A year ago this coming weekend, Tim and I were celebrating 10 years of marriage. We marked the hard-earned decade by taking an unexpected sum of online poker winnings and spending every last dime of it on a dinner for two.
But not just any dinner. We dined at Alinea, in Chicago, a 3-star Michelin restaurant (there are only about 80 in the world) — home of progressive, tongue-cancer-surviving chef Grant Achatz (who just won a James Beard Award for his newest restaurant, Next). It was, by giant leaps and bounds, the most expensive meal we had ever eaten (or likely will ever eat again).
I never wrote about that dinner.
The words just never came to me. I tried a few draft posts, passed my laptop with hope to Tim to read and tell me I’d done the evening justice. But he (rightfully, thankfully) never gave his approval — my mind, vocabulary, word-crafting-skills just couldn’t adequately paint a picture of what it was like to spend an evening at Alinea.
When I think about it now, it feels other-wordly, like I dreamt it all. From the moment we entered a dark, red-lit, low-ceiling hallway, our eyes adjusting from early-evening sunlight as a Star-Trek-like pocket door hissed open to a group of four well-dressed servers waiting for our arrival, to the moment during our final dessert course when Grant Achatz stood at our table and painted chocolate and blueberry sauces in a balanced asymmetrical composition directly onto the silicone tablecloth placed specifically for this purpose (we scraped the table clean with our dessert spoons) — it felt as though we were the only patrons in a dining room with 10 other guests. The serving staff was impeccable, simultaneously professional and approachable, meeting our every need before we knew we had it.
It was like the first time you go to Paris. Or the first time you see, in person, a work of art you’ve only seen in textbooks. Or your first trip to the mountains. It was, for three hours (and 22 courses) a place in time and space that we could have never imagined. So out of my realm of what’s normal, I cannot begin to communicate it.
But I can communicate our new conundrum: unless you are a person of such means as to eat like this on a regular basis (I’m thankful we’re not, or else the magic might fade), it’s hard to follow that up when it comes time to celebrate year eleven.
But, when you think about it, we sort of set up all of marriage to be that way. We have a big party, and invite all of our friends, and do this whole pomp and circumstance thing with a ceremony. And then we go on a well-constructed vacation for a week (ours was low-key, jaunts to two delightful cities within driving distance of our wedding and home). And then, you get home, and real life begins. The life that has two people trying to live together, love each other, even when you can no longer agree to disagree. When eventual sick babies have you both sleepless. Even as you grow older, and your bodies change, and your interests change, and things aren’t the way you thought they’d be (and when are they ever?).
So it’s eleven years this Saturday, though I could swear it was just last week. And since we are not Alinea people, we plan to celebrate by having a good friend come keep our kids (babysitters are a luxury) while we go for dinner and a movie. This year we’re hitting up a local place we’ve enjoyed before and qualifies as a “special” dinner out. And then we’re going to see Avengers (before you scoff — I’ve not set foot in a movie theater since moving to Indiana almost three years ago, so in watching something other than Friday Night Lights or Madmen on a very large screen while wearing something other than pajamas, I’ll be doing something exotic).
It’s funny for me to think that in our stage of life, dinner and a movie is momentous-event-worthy. But just like Alinea isn’t what eating out is always supposed to be, whirlwind trips alone to Chicago isn’t what marriage and anniversaries are always supposed to be. Eleven might only be momentous in that it is 365 days past 10 — but it’s still another year in a life we are continuously building, tearing down, and rebuilding together. Another year worth marking.
Just me and my man. With plenty of support from Iron Man, the Hulk, and Captain America.