to each other on our sunny patio with the San Jacinto mountains towering over us. Now we knew which promises really mattered to us, which ones were the hardest to keep and therefore the most important to make. We planted new seeds there in the desert, seeds of hope and commitment in our still-new marriage.
This winter, three years later, as my body grows to make room for our first child, I marvel at the harvest we’ve gathered from those seeds we planted. We are best friends. We listen to each other and respect each other and are much quicker to apologize, and to let things go. We are thankful for each other, and our hearts are filled with hope for the future we have together with our new daughter, our little winter baby.
Before you, winter was mainly about Christmas, and about making it through until spring. Now winter is a milestone, a marker for me. One winter when I was so alone, when I least expected it, I found the love of my life. The next winter I became a married woman, but I also became the woman I never wanted to be. One winter later I made a decision to change, to grow up, to open to you again. This winter I’m just so thankful, thinking about how that first winter I had no idea what it would mean to love you, no idea how you would surprise me, how you would grow and change in just five years, how I would one day be unable to imagine my husband and the father of my child being anybody but you.