In Case Of Non-Emergency

One of the many built-in benefits of marriage is the ever-present emergency contact. Medical forms, 5K race entries, insurance paperwork, whatever. If something goes wrong, call this guy. Call my husband. He’ll come for me.

I’ve had to make a few emergency calls myself over the years. There was the “I got laid off from my job today” call that I had to make the same day our very first mortgage payment was due. Then there was the “The doctor said I should consider fertility medication” call. The “I got in a car accident and I need you to come get me” call the day after I found out I was pregnant. The “The adoption case worker called and there’s a baby in the NICU” call that came when our oldest was just 18 months old. Some of the most important moments in our marriage can be marked by those phone calls and how we responded to them. Those are the punctuation marks in the story of us — the endings and new starts and big pauses that organize the moments into the chapters that have defined us.

But in between those punctuation marks is the prose. It’s the everyday, the unremarkable, the overlookable. The desperate 4pm “When will be you be home from work?” calls. The grocery lists and to do lists and bucket lists that are always put off for a later day. The knowing glances and butt pats and inside jokes with which we write our story, one word at a time.

Last year, as part of an effort to invest in my own personal story a bit, I committed to competing in one race every month for the entire year. I was nervous for every single race — always unsure that I had trained hard enough or knew the course well enough — but the open water swim race was by far the most nerve-wracking.

The swim was in Lake Tahoe, at high altitude, in cold water. It was a 1.2 mile swim, a distance I could comfortably cover in the pool but was concerned would become impossible in the thin mountain air. Every time I thought about it, I felt a little sick to my stomach.

My husband knew this, of course. He listened to me debate signing up for the race in the first place, always pushing me to go for it while I waffled between confidence and doubt. He sat across the table as we worked out the logistics of traveling to Tahoe for the weekend. He acted as interested as a human being can act in the mundane details of lap swimming as I recounted each training workout to him, needing affirmation that I was doing enough. He cheered me on at every turn, knowing how badly I needed it. He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.

As the race approached, I finagled a day to sneak up to Tahoe for a practice swim so I could test out how the altitude would affect me. I was disproportionately nervous. What if I couldn’t finish? What if I threw up (a very real concern)? What if, in some form or another, I failed?

The practice swim was fine. I swam a mile without incident, my wetsuit was comfortable, and all of my worrying was ultimately for nothing. I was so, so relieved. I called my husband immediately. I needed to say the words out loud, and there was no question as to who would understand exactly what the words meant.

It’s a quirky call to make, for sure. No one else on earth could have possibly understood what it meant to me, to have that practice swim go well. No one else knew the nuanced details of my constant battle with self-doubt, and how having the physical proof of an athletic achievement enabled me to believe in my intangible abilities as well. But he knew. He knew because he knows me, and he knows my story. He doesn’t just know it, he is a co-author.

It was not an emergency. It was not a big moment phone call. We probably spoke for less than two minutes, and he was probably typing an email the whole time I was talking. But he listened. He knew I needed that. “Of course it was fine,” he said, “I never doubted you for a second.”

And I knew that he meant it, that he never doubted me. In that moment, that quirky non-emergency phone call from a Lake Tahoe State Park parking lot, I was known completely. I did not need a near death experience to show me what mattered.

When I look back at the moments that have shaped my story most, that swim will hardly even be worth consideration. The phone call I made afterwards could easily be forgotten in a sea of two minute phone calls made over the course of our marriage. But having the person to call - the non-emergency contact - knowing without question that the moments that matter to me will matter to him? That’s the love story that runs throughout.

Written by Anna Quinlan. Photo by Taylor Johnson.