I have a photo of the Last Halloween. The boys are five and three years old, and they are dressed as Power Rangers, green and blue. Robb is dressed as a member of the Ohio State Marching Band, and I, having simply snatched my wedding veil off the wall of our bedroom, am dressed as a bride.
On that last Trick or Treat for the four of us, Robb taught Tyler to say at each house, “Trick or Treat and Merry Christmas!”
As we strolled the neighborhood, I was enamored by all the little girls dressed as Cinderella. I had said, “You guys, look at all the little tiny princesses!” And one of my sons said, in a sing-song voice to remind me of what he felt I should truly envy, “But mommy, they don’t have penises.”
And on that evening, true to form, Tyler ran out of steam when we were as far away from home as it was possible to be. Robb and I carried him all the way back. He was so little, just past his own toddlerhood. So little, my baby.
But there are things I haven’t told you about that picture. Some of it is written in my first book, And Life Comes Back.
Robb and I were in the darkest part of our marriage in that picture. We were emotionally exhausted, disengaged, and disconnected. Our family had become a business – one that was hugely taxing to our finances – and our marriage operated as a well-oiled and heartless machine. We were living parallel lives in the same house. But we were not healthy or well.
He had traveled so much with his work, I had felt lonely and forgotten at home changing diapers, and we had quietly drifted apart. There was a low level anger that lived just beneath the surface of everything we did and had together. We were at a breaking point.
And I don’t say that lightly.
If you’ve read And Life Comes Back, this picture was taken the week of the Big Fight in the Kitchen. That’s the scene so many people have thanked me for writing, the reason the book has resonated with so many couples and perhaps saved a few marriages. As one reader said, that chapter is “the reason we don’t hate you for living a perfect life. Because you showed us it wasn’t.”
I had asked Robb to make a decision: 1) Tell me the plan for saving this marriage, because I will get on board; or 2) Make an appointment with a counselor you will talk to, because I will talk to anyone and I can’t live like this. And then I had to keep myself from taking it all back, from erasing my own words because I hated how they sounded even though they were brutally true.
That night, on The Last Halloween, everything changed. I had spoken the ultimatum several days before, and I had waited while our marriage became colder and darker than it had already been. I told myself that this kind of miserable was a little better, because at least I wasn’t miserable alone. We were terribly, horribly miserable together.
But that night, on The Last Halloween, Robb chose joy. He chose us. He chose our children. He chose to be fun and funny. He set down his weapons and his defenses, and he chose us. Though he preferred schedules and routines, boundaries and rules, that night he chose us. He sat on the floor with our five-year-old and helped him line up his loot to make one long Candy Train. He scooped our three-year-old into his lap and helped him tear into his wrappers just for the reckless abandon of it all. He let them stay up too late and eat too much and laugh so hard because that’s what it looked like to choose us.
I look at that picture of The Last Halloween, and I remember.
I remember how it felt to be chosen again.
I remember how we sat with boys in our laps, when our eyes met above their heads and their candy mess, when he winked at me.
I remember how he said without words, “I’m here. We’ve got this.”
I remember falling in like again, remembering why we had decided to do this at all.
I remember thinking, “Hello, sweet man. I remember you.”
I remember that we only had six weeks left together.
I remember that it was the sweet beginning of the end.