By Anne Gagliano
What kind of mate do you want beside you when the chips are down, when all the forces of resistance come against you, determined to thwart your every endeavor–a roommate or a teammate? This is the question I’ve posed in my past three columns, as I’ve sought to define the difference between the two. A roommate is a co-habitant of the same residence. Not a whole lot of passion and romance in this type of marital scenario. A teammate is so much more. Teammates are on the same team financially, parentally, socially, directionally, defensively, and equally. With this approach, a marriage will thrive as the two of you move together as one. Like a team of draft horses, together you are stronger. Together you can pull triple the load. And when the storms rage, a teammate steps up. This is what I got to witness firsthand recently as my teammate and I were up against it.
My husband Mike and I had new windows and sliding doors installed. We also had a speaking engagement in Canada during the installation. All seemed fine until suddenly it wasn’t. House and work, both must be attended to on a regular basis. This is life for every married couple. But so often, our plans come off the rails, and the ordinary challenges become extraordinary ones. All four of our new sliding doors were warped at the handles. This was but the first of a series of major distractions that threatened to derail our Canadian gig.
As the doors were discovered to be warped, then replaced, then warped again, another bombshell hit. We put the door situation on hold for another day and switched our focus, our hopes, onto the next step in the project: the piece de resistance, the new lakeview windows. In they went. I selected ones with small ventilation windows that would hopefully not block the view while still allowing for cool air on hot summer days. Mike had wanted picture windows only; no ventilation, nothing whatsoever to hinder our view. But I had argued for my choice and won. I believed ventilation was more important and wouldn’t block anything. But I was wrong, terribly wrong. The tiny, eight-inch window openings were delineated from the upper “picture window” portion with a seven-inch strip of white vinyl. Seven inches of view-blocking vinyl along the bottom portion of the window with the lake a downward view! From every seat in the front room, our lake was completely obliterated; all we could see was white. I’d made a bad call to say the least. I was horrified beyond words. Nowhere in the pamphlet were the windows shown to be designed this way, but too bad so sad, custom windows are nonrefundable. In an attempt to upgrade our home and enhance our quality of life, I’d just spent a fortune on a downgrade.
That evening, sick from my choice, we shifted gears into finalizing our presentation for the Canadian gig. Work must go on, despite heartbreak. But what now? The computer freezes, tweaks, crashes, goes to blue screen. The brand-new computer we just bought to replace my old one that had crashed. Unbelievable. It’s a mad-dash scramble to revert to our one remaining machine. Hours later, it’s finally time for bed. I’m brushing my teeth in our recently remodeled bathroom. My eyes drift to the ceiling. Something is amiss. The paint seems to be bulging, warped, sagging. Do my tired eyes deceive me, or is my newly painted ceiling really bubbled? I grab a chair, I touch the ceiling, and water drips through. So much for a good night’s sleep before we drive to Canada and speak the next day!
All hands on deck, we are in full crisis mode. Wrong windows, warped doors, crashed computer, leaky ceiling. Anything else? We get to the Canadian border. At the request of our host, we’re bringing our books to sell (Challenges of the Firefighter Marriage), and to bring them over the border we must declare them. We enter the customs office. It’s complicated. Forms to fill out. Taxes to pay. We neither of us were quite expecting this but somehow muddle through. Our blood pressure was already high because of the previous day’s events, but this raises it even higher. We get to the venue frazzled and running on fumes. But now the projector won’t work. Our presentation must be linked to the projector or the audience will not see any of it. Mike tries everything. So does the host. Nothing. By now we’re about to lose it. So stressed are we that we’re both actually sweating. Can we pull this off, my teammate and me? Will we even be able to think clearly, let alone speak? Our load keeps getting heavier; the storm threatens to wipe us out. But we press on.
Suddenly, after many attempts, the projector marries up to our computer. We’re on. Side by side, we step up and address the large and lovely crowd that has assembled to hear us speak. With all the tension and stress, it somehow makes our message ring even truer. We speak from the heart. We pour out our souls as we try to encourage and strengthen the firefighter wives in attendance. In sync, in tandem, my teammate and I manage to get the job done. We sell lots of books too. The ladies are warm, receptive, pleased.
As we collapse into our car silent and spent, a song comes on the radio. It’s our song; You’re My Best Friend (by Queen). What are the chances? Listening to the words, we perk up, revived by this romantic musical sentiment of our long and happy marriage. We begin to talk—talk of the windows, the doors, the computer, the leaky bath ceiling. Financially, we’re on the same team; we will pay whatever it costs to switch out my view blockers for picture windows. We talk about our kids and realize that once again, parentally, we have the same ideas. We stop and grab an ice cream cone for the road and enjoy the sweetness; it’s a socially shared moment, a reward for a job well done, fun amidst the toil. We make plans for the bath and computer repairs; directionally, we move ahead on our goals. I apologize for my grievous choice of windows, taking full responsibility for the gaffe. But my teammate is with me; the mistake was not just mine but his too. Defensively he has my back and displays no anger, resentment, or judgment. We’re in it together, he says, live and learn. We shared the load of the evening’s work equally; we each did our part to present our message to the fire spouses. When we speak, sometimes I get flustered; I then shift to Mike, and with his knowing glance—he lobs it gently back to me. He’s the gifted speaker, I the novice, but the material is all mine. Back and forth we volley, till somehow our class is done. Marital teammates in action.
As we finally arrive home (after 1:00 a.m.), we fall into bed exhausted yet somehow exhilarated. My best friend has stood by me; we got the job done. A single draft horse can pull 8,000 pounds; a team—24,000. Mike and I pulled a triple load that day with each of us doing our part to get the job done. Roommate or teammate, I know which I want by my side. Which will you choose? Be a teammate—and one who’s in it for the long haul.
If you’re interested in my book, check it out here: http://www.pennwellbooks.com/shop-fire-books-videos/new-products/challenges-of-the-firefighter-marriage.
Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 33 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.