29 years ago today Carli and I were married in a little church in my hometown. It was standing room only, so many of our family and friends there to celebrate with us, even though there had been an unexpected snow storm the night before. We didn’t expect the snowstorm but it made the day sparkle and shine like only fresh Michigan snow can do. Sometimes unexpected events turn out to be the best gifts.
No one in that little church 29 years ago could have imagined the turn of events that would bring Carli and I to the present day. No one could have anticipated the gift Carli would give me, that gift of letting me see her for who she really is. Sure, some things were predictable, like moving around the country whenever the Air Force decided it was time. Having kids. Buying cars and homes. Adopting pets. Taking up hobbies. All the normal, ordinary events any other married couple might experience during 29 years of marriage we experienced, too. We didn’t always get to spend our anniversary together since Carli was gone so much during her military career, but we’ve had a few memorable ones.
Our first anniversary was TERRIBLE!! We pulled into our first duty station on our first anniversary. I was homesick and I hated Florida as soon as we crossed the border. We were surprised by a tropical storm and we were booked to stay in temporary housing on base, but that happened to be in a trailer park. Great! Having never been through a tropical storm since Michigan doesn’t tend to have them, I had no idea what to expect but everything turned out okay. Florida got better, we made dear lifelong friends while stationed there. Eventually our anniversaries got better as well.
By the time our 10th rolled around we had moved two or three more times, bought a house, and our marriage had survived a lot of tough times. We spent that anniversary at a wonderful resort, just overnight, but still something we never did so it was a treat. Carli gave me an anniversary ring I had been eyeing for months at the base exchange. It felt like giving this gift was out of character for the person I was married to, so it was delightful and surprising. I still wear it every day and never take it off.
Last year was by far the most memorable and pivotal for us and our life together. Carli had come out to me as transgender earlier in the year and she was struggling to decide if she should stay in the closet except when she was at home with me or take the huge leap of faith and live authentically full time. Regardless of which route she would take, she deserved to have the freedom to be Carli without fear of being outed, even if it was just for a few days. So, we went to Las Vegas for five days of luxurious anonymity.
Five beautiful, scary, fun, liberating days, just two girls on the town. It almost didn’t happen that way, though. Carli deliberately brought no boy clothes on the trip besides the clothes she wore to get through airport security. Carli got off the plane, looked around, and suddenly had serious, agonizing doubts. Could she really go through with this? Was this going to be okay? Could she be out in public as herself after all these years of hiding? We almost went shopping in the men’s department but instead we went to dinner and got a good night’s sleep. I told Carli I would support her either way, but she knew I was a little annoyed. We made these plans with her freedom in mind but both of us needed to know how it would feel to be out together. No matter what, we were in this together and we may not have another opportunity like this for a long time. We knew our future was hanging on the outcome of this trip.
Morning came, Carli got up, showered, put on makeup and girl clothes and off we went, never looking back. She overcame her fears and walked through the city with her head high. We went shopping for scarves and cute hats instead of boy clothes. We had dinner at the Paris, she in a beautiful red dress and me wearing a dress much too short to wear to work. It was a monumental moment in her transition, for both of us. We could indeed be out together, celebrating close to three decades of marriage and a lot of surprising gifts. I had no way of knowing 29 years ago that we would be picking out which dresses to wear when we go to dinner tonight. All I hoped for back then was to share my life with someone special, a person to love and respect, someone who shares my values and beliefs. She is exactly who I was hoping for; she is a surprising, wonderful gift. Happy Anniversary, Carli!
Save the date, friends. You are invited to share our 30th anniversary with us one year from today. We plan to renew our vows and raise funds to help open a much needed safe, sober LGBTQ community center. Stayed tuned……