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Shannon and I met in 1997 and hit it off pretty quickly. We were 18. Our first real date was to a UK basketball game. I did not know at the time that she hated basketball. It would be years until she trusted me with that information. Would that have made a difference? Probably not. I was infatuated. I was in love. The early stages of love at least. The stage where the other person can literally do no wrong.

We got engaged in the summer of 1998. There wouldn’t be an immediate date, we thought. We just knew that we wanted to get married. You know. Eventually. Or pretty soon. It was tough to tell. We were young. We didn’t really know what we wanted. We just knew that we wanted each other.

A date was set. May of 1999. Derby day, in fact. No one thanked us for that. Despite being from Kentucky I was never into the Derby. Shannon was from New York. The Derby wasn’t even a thing in her world. The fact that our wedding would interfere with other people’s plans never occurred to us. That we would be married at 19 (I would turn 20 later that month) wasn’t an issue either. Not to us. To our loved ones it was, though. We couldn’t understand why. We were in love. Didn’t they know that? Didn’t they know that nothing else in the world mattered?

Neither of us has ever really been accused of being stable. The May wedding never happened. We broke up. Repeatedly, in fact. Ours was a volatile love. We were teenagers, after all. And, while I had no idea at the time, I was symptomatic with bipolar. I was unsuccessful both with school and with work. I flunked out of college. I couldn’t keep a job more than about six months at a time. I didn’t know why. I just knew that I was broken. And I assumed that she could see that I was broken, too, that I was worthless.

During our volatile, on-again-off- again stage Shannon got pregnant. I was embarrassed. We were embarrassed. We knew that it was wrong. And we knew that we had to get married. So the wedding was back on. There was no other way.

Of course in hindsight I can see that we did not have to get married. Many couples choose not to. I was barely 20 when Shannon got pregnant. She was still 19. We weren’t any more ready for that commitment than we were back in that May when the whole world convinced us that it was a horrible idea and that there was no way that we could handle it.

Getting married was a bad decision. It was one of many, many bad decisions that we made. We were young. We were stupid. And we were in love. Bad decisions come from those conditions all the time. We were not, no matter how it felt at the time, special in that regard.

But, bad decision or not, getting married was the best thing that ever happened to us. Shortly afterward Josh was born and we were co-parents together. There was no honeymoon period. It was out of the pan and into the fire. No one would ever plan it that way. Two people who were barely adults, two people who had barely established their romantic relationship, two people who had no idea what they were doing, these two people were in charge of a raising a child. We were essentially children and here we were raising one of our own.

And then another.

And then another.

We should not have been successful. We should not have “made it”. And maybe if we had done it the “normal” way, if we had waited a few years, if we had put off parenting for a few more years, maybe if we hadn’t been “irresponsible”, we wouldn’t have made it. But we had to grow up. And we grew up together. And we have made it.

I am not the same person I was 17 years ago. She isn’t either. We have grown. We have grown up. And we have done it all together. Some people complain that their significant other has “changed”. They look back. They want everything to be like it was in the beginning.

But I don’t lament the change. The change has been good. And the beginning was impossibly hard. There were so many times that we could have given up, that we should have given up. But we grew up instead. While everything was falling apart we held on to each other. Even if we had nothing else, we had each other. And we had our sheer dint of will. We were going to make it. No matter what.

And so here we are all these years later. We’ve been together 19 years now, married for 17 of them. And we’re still going strong. Better than strong. If I were looking for an appropriate metaphor I’d say that these nearly 20 years have turned us from coals to diamonds. Or maybe just one diamond. Together.

No one would choose to do it the way that we came together. But we came together. We have been together. We will be together.