After a good day of lunching and antiquing and discussing how movie stars today just aren't what they used to be (hello, Paul Newman and Cary Grant), I got back to our apartment in time to shower and head to Va De Vi with J. But he had questionably good news.
I guess I should preface this part by letting you in on the fact that J was flown down to Newport Beach last week for an interview at a law firm. The firm does exactly what he wants to do (corporate litigation), all the partners and associates he met clicked with him right away, and the office -- well, from what I heard the office was magnificent (think one of the top floors in the building, all glass windows, with a full view of Newport Harbor and the Pacific Ocean). They wined and dined him (at this point all I thought of was The Firm, minus the corruption and partially cheesy action scenes), and sent him back up to the Bay Area wanting the job.
Flash forward to yesterday. Literally HOURS after I got my job offer that I'd only JUST interviewed for two business days prior, the law firm called J with good news: They wanted to hire him. The salary they offered was (how do I put this) obscene, and the bonuses and profit-sharing were clutch. All in all it was an offer he couldn't refuse. Almost.
I was happy for him but tried to hide my disappointment: a.) We were about to visit a fancy restaurant (something that's been long overdue) to celebrate the good news, but b.) How could I be happy knowing he'd be leaving soon? Which I wouldn't blame him doing -- the pay is more than good, it's exactly the type of law he wants to practice, it sounded like a great work atmosphere and the lifestyle that comes with such opportunities...let's just say they make movies about such things for a reason.
"So why wouldn't he take it?" I thought. This is exactly what we wanted. What we'd waited for. This is why he worked so hard in law school. Or was it?
As we sat at a table in the posh outdoor alleyway, peppered with hundreds of white Christmas lights and low chatter from neighboring tables, I grew even more sad. Ordering a bottle of Malbec did not help (though said Malbec was a deliciously excellent choice) and neither did thinking I saw Robert Redford (my idol) walk by (turned out it was just some older guy with good hair). I was sad not because J was leaving, or because we'd see a lot less of each other. No, I was sad because it finally dawned on me that we were never given a fighting chance as a married couple.
We got married about one month before J started law school and for three years I've waited for him, meaning waited for him to be a "normal" husband, not one who is in law school full-time. Law school has been like the "other woman" in the first three years of our marriage -- years that newlyweds usually spend setting up
Nearly every day, every week, was taken up by the "other woman" (i.e., law journal meetings and finals and mock trial competitions and internships). There was always something and though J tried his hardest to spread himself thin and be home as much as possible, there were many, many times when he couldn't be. So I tolerated the early years of our marriage, the him-needing-to-stay-late-at-the-library nights, when I'd come home exhausted from my desk job and eat dinners alone watching reruns of Little People, Big World because this was important. He was building the foundation for his life. For our life.
The saving grace during those years, when his seat on the couch sat empty because he was out hoofing it for some DC judge or legal internship, was that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. "The three years would eventually be over," I told myself. And almost as quickly as they started, they were finished.
The final stretch of this leg of the journey is taking the Bar at the end of July and since he has about two months to study for this test that nearly 40%-50% fail their first time in the state of California, he's been studying his little butt off. Every day. Which -- again -- I'm completely fine with. I see it as the last 100 yards in this crazy legal race and (of course) I want him to pass, so all summer he's stayed home studying 10+ hours a day while I chill at The Nana's, glad to be hanging out with someone who likes classic films and Mad Men and shopping as much as I do (these are the perks of knowing someone who doesn't have to work at all).
But now that the Bar is right around the corner, I'm getting excited about being able to see my husband again. ("Again?!" she says, "was there ever a time in this marriage you could?") I know that normal is a subjective term, but I'm ready for a normal marriage (read: one where it's expected that we get to hang out together without a timer beeping when our five minutes is up). And it was looking like things were going to become...normal. I just got that job. We just got this apartment. My friend just dropped off Moneypenny so both our animals are once again under the same roof. We're finally back on the West Coast. To quote Penny Lane from Almost Famous, "It's all happening(!)..."
Then this (otherwise amazing) offer from the Newport firm happens THE SAME DAY as my offer, which by this point I'd already accepted. And nothing felt like it was happening anymore. No more Age of Aquarius or stars aligning, nope, just one, big diamond-encrusted wrench worthy of Lil Jon's toolbox, thrown into the oiled gears of our Master Plan.
But I said none of this. I hid my sadness. This was supposed to be a happy day. One filled with reams of money and pretentious restaurants and funny quips Nana had said that morning remembered over grilled asparagus with panko crusted egg that night. That light at the end of the tunnel -- that pinprick of hope that this would one day be all over and we could actually walk down to the local Farmer's Market together on any given Sunday or finally see movies in theaters again or go out to dinner just because -- it faded to black. That realization alone was enough to ruin my good news. Paper covers rock, and so on. It dawned on me that it would never just be "easy" with us. Things were not, nor did they ever in the last three years, align that way.
As we continued feasting on the tapas that were brought out as prepared, J seemed on edge. Both of us were more quiet than usual. Obviously something was bothering both of us and so he started asking questions of how I felt about it, of what I thought, and everything I just wrote prior to this paragraph began trepidatiously coming out. (I say trepidatious because I'm just happy we're back on the West Coast, close to family and friends and excellent weather. With DC in our rear-view mirror, I really have no more demands.)
Turns out I was wrong thinking he'd automatically accept the position. He shared many of my sentiments and totally saw where I was coming from. His answer back to the firm was not a given "yes", much to my surprise.
Over the next two hours we talked, laughed, drank, ate and discussed the State of Our Marriage -- our wants, expectations, standards, dreams. It all came out on the table (for a couple who communicates all feelings, much of it wasn't new, just reiteration). But many of it needed to be reiterated because, as J put it, we were at a crossroads now. Were we okay with seeing each other on errant weekends (there'd be many weekends where we wouldn't see each other: I'd want to see family and friends, or he'd be expected to network with clients on some golf course)? How would we eventually start a family in a few years if we were apart during those pivotal years leading up to such things?
At one point J and I both got misty-eyed talking about all these real-life, marital issues (confession: I cry easily, especially at those SPCA commercials on TV with Sarah McLaughlin singing in the background) and that's when he said it. On his own accord, even after I insisted this was very much his decision, that I didn't know anything about the legal field and he needed to do what he felt was right for his career.
"I can't do it," he said, pouring himself another glass of Malbec. "I feel like it's a choice between the job and money or you. The firm's offer is attractive and you're right -- it's exactly the law I want to practice. ...But a life without you is pointless."
This is why I married this man.
Later, when we got the check (brought out not in a checkfold like most restaurants, but stuck within the pages of an old book called "La Princessa" -- clever, Va De Vi, clever!), I flipped through the novel as he signed our bill. Dozens of people had signed random pages within this same book, scrawling little notes like "Happy Birthday, Jim!" or "Happy 20th Anniversary, L + M, 2009" or "Life would be perfect if I could eat at Va De Vi everyday." I laughed and pointed out the hundreds of notes left in the margins to J.
He signed his name to our check then took the book from my hands. Turning to a middle page (I believe it was page 51), he wrote "To hell with the Newport job" in the margins, stuck our check in, and closed the book, smiling.
That note said it all.