Wedding in the shadowed valley

  • Istock, photo illustration by Shaun C. Gibson
 

When I got married, my husband was in the midst of a slide into bipolar disorder that would last for years, nearly kill us both, and ultimately end our marriage. I hadn't told many people about what was going on. Nor had I thought to reconsider my decision to get married. We had already been together for five years, after all. The wedding felt like an acknowledgment of something that had already happened rather than a fundamental change.

That morning, we carved out enough time to hike up our south hill and sit quietly. We were building a house together in a New Mexico river valley whose lushness amid the desert had seduced me the first time I'd hiked through it, long before I'd met the man I was now marrying. Together, we'd returned, bought the land, built a bridge to reach it, and now, for our wedding reception, we were about to raise the walls of our house. We had been pushing, pushing, pushing all summer to get the frame ready so we could stack the straw bales to form the walls. Increasingly, that had meant that I was pushing, pushing, pushing -- along with taking care of my husband-to-be. My body felt taut and empty as a drum as we walked up the hill, with only the resilience and ignorance of youth to power me.

We planned to say a few things about each other as part of the ceremony, but I hadn't yet pulled my thoughts together amid the frantic preparations. That half-hour on the hilltop was my only time to do it. We sat there together as the sky brightened behind us, looking out across the Rio Grande Valley, my beautiful, wounded beloved and I.

It was the first time I'd sat still in weeks. The early morning chill seeped beneath my shell of determination, bringing a sudden, unwelcome awareness: I was terrified.

What was I doing, marrying a crazy person? We were supposed to be a happy couple, joyfully joining our lives together, but as I looked ahead, all I could feel was fear and exhaustion. I had no idea what I was going to say about him during the ceremony. I glanced over and his face looked vague, lost, its edges blurred with insecurity. I no longer knew what was illness and what was him -- or even if the question made sense. I crouched on a little rock, my arms wrapped around my goosebump-covered knees.

I tried to blink my eyes clear. Our little village snaked along the river below, and the ribbon of green stretched out across the barrancas toward the Rio Grande. Cerro Pedernal's pig snout poked up through the Jemez Mountains way across the great valley where 35 million years before, the continent had been ripped open and wrenched apart, the wound slowly healing, slowly becoming this place where I was now staking my tiny claim.

I shifted slightly and waggled my feet, making wing marks in the pinkish-brown dirt. All the moments of our relationship suddenly seemed to exist at once, history engraved upon us just as it was on the landscape: The day we first met, running through the hall together after realizing we'd been waiting in the wrong classroom. His voice, slicing through the testosterone-driven clamor of our study group, saying, "Wait, guys, I think Julie's idea might work." His arms wrapping around me for the first time, the smell of his sweat, and the sudden knowledge that my life was about to change. My sobbing so intensely I wondered if I might suffocate, while he massaged my sinuses and stroked my hair. His recent wide-eyed innocence when I discovered his many-thousand-dollar credit card bill, filled with purchases he would never use. Even, it seemed, the unknown pain to come, pain that would one day rip me apart as surely as the rift had split the continent.

I pulled the piñon-spiked air deep into my lungs, and the immensity of the world filled me, the forces so far beyond the hubbub of individual wanting and avoiding and trying to bring about, beyond my desire for a happy marriage, a healthy partner, children playing in the stream. Clarity seemed to flow from deep in the earth, up through the rock I was sitting on, searing my spine as it reached beyond me into the sky. It etched into my bones the knowledge of the beauty and wholeness of the world, even though -- as I would eventually come to accept -- I had no more power to heal my beloved than I had to close that great gash in the earth. I looked at him again, his familiar strong brow, his fluid body that could pick me up as if I were made of air: I loved him.

We would join our lives together. And together we would let the wind and the rain and the ice shape us, as it had the rock.

I took his hand, and we walked back down the hill. We carried straw bales over to the big ponderosa that had been struck by lightning in its youth and lost its main trunk, its branches now bowing to the ground to form a pine-softened shelter. We put the bales in a circle underneath its boughs, and we waited for our guests.

Julie Rehmeyer is a freelance math and science writer in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DIRECTOR OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS
    This newly created position with The Nature Conservancy's Colorado River Program will play a key role in the development and implementation of strategies to achieve...
  • PROGRAM OFFICER, INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES, NOVO FOUNDATION
    The Foundation NoVo Foundation acts from the original meaning of philanthropy: the love of humanity. The Foundation is dedicated to catalyzing a global social transformation...
  • ARMY OF THE DOG
    A new generation of monkey wrenchers hits the Front Range?
  • ANNIE CLARK TANNER FELLOWSHIP IN ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES
    The Tanner Humanities Center and the Environmental Humanities Program of the University of Utah seek an environmental writer to offer classes in Utahs Environmental Humanities...
  • ALASKA STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society works to protect Wildlands and inspire Americans to care for our public lands. We seek to hire a strategic, experienced leader who...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) seeks an individual to lead this 45-year-old organization as executive director, to carry on ICLs work as Idahos leading voice...
  • IDAHO RIVERFRONT:
    2+ acres, 400+ feet on Snake River, 2800 sf residence, NWF-certified wildlife habitat, excellent hunting, fishing, birdwatching, stargazing, sunsets & panoramic views. In the heart...
  • WILDEARTH GUARDIANS IS EXPANDING - THREE JOB OPENINGS
    Guardians is expanding and looking for a few great people to join us in protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health...
  • SUNNYSIDE MARKET SEEKS NEW PROPRIETOR
    Organic grocery/cafe at Glacier Bay needs a vibrant leader. Love good food, community, and Alaska? Join us!
  • NO INDIVIDUAL HEROES: OURAY MOUNTAIN RESCUE TEAM
    Ouray County, Colorado, a popular tourist destination, has dramatic mountains and amazing winter ice climbing. Challenging terrain and high altitude can push visitors to their...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM COORDINATOR - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Coordinator-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM MANAGER - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Manager-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM ASSOCIATE, SOUTHERN CA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Southern CA. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • THE BOOK OF BARLEY -
    Collector's Item! The story of barley, the field crop. 50 years of non-fiction research. www.barleybook.com
  • TEMPORARY ASSISTANT EDITOR
    Are you a climber and a writer who is passionate about mountain literature? Do you love searching through old alpine journals for stories of esoteric...
  • OWN YOUR OWN CANYON - 1400 SF STRAW-BALE ECO-HOME ON 80 ACRES - 3 HOURS FROM L.A.
    1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • GRASSROOTS LEADERSHIP DIRECTOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a full-time grassroots leadership director to oversee all aspects of the Grassroots Leadership Program. This includes ongoing development of...
  • RIVER TRIP LEADER & EDUCATOR
    Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...
  • RIVER GUIDE AND EDUCATOR
    Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...