I think every couple celebrating their twentieth wedding anniversary says this; "It was twenty years ago, today..." Rob sang it to me, this morning. I giggled after looking at him for a few seconds. He's so cute; thinking he was so clever. And still, I loved it.
Yes, today, March 1, is our twentieth wedding anniversary. Twenty years ago today, I put on a white dress that had pink, blue and purple flowers (face it, we lived in sin... no pure white dress ... who were we kidding?). I put on my make up just perfectly for a change. My hair, though short and layered, just needed something? A note to all you brides-to be: Never experiment with a new hairstyle on the morning of your wedding. You look beautiful. Put that pencil thin curling iron away. Trust me, please. Yes, I had an afro on my wedding day. And still, Rob married me.
Twenty years. Seems so long when you say it like that. It truly doesn't seem like it. It really hasn't been twenty years, has it? I recall waiting at the courthouse for Rob to arrive. The only real traditional part of our wedding was that we each went home to our parents' homes to stave away any little chance that seeing each other before the wedding would jinx our marriage. My idea, of course. When I finally saw him, my tall, handsome prince, he was so handsome in his dark blue pinstripes. My heart skipped a beat. We were married at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Rockville, so of course we saw each other before the ceremony. Shall I explain why we decided to ditch the big church wedding, with all the trimmings for a quick, simple wedding? Nah. I'll skip that. It's not important... at least anymore. I will say this, though; It was the best decision we have ever made (Yes, Ma, I can see you smiling with glee... I know you are).
When you're a little girl, and you daydream about your future husband, he's tall, dark and handsome. He's hardworking and takes care of his family without question. Before I started liking boys -- like that -- my husband would be all of those things. He'd also cuss just like my dad did, smoke like he did, drink beer like he did, and go fishing, dress like he did, and make spaghetti like he did. He'd root for only the Redskins. He'd also love Slurpees. He'd love John Denver, and love to go blackberry picking.
Getting a bit older, and still dreaming of my future husband, my requirements adjusted slightly. No; no way would he dress like my dad! Or smoke like him. Beer was okay, but he would never dance like he did. Yeah, he'd have to be able to cook like him, though. Loving Slurpees -- same. He'd now have a nice smile. Beeeeuuuuteeeeful eyes; long eyelashes. A cute butt. A must. Feathered hair. Of course he'd have feathered hair. After all, Shaun Cassidy would soon realize that I really was his number one fan, and would seek me out and beg me to become his wife.
Shaun never showed up. I moved on. Seems in my later years, I seldom thought about my wedding day, or the man that I would marry. I was too busy. Busy trying to fit in at school. Busy trying to find where I belonged. Busy hanging out with friends and getting into trouble. Busy trying to understand math. Busy arguing with my parents and since I knew everything, I really didn't need to think about getting married.
I started working as a temp through Manpower at CNA Insurance ("For All the Commitments You Make..." Ah, the irony) in 1986. The moment I walked into the mail room, I was so overwhelmed. So many people; laughing and talking as they opened envelope after envelope and shoved mail into hundreds of slots. A tall, thin guy walked up to me, slightly smiling. I wish I could tell you what he said to me that first time we met; alas. I do know he was wearing brown cords, a tye-dye tee shirt with a light green collared shirt, unbuttoned, over it. He had wavy brown hair. A reddish beard. Glasses; tortoiseshell. And the sweetest smile. I thought,
"Oh, good. Someone nice." He showed me what I was to do; photocopy files. Then he showed me what to do on a mail-run. Within a few days, I felt comfortable with my tasks. I got along well with my boss (RIP, Larry Miller), and my co-worker, Rob, in the mail room. Most of the time, it was just us three: Larry, our supervisor, Rob and I. Soon I met a lot of other folks.
There were Two-For-One Happy Hours every Tuesday at The Golden Flame Restaurant that was housed in our building off of the main entrance to the building. I watched as plans were made for Tuesdays. Rob approached me one day and asked if I'd like join them. I declined. Why? I don't know. I had just finished a relationship a few months earlier. I told Rob that I still had a boyfriend, but that it was ending... yadda yadda. I could have gone.
We started joking and laughing during work. I found myself not wanting to leave. He worked from 8:-4:15 and I worked from 8:00-4:00. I would find ways to stick around: Pretending to look for lost bus transfers, clean up work areas, ect; just to be able to walk out with him. He asked me again to Happy Hour and this time I went... and had a great time. That was the beginning.
A few days before Easter, I was sitting at my workstation, getting ready to start the day. Rob came in and proceeded to walk behind me. I felt his presence there. He just stood there. As I turned to look at him (WHY are you just standing there?!), he leaned over and put a small box on the table in front of me. I sat there, stunned. He walked around and slowly sat on the edge of the table. Not touching the box, I looked at him, confused.
"It's not what you think it is." Not sure that made it any clearer. "Open it." I finally took the small velveteen box and opened it. I felt my jaw fall open; . Again, I felt a wave of ... I can't even describe it. Heat? Fear? Joy?
I sat there looking at a gold ring. A gold ring with seven diamonds. Diamonds! All I could do was look at him in confusion.
"Call it a 'friendship ring." I nodded dumbly. Now, by now, we were dating exclusively, but only for a few months. I loved it. I told him so. So, when he said 'let me put it on for you...' I again, hesitated. After thinking it over for a second or two, I held out both hands.
"Which one?" I asked. He placed it onto my left ring finger. I hugged and kissed him. I was elated.
Now, when one works in a company with over three hundred employees, of course people talk. I can't recall who was in the mail room besides Rob and I, but if I knew any better, our supervisor, Larry -- who was rooting for us since the day I walked into that mail room -- was the company crier. I can remember this like it was yesterday...
I am at the photocopy machine, copying a huge file. It had many photos and tiny pieces of paper (you copied whatever was inside the file, no matter how ratty, torn or small it was) and keeping it in order was becoming difficult. CNA Silver Spring was so large that we had a receptionist that also worked the switchboard. She sat alone, just outside the Personnel Dept and to the right of the elevators. When necessary, she would make important announcements. This was a rare occurrence. Her name was Velma. She was oh... in her sixties? Sweetest woman ever. She had been close to Rob's mother who also worked at CNA before she became ill and passed away not even two years prior. So Rob held a special spot in Velma's heart.
Rob had just left for the 2:00PM mail run. This time of the day was very, very hectic. Outgoing mail had to be collected from every department in time to sort it, weigh it and post it for shipping. Crazy. As I am copying, a sudden noise blares from the overhead speaker... Paraphrasing a bit...
"May I have your attention, please?" It's Velma. I keep copying. "It has come to my attention that congratulations are in order. So, if you will all stop for a moment and join me in congratulating Rob Botkin and Mary Gambino on their engagement! Congratulations!"
Now, before it could react, people came screaming into the mail room. I see my file fall onto the floor in a jumbled heap of papers. People are hugging me. I'm blinking. People are kissing me. I'm still blinking. People are asking me when the big day was. All I could do was shrug. I see my boss walk by. He's grinning. I glare. He grins wider. Then it hit me.
All I could muster was "Thank you... thank you... but it's not true..." Nobody heard me. Then, another realization. What must poor Rob be thinking? What is he doing? What is he saying!? I felt horrible, not for myself, but for what he must be going through. Did he think that I said something!? I panicked. Maybe he thought I was telling everyone that we were engaged! Maybe he thought that I told Velma to make that announcement! I was on the verge of my very first panic attack. Seeing the chaos that was forming in the mail room and noting the time of day, Larry shooed everyone out, insisting that we get back to work. Thank God for Larry. I was still gobsmacked when the door shut. I looked down at the carpet of papers and began gathering them. Larry approached me, smiling.
"Are you alright?" He asked. I looked up at him and shook my head.
"No." I gathered the papers and my heart took a leap of great fear when I heard the door open. I closed my eyes, praying. 'Dear God, please, don't let him hate me... please... Dear God... "
I left the papers and stood up. I faced him. My wide eyes told him that I was just as shocked as he was. The look on his face told me he had, in fact, been swamped with well-wishers, as well. We truly never found out who started that rumor. I still think it was Larry. His heart was always in the right place when it came to us as a couple. Like I said, he was always rooting for us. Larry became very ill with liver cancer. I remember being so heartbroken when he told us. Near the end, I went to visit him. Rob did not join me. He simply couldn't. Larry, once a fat, squat, funny, naughty man (He had a 'horny little devil' red wax candle on his desk) that I simply adored, was now a small, yellow frail frame. He held me and told me that the moment he saw me, he knew I was right for Rob. He told me to hurry up and marry him, that he needed me, and that Rob loved me so very much. Larry died soon after. So I could never truly be angry at him.
Later the next day, after a lot of discussion, Rob and I agreed to go to Velma and explain things to her, privately. We both dreaded doing this as she too was a big fan of us. She felt terrible and even cried. We pleaded with her not to feel badly. I'll never forget what she said;
"I don't care what anyone says. Where I come from, when a man gives a woman a diamond, he wants to marry her. Rob, you gave her seven diamonds..."
We promised her that if and when we should become engaged, that she would be the very first person we would tell. And we kept that promise.
We didn't really become engaged. Rob didn't 'pop the question.' It just sort of slid from friendship to engagement. A long one. Years. We were in no hurry. The day came and it was magical.
Our lives have taken a different path that we had originally had mapped out. I wouldn't change a thing. Well, okay, maybe a few things could change for the better, but for the most part, we are happy! Happier than we were twenty years ago, when we got all dressed up, gazing at each other through champagne-fizzy eyes, with dreams of children and a home of our own. We giggle all the time, still. Our kids just roll their eyes at us.
So, yes; I did get the man I had always daydreamed about. He is tall. Not so dark. Extremely handsome. He loves the Redskins. Drinks an occasional beer. Doesn't swear like my dad did. I've seen him dance twice in our life together. He does like to fish. Likes an occasional Slurpee. Likes to cook (Let's leave the spaghetti to me, though). Doesn't have feathered hair (ahem), but does have a nice butt. He is still my silly sweetie. He is a kind, giving man. The best father two children could ever hope to have. And, he has cared for me, his wife, every single day... and very,very well, I might add.
I think we did alright, Babe. They say the first twenty years are the hardest. Well, then my love, it's smooth sailing from here on! I did then, I do now, and I always will...