21 years ago, I had just graduated from UK with a music performance degree in hand. Graduate school at the conservatory loomed large and for the first summer in several years, I had nothing planned except riveting work at the local Dairy Mart. Earlier that Spring while home on spring break, I remember seeing an advertisement (perhaps it was an ad in the Lima News or a flyer at the theatre) for music directing Encore Theatre's production of "Crazy for You". Full of hubris, I threw my hat in the ring for the position, somehow landing the job right in time for summer. I remember studying the score in between serving Slushees...two worlds colliding for sure.
Who knew what was next? La Scala? The Met? Broadway? Most of you know how that turned out...and yes, I am jesting.
Auditions began in earnest, with what seemed to be the entire population of Lima, OH, trying out for a part given that the line stretched throughout the building (that's an exaggeration of course, but you get the idea). As we moved to the group of women who were auditioning, one stood out for her fierce talent. Kim Schroeder had that extra something about her - an authentic talent that went beyond typical. She didn't just sing a piece of music, she dug into its guts and extracted the meaning and emotion out of it. For me she had the technical and musical gift that so many in the music and theatre sectors lacked, especially when it came to the artistry and real-ness.
In my mind, I was scrambling to answer the question "who IS this person?" She wasn't a Limaite. She had just come back from NYC after an internship and stint in cabaret. But she was local. We then noted she was from Columbus Grove but as long as I had lived in Lima, I had never been there...Grove may as well have been Mars. Yes, I had heard of the place, but never set foot in the city limits.
Needless to say, she stood out from the rest. Karen Longbrake, the director, and I, cast her as Polly and from that point forward, the summer would turn into one that would change both of our lives.
By July, we realized we had feelings for each other and soon things, well, escalated. Review of china patterns at Lazarus, bad dinners but great conversations at Chi Chi's restaurant (the chips and salsa were pretty tasty, though), incredibly long talks into the night over the phone and in the green room of the theatre: soon it became clear I was falling in love. I had found someone who knew what I was about, who got me. I had been in a long-term relationship prior, but we never really got each other. Kim was different.
There's a lot of details in between but what matters here is that one year later - 20 years ago - we made the plunge and got married, a marriage grounded in deep friendship - a year after meeting that fateful summer in a theatre, in a small town in Ohio.
Our lives have evolved significantly since then. Several moves, several career changes for both of us, major changes to our spiritual and philosophical moorings, and two beautiful, wonderful children later we have a lot to look back on with gratitude. Our families have supported us in thick-and-thin, through the years for which I know we're deeply appreciative.
Yet, it's not the number of actual years to me that count. So often, it seems that people celebrating anniversaries get stuck on "the count". "We made it." "We stuck it through". Perhaps there is some value to such thinking. Indeed, in some cases, making it through is an accomplishment.
For me, however, it's the growth, the learning, the evolution of who I am because of this fine woman. A great artist, a smart human being (as bright as any academic I know, and if you don't believe me, read her stuff or talk to her), kind, compassionate, and sensitive in the best sense. She has been an inspiration, a fine editor of my writing, a confidante. I have always been able to count on her to be there during the hardest days of my career thus far, providing counsel, listening to my ramblings, helping me decipher the psychology of leading groups and individuals, urging me to keep on keeping on. You really can't get any better than that in a partner. And, she made sacrifices for us and for my career that I will forever appreciate.
Yes, like most marriages, our marriage has been one of ups and downs, and with each I firmly believe we've become stronger, better people. Through each other and our children, we've had some amazing experiences; as well we have weathered some harrowing times in which I and we have taken some odd turns.
And now it's year 20.
In year 20, we are on the precipice of sending our first child to college, a young woman with an incredible head on her shoulders, no doubt influenced by her mother and also who is very much her own person (a result, I believe, of Kim's insistence that we raise our children as free thinkers). We also have a tremendous son whose empathy, love, and good-naturedness comes from a similar place of caring and compassion, attributes Kim has fostered through the years.
In year 20, I am looking ahead now with an eye towards how we are each growing in our careers. Where my career goes is unknown and for the first time in a long time, I am okay with that ambiguity. What I do know is that our partnership is allowing us to set a course that makes more room for that ambiguity and more importantly for Kim's blossoming career as a first-rate actress. Her determination is incredible, especially as she takes on an industry that is pre-disposed to youth over experience; Disneyfication over authentic representation. If any one person can do it, it's Kim. And while one can say a career isn't THE thing or the ONLY thing, it is in part what provide us purpose, what can enable us to fulfill another vital part of ourselves. For this, I am immensely proud to be at her side as she immerses herself in the work, building what I believe will be a formidable career in the arts.
In year 20, I am looking forward to years of exploring the world together. We both have a yearning to see what's out there, to see and meet new people from different cultures and backgrounds. What better way to do see the world than with one's best friend?
In year 20, I am looking forward to recommitting for another twenty years, to raising each other up, to making good not just on vows but promising to keep raising the other up, to best version of our selves as possible.
In the end, it really isn't about the number. It truly is about the quality of the person, the depth of the relationship, and the opportunity to become the individuals we want to become as one couple. I have that in Ms. Kimberly Schroeder-Long.
I love you, Kim, and thank you for being the partner I have always needed and wanted. Here is to us today, tomorrow, and for the long-term.