Two weeks ago, I returned from a trip back to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where we lived before coming out to the Bay Area. We went for a wedding but used the excursion to do more than just cheer on the two lovebirds that sunny Saturday afternoon—we saw family, friends, our favorite old haunts.
I came home feeling so full. I played with the majority of the little children I love the most. My parents drove across the state so we could wander and eat sushi and drink wine and talk, placing an exclamation point on our less-than-24-hours together with breakfast at my very favorite restaurant. I had conversations with most of my best lady friends, talk upon talk, and I left each one feeling inspired and a bit lighter. My friend Nicole told me that I seem more real, more myself than I did at Christmastime when we last saw one another. It was the best encouragement I could possibly receive, like a breath of air after being underwater.
This was my moment to step back, to consider the events of the last year. I bristle, sometimes, when asked the general questions that I know come from the most loving of places: How’s California? How’s married life? Are you happy? These aren’t necessarily the easiest question to answer, at least not if you want honesty and thoroughness. Our friend John asked in jest about fifteen times during our visit. He’d sidle up next to Ben. So… How’s California? I adore him for it.
Those two cope with sarcasm and laughter; I cope by introspection and over-analysis. I frankly think theirs a better way, or at least a cheerier one, but alas, this is who I am. I’ve been thinking back on this year a lot throughout the past couple of months. It was our first year of marriage and our first year in California. It was so full. It was really hard. It was really good.
It blows my mind to think back on all that happened since August of 2012. There were a lot of hardships, a lot of negative firsts. Ben’s bike was stolen out of our garage within two months of living here, I dealt with professional disappointments, we were mugged, I fell while running around my beloved lake and ripped up my knees not once but twice, we saw a mountain lion while alone in the foggy wilderness at dusk (exciting, sure, but also terrifying), my car let me down with its first flat tire, a loved one faced a health scare that thankfully proved only that, I got my first-ever cavity (greatest fear of my childhood no longer averted).
Much of this may seem superficial, but these events, they cut me to the core. The gashes on my knees felt like my failure and hurt were on display for everyone to see. Two strangers took what felt like everything from us, from my wallet to my sense of security. I realized how much of my self-worth was rooted in that oft-frustrating desk job and the corresponding fancy title I’d left behind when we moved.
During our visit to Grand Rapids, we had our wedding rings refinished by the lovely people who made them the summer before. The rings are brushed gold, and they’d gotten shiny in the last year. There were a few small scratches that I asked them to remove from my ring—the result of one of the aforementioned falls. The jeweler asked me if I wanted him to cut them in deeper or rub them out. Some people, he said, like to keep the scars, evidence of life lived together, hardship overcome. In this case, I wanted them gone. Falling had less to do with my marriage and more to do with my clumsiness; it reminded me of my shortcomings, not the grander vision of the hard stuff we lived through in the past year.
But the idea stayed with me. Maybe it’s not so bad to have these scars on my knees. Maybe I shouldn’t be ashamed that I can no longer say I’ve never raised my voice in a fight. Maybe it’s okay that I harbor a little more fear than I did a year ago.
Some days, I feel a bit rough around the edges. But perhaps I am. I’d rather be real than anything else.
At the wedding, we had a brief conversation with an old acquaintance I used to see around town. She didn’t know we’d moved, and upon hearing, she asked, So how is it? Do you like it? We looked at each other, as we sometimes do when we’re not sure what to say, not sure how much of the truth she wanted to hear but uninterested in glossing over imperfection.
It’s good, I finally said. It’s life, you know? Good and hard and everything else. All of it.
But are you happy? she asked again. Have you met people who have expanded your sense of the world? Has your perspective grown? Have you experienced things?
We looked at each other again. If hers is the definition of happiness, which I think it very well may be, then the answer is easy. We smiled.
Yes, I said. Yes. We’re very happy.
We walked off into the black night, away from the charming farm where the wedding had been held, down a dirt road lined with candles that seemed to mirror the stars twinkling brilliantly above us. I reached for Ben’s hand. We walked together.
As we do.
Though it’s slightly belated, this is for you, Ben. Here’s to one year, my darling, my love, my person. May all our years be as full as this, and may we walk together through everything that comes. I’m still choosing you—with joy.
Crème Fraîche & Blueberry Cake
Serves 8 to 10
By some small miracle, I nailed this recipe on the first try, which I must say was quite exciting. It is rich but light, humble yet fancy, with a faint tang from the crème fraîche. If you can nab one of those last few baskets of blueberries, I hope you’ll try it, though I imagine frozen berries (of any kind) would work wonderfully as well.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup natural cane sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus additional for greasing
3/4 cup crème fraîche
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup fresh blueberries
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust lightly with flour.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.
Pour the sugar into a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the zest to the sugar. Using your fingers, blend until the zest is incorporated and the sugar is fragrant. Toss in the butter and, with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer, beat until pale and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the crème fraîche and vanilla and mix to combine.
Pour the dry mixture into the wet. Mix by hand until thoroughly combined. Toss in the blueberries and mix gently to evenly incorporate them.
Bake for about 40 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Enjoy warm or at room temperature. Wrapped tightly, the cake will keep for several days.