V and I were married 14 years ago today, on July 17, 1994. But we won’t be celebrating today. Because this is not our anniversary.
Our wedding was pulled together on short notice. I was relocating from Los Angeles and chose July 17 so my kids could get settled before school started. With a mountain of logistics, I never got around to wedding details until June (another blog, another time). V is not Jewish but I still hoped to find a rabbi willing to marry us.
I was moving to a one-temple town. And though the rabbi was Reform, he turned me down. I heard about a “freelance” rabbi, supposedly very liberal and open-minded (this is California, after all). She refused too—but not because of V’s religion. Based on that year’s Jewish calendar ( I lost track of the Jewish year back in 5731) the rabbi told me that July 17 was a particularly ill-omened date. She would not marry us on that day; she said no rabbi would marry anyone on that day, and she warned me not to get married on July 17.
Oy vey. Unlike me, V is neither Jewish–nor superstitious. I tried to switch the date. But too many things were already in motion. Plus I was marrying a WASP with a stiff upper lip and I thought maybe I should try stiffening up my own lip.
So I threw the rabbi and her warning to the winds and we got married by a judge on July 17. It was a little drizzly but lightning didn’t strike me dead, or strike any other wedding guest. We were married, life went on, and I forgot about the wedding warning.
The next summer, over July 4 weekend, I was diagnosed with breast cancer (See “Independence Day” blog. Maybe I should start doing footnotes?) I flew to LA for a mastectomy. A few days later was the followup visit to my surgeon, where I would learn the results of my pathology report.
I knew a few women with breast cancer, but only one of them whose cancer had spread beyond the breast—hers was in one lymph node.
My cancer had spread to four lymph nodes. I had nearly every type of cancer throughout my breast, and only a razor thin margin separating it from my chest wall.
V and I sat there in the examination room, stunned. It was July 17. Our first anniversary.
The rabbi’s warning flashed in my brain as we drove back to our hotel.
I never signed up for this. And neither did V. A month earlier, he might have planned to spend the night of our first anniversary out of town in a luxury hotel without the kids. That all worked out. But the plan wasn’t supposed to include a seriously ill soon-to-be-bald wife with one breast and two drains coming out of her side. In his place, I’m not sure how I would have handled it. But V put aside the fear and the bandages and the drains and rose to the occasion (oops, just realized that is a pun).
In the months that followed, the rabbi’s warning bubbled up to the surface. I tried to shove it down but it remained there. And cancer was just the beginning.
We had business problems. Marriage problems. Kid problems. I was sure this was not a coincidence.
“It was a bad luck day. I should have listened. God is punishing us.”
I’m not known for subtlety. For years, every time something bad happened, I agonized and repeated my litany. It was getting kind of hard to celebrate when July 17 rolled around.
Meanwhile the ill omens kept coming. V’s assistant embezzled our money. Our deal to buy a house fell through. The cat died.
Finally, a few years ago, I told V I didn’t want to go through our entire lives feeling like we had bad karma hanging over our heads. For Independence Day I figured out how to turn a curse into a celebration. Our anniversary was a celebration that had turned into a curse. This called for thinking out of the box—and my solution was a way to somehow take control.
“We need a different date. Let’s just get rid of July 17.”
We considered having a real wedding. But moving to a new home was enough stress for that July. So in the end we didn’t make a fuss–although this time I did consult a Jewish calendar. V and I were home alone on a Sunday afternoon. Sitting on the couch, we turned to face each other, held hands, and said our own very short simple vows. And that was it. Not romantic, but symbolic. It felt right. It was right–because somehow, our string of bad luck seemed to stop right about then.
So V and I will be celebrating our 14th anniversary on July 25. Because July 17 is just another day– written on our marriage certificate but not in our hearts.