breathing easy

Danny on the lawnmower

Seven years ago today, about this time of the day, I walked into a coffee shop, sure this wasn’t going to go well. I was meeting a guy, a chef, the last in a long line of dates I had been going on for 6 weeks. Determined to give finding love one more try before I officially began walking the path to becoming the old lady who lived alone with a lot of cats, I had tried an online dating service one more time. Six weeks of dull and dreadful and oh goodness no later, I had quit the dating service. My agent had signed me on. I was going to write a book. Clearly, I was going to end up marrying myself. And I was fine with that.

But this guy, this chef, he wrote to me just under the wire. His “wink” was the last one on the list on the last day of checking the email address I had set up for this experiment. I was done. But he had kind eyes. And he loved food. I agreed to meet him, certain it wouldn’t work.

Seven years ago today, I met my best friend, the person who makes me laugh harder than anyone in life, and a damned fine kisser. I also met the man who led to Lucy. Danny, you’re the best thing that ever happened to me.

Sometimes, I’ll hear from people who wonder if I’m as much in love with him as I was when we first met. “You don’t talk about him very much these days. Are you two okay?” I read these emails, which are all very sweet, to Danny. We laugh together. Yep, we’re fine.

How do you write about your own breath?

There’s a reason why we describe those first few heady months and years of being together as breathless. “You take my breath away!” It’s true. Once I met Danny, it was like I needed to learn how to breathe fresh air for the first time. It was all so new and startling and unexpected, a little like altitude sickness at the top of a mountain you only stared at from the bottom before. I was 39, ready to give up on love. You never could have told me I’d have a love story that other people would know, that would make someone else say, “Oh, I want that!” Me?

But love, real love, the love you feel after living through seven incredible, sometimes tough, sometimes noteworthy, mostly daily years together? That love is much sweeter than new love. It’s regular love, mundane love, taking-out-the-garbage and folding-the-laundry together love. It’s breath, shared in the same space. We only write about breath when it’s ragged or fractured or painful. Daily love is almost unnoticed.

Except, I notice this man. I notice the way he spins our daughter around the room, dancing, a huge smile on his face. I notice the way he mows the lawn on our riding lawnmower, taking pride in keeping the grass neat, an inviting space for our family outside. (And then I kid him about the fact he’s on lawnmower forums online.) I notice the fact that he’s always cooking for us, talking with me about food and all the ways we can play with it. I notice that he holds Lucy’s hand as they walk down the driveway toward our neighbors’ house to feed their goats and chickens when they are away. I notice how he lies in bed next to me at night, fighting sleep since he wants to have one more conversation with me.

This is a man who drove 11 hours in one day to pick up our no-longer-stolen car, then woke up the moment our daughter burst into the room, looking for her daddy. It was his morning to sleep in, but she wanted to see him, so he woke up from too-little sleep to read her books downstairs. And then he made the coffee.

I cannot imagine my life without him. But more than that, after seven years together, I am a different person than when we met. I am his wife. I am his daughter’s mama. I am more fully myself than I ever was before I met him.

Many of you comment — and thank you for the comments — about how fully I write from my heart here. I can do that because I have Danny by my side. I get most of the credit for this website, since I’m the one writing. But this is, absolutely, an equal partnership. We talk and talk about what we might cook, about the process, about what we want to do next. He knows more about food than I ever will. He helps me style the food. He chooses the photographs that we’ll use, after I have taken them. I read every single piece to him before it is published. (Not this one. This one is his gift.) And we talk, all through the day, about the work we do and hope to do. He is my sounding board, my best reference, and the reason this site exists as it does.

Our cookbook has a funny credit on the cover. “Gluten-Free Girl Every Day, by Shauna James Ahern, with Daniel Ahern.” Tell truth, I’m not happy about it. There was some feeling that if we put “and the chef” on the cover, people might not buy the book. Chefs intimidate readers, we were told. And so he became a “with,” instead of a “by.” This lovely guy of mine is so utterly himself that he doesn’t mind. “We know what’s true,” he said to me. But let me tell you, he’s not standing apart from me. He’s with me. This is our cookbook together.

I just wanted you to know.

Seven years ago, gasping for breath and not even knowing it, I stepped into a coffee shop in Seattle. I walked up to this man who already looked familiar and teased him about how much sugar he was putting into his coffee. I touched him right away and we started talking. We haven’t stopped since. His love gives me the courage to write, to offer, to put myself out there.

I breathe easy with him by my side.