Diary of a Marriage: Our Fifth Anniversary

It’s the day before our five-year wedding anniversary—and I have absolutely nothing to give my husband. Now what?

Diary of a Marriage: Our Fifth Anniversary

Em and Justin on their wedding day.

It’s 11:23 on Wednesday night and I’m sitting up in bed, panicking. Our wedding anniversary is coming up soon—like, in two days—and this is what I have to show for it:

  • 1. An ugly painting of a basket of yellow flowers on a big square of wood. My parents were throwing it out and I had visions of painting over it. It’s sitting in the garage, next to the loveseat I picked up one night on the side of the road and which I plan to reupholster soon. It’s been four and a half years but I’ve been pretty busy. Also I don’t know how to reupholster things.
  • 2. A 22-by-28-inch white canvas. I bought this approximately three hours ago on a last-ditch AC Moore trip. I also bought:
  • 3. A laughably huge tube of black acrylic paint.
  • 4. Six sponge-tip paint brushes.
  • 5. Two packs of letter stencils. One is a “rustic” font. The other is blocky capital letters. They are both ugly.

I smuggled this all home for my Major Secret Anniversary Art Project. I’ve been planning it for a few weeks, but when you live with somebody in a small house with one TV, it gets pretty hard to work on secret projects. It’s not like we have a whole craft wing or something. So I came home tonight, my AC Moore loot hidden away in my trunk, and declared to J. that I could not hang out for the rest of the evening because I had secret things to do in the garage. (My plan: paint in very pretty typographical fonts—stark black letters on a white background—a quote from a song we both love. I’m not going to tell you the quote because people get very judge-y about music, and then you might stop reading.) J. knew what was happening immediately.

“Babes, I swear on your life I didn’t get you anything for our anniversary,” he said. I searched for the telltale sign of a lie—his upper lip curls, almost undetectably, but I can still spot it—but he never really lies when he swears on my life, which I take as a positive sign. He said that he could tell I was tired; my right eyeball had begun its listless drift, which it only does when I’m exhausted.

“But I have … to …” I said. I’m sure I sounded sort of like a person lost in the desert sounds when he’s talking about water. “It’s our five-year anniversary.”

I’ve been telling everybody about our upcoming wedding anniversary. Five years. It makes me feel old, but it also feels like we’ve reached some sort of marriage milestone. Five years is bigger, stronger, than one or two or three. It’s a solid number—FIVE—and it feels huge. Like we’ve accomplished something extraordinary. A lot happens in five years, and we’ve come out on the other side of all of it. I’m proud of us. But not proud enough, I guess, to get him a decent present. I hate myself. And this is why I’m panicking. It’s now 12 a.m.

See, I know he’s planned something. He’d made me promise to take off work on Friday, and to really try to get home at a decent hour on Thursday night so that we could get ready for the next day. Something’s up.

But I was tired, and the thought of going to sleep started to sound better than an all-nighter in the garage. In the end, he convinced me that he hates presents (I know this is actually true, which is funny because I love them) and that he’d rather me spend the evening tucked in beside him on the couch instead of doing some random messy project in the garage. So we ended up watching TV and eating bowls of microwaveable rice and semi-snuggling the way we do at the end of a long day.

“If you give whatever it is to me this month, that’s totally fine. Really,” he said. “I hate gifts. I still have to buy you your card tomorrow! See? You’re fine.”

I decided to believe him. So we watched The Real Housewives of OC. The episode was all about Gretchen proposing to her boyfriend, Slade. She went to a recording studio, recorded a special proposal song, and then put him on a helicopter to fly to a building that was probably only six blocks away from where he was. Naturally, she was waiting for him on top of the building in a bedazzled gown. She said some nice things and she proposed and they both welled up and he said yes. I cried. It was glorious, if a tad over-the-top.

I wonder if I can arrange a helicopter ride in 48 hours, I thought.

And that’s where I am, close to midnight, wondering what massive declaration of love I can come up with in the next two days. It has to feel HUGE. Five-year huge. Maybe if I close my eyes it will come to me …

It is now Thursday night, the day before our five-year wedding anniversary. I have a card—it’s letterpress!—and I ran out at lunch and bought him a cute shirt and a new wallet. (His is presently being held together with one of my frayed hair bands.) It’s all wrapped up in a bag with a crown of tissue paper. It’s next to me now on the train home from work. J. will pick me up from the train station and see the bag belching tissue paper and know that I bought him a present the day before our five-year wedding anniversary. I am officially a schmuck. I wonder if throwing on a bedazzled dress tomorrow will make up for it. In any case, I plan on painting the quote next weekend. I mean, he’ll definitely have the thing by September, at least. I am adding this to my long list of Major Secret Anniversary Art Projects gone awry.

So for now, this is my grand gesture:

J., I love you.

Thank you.

Wouldn’t do this all with anybody else.

Be home soon.

RELATED: Diary of a Marriage: Our Four-Year Anniversary

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