My Bride,

I can vividly remember the first time I decided to do this, the week of our nuptials in early June 1999; an unthinkable twenty years: one daughter, yoga instructor certification, six books, three houses, two-dozen or so weird and wonderful trips abroad, and a half-dozen cats ago. It made sense I would come here to make my witness. I had officially begun what would become this column the first night we spent alone together, on our way to see Sinead O’Connor at the Beacon Theatre. It was the twenty-sixth day of August 1997. I sent my very first socio-political piece to The Aquarian that evening from the fax machine at the Roosevelt Hotel, where my oldest and best friend of forty-five years now, Chris, was working media. I began to fall in love with you that night, I did. Maybe I told you a few weeks later. Two months after that you moved into my hovel and transformed a boy into a man and a mostly directionless heart into one with a laser beam focus. And that is why I felt the need to write the first of these Open Letter pieces before we were to be married on June 12, 1999, twenty years ago today. I still had this fear that one day I could lose this thing we had that I shall never, ever take for less than what it is; the answer to the question (you know from which I speak) about the meaning of… well, everything.

I wrote then: “Let’s face it, who is going to pick me up and dust me off the way you do? Who is going to heal those wounds, the ones the doctors can’t see, or the tax man can’t heist, or the priest can’t bless with a few hollow words? I don’t deserve any of this. I should be banished to a remote island in the Pacific and left to dig for fallacies with a teaspoon.”

And, of course, it is probably the darker side of maudlin and certainly the upper register of cheesy to do this in public, even for a writer. Most of us tend to change names and mask much of our emotions in subtext and metaphor, and for the most part I am rarely if ever truly honest in this space unless forced to be. I have too much fun with the form for it to actually mean something. I made that assessment on the twentieth anniversary of my first published book, Deep Tank Jersey, three years ago in which I was sure that the emotions I expressed in it eventually turned into a muted narrative of disparate wordplay. I felt icky admitting this, but it’s the truth. But here, I come clean. And even that doesn’t matter all that much, not to us. We never use words to express what it is we embarked upon almost twenty-three years ago (the day you walked up to my door in your pajamas—November 4, 1997—and stayed, thank the universe). In fact, words are pathetically incapable of approaching what you mean and have meant to me.

And because of these subpar expressions, I wish every day I could paint, and that I had your eye for visual artistry, the one Scarlet got in spades and displays on occasion when we least expect it. Maybe then I could actually illustrate this bond, this current of electricity that comes from knowing that you came and never left and then made it official—standing before all of our friends and family in an old theater in Syracuse—and married me in front a woman judge, who butchered my middle name. I can hear my mom now, “B-A-R-T-O-L-O-M-E-O.” I also wish I still wrote songs, but love songs are a dime a dozen, and none of it really does the trick. I think your connection to Dylan’s “Love Minus Zero/ No Limit” (“she’s true like ice, like fire”) makes more sense to me every day I get to be with you and argue with you and sleep with you and laugh with you and challenge you and be challenged by you and get to kiss your lips and your forehead and your cheeks and hold your hand and put my arm around your waiste and worry about shit we will never really be able to do anything about and then avert our eyes for just a moment from all this us—us to see the kid we made but who now makes us.

You know when I am sure that words fail, because when I typed that last sentence my hands were shaking. They were. No joke. I almost lost control of them for the briefest of moments and couldn’t ride it out until I could, and that is why I think I do this—get these thoughts down every five years we’ve been married. Not for you, but for me. I need to do it. I need to force out in this space and out of my head and soul what the hell being married to you has done to me and for me, whether it is twenty years ago—on a mostly overcast and sticky June day, near where you grew up, that we danced together like we loved to dance together and how I loved how we could dance together—or ten minutes ago. It is eternal.

“All the pain that you have known/All the violence in your soul /All the ‘wrong’ things you have done I will take from you when I come”

Sinead O’Connor, “This is the Mother You”—our wedding song.

Our story, in a very real way, is this reoccurring dream of a dance. Our movements through this life together moves effortlessly even when it is messy and rocky and challenging and filled with the pressure and death and parenting and art. It will always be you and me in the swirl of that dance. The smell of you, the sight of you, the texture of you remains. That is what I remember today as we celebrate that particular day, today and every day.

The dance.

Yeah, our dance…. Together. Always.

“All mistakes made in distress/All your unhappiness/I will take away with my kiss, yes /I will give you tenderness.”

So, you know, we’ll start the next twenty—or at least the next year—as we have done all these others: embraced. This is how it makes sense to be around… with you. Because with you always made sense. Getting together—eleven years apart in age, some 180 miles distance, the visual and the literary, the caustic and the emotional—made zero sense. But you and me always did. It always will. And that makes writing this, like the previous three (and that one a few days before we hitched), so difficult and so damned easy. A paradox, this love. A familiar and rhythmic paradox that I would not trade for anything anywhere, anyway.

Thank you for coming over that night. For that sticky June afternoon. For our Scarlet.

And the dance.

Our dance.

Twenty years.

Dance with me.

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James Campion is the Managing Editor of the Reality Check News & Information Desk, and the author of Deep Tank Jersey, Fear No Art, Trailing Jesus, Midnight for Cinderella, Y, Shout It Out Loud—The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon, and Accidently Like a Martyr—The Tortured Art of Warren Zevon.