It is significant only to me now, but 27 years ago today I married for the first and only time in my life.
Clifford Ernest Polland married me on a cold but clear Saturday in a friend’s living room in Farifield, Calif., before all of about 25 people.
He joked for years that he thought we were going to a movie, but instead I insisted he wear a suit, dragged him before a minister, and the next thing he knew, there were rings and vows.
“Oh, well,” he’d say. “You got me.” And he’d wink.
The truth was that we married partly to buy our first house together. We used his Cal Vet loan, one of his military benefits from his service in the Coast Guard, and Cal Vet wouldn’t count my income unless we were married. We looked at each other when we learned this, and I shrugged.
“I guess we better get married then,” I said.
He shrugged, too. “OK,” he said. And that was that.
The truth was we were planning to be together anyway at that point. I knew I was marrying my best friend on Dec. 17, 1983, and he knew it, too. Though it was a relationship complicated by his ill health and my frustration with that fact, and though we ended up living separately, we never divorced.
We were made into family the day we married, and we were each grateful for that. He was the stable, centered, thoughtful, kind man I’d always wanted. I’m not sure what I was to him exactly.
But he loved me until he died, even after I broke his heart and told him I couldn’t live with him any longer. “I’ll help you move, Toots,” he said, and he did. I moved about a half mile away and came back to our house on weekends to walk the dog. Eventually I came back to our house, and he moved to Winters to be closer to The Vacaville Reporter, where he worked as a photographer for 17 years.
The year after we married, he got a shiny new aortic valve to replace his faulty one, which bought him 17 and a half years of life. (He used to joke that if evolution really worked, he’d have died long before.) Eventually, he blew a gasket, as he had predicted he might, suffering a bleed deep inside his brain that could not have been prevented. Artificial valves require huge amounts of anti-coagulants to prevent clotting, and he was on enough of them to kill an elephant, he used to say.
In many ways, he was my elephant–almost 6-feet-5, a full foot taller than I–kind and gentle with a huge heart. Literally. His heart had grown to three times its normal size by the time he died since it was never completely repaired. He had a leaky mitral valve, too, which caused his heart to swell and swell.
I think that heart grew so big because he had such a huge capacity for love and forgiveness. He was a generous soul—not just to me, but to so many people whom he befriended and loved.
For years after he died, I carried the thought that on some karmic level it might be my fault–I’d broken that heart after it was fixed, and it never recovered. But with time, I learned that Cliff never really went away, that he has been my companion spirit. All I have to do is think of him, and he’s instantly hovering around me. I wake some mornings, knowing I’ve just been with him somewhere, talking, maybe watching him fly fishing in a lovely stream. He loved to fish.
When people ask if I miss him, almost ten years after he died, I always say yes. But the truth is he never left me, and I am grateful. I have my house and much of my lovely life because of him. I can say that yes, I was once married to a terrific man, who was my best friend and teacher, though I did not appreciate him as much as I should have when he was alive.
I do now.
Happy anniversary, Clifford.