Statistically speaking, marrying young can spell disaster. Not for me.
He said he hated me, and I drove to my mother's. I remember thinking that it was all so comically obvious, so dismayingly clichéd: We weren't ready. We'd known that marrying young ups the odds of divorce: To take just one of the many unsettling statistics, women who marry when they are under 18 are twice as likely to separate or divorce than women who marry at 25 or older. But we'd ignored such numbers; after all, we 'd been together for eight years already. We'd weathered the rocky transition between adolescence and adulthood. We also loved each other, which we thought was enough to make a marriage work. It was suddenly so clear how naïve we'd been. How young we'd been. So when I moved to New York three months later—to attend graduate school at the college I'd turned down six years earlier—I had a goal in mind. I would go into the world alone and grow up, and then see if the grown-up me still loved him. If I did, I would just have to hope that the grown-up him still loved me, too.
I thought I would be lonely in New York, but I wasn't. I did lots of earnest things, like watching avant-garde hokum at Anthology Film Archives and attending readings by writers I hadn't read. Adam and I communicated sporadically, and he was careful never to press me about when I might be ready to resume our marriage. I wrote fiction, and ate bagels, and had an awful, karaoke-singing roommate. It was the first time anything significant belonged to me alone, and it felt good. But I couldn't deny that it didn't feel right.
So late one night a few months after I arrived, I got in my car and drove for three days straight, until I arrived in California, at the store where Adam worked. He stood there in his cashier's uniform, staring at me with an awful mixture of pain and relief. He cupped my face in his hands and said he was happy to see me, and we went out to dinner. We were 24. It was all decidedly grown-up. We were decidedly grown-up. When I returned to New York a week later, he came too.
That was five years ago. Now, I can't think of one trait I possess that Adam hasn't informed. I'm a great cook because he's an enthusiastic taste-tester; I'm a writer with a built-in first reader; I warmed to the idea of having children after watching him rock a screaming baby to sleep. And I'm someone who is happily married because my husband let me leave and come back. It might sound weird, but I love Adam like I love my siblings, or my parents, or the sky: I love him in a way that never entertains his absence. I'm not saying I take him for granted. I'm saying he's the bedrock of my life.
We never did catch the fly. After Bonnie and Clyde, we were tired (the drive, the wine, the ninja moves), and when we went to sleep, I had the dream I have at least once a month. It's 10th grade, and I'm sitting in Spanish class. In walks Adam in his Rancid T-shirt and buzz cut. He takes the desk beside mine. Our first conversation replays in its entirety: We talk about Adam Sandler movies and how stupid our school is. And I'm overcome by an out-of-body feeling, like this is the moment when something begins. This is when I realize I'm dreaming, and that the dream is a form of routine psychic maintenance: Are you sure you made the right choice?
In that moment, I'm simultaneously me at 15 and me at 29. In a massive wave, I remember everything that hasn't happened yet—that we have this future together that's going to be hard and beautiful and worth fighting for. I turn to Adam and say something I also occasionally say in real life, whenever I look at him and realize that the goofy boy I loved as a kid has turned into a strong and decent man—and that I've become an adult, too:
"Dude, we're married!"
Katie Arnold-Ratliff is the author of the novel Bright Before Us, and an associate editor at O, the Oprah Magazine.
Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty. Photograph of Katie Arnold Ratliff and her husband courtesy Katie Arnold-Ratliff.