Saturday, July 15, 2017
Mandy has asked me in the past questions like: “What’s your favorite memory?” or “When were you the most happiest?” Typically I’ve been unable to conjure the memory from the deep shadows of my brain. I have a good memory—amazing in fact—but for someone with a mind like mine trying to pin down a single memory on command can be like trying to catch a butterfly out the window of a moving car. It’s possible…
Today I have been married to Amanda Sue DeFilippo Chaney for seventeen years and we’ve been together for a little over eighteen. We didn’t know each other very long before we started dating. I was twenty-five and she was eighteen. She made the comment last night that I raised her; we’ve been together for half of her life now.
Our life together has been an adventure. And like any good adventure story it has fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…well, that might be a stretch, but you get the point. We’ve fought dragons together. We’ve trekked through dark valleys and over high lonesome passes together. Through it all we’ve been side by side even though at times we may have grumbled at each other as any two people will on a long journey. I don’t for a minute regret any disagreement we’ve had because her point of view has always helped me to confirm or refine my own.
Together we’ve climbed mountains, rode our bikes thousands of miles, raised two kids and obtained two bachelor’s degrees. We’ve endured a long series of crappy cars. We’ve moved across country. And back. We’ve watched friends drift away and found new ones when we needed them most. And we’ve done all of this together.
|Mandy skiing into Brainerd Lake. Earlier that year (2009) we summited the peak (Audubon) in the background|
Underlying the normal traffic of two lives being lived we’ve wrestled with my own debilitating mental health demons. She held me through the long dark after I discovered I had ADHD, through diagnosis, and the ensuing decade long crisis of identity and self-worth that generated.
When other demons reared their heads she was always there with me, taking her own wounds and giving back as well as she got. At times I tried to pull away and fight on my own. In retrospect it’s unclear if I was trying to protect her or myself. We’ve always been stronger together. While this war inside my head is not over there is a distinct lull going on right now leaving me the respite needed to regroup and take the time to acknowledge my staunchest ally.
Prior to 2006 I was a happy-go-lucky guy. Maybe to a fault. I’m not saying there weren’t issues in my life, that I was perfect as a son, brother, husband, father, or friend, but for the first 33 years of my life I did my best to avoid worrying over anything or putting too much thought into the troubles of life. I figured there were plenty of people out there worrying enough for themselves and me.
2006 was the year the storms came over the pass and started to batter us along our journey. As storms do, they subsided and allowed us reprieve from time to time. But to say the past ten or eleven years have been my own private Ragnarok would not be too melodramatic in a spiritual sense.
|Indian Peaks Wilderness, Colorado|
Your seventeenth wedding anniversary isn’t typically the significant one. The milestone we looked forward to was fifteen. In the first year we were married an older friend told us the first fifteen were the hardest. She was sort of joking, and she and her husband had been married thirty at that point, but we kind of adopted that marker as the point when we knew it was going to be a successful marriage.
It didn’t take long before we realized we had something special. We didn’t understand why (and I must confess still don’t) but even as newlyweds and then as a “young couple” and beyond we’ve often gotten comments that our friends and acquaintances would like to have marriages like ours.
For the most part we’ve not had to hide our marital imperfections from the world. There haven’t been many, and those we’ve had have been reasonable. Normal. Typical. Obviously there were a few years when we were getting to know each other and working things out between us. That process wasn’t difficult for us though. We didn’t fight about the toilet seat up or down or who got to sleep on which side of the bed. In the beginning we were simply two best friends living together.
Then one day, not so long ago, she and I acknowledged that we’d come dangerously close to giving up. She had been ready to walk away, and I would have let her. The demon hordes almost overwhelmed us. And in the heat of the battle our alliance faltered. My mental health problems threatened the good thing we have. The darkness almost choked out the light.
I clung desperately to the knowledge of that castle keep we shared together where we have safe space and that we had defended valiantly together. We were just so far from that place with no protection. We almost lost the battle, the war, and the cause.
That was four months ago. Four months shy of our seventeenth wedding anniversary we almost walked away from each other.
Late last night we lay next to each other in bed talking and holding each other. She asked me to tell her a story. She does this frequently, and I try to oblige her, but with my crazy tangled up mind I find that trying to come up with an interesting memory to share from our past is like trying to catch a butterfly from a moving car. Y’know how when someone asks what you’re thinking and you reply “nothing?” We all do it. Mandy and I have learned to respond: “Lots” because that’s true for both of us. It doesn’t provide additional insight into someone’s state of mind, but it’s more honest.
For whatever reason I was able to conjure some good memories last night and we had a great venture into nostalgia. Through everything we’ve remembered that our lives together have been an incredible adventure. We recounted all of those steps taken together. There have been amazing moments standing side by side looking out over the world and knowing that together there was nowhere we couldn’t go, nothing we couldn’t do. And there have been the incredibly dark moments when we didn’t know how we were going to survive or if we’d ever be happy again. We talked about all of that as we lay in each other’s arms.
I told her on a whim I had bought two lottery tickets that afternoon. I’m not sure why. It’s not something I do. I never had before. For whatever reason I felt really lucky that day. I felt like if someone was going to win something, or find the power to help others to the tune of $155 million it was going to be me (spoiler: I didn't win). That led to talking about the Ingrid Michaelson song You and I. You know which one I mean…the one that goes:
“Oh, let's get rich and buy our parents
Homes in the South of France
Let's get rich and give everybody nice sweaters
And teach them how to dance
Let's get rich and build our house on a mountain
Making everybody look like ants”
She played the song and sung along to it and I felt an incredible deep and profound love for her. It wasn’t necessarily any stronger than I had ever felt before, but it welled up and I found myself grinning into her hair and just as happy as I could be.
It was when she picked up her phone and cued up “our song” (Dreams by the Cranberries) that I was overwhelmed by pure emotion. There were no words and will never be words to describe what I felt. I began to feel my chest swell. My throat locked up. I couldn’t say what I was feeling. I stared at the ceiling stroking her hair and losing myself to a wave of infinite joy. I couldn’t stop the tears streaming down my face.
When she sensed it she pulled back and looked at me. Her expression was naked concern, but I could not tell her what was going on. My body failed me at that moment, and I was utterly trapped within a prison of joy. I was finally able to convey that I was happy, and she laid her head back on my chest. I could only stare in wonder at the ceiling. Existence became a point in the universe where every thread of our lives together touched defying space and time. At that moment eighteen years of human history recorded in the mind of a being self-identified as Chris Chaney were in that room and spread out like a map on the table of the world and it was beautiful.
When I could finally speak I could only say “wow.”
It took a few minutes to come back from the exquisite oblivion of that moment. I can’t quite explain everything that contributed to my state of mind to you, but without a doubt I know if I could bottle that feeling and sell it I’d be rich, but I would never sell it. I’d have to give it away freely.
When we’d both recovered from my moment of spiritual obliteration we talked more. Of course we revisited some of the dark times along the path in recent months. We’ve been fighting ahead out of duty more than passion for more than a while, and since May we’ve found a second wind neither of us expected and from unlikely sources.
Mandy apologized for the umpteenth time for not being able to help me when I needed help the most. I keep reassuring her that no apologies are necessary. I know it pains her deeply that on the darkest day of my life she let me walk away alone. We both made a mistake that day, but those mistakes were made in good faith based on the understandings we had at the time of what was going on. She had no idea that instead of a mental health day out hiking in the woods that I needed professional help. I had no idea that the escape I sought was final. If you know me at all you need to know this: I almost walked off a cliff that day. Now, when I need strength to get through I look back to that day, as dark as it was, because I was somehow able to stave off the dragon alone. By all accounts I should not have been able to.
She told me she’s glad we’re at this place now. I was lost to her, but I’m back. I told her I’m sorry I let the darkness dim her light in my life. For now there is a tentative peace. Not between us—that alliance is firm and resounding—but the cease fire between us and the demon horde. The chemical structures in my brain have not changed. My wiring is still tangled. I’m still me, and I’ll never be able to escape me. For now I don’t mind being where I am. For now we have the high ground and the view is incredible.
Love is an incredible mystery, and I am blessed with a love unlike anything I could have imagined up until this very day. But I’ll let you in on a little secret…love works best and grows the most when you get out of the way and let it.