Two days ago Surrey County Cricket Club finished off their County Championship season against Essex with a last ball loss that denied them the proper end to their fairy tale season but still allowed them to celebrate on their home patch under the long shadows at the Oval in South London.
It was their first County Championship since 2002, the year I was married. And so since this year is the year of my divorce, the Surrey Championships bookend my entire marriage.
Surrey won the title in 2002 with an aging team of rock star 90s cricketers. Alec Stewart, Mark Butcher, Graham Thorpe, et al. It was at the tail end of a period of great success in the Championship, with titles in 1999 and 2001, as well. That August my wife and I were married at her sister’s house in the middle of a Wrath of God, Old Testament-style thunderstorm. We were living in a downtown Minneapolis high rise and we spent our honeymoon just hanging around town, with the week off work, drinking beer and wishing the Twins were in town.
In the fall of the next year, we bought our first house together. I got promoted the following January, and two months later we brought home our first dog, Murray, on a dark late winter night. He was the light of our lives for the next seven years. Surrey for their part were relegated in 2005, won promotion in 2006, but were relegated again in 2008. My wife and I bought our second house the August of their first relegation, we both quit smoking in 2007 and I started following cricket, and then in July of that year we both took new jobs, leaving the jobs we thought we would end up working at forever. We refinanced our home, we laughed a lot, we walked the dog together every morning.
Surrey were never even close to promotion the following few seasons. I was laid off in 2009 and took the worst job I’ve ever had. I was miserable. But there was money coming in. And thus started a rather tumultuous but lovely time in our lives together. We cancelled cable and started going out again. Niki started playing music and formed her own band. I went back to school. We went to London and Paris. Murray aged. We fought a lot but we were okay, maybe more than okay, maybe happy.
In the fall of 2011 Surrey finally won promotion back to Division One by the margin of a single point, after winning their final four matches. The previous August Niki and I went to the wedding of my friend Rob in Ashland, Wisconsin. It was a magical long weekend full of friends and love. Maybe the best weekend of my whole life, surely the best weekend of my marriage. Murray stayed with my mother. When we picked him up it looked as though he had aged 1,000 years since we’d last saw him. He could barely hold his head up. A month later on a cloudy Tuesday September morning we said goodbye to our precious boy on the cold floor of a sterile vet’s office. We wrapped him in a blanket, turned out the light, and left him sleeping. We never stopped mourning. Niki got laid off one month later. Her dad got sick. Things were hard.
The following June the immensely talented Surrey cricketer, Tom Maynard, was killed under sad and heartbreaking circumstances. It cast a shadow over Surrey’s season, one in which they barely survived relegation. Meanwhile, Niki and I grieved. We walked away from our house. And then we came back. It was a hard, terrible, wonderful year. We adopted Robbie, a hound mutt with big floppy ears who made us laugh everyday. I graduated from school, and took a new job and started this blog. Life shuffled on. 2013 saw Surrey finish at the bottom of Division One, sending them back to Division Two, where they would stay until 2015. That same year, I took another new job, so did Niki. We went on trips and bought records and laughed a lot in our kitchen, just like we always did. We got a new car and a new roof and a new furnace. We saw live music and went for walks in the woods with the dog on fall days. Niki’s dad died. My sister got cancer.
On Friday, April 20th, Surrey kicked of their 2018 County Championship campaign against Hampshire at the Oval, winning by 133 runs. Two weeks later, I left Niki, left my home. One month after that, I got my own apartment in St. Paul’s West 7th neighborhood. Two days after I signed my lease we filed divorce papers in the cold cubicle of a paralegal in a soulless government building. Three weeks after that, our divorce was final. In mid-August Niki met someone else. One month later, at the New Road against Worcestershire, Surrey won their first County Championship in 16 years with two matches to spare. And today I sit here alone, writing this, my tea growing cold, autumn settling in outside my window.
16 years between Division One titles. A marriage. A lifetime. So much happened. So much life, and so much cricket. 16 years. And the above was the only the big moments. The houses and the dogs and the promotions and the relegations. It doesn’t even scratch the surface of all that truly happened in that time period. All those long days at the Oval in front of sparse crowds as the players shivered in April, or the days of long shadows at Old Trafford in September. Or the quiet mornings with coffee and a walk, or movies together, or concerts, or dinners. Birthdays, anniversaries, inside jokes, secret lexicons. Trips to the bank. Trips to the record store. Oil changes and grocery shopping. Countless small moments that make up a marriage, a life. I cannot turn a corner without a memory smacking me in the back of the head, reminding me of all that’s changed, of all that’s lost.
16 years. That’s such a long time to wait for fans of Surrey County Cricket Club. Just look at all that can happen in that length of time. And that’s just my story. What’s yours? Kids and aging parents and new houses and success at work. Plus quiet nights on the patio with the sunset, or a mug of tea on a winter’s afternoon, its steam visible in the low sunlight from the kitchen window. All those moments that make up a day, a week, a month, a year. Now add up 16 years worth of those moments, and you start to understand how long those suffering Surrey fans had to wait, and you also understand why my heart is broken, even though I was the one who left.
All that time. All that life. Gone forever.