Dave and I are mere days away from our three year wedding anniversary, and it’s been nearly eight years since this crazy love affair began. Things aren’t always easy, I am not the perfect wife. Sometimes I still think it’s all too good to be true, but Dave is my partner and loves me regardless of my failings. And while I now take for granted that he is a part of my family, the addition of my sister’s new boyfriend to our clan reminds of me of the gauntlet put before Dave when he first came to the Clark household.
Dave faced several roadblocks on the way into the collective Clark heart from the start. First, and probably least formidable, was the fact that my dad has an insider’s view into the life and minds of 19-year old hockey players. Dad tends to be an open an accepting guy as long as you don’t give him reason to be otherwise, but Dave’s participation in college-level athletics did make him slightly suspect. My dad was cautiously optimistic, as he tends to be, but I’m sure his eagle eyes were on high alert.
My mom, on the other hand, wasn’t subtle about her reservations. Not only was Dave an athlete, he was playing and studying at a school over 7 hours away from where I was studying, making her worried that my own spotless academic record (save for that one C- in Poetry while in university) would be compromised. And also, she likes to put up this tough-woman front to let people know from the get-go that she isn’t taking their bullcrap. I may or may not have inherited this particular quality.
But in addition to the standard meet-the-parents routine, Dave had to meet my sister. My sister and I are close. Very close. She’s my best friend, my biggest fan, my favorite topic of bragging. Despite having our own rooms, we shared a bed for much of our lives. When I met Dave, Alley was still in high school. So you may be thinking, what could a 16-year old cheerleader in braces whose most deviant behavior consisted of the occasional sips of Zima possibly do to intimidate my new boyfriend? If you are honestly thinking that, you don’t know my sister.
She doesn’t use threats. Or physical coercion. She just uses her incredible talent for drama to make things so uncomfortable that no one would want to continue to endure them. So, for her opening act in the Saga of Dave, she really pulled out all the stops.
Dave came over for family dinner, a six times a week occurrence in our family that would make anyone feel the heat of the interrogation lights. But my mom and dad, probably seeing the light of new love in my eyes, engaged in friendly chit-chat and get-to-know-you talk. The table was set, dinner was nearly done, and an extra place setting was added to our standard 4-person table. My sister, however, was nowhere in sight. We took our places, dished out some food, and my mom called up to my sister. Wanting to be polite, we all hesitated over our forks trying to wait for the final seat to be filled. But we did not hear her footsteps on the stairs. My mom called up again, smiling politely at Dave. “She’s on Greek time” she said as explanation. One last time, she shouted Alley’s name up the stairwell.
And then we heard it.
From the opposite end of the room, where her lair was located, we heard stomping. Angry, loud, teenage stomping. Down the hall, to the top of the steps and halfway down the stairs. Before you could see her face you could hear her growling, saying “I’m NEVER coming down. NEVER. Not as long as HE is here. I don’t want to sit at the same table as HIM!”
And the stomping ascended the stairs, back down the hall, and the door of her lair was slammed.
Talk about an awkward silence.
It’s hard for me to explain how I felt at that moment. Humilated. Horrified. Angry. And sad. Mostly sad. Because even though I knew how uncomfortable that must have been for Dave, I also knew his lighthearted nature would allow him to heal from this incident. But I felt sad that somehow my new relationship with Dave was threatening enough to my sister that she would put up such a protest. She LOVES dinner. She loves the chit-chat and the chance to have us as a captive audience for loud singing. And she never missed a chance to sit next to me for a meal, especially in those first few years when I was away at college and made weekend visits. I had had boyfriends before that she had liked well enough, so I was especially offended when she made such a scene in front of Dave since he was really special to me. And, some time later, I realized that that was just it.
From the start, there was always something different about Dave. He made me feel goofy and crazy and happy and spontaneous. I wanted things to work out despite the long odds of a long distance relationship. I wanted my family to like him from the start. And since Alley knew me so well, she already knew all of this. She knew that I had met someone for whom I was really willing to make sacrifices. Someone who loved me for the same reasons she did. And she was scared.
When I look back at the situation through her eyes, I can understand her fear. Until then, all my trips back to Marquette and all my holidays revolved almost wholly around her. We spent every night watching ‘Forensic Files’ or ‘Trading Spaces’ until we fell asleep in her bed. We spent the days doing whatever my mom wanted us to do, but together. I went to all her events, paraded her around in front of my friends, and generally kept her as close as possible at all times.
Essentially, none of that was destined to change. Sure, I do share holiday time with Dave and his family as well. And those late nights watching TV do usually end with me sneaking off to join Dave in bed rather than cuddling up with sis. We do what my mom says together, often with Dave in tow. I parade her around in front of my friends, some of whom are now her friends, too. When we see each other, my intent is still to keep her close. But at the time she couldn’t see the potential of adding Dave to our lives, only the threat of losing her sister.
The outburst was still unprecedented and unwarranted, but I’m just saying I see where she was coming from.
Flash forward to the evening of August 5, 2006. My sister, my maid-of-honor, gave a speech. A speech she never got around to planning or writing down due to a combination of anxiety and procrastination, a speech fueled by emotion and champagne. As my sister recounted her version of the story I just told you, she explained that despite her fears, she realized that she had gained more in having Dave has her brother than anything she could have lost by sharing her sister. And as we raised our glasses to toast, there were probably very few dry eyes in the house.
Thinking back on this story and the night 5 years later when Dave officially joined our family makes me smile. Makes me laugh. Makes me very nearly cry. Helps me to remember that my marriage to Dave is, at least in part, an extension of my family. My sister and Dave are now friends in their own right, my family is supportive of the decisions Dave and I make together even if they do take us far away sometimes.