Tuesday, September 21, 2010

It's Worth Looking Back to See How Far You've Come

Where were you at 1 AM on August 15th, 1994?
I'll give you a minute to recall...

While you're thinking, let me tell you my story.

1AM, August 15th, 1994. I am lying on the floor of Suzanna's bedroom in her parents' house, her childhood bedroom. Suzanna is next to me. There is no bed in the room. But we've made a place to sleep by spreading a blanket across the carpet and pulling over us a comforter Suzanna borrowed from her mom. It's the summer between my first and second years in graduate school at Western Washington University and we're less than a month away from our wedding day. I've moved back to Kirkland from Bellingham to help with the wedding planning. After we're married, we'll both move back to Bellingham, into an apartment we found one week earlier.

In preparation for the shift in our lives, Suzanna has quit her job at the Eddie Bauer customer service call center. She did that on August 14th. And this is the night following that. The first night of the rest of her life.

When we get to Bellingham, Suzanna will have no job. I will resume my part-time job as a graduate teaching assistant teaching one section of English 101 each quarter. The small amount I make from that work will be our family income until Suzanna finds work.

1 AM. Dark.

"Are you awake?" Suzanna asks into the quiet room.
I am awake. But I'm surprised to find that she is, she usually sleeps long before I do.
"Yes. Are you?"
"I don't know how we're going to make this work." Suzanna says.
"Make what work?" Statements like that at 1 AM in a dark room always sound heavy. This sounds heavy. I think we're about to have a long conversation.
"Money. Our money. Are we going to be able to do this?" She says.
"Do what?" I ask. Sleep? Move? Get married?
"That apartment. I don't see how we can afford that apartment. If I don't find work, we don't have enough."
"You will find work."
"But if I don't."
"But you will. We can make it work." The truth is, in that moment I'm just saying that. I don't know how it will work, I just think it will. So I say so.

We talked a long time into the darkness, going around and around. Finally we got the idea to sketch it out on paper and see what our situation really looked like.

I turned on the light and got out my journal. I found that journal last weekend when I was cleaning out the garage. My accounting of our finances is still there. Here's what I wrote:

650.00 = My monthly salary
400.00 = Your monthly salary (we hope)
1050.00 = Total monthly salary

-500.00 = Rent
-25.00 = Phone
-25.00 = Electricity
-35.00 = Cable
-65.00 = Car Insurance
-150.00 = Groceries
-40.00 = Gas
-50.00 = Entertainment
-83.00 = Visas

My tuition was paid for by the Veteran's Administration, so that wasn't a concern. And if everything went according to this plan, we'd have $87.00 at the end of the month. Not bad! $87.00 left over at the end of the month. Every month.

In reality, we ended up with less than $87.00 at the end of most months. Our accounting was a too-rosey scenario. I remember one month in particular when we found ourselves with about $7. I talked Suzanna into spending that $7 with me at the Starbucks in the grocery store down the street. It felt right to live like we had enough. It felt like if we believed we'd get by, we would get by. If we acted like we were successful, we would become successful. If we stayed stronger than the circumstances of our lives, we would overcome the circumstances of our lives.

And I can tell you it worked.

That night penciling out our best-case financial picture was one month from our wedding. It was 2 years from our decision to start our own business with two friends. It was only 4 years from the day we bought our first house. It was 7 years from our second house. It was 9 years from our first child. 11 from our second. It was not that long ago, really. And we have more than $87.00 at the end of the month now.

That night was before those accomplishments but one thing was already there that night for me and Suzanna: our partnership. Without ever talking about it, without ever planning it we each took on the right roles to make us successful together: I bring audacity and an exuberant belief that we can do anything, she brings belief in me and a pragmatic mind that is ready to come along for the ride as long as I can pencil out the barest bit of proof that there's a way to make it work. She keeps me honest that way.

There's a song by Tim Finn that I like to listen to sometimes.  It's called "Couldn't Be Done." Here's the chorus:

"We had no idea that it couldn't be done.
And we needed to find a like-minded someone
Who had no idea that it couldn't be done."

I have no idea that what I want cannot be done. And Suzanna is my like-minded someone.

That night on the floor of my future in-law's house was the first night of the rest of both of our lives. Mine and Suzanna's. Our life together. Working on that life together, we've really gotten somewhere. And as long as we stay focused on what we want and don't waste time on fear that it cannot be done, I have no doubt that every day can be the first day of the next great thing we're going to accomplish together.

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