By Kim Androw, Special to Tribune Newspapers
November 11, 2012
About 20 years ago, my life was perfect. I lived in Grand Rapids, Mich., a solid Midwestern city saved from permanent dreariness by dynamic spurts of urban development. I had just built and moved into a new house. My son was a high school senior headed to the University of Michigan in the fall. My twin daughters, although dedicated to tormenting me on a daily basis, were otherwise adorable, well-adjusted 8-year-olds. I had a creative job, lots of friends, opportunities to travel and the kind of joyous relief that comes from surviving a messy, heartbreaking divorce and moving on.
My life was a healthy blend of stable and stimulating. Everything was in its place and nothing was missing.
And then, unexpectedly, I crashed into a slow disaster of epic proportions. The worst possible calamity, the utterly unthinkable, happened: I fell in love. Truly. Totally. Tempestuously. Tenderly. Tragically.
It was absurd. I was 41 years old. Love like that doesn't happen at 41. All the women's magazines said so. But there I was, teetering on romantic madness, planning the ways I would disassemble the pieces of my perfect life.
The source of this high-fevered insanity was Mark Androw, and he lived in Chicago. He had sauntered into my life and crept into my heart from 200 miles away, just because of a TV commercial. We met in March 1989. My ad agency hired his production company to produce a commercial for one of our clients. I traveled to Chicago to supervise its execution and met Mark in the cavernous soundstage of his offices. His first impression was that I had thick brown hair. I have curly red hair. My first impression was that he was wearing a suit. He was wearing jeans.
Obviously, it was a highly forgettable introduction for both of us.
We had dinner several times during the week I was in Chicago. Mark was funny, smart, interesting and cute in an Albert Brooks kind of way. When I left to return home, I agreed to come back for a weekend that had nothing to do with TV commercials.
For the next year we crossed state lines at least every other weekend to be together.
In Chicago, we did things we didn't do in Grand Rapids. Rode bikes along Lake Michigan. Ate in great restaurants. Went to Ravinia and pretended we liked classical music. Went to the Art Institute and pretended we liked art. Went to a Bruce Springsteen concert. Had coffee and read the whole Chicago Tribune on Sunday mornings.
In Grand Rapids we did things we didn't do in Chicago. Took 9-year-old twins to a water park. Drove to Ann Arbor to visit my son. Helped with third-grade science projects. Taught my daughters how to ski. Went to the Gerald Ford museum, which highlights all 26 minutes of his presidency.
Somewhere in the midst of this traveling back and forth, there was the first tenuous, "I love you," followed by a silent "and now what?" that neither of us answered. The differences between us were considerable. He was 36. I was 42. He had never been married. I'd been married twice. He had no children. I had three. He was Jewish. I wasn't. He lived in Chicago. I didn't.
In occasional spasms of irrational optimism, we mumbled about marriage. But the logistics of such a union were staggering. I would have to move to Chicago. He would have to be an instant father. I would have to do what I didn't want to do again: get married.
I didn't believe that love, ours or anybody else's, was big enough to overcome obstacles like these.
So with this improbability hammered into our heads, we took a trip to San Francisco in May 1990. On the balcony of our room high in the sunset hills, Mark took a big risk, not a calculated one, but a jump-off-the-cliff risk. He asked me to marry him.
There was a very clear "No, I don't think so" in the back of my throat. For although I seemed cheerful to the outside world, I had the dark heart of a cynic. I was never going to marry again, and if I did it certainly wouldn't be for love. Yet here I was, behaving like an infatuated teenager, defying all the lessons my life had taught me. I couldn't believe my own stupidity. The word that emerged from my mouth was "Yes!"
We were both ecstatic and terrified.
So we put our terror on a schedule. I would be scared to death on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; he would be scared to death on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. And on Sundays we wouldn't think about it.
Three months later, I packed up my daughters and my belongings and drove to our new house in Wilmette. On the way there, I relived all my doubts.
"How well do I know Mark anyway," I thought. "We've never even spent a Wednesday together." What if we got married and he turned out to be a crack junkie or a bigamist? What about his friends? When anyone asked him why he was marrying me, he shrugged and said, "She has great cutlery." I felt alarmingly like a middle-aged mail-order bride.
My sister once told me that nine is a very lucky number. I do not take such observations seriously, but it is worth noting that we were married on 9/9/90. And that our ninth anniversary was on 9/9/99. As it turned out, all those nines were an accurate forecast of our life together.
After just a few weeks in Chicago, I realized that I had stumbled backward into unexpected happiness. I married a man who took my daughters into his heart and treated them with affection, generosity and wisdom. He ran a business with integrity and intelligence. He gave me a permanent devotion. He was fair, loving, strong, ethical and cheerful, the Eagle Scout of Jewish husbands.
We have been married 22 years. I am not sure why I said yes to his proposal, but it turned out to be the smartest dumb thing I ever did. Maybe I was just lucky. Or maybe sometimes a hole breaks through the indifferent universe, filled with starlight from heaven, and if you are standing in just the right place it shimmers all over you, and in that case love trumps everything.
Kim Androw is a freelance writer who lives in Wilmette.
Love lesson: "We were both ecstatic and terrified. So we put our terror on a schedule. I would be scared to death on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; he would be scared to death on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. And on Sundays we wouldn't think about it."
Copyright © 2015 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC