I promised Bill a microwave oven in exchange for marriage.
He wanted one but I didn't. I was afraid we would have radiation leaking all over the place, overloading the circuits and blowing out the electricity. I had seen The China Syndrome. I knew how serious a nuclear meltdown could be and I didn't want one in our kitchen.
And in the mid '80s I thought microwaves would never catch on.
But I was willing to get nuked for a ring. In 1986, the year I turned 35, Newsweek ran a now famous story (which it retracted only recently) reporting that educated women have an exponentially decreasing chance of marrying after the age of 35. And the more education, the lower the chance of marriage. I had two master's degrees and was in my third year of law school.
And I was scared.
Bill had been married 20 years earlier, when he was 23. It was a marriage that never should have taken place and it was brief.
Once bitten, the tooth marks never fade away.
But Bill and I were committed, and we were perfect for each other. He loved me, respected me and never forgot my birthday. We had known each other since I was 21, and I considered him my closest, most trustworthy friend before we ever fell in love. I couldn't have hoped for anyone better, unless it was someone exactly like Bill, only with tons more money.
Like Kevin Bacon.
A few years earlier on a Sunday afternoon I was in a movie theater in midtown Manhattan. My friend Ellie and I got there early and found seats while we watched the theater fill up. Suddenly, Ellie nudged me and said, "Look, there's Kevin Bacon."
Kevin was seated across the aisle and two rows down from us. We knew him because we had seen Footloose about 80 times. Beside Kevin was an empty seat. It would have been so easy for me to slide into that seat and say, "I really liked you in Footloose. How about getting some dinner after the movie? How about getting married?"
But, alas, I stayed in my seat.
In 1986, I hadn't even been thinking of marriage, at least not until Newsweek told me that if I didn't hurry up and do it soon, I was doomed to grow old alone.
Bill agreed we should get married, but any time I suggested a date, he seemed to forget how to speak English.
"We're too old for a long engagement," I shouted over the ticking of my biological clock.
That summer, Bill's youngest sister got married on the beach in Montauk, N.Y. Inspired, the following day Bill and I set our date. Dec. 26.
I didn't want a big wedding. I didn't want any wedding. Unlike Joni Mitchell in her song, My Old Man, all I wanted was that piece of paper from City Hall. I had to defy the dismal statistics.
A year or so earlier, I borrowed some money from Bill to help pay my law school tuition. I had a regular income from my word processing job, so I paid him back each month by covering his half of the rent, his half of the electricity and so forth. I kept track of everything on an index card.
After we got married and opened a joint bank account, I tore up the index card, figuring that vowing to devote my entire life to him would be payment enough.
Recently he asked me if I still owed him any money. "I paid you back in kind," I responded.
About five years after we got married I finally agreed to let him buy a microwave oven. Now I wonder what I ever did without one.
During our years together we have snapped at each other, disagreed, and when our son was small, we were so frazzled we sometimes let our relationship coast. But now that it's just us again, we're getting reacquainted. I pour his coffee every morning and we read the newspaper together. We finish each other's sentences, and we think of the same thing at the same time. Like the other day I was thinking how much I didn't want to cook dinner, when Bill said, "Let's go out to dinner tonight."
This Dec. 26 we celebrate 22 years of marriage. Time really flies. But I always remember that we were friends first and fell in love later, and he is still my closest and best friend.
St. Petersburg resident Alice Graves can be reached at [email protected]