On the afternoon of October 9, 2020, my wife, Marissa, and I were leaving Glenns Creek Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. We took a trip down starting the day before to celebrate her birthday which fell that week and our wedding anniversary which would be two days later.
We were making our way through certain parts of the “bourbon trail” that weekend and Glenns Creek was our last stop that day. We were fortunate to have a tasting with the owner of that distillery and it would prove to be one of our more memorable stops for more than one reason.
We did our best to pick up mementos from each distillery we could, whether it be a bottle to bring back home, a tumbler or something of that nature. At Glenns Creek, there were bourbon staves available for sale and I asked for one of those to add to our transaction. The owner was kind enough to sign it and I asked for a special request after his signature.
“Could you please write your tagline on the stave as well?”
As Marissa and I were leaving, I handed her the stave and said: “Read it.”
Alas, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Something I’ve made mention of more recently, via this blog and my podcast, is that Marissa and I have had an interesting history together. None of it has been traditional or orthodox, none of it has been what I think either of us ever considered normal.
As I’ve said to her, I feel as if we’ve spent the better part of our 11 years together going from one challenging circumstance to another. The upside being, that you get to be really good at solving problems and overcoming those challenges; the downside being, that you can (as we did) lose sight of actually having a relationship.
Readers of mine who have been in a long term relationship of any note know that nothing is ever perfect and as the adage goes “marriage is hard” and we’ve seen a lot of that in our time together.
The first 16 months of our relationship, Marissa was still a performer at DisneyWorld in Florida. We would see each other once a month, me in Ohio trying my damnedest to get RevFit off the ground, and she, 1000 miles away in Orlando. What we didn’t have in quantity of time, became a focus on quality.
It was within the first 7 months of those 16, that my father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. He would leave this world nine months later. Marissa had to see me through all of that and I can’t imagine it was easy for her to do.
Her contract ended at Disney shortly before my Dad passed and after 5 years living in much warmer climates, she moved back to Ohio to be closer to me and her family.
Sadly, her parents were soon to be separated not long after she moved back. So, we transitioned from the trauma of losing my father to the trauma of watching her parents split.
We were both in these strange phases of our lives. RevFit kept growing and as it did, the demands on my time increased which meant, less time to spend with her. Marissa did her best to balance whatever degree of support she could provide to not only our relationship but the one with her parents too.
Due to the circumstances of losing my father and how it affected my mother and the way that Marissa’s parents were handling their divorce, our time became even more compromised, each of us children trying to step up in efforts to support the women who brought us into this world.
As my business continued to grow, it fed into my workaholic nature and I not only threw more of myself into the business, but it took more away from what I could emotionally give to my relationship. As one could predict, this began to create friction between Marissa and I.
Nevertheless, our relationship continued to move forward, and in October of 2014, we married.
“They” say that your problems don’t go away once you get married and those wise people would be correct. Our problems, no matter how they manifested, would only simmer and explode or be swept under the rug, waiting for a cleaning that never wanted to arrive.
August of 2017 brought the arrival of our son, Sebastian. Marissa’s first child, my second, having Jackson in my first marriage. The year before, Marissa and I had the opportunity to take over another business, a performing arts/dance school where she could let her creativity continue to grow.
But, the addition of a child, plus the demands of a new business proved to be more than she or I could handle, and the stress of that business only compounded the stress we brought into our marriage.
And so, each of us fiercely stubborn and independent in our own way, began to focus on the things we felt control over: RevFit for me and motherhood for her. Resentments, continued friction and a growing inability to communicate only furthered our problems.
When the dam finally broke, and it did, there was little left for us. We had nearly become strangers in our own home, two people passing like thieves in the night, trying to maintain composure for the sake of our son and not really succeeding at anything.
So, we had to step back, both of us coming to the conclusion that we each needed a therapist to sort through what was happening.
There were times when I think neither of us quite knew how to step forward or even if we could.
Slowly, that tide began to shift. There was no one catalyst. There were so many forces working for and against us that it felt as if we were speaking two different languages trying to work towards the same truth.
In many ways, it was an approach of “burn it all down and build it back again.” (Not a method I would recommend to others).
Little by little, our communication changed, the way we looked at each other changed, the way we said “I love you” changed, the way we actually showed love in our house changed.
It had to.
Too much damage had been done and it was our own way of reinventing the wheel.
That trip last year was a pivotal shift for us. It was our first time away together without Sebastian and we needed time to talk without interference, without fear of reprise, laying all of our cards out on the table.
Today, we are not the same. We could not possibly be. We deserved better than that.
And when I gave her that stave, the tagline from Glenns Creek, written on the stave by the owner said: “A little different, a lot better.”
Marissa read it.
I looked at her and said, “Like us.”
Her eyes started to well up with tears and she said, “Yes, just like us.”
And it’s been our mantra to each other ever since.