Today, my husband Peter and I are celebrating our first wedding anniversary. This is obviously a momentous occasion. This day has been nearly three years in the making and deserves some storytelling. The day after Christmas in 2010, my cousin, who was visiting the United States while attending university in Indiana, and I headed over to the mall to enjoy some post-holiday window shopping and complete the necessary returns and exchanges of gifts for our family members who were too lazy or too busy to do so themselves. Anggi and I decided to hit up Borders bookstore while we were out. An important note: I loved this store to death and had no real reason to be there other than an unending thirst for new reading material. I did not plan on buying anything, having just bought a boat-load of gifts for everyone and being relatively poor as a result. As ritual dictates, I browsed the literature section briefly then headed over to the small science section in hopes of finding a new addition to the collection I had perused many times before. There were indeed a few new additions. Most notably, a set of scientifically-inspired coloring books which I assume were not actually meant for children but rather as a study tool for adults. The cover says it all about the first volume I picked up from the rack. The Microbiology Coloring Book‘s cover depicts the extraction of bacteria, in this case anthrax bacilli, from a dead cow, culturing the organisms on dishes and finally, in a mouse before purifying the desired strain. This is not a pretty looking book for some child to mar with a rainbow of waxy shades, this is a book requiring fine motor skills, artist’s markers and a penchant for bacteria and viruses. While my cousin and I had a good laugh about the contents, a young guy approached us and we all started chuckling about the book. His name was Peter Uusitalo, which I found out after about a half hour of conversation there in the bookstore. Shockingly blond hair and watery blue eyes, glasses, drab striped polo shirt and khakis, olive green winter jacket. He looked like a dork to me, and after he opened his mouth, he sounded like one too. Thankfully for both of us, I am equally geeky. We chatted casually about the books we were interested in, our occupations, and other general catgories which are appropriate to discuss at a first meeting. Anggi disappeared somewhere else in the store while we talked, presumably to a section more in keeping with her personal interests (she was a finance major at the time). I gave Peter my number on a scrap of paper I had and he gave me his, along with his first and last name. “Larissa,” I replied when asked my own moniker and suggested that we might get coffee together sometime. That was that.
The very next day, Peter called to suggest a meetup at Starbucks to continue our conversation started the day before. I agreed and we met sometime around 2:00 pm. We selected beverages, mine a caramel frappachino and his a white chocolate mocha, and sat down at a small cozy table to get acquainted. His selection of drink reminded me of someone I once cared a great deal for, I made note of it but didn’t make much of it either. We started talking about mundane topics; graduate school for me, undergrad for him (at the same College, mind you) including coursework and professors, personal interests and hobbies, etc. Quickly things were becoming more personal. Politics and religion. Life views. We were sizing each other up, or so it seemed. Then the most personal of things, my mental illness. I told him about my schizophrenia, and to my surprise, he didn’t bat an eye. “Bipolar for me,” he replied. The conversation continued on to family and friends without so much as a hiccup. Relief. He was young though. How young? Born in ’89 apparently. Four, almost five years seemed like a large gap to span but I was okay with it. Robbing the cradle, or so they say. He and I talked for the better part of three hours before my family started to get concerned with my whereabouts. We called it a night and walked to our respective cars after agreeing to meet again. He was so easy to talk to, so academic, so interesting. I could feel myself becoming attracted to him as the conversation progressed, but I wrote it off, citing the issue that my 4-year reprieve from dating had made me lonely and that I would probably be attracted to Stick Stickley should he have been worth talking to. A second meeting seemed like a good first move. The next time we got together was at a basketball game at our school to which I had been given free tickets by a student of mine. The game was embarrassing for our team, but Peter and I were more interested in talking to really care about the devastating loss. We moved on to coffee again. After this meeting, I knew I had something for him. Next time it was dinner. Peter doesn’t like salad, but due to my enthusiasm about the salad bar at Ruby Tuesday, he decided to order it with his cheeseburger. I can’t remember if I had a cheeseburger as well (most likely), but I do remember his salad plate. Cauliflower, radishes, a small pinch of greens, and croutons. Lots more croutons than anything else. “Apparently he doesn’t like salad,” I noted. Dinner was fun and full of conversation as before. We hugged goodbye. I was estatic. He accompanied me on a visit to my good friend Elizabeth’s place, where we played Apples to Apples and drank some beer. I didn’t drink, on account of the fact that I was driving, and on account of my medication. He didn’t drink much either. Another score for me. Elizabeth later said that I seemed very attracted to him and that she expected something to happen. She was right. On our next date, he wanted to show me where he lived across the river. We arrived in the condo he shared with his mother around dinnertime. She was not at home. After a tense moment of embracing tightly in the hallway, we started kissing and flinging clothes in every direction. You and I both know what happened after that. In the flurry of activity I barely took much note of his pale and well-muscled body, only the emotions and sensations flowing through me that I thought had long ago died. Having sex after four years of celibacy is an interesting experience, to say the least. We didn’t linger in bed, fearing his mother would come home and also being hungry, so we got dressed and headed off to find food. Eventually Peter started spending the nights at my parent’s house with me. He was there so much that his mother hardly saw him at all.
Fast-forward about six months. Peter and I watched a wedding show after dinner one night. Before drifting off to sleep, we joked about the ridiculous behavior of the bride as she selected her wedding dress, planned a menu, and tasted cakes. And then we started to discuss what kind of weddings we both wanted. The seed was planted. The next day, as I was working on some homework with him, he casually asked what I thought of the engagement ring he had on his computer screen. He has good taste, it was beautiful. I admitted that I too had been looking at rings earlier that day. He asked me if he could take me to look at some rings. With trepidation, I agreed. It wasn’t marrying him that scared me, it was marrying anyone. Could I ever make a decent wife? Mother? Everyone questions these things, but when you have schizophrenia, the prospect can be more daunting than usual. Will he be okay if I get psychotic? Will he just leave me? But I was too excited about the prospect to think much about it at the time. I casually dropped a hint to my mother that he wanted to go ring shopping. She seemed surprised but played it cool, probably because she knew how nervous about it I already was. On Saturday, we went to Northeastern Fine Jewelry to browse their selection. Forty-five minutes later, we emerged with a receipt and loan papers. The ring was beautiful. Three stones, two smaller than the middle stone, and a trellis setting in white gold. It would be a couple weeks before it would be ready to pick up. I was absolutely glowing inside, but told my mother that I had just shown him the ones I liked. I didn’t want to reveal the surprise. After Peter picked up the ring from the store, he was bursting at the seams with excitement, as was I. We wanted to get engaged as soon as possible. Peter, however, had no real plan in mind. He suggested we go to the park after dinner and I assumed this was the big moment. But it was late and he asked if there was another park nearby. I didn’t know what to say. Had he not thought this out? There was a park not too far away and we pulled into the parking lot. Right there, in the hot parking lot in his car, he started to take out the ring. “This isn’t the place,” I told him, but I was deeply hurt by his lack of planning. I demanded that he take me home and think about what he was doing before he did it next time. Sobbing, I ran into the house and into the arms of my mother. She calmed me down and reasoned with me about the situation. “Peter doesn’t have very good role models for romance, you know that. I’ll make sure he thinks about what he’s doing before he tries it again.” I was upset for sure, but Peter was in a Wal-Mart parking lot up the road crying his eyes out. It would be hours before he returned to his mom’s condo. He crept in unnoticed in the dark, feeling as though he would never be forgiven. A desperate apology on my phone’s voice mail. An e-mail expressing how sorry he was and how he planned to rectify the situation. I managed to forgive him in a couple days’ time and we tried to act as if nothing had happened. But we don’t tell anyone about that whole episode. Because it is messy and unromantic, it gets hidden away with all the bad eggs of life to rot in its quiet corner. I tell you about this horrible episode because it is life. Life isn’t always a fairy-tale romance with flowers and chocolates and lace negliges and radiance. Sometimes life is just that messy. We would all do well to remember that fact.
On the fourth of July, Peter and I planned to attend the fireworks at the capital. We were going to make a day of it. After packing up a picnic lunch of chicken sandwiches, pasta salad, fruit, and brownies, we drove off to find a nice spot in the veterans’ park across the street and set up our blanket. It was a perfect day, sunny and warm but not oppressively hot. We laid out on the blanket and sipped iced tea, munched on our lunch over several hours and just waited for the festivities to start. People continued to come and go but this park happens to be a relatively quiet spot to spend the day outside of the plaza itself. Peter would later reflect that he was terribly nervous I would notice the ring box in his pocket, having nowhere else to keep it. I noticed a bulge there, but honestly thought nothing of it. Must be his keys. I was oblivious, having almost forgotten entirely about the ring in the month that had passed since his botched proposal attempt. As the skies grew dark around 9:00 pm, the first few rockets went off and everyone gathered as close as possible to see the show. It was probably a little over halfway through the fireworks that he gathered the courage to pull the box out of his pocket and whisper those sweet words into my ear. It wasn’t a gushing proposal, just simple and straightforward, so like its author. “I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?” I grinned and happily said yes, the ring sparkling with each burst of color exploding overhead. It was that special moment I wanted to have. It was perfect.
That’s been me and Peter the whole time we’ve been together. Sometimes it’s messy and you’d like to sweep a bunch of it under the rug, but there are sparkling moments where you wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. As we grow together, those moments become more and more frequent. Throughout our time together, including the purchase of our first home (August 17, 2010) and our wedding this time last year, our relationship has been tested and cemented by countless trials and celebrations. For better and for worse. For sicker or poorer. ‘Til death do us part. But certainly not the end.