Twenty Years Later

I met my husband at York university. Phil was a Mathematics undergraduate; I was studying Psychology. He loved real ale in ye olde pubs; my nights out involved Taboo & lemonade, and dancing to ‘Steps’ in York’s clubs. He was quiet and shy; whilst I would always spot friends to chat to as I walked around campus. In many ways we were different people. Yet, at the Freshers Fair, we both handed over £5 to join the York University Canoe Club. He was already an experienced kayaker, excited to turn his hand to whitewater; I thought I was signing up for paddles along the calm, flat River Ouse.

For a year we were just friends. Not close, but in the same social circle that gathered together multiple times weekly. Evenings were filled with canoe practice, pub crawls and raucous socials. Sundays were for adventuring- battling to stay upright as we boated down the rapids of the northern rivers. Along with the other experienced paddlers; Phil guided me down many a run, rescued me from many a capsize, and helped carry my boat out when it all became too scary. He was kind and brave and funny and good looking; but I never thought of him as anything more than a friend. Until, one cold winter’s evening in December 2002. After a boozy YUCC Christmas meal, we continued the party in a cheesy club, and shared a rather unexpected first kiss.

And it could so easily have ended there. He was younger, we were both different, I was soon to graduate. I didn’t think we would make it past ‘just friends’. But thankfully I agreed to a first date. Then another. And another and another, and a life together. Turns out we were perfect for each other. Turns out he was exactly who I needed and wanted to walk through life with me. Turns out he was my ‘the one’.

Holding hands at the cinema, rented a house together, meeting our families, wedding vows in front of loved ones, backpacking around the world, developing Pulmonary Hypertension, dogs and jobs and houses and adventures. In the blink of an eye, twenty years has passed since that first drunken smooch. Two decades of memories since we took that leap from friendship. On one hand, those early days of sharing a single bed in my student bedroom, of talking and finding out everything about the other, of nervously saying the L word, seems like only yesterday. I still feel like that excitable twenty-two year old. But on the other hand, the shelves of photo albums, the treasure trove of shared stories, are evidence that, yes indeed, a long time has passed since York. Almost half my life in fact.

So a fortnight ago, exactly twenty years after Phil and I shared our first kiss, we returned to beautiful York. To celebrate ‘us’ in the city that started it all. And it was wonderful. Really special. Having not visited for over a decade, it was a busy few days of sight-seeing and exploring, of reminiscing and nostalgia. The lecture rooms, the halls of residences, the canoe shed, the geese! Our old houses, old high streets, the pubs and clubs we knew so well. The city walls, the Minster, the cobbled lanes and ancient bridges. Some places were just as I’d left them, others had moved on and were a reminder of the passage of time. And there were memories everywhere. Long forgotten stories and tales from two decades ago were waiting to be remembered down every street. We didn’t stop talking, didn’t stop smiling. Our hearts engorged with love for York and each other.

And amazingly, wonderfully, thankfully, as if my body didn’t want to miss a moment, it coped like never before. Leaving after breakfast, and only returning at bedtime; each day was crammed with activity. Twelve hours of on-the-go, from Saturday to Tuesday- by far, my busiest holiday since becoming ill. Furthermore, my body coped with the bombardment of stimulation that is York at Christmas. For the first time whilst living with PH, I could be around -and enjoy!- bustling crowds and festive music and Christmas lights for longer than an hour, and without necessitating hours of silence and darkness and rest to recover. Furthermore, as my body can suddenly walk a little now, amazingly I could actually explore some of the inaccessible historic buildings in the medieval city centre. With their tiny rooms and wonky floors and steep steps, my scooter was forced to wait outside; but pumped full of oxygen, my body was strong enough to let me visit the most enticing shops on foot! Consequently, with my body on top top form, and with a wonderfully kind hubby carrying my wheels up the steep steps when needed; we saw it all. Nearly everything on our long ‘to visit’ list was ticked off. We even found a way for me to scoot along some of the city walls! Thankful, incredibly thankful.

Yesterday, I finally emptied the packing boxes containing our books and photo albums. As I hastily arranged them on shelves, some photographs from our first few months together fell out. I hadn’t looked at them in years. Cocooned from the real world in our university bubble, we looked so fresh-faced and bright-eyed and young. We were. A few hours, and two shelves of albums later, I’d flicked through the pictures from two decades of a life shared together. Twenty years of love and support and friendship, twenty years of holding up the ceiling for each other, twenty years of trying to decipher life over cups of tea.

Thank you Phil. Happy anniversary.

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