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anniversary

Be Still

My dad was the person who taught me to be comfortable with silence. We could get in the car and drive for twenty minutes without a word being spoken. While his and my mother’s relationship ultimately cracked under the weight of that silence, for me, the daughter, his quiet felt benign, reassuring, a safe place to be.

Even more, when he did speak, his words carried weight. A handful of my strongest memories, in fact, center around moments when he engaged in verbal expression. One time, after I’d won a forensics tournament out of town, returning from the meet during the early hours of the morning, I left my trophy on the dining room table. By the time I woke up later that day, my dad had left a note, telling me he was so proud, pronouncing he was “busting his buttons.” Another time, after I’d behaved badly, he sat across from my hungover self and told me he was “deeply disappointed.” Many years later, during the night when a bat flew into my house, and I had a histrionic “I’m all alone, and the bat is trying to kill me” meltdown for three hours in my bathroom, I managed to grab my phone and call my parents, over a thousand miles away. When I sobbed and sobbed that a killer beast was out there, and all I had were tampons for friends and nail files for weapons, my dad, casting about, counseled, “What you need to do is reach way down inside yourself now and find something you don’t think you have. Dig deep, and you’ll find something you need.” He was right. We hung up, and I dug deep, finding inside myself the numbers 911, which I punched into the phone with great bravery.

Perhaps my fondest conversation with my dad occurred about a decade before his death. Chatting on the phone, we stumbled across the subject of my sister and me and our many differences. Trying to qualify the nature of the differences, my dad remarked that my sister took after his side of the family, where a certain dourness and pessimism sometimes manifested themselves. “She reminds me of myself,” he noted, continuing, “and you don’t. You’re more, well, effervescent.”

There it was: one of those moments we hope for with our parents, those moments when they give us a word, an adjective, a feeling of being seen, and it signifies everything: that they see us as separate, as differentiated beings; that they have thought about us; that they have taken stock of us; that we are far enough away from them for the space to have cleared everyone’s vision. Because such words, such adjectives, are born from the lifelong process of symbiosis to independence, they have power. Plus, anytime someone describes me to myself, I believe him.

It wasn’t even so much that I wanted to think of myself as “effervescent” – although it was a welcome label – but rather, it was more that I wanted to think of my dad thinking of me that way. Sometimes, from then on, I effervesced just for him.

It surprised me, then, to learn – repeatedly – that a pipping personality didn’t reap greater rewards, in the larger scope of the world. Certainly, I didn’t expect to be voted into office on the Effervescence Platform, nor did I expect the medical field to approach me, asking me to donate to the Effervescence Transfusion Bank. But I had expected being smiley and liking sunshine might have snagged me a boyfriend.

did date a man throughout my 20’s, and then I truly, madly, deeply dated another guy – one who left my two liters of effervescence out on the counter with the cap off and made all the bubbles go flat. He de-carbonated me in a way that no one ever had before, not even the boys on the high school bus who moo-ed at my sister and me.

He made my sizzle fizzle.

And then my grandma died, and the doctor found a lump in my breast.

I was thirty-one.

Thirty-one wasn’t my favorite year.

Fortunately, just when I was pacing the circle of my small kitchen for the 123rd time in an hour, gnawing on my cuticles, I still had girlfriends who called, opening with, “Oh, honey. I just heard. Talk to me.” Even when I would have to set down the phone to grab another handful of Kleenex, they would stay on the line, shouting things like, “From the amount of snot you’re emitting, you do seem well-hydrated. And that’s something, right?” Also, I had extended family who knew how to circle around sideways and never look me straight in my teary eyes. Instead, they gave me food and invited me to participate in the yearly butchering of the deer after the hunt in November. Gently, they wove easy affection around my heartache.

Eventually, the molasses movement of seconds turned into minutes finally adding up into hours and days, and then months went by. My grandma was buried; the lump was benign; the former boyfriend had a new girl.

Just after the new year, one of my hunting cousins sent me an email, asking if I’d like to drive north to come visit his family and, by the way, if I would be at all interested in letting him serve as my “agent in the field,” romantically.

Flattened, completely without zest or hope, my response was worthy of my father’s side of the family: “Go ahead, if you want to, but I won’t expect anything from it.”

As it turned out, my cousin already had someone in mind, a twenty-eight-year-old colleague he worked with in a very small town of about 300 people. One day, sitting in the office, looking across at this twenty-eight-year-old, my cousin started musing, “How’s Byron ever going to find someone in this bohunk town?” A moment later, he thought back to Thanksgiving, the deer butchering, and the conversations we’d had, which resulted in, “For that matter, how’s my poor cousin ever going to find someone in the bohunk town where she’s living?”

His head swiveled back and forth, and his thoughts rammed into each other. He approached his co-worker, Byron, who agreed, “Sure, you can be my agent in the field. But this cousin of yours, since she lives more than five hours away, she’d have to really knock my socks off for me to start seeing her.” Fair enough. Next, my cousin approached me.

It was agreed: I’d drive the five hours north and, while visiting my cousin’s family, meet Byron. In the past, imbued with effervescence, I’d greeted any opportunity to meet a potential partner with gusto and a knee-jerk, involuntary planning of our lives together. This time, I didn’t think much of the whole thing.

We’d see.

That February, over Presidents’ Day weekend, I visited. I got to hold my cousin’s baby and watch his four-year-old ice skate. One afternoon, we stopped by the campus where my cousin taught environmental education. As we drove away, he said, casually, “Oh, that man back there who was leaning down, talking to people through their car window? The one in the red hat? That was Byron.”

My cousin, perhaps, didn’t understand that such information would have been welcome, say, two minutes earlier.

That night, the guy in the red hat strolled into my cousin’s house, there for The Meeting, there for dinner. He carried a six-pack of homebrew.

I liked him already.

In short order, I learned that Byron not only wore a red hat and was quite tall. I also learned he really liked making bread, reading the Atlantic Monthly, and running on trails. I learned that he was an anthropology major who’d minored in environmental science. I learned that his Desert Island food would be cheese (dropped from a helicopter once a month, to supplement the fish and coconuts he would be living on otherwise); his Desert Island album would be Van Morrison’s Moondance; his Desert Island book would be some sort of reference volume, all the better if it contained maps.

I learned that, while the idea of him hadn’t infused me with bubbles, the reality of him was creating a few tiny pops.

Dinner lasted five hours. As soon as he left, my previously-cool cousin and his wife, who had discreetly retired to the kitchen eight feet away after dessert, were all nerves. They gave me thirty seconds after the door closed behind Byron before yelling, “SO? SO?????”

My response was positive, but guarded. He seemed nice. I would see more of him. If he wanted to.

Because all the little broken pieces inside of me weren’t quite realigned yet, I wasn’t going to put myself forward this time. I couldn’t take another dashing.

Fortunately, a few days later, Byron asked my cousin for my email address. The interest had been mutual. Apparently, his strongest first impression of me was that I had a lot of hair. He thought he could get lost in it.

What ensued was a modern epistolary courtship. For three weeks, we sent messages back and forth, discovering that writing is an excellent way to get to know someone: the small talk is non-existent; the conversations get to meaty matters right away; there is no body language to read or misread, no annoying laugh to cringe from.

After three weeks, Byron announced he was ready to “jump off the comfortable dock” and into the potentially-frigid waters of face-to-face. Thus, during my Spring Break in March, I headed north again, for our first real date.

As we sat in a dingy bar, having burgers and beers, conversation flowed. Snow fell.

14 inches of it.

When it came time to take Byron to his house before driving back to my cousin’s place, my car got stuck. In the snow. At Byron’s house. He didn’t seem to mind. His roommates were friendly. I stayed over.

I had no choice.

What I learned in those days of my Spring Break was that Byron liked to listen to me read aloud – and if that’s not an activity of the infatuated, I don’t know what is. He also proved that he’s very good at necking.

And, about three days in, after he’d had a bath one night, Byron came back into his bedroom, where I lounged. “Brrrrrr,” he exclaimed. “My feet are cold!”

“Why are they so cold? Was the bath water not warm enough?” I asked.

“No. They’re freezing because. you. knocked. my. socks. off.”

Suddenly, BAM: there it was. The effervescence was back, the flatness banished.

Everything was going to be all right.

Not too long afterward, as I stared very hard at the ceiling, I admitted I had fallen in love. He had the right answer.

By the end of my Spring Break week, five days after our first date, we had talked about what kind of wedding we wanted.

Four months later, one July morning, as I slept on a futon on the floor, he crawled in with a plate of pancakes and a Betsy Bowen woodcut entitled “Fox on a Journey.”

He asked me to marry him.

In quick order, we planned a wedding for the following May.

In even quicker order — that night — I got pregnant. Three months after that, I had a miscarriage. Four days after that, we found out I’d been carrying twins, and one was still hanging on.

We moved the wedding to November, not even nine months after we first played the Desert Island game over dinner. Byron became my groom right there at the environmental learning center where I’d first not-quite-spotted-him in his red hat. The bleeding from the miscarriage had stopped three days earlier. I sobbed through the vows.

Four months later, we two became we three.

All of that wonder unfolded in 1999. Not given to dreaming about the future before then, I have since been granted beauties I couldn’t possibly have imagined.

And, like my father, he is gentle. Like my father, he has a thousand-watt smile.

Like my father, he is given to quiet, most comfortable in stillness.

He likes it when I reach under his shirt and scratch his back.
He cooks dinner every night.
He was our stay-at-home parent for 14 years after that baby girl (and later her brother) was born.
He sits on the living room floor with me, straddling my leg, holding two lengths of kinesio tape as I shift my patella this way, then that. Expertly, teasing me about how I shredded my fingernails trying to remove the adhesive backing the first time we tackled “Care of Jocelyn’s Ailing Knee,” he applies the tape from calf to thigh, giving it a pat of hopeful optimism as he says, “I hope this keeps you spry for at least four days.”
He is unfazed by my random bursts of tears.
He is whimsical. He is dry. He is perceptive.
He sees that my ability to talk to people is as valuable as his ability to do everything else.
He cross-stitches abstracts of swirls in squash soup and burn marks left on the pan after vegetables have been roasted.
He knows how to give me directions that make sense, like “go straight until you see the big rock shaped like Richard Nixon’s head.”
He hears my ideas and helps me realize them.
He falls into 90-Day Fiance addiction so we can compare notes on which Russian brides are too smart for the Ohio doofuses they settle for.
He laughs at the suggestion we move our yoga mats so that their edges touch, noting it’s the space between that allows us to breathe.
And in the darkness of night, when I whimper in my sleep because I can’t save the babies from the soldiers, his touch on my back pulls me to safety.

Now, twenty years in to the marriage, there is nothing we love more than to sit and watch the world flit by

holding hands in companionable silence.

_________________________________________

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Bestill: 19

My dad was the person who taught me to be comfortable with silence. We could get in the car and drive for twenty minutes without a word being spoken. While his and my mother’s relationship ultimately cracked under the weight of that silence, for me, the daughter, his quiet felt benign, reassuring, a safe place to be.

Even more, when he did speak, his words carried weight. A handful of my strongest memories, in fact, center around moments when he engaged in verbal expression. One time, after I’d won a forensics tournament out of town, returning from the meet during the early hours of the morning, I left my trophy on the dining room table. By the time I woke up later that day, my dad had left a note, telling me he was so proud, pronouncing he was “busting his buttons.” Another time, after I’d behaved badly, he sat across from my hungover self and told me he was “deeply disappointed.” Many years later, during the night when a bat flew into my house, and I had a histrionic “I’m all alone, and the bat is trying to kill me” meltdown for three hours in my bathroom, I managed to grab my phone and call my parents, over a thousand miles away. When I sobbed and sobbed that a killer beast was out there, and all I had were tampons for friends and nail files for weapons, my dad, casting about, counseled, “What you need to do is reach way down inside yourself now and find something you don’t think you have. Dig deep, and you’ll find something you need.” He was right. We hung up, and I dug deep, finding inside myself the numbers 911, which I punched into the phone with great bravery.

Perhaps my fondest conversation with my dad occurred about a decade before his death. Chatting on the phone, we stumbled across the subject of my sister and me and our many differences. Trying to qualify the nature of the differences, my dad remarked that my sister took after his side of the family, where a certain dourness and pessimism sometimes manifested themselves. “She reminds me of myself,” he noted, continuing, “and you don’t. You’re more, well, effervescent.”

There it was: one of those moments we hope for with our parents, those moments when they give us a word, an adjective, a feeling of being seen, and it signifies everything: that they see us as separate, as differentiated beings; that they have thought about us; that they have taken stock of us; that we are far enough away from them for the space to have cleared everyone’s vision. Because such words, such adjectives, are born from the lifelong process of symbiosis to independence, they have power. Plus, anytime someone describes me to myself, I believe him.

It wasn’t even so much that I wanted to think of myself as “effervescent” – although it was a welcome label – but rather, it was more that I wanted to think of my dad thinking of me that way. Sometimes, from then on, I effervesced just for him.

It surprised me, then, to learn – repeatedly – that a pipping personality didn’t reap greater rewards, in the larger scope of the world. Certainly, I didn’t expect to be voted into office on the Effervescence Platform, nor did I expect the medical field to approach me, asking me to donate to the Effervescence Transfusion Bank. But I had expected being smiley and liking sunshine might have snagged me a boyfriend.

did date a man throughout my 20’s, and then I truly, madly, deeply dated another guy – one who left my two liters of effervescence out on the counter with the cap off and made all the bubbles go flat. He de-carbonated me in a way that no one ever had before, not even the boys on the high school bus who moo-ed at my sister and me.

He made my sizzle fizzle.

And then my grandma died, and the doctor found a lump in my breast.

I was thirty-one.

Thirty-one wasn’t my favorite year.

Fortunately, just when I was pacing the circle of my small kitchen for the 123rd time in an hour, gnawing on my cuticles, I still had girlfriends who called, opening with, “Oh, honey. I just heard. Talk to me.” Even when I would have to set down the phone to grab another handful of Kleenex, they would stay on the line, shouting things like, “From the amount of snot you’re emitting, you do seem well-hydrated. And that’s something, right?” Also, I had extended family who knew how to circle around sideways and never look me straight in my teary eyes. Instead, they gave me food and invited me to participate in the yearly butchering of the deer after the hunt in November. Gently, they wove easy affection around my heartache.

Eventually, the molasses movement of seconds turned into minutes finally adding up into hours and days, and then months went by. My grandma was buried; the lump was benign; the former boyfriend had a new girl.

Just after the new year, one of my hunting cousins sent me an email, asking if I’d like to drive north to come visit his family and, by the way, if I would be at all interested in letting him serve as my “agent in the field,” romantically.

Flattened, completely without zest or hope, my response was worthy of my father’s side of the family: “Go ahead, if you want to, but I won’t expect anything from it.”

As it turned out, my cousin already had someone in mind, a twenty-eight-year-old colleague he worked with in a very small town of about 300 people. One day, sitting in the office, looking across at this twenty-eight-year-old, my cousin started musing, “How’s Byron ever going to find someone in this bohunk town?” A moment later, he thought back to Thanksgiving, the deer butchering, and the conversations we’d had, which resulted in, “For that matter, how’s my poor cousin ever going to find someone in the bohunk town where she’s living?”

His head swiveled back and forth, and his thoughts rammed into each other. He approached his co-worker, Byron, who agreed, “Sure, you can be my agent in the field. But this cousin of yours, since she lives more than five hours away, she’d have to really knock my socks off for me to start seeing her.” Fair enough. Next, my cousin approached me.

It was agreed: I’d drive the five hours north and, while visiting my cousin’s family, meet Byron. In the past, imbued with effervescence, I’d greeted any opportunity to meet a potential partner with gusto and a knee-jerk, involuntary planning of our lives together. This time, I didn’t think much of the whole thing.

We’d see.

That February, over Presidents’ Day weekend, I visited. I got to hold my cousin’s baby and watch his four-year-old ice skate. One afternoon, we stopped by the campus where my cousin taught environmental education. As we drove away, he said, casually, “Oh, that man back there who was leaning down, talking to people through their car window? The one in the red hat? That was Byron.”

My cousin, perhaps, didn’t understand that such information would have been welcome, say, two minutes earlier.

That night, the guy in the red hat strolled into my cousin’s house, there for The Meeting, there for dinner. He carried a six-pack of homebrew.

I liked him already.

In short order, I learned that Byron not only wore a red hat and was quite tall. I also learned he really liked making bread, reading the Atlantic Monthly, and running on trails. I learned that he was an anthropology major who’d minored in environmental science. I learned that his Desert Island food would be cheese (dropped from a helicopter once a month, to supplement the fish and coconuts he would be living on otherwise); his Desert Island album would be Van Morrison’s Moondance; his Desert Island book would be some sort of reference volume, all the better if it contained maps.

I learned that, while the idea of him hadn’t infused me with bubbles, the reality of him was creating a few tiny pops.

Dinner lasted five hours. As soon as he left, my previously-cool cousin and his wife, who had discreetly retired to the kitchen eight feet away after dessert, were all nerves. They gave me thirty seconds after the door closed behind Byron before yelling, “SO? SO?????”

My response was positive, but guarded. He seemed nice. I would see more of him. If he wanted to.

Because all the little broken pieces inside of me weren’t quite realigned yet, I wasn’t going to put myself forward this time. I couldn’t take another dashing.

Fortunately, a few days later, Byron asked my cousin for my email address. The interest had been mutual. Apparently, his strongest first impression of me was that I had a lot of hair. He thought he could get lost in it.

What ensued was a modern epistolary courtship. For three weeks, we sent messages back and forth, discovering that writing is an excellent way to get to know someone: the small talk is non-existent; the conversations get to meaty matters right away; there is no body language to read or misread, no annoying laugh to cringe from.

After three weeks, Byron announced he was ready to “jump off the comfortable dock” and into the potentially-frigid waters of face-to-face. Thus, during my Spring Break in March, I headed north again, for our first real date.

As we sat in a dingy bar, having burgers and beers, conversation flowed. Snow fell.

14 inches of it.

When it came time to take Byron to his house before driving back to my cousin’s place, my car got stuck. In the snow. At Byron’s house. He didn’t seem to mind. His roommates were friendly. I stayed over.

I had no choice.

What I learned in those days of my Spring Break was that Byron liked to listen to me read aloud – and if that’s not an activity of the infatuated, I don’t know what is. He also proved that he’s very good at necking.

And, about three days in, after he’d had a bath one night, Byron came back into his bedroom, where I lounged. “Brrrrrr,” he exclaimed. “My feet are cold!”

“Why are they so cold? Was the bath water not warm enough?” I asked.

“No. They’re freezing because. you. knocked. my. socks. off.”

Suddenly, BAM: there it was. The effervescence was back, the flatness banished.

Everything was going to be all right.

Not too long afterward, as I stared very hard at the ceiling, I admitted I had fallen in love. He had the right answer.

By the end of my Spring Break week, five days after our first date, we had talked about what kind of wedding we wanted.

Four months later, one July morning, as I slept on a futon on the floor, he crawled in with a plate of pancakes and a Betsy Bowen woodcut entitled “Fox on a Journey.”

He asked me to marry him.

In quick order, we planned a wedding for the following May.

In even quicker order — that night — I got pregnant. Three months after that, I had a miscarriage. Four days after that, we found out I’d been carrying twins, and one was still hanging on.

We moved the wedding to November, not even nine months after we first played the Desert Island game over dinner. Byron became my groom right there at the environmental learning center where I’d first not-quite-spotted-him in his red hat. The bleeding from the miscarriage had stopped three days earlier. I sobbed through the vows.

Four months later, we two became we three.

All of that wonder unfolded in 1999. Not given to dreaming about the future before then, I have since been granted beauties I couldn’t possibly have imagined.

He likes it when I reach under his shirt and scratch his back.
He cooks dinner every night.
He was our stay-at-home parent for 14 years after that baby girl (and later her brother) was born.
At promptly 8:00 every night, he offers me a drink.
He is unfazed by my random bursts of tears.
He is whimsical. He is dry. He is perceptive.
He sees that my ability to talk to people is as valuable as his ability to do everything else.
He likes to play cribbage.
He knows how to give me directions that make sense, like “go straight until you see the big rock shaped like Richard Nixon’s head.”
He hears my ideas and helps me realize them.
He knows that helping me have an adventure far away from home is an important part of keeping me near.

 

And, like my father, he is gentle. Like my father, he has a thousand-watt smile.

Like my father, he is given to quiet, most comfortable in stillness.

Now, nineteen years in to the marriage, there is nothing we love more than to sit and watch the world flit by

holding hands in companionable silence.

_________________________________________

 

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Puzzled

I’m feeling desperate, like it’s never going to be right. No matter how hard I sit, think, mull, adjust, examine, and strategize, it’s all just OFF.

It shouldn’t be like this. I hate it. If I have taken care and been conscious and careful, it should be right. But it’s not. It’s all just fucking OFF.

Slumped on a piano bench, tucking my cold hands into the sleeves of my massive “house coat” of a sweater, I keep staring, fiddling, futzing, trying to fix the problem I’ve created. All the joins around the border look good, and trust me, I’ve put my eyeball close to each one, looking for subtle mismatches. Frustrated, I pull out a few pieces from the upper left and try them in a spot down lower. Nope. Eventually, I count the pieces along the top and bottom — 25 and 25, not that there should necessarily be an equal number, but an equal number there is. Then I count along the sides, 40 and 40. 

So what the holy 14-year-old mother of Jesus is going on with this stupid puzzle.

Wanting the universe to know how I really feel, I hiss “Fuck, fuck, fuck” a few more times. There. Now we have clarity. I am stymied and full of fucks.

***

As is always the case, this puzzle, an image of Kandinsky’s Points, is an object lesson. There is the patient sorting of the pieces after they’ve tumbled out of the bag; there is the methodical attack of assembling the border; there is the heady rush of pulling brightly colored pieces and easily finding their mates; and then, for a very long time, there is the slow drudgery of forty shades of yellow. Beyond that, there are the missteps, when two pieces are confidently snapped together, only to realize a week later that they have fooled with a false relationship, for they don’t belong together at all.

An English teacher, I have deep appreciation for the metaphor: every jigsaw puzzle tells a story, not just of the image but of life itself.

And with Kandinsky’s Points, life is a sucking bag of fucks.

The problem is this: once I had the bright colors worked out, the middle of the puzzle was a floating island of rainbow, and everything was grand. However, once I got in deeper and started adding some of the duller bits, the island reached a point where it could be moored to the border. The mooring was my undoing — because once I attached the island, the entire puzzle was thrown off, no longer true: the top left border jutted too high, the right hand straight bulged like an inguinal hernia.

It was at that point repeated sessions of staring, fiddling,and futzing began, all accompanied by a foul-mouthed soundtrack of frustration. 

***

After a couple days without resolution, I decided to follow the advice I give to students: “Use your resources.” Tugging at the shirt of my best resource, I dragged him to the puzzle, showed him the bulge and the offset, emitted a couple whiny swears, and asked if he could help decipher the problem. 

“Of course,” said Byron. “This is my kind of challenge. I’ll sit down and look at it sometime soon, when I’m not in the middle of making dinner.”

Drawing upon a patience learned from countless jigsaws, I nodded reluctantly and thanked him in advance for sanity restoration. 

A day went by, and he hadn’t looked at thing.

Then another day went by.

A third.

HOW MUCH PATIENCE COULD A PUZZLER BE EXPECTED TO HAVE, my haywire brain started wondering. 

***

Certainly, he had cause to leave me hanging. 

One evening, a day after I’d requested puzzle help, we were eating dinner in front of an episode of Orphan Black, laughing at Helena (“Sestra”), my all-time favorite television character, when the phone rang. As always, our immediate reaction was “Who the hell would dare to make a phone call?” Since it was fairly late, there was the possibility that this call mattered, so Byron hoisted his tired bones from the couch and answered it. 

It was for him.

Eavesdropping from my warm spot under a blanket, I heard “Oh, I’m sorry to hear it” followed by “I don’t feel comfortable with that.”

Well now. This sounded interesting. 

Two minutes later, he was back on the couch, explaining that the call had been from the woman who was to partner with him the next morning in a shift of newspaper reading on the radio for the blind. Turns out, she wasn’t feeling well. Turns out, she had an idea. Turns out, she has realized, during her 12 years as a reader on the radio for the blind, that if both readers don’t turn up for a shift, then the solution is easy: nothing happens. No one reads. No one is at fault. So she had called to propose to Byron, who’s been doing this volunteering gig without fail for 15 years, that they both not show up the next morning — which explained his “I don’t feel comfortable with that.”

Nah, Sis. You have sadly mistaken the character of your reading partner.

***

The next morning, my puzzle still tragically askew, Byron woke up early, as is his way, and got a crock pot dinner started by 6:40 a.m. Leaving half a French press of coffee on the kitchen counter for me to enjoy when I awoke much later, he hopped onto his massive cargo bike and pedaled an hour across town to the radio station. There, solo, he prepped the day’s newspaper articles before launching into almost two hours of reading the news to vision-impaired subscribers. By 11 a.m., just as I was stroking a sad finger, and surely fingers can be sad, across an off-center maroon circle in the Kandinsky, my dear husband was back on his bike, heading to work.

From noon to 8 p.m., he hoarse-throatedly assisted patrons at the library, attended meetings, and did his part to provide a safe haven for all kinds of Fortunates, from highly to less. Then, at 8 p.m., while my tragically slanted puzzle sat in a darkened room, questioning if anyone would ever find time to care, Byron biked to a local theater where a play about a farm transfer — Duluth rolls hardcore on the arts — was being performed. Enjoying a few moments of downtime in public, he waited in the lobby for the performance to end and chatted with an old friend. Eventually, the play over, Byron was able to meet up with two of its attendees, the farmers from whom we buy a pig every year. They live in Wisconsin but had come over for a night of theater, bringing with them our butchered pig, ready to hand off.  

And this. Was the point. Where Byron earned a new nickname.

I wish it were Pig Fucker.

Alas, it is merely Pig Biker.

Because, 15 hours into his day, that man I love — PIG BIKER — loaded 120 pounds of pork onto his cargo bike and pedaled it home, his tires cutting a trail through a skiff of new-fallen snow. At the house, he offloaded the meat onto the back porch and came inside, announcing, “It’ll be fine out there for the night. I am not dealing with getting it into the freezers right now.”

Happy to see Pappy, I poured him a beer, the kids swirled around with their updates and needs, and suddenly it was 10:15 p.m. before we were sitting down to dinner.

Much to my credit, I didn’t wave my soup spoon towards the catawampus puzzle while we ate.

*** 

Two days later, though, the puzzle’s unrelenting wrongness started impinging on my ability to carry on. I’d figured out enough of the center section that some pieces were starting to overlap. It was time to get serious with my resources.

Grabbing My Best Resource as soon as he got home from a run, tugging him to the table by his shirt hem once again, I reminded my groom of nearly 18 years that puzzles are metaphors for life, and the crapass fuck-upedness of my current puzzle was starting to make me think I needed to adopt a hunch and a cane.

“Oh, yeah. I do want to sit down and figure this out,” the sweaty guy recalled. “I’ll do it a bit later.”

As he spoke, I showed him this and this and this that weren’t right, and this and this and this that I had tried, with no success. Shortly, he was sitting on the piano bench, pulling small sections apart, arranging a few bits here and there. Leaning over him, I smiled. It had been hard to get him to the table, but once there, the addiction beckoned. 

“Ahhh, hey, look,” he said after a few minutes, pointing to one piece in the moored island of color. “That line goes through the middle, but it doesn’t match up with the one it’s hooked into.” His hands worked fast, pulling the offending piece, sliding such-and-so over a bit, this-and-that up a tidge.

***

Boom.

Just like that.

Just as he had when he was solidly 28, and I was flailingly 31 —

Just as he had when I despaired that there would never be anyone whose shape would dovetail perfectly with mine —

Just as he has, again and again over the years, with quick insight that changes my entire approach — 

Just as he has, every day from dark until dark, with logistical aplomb —

Just as he has for 18 years now, with no hint of resentment or annoyance, with genuine care for my inconsequentials —

Byron fixed what ailed me. 

***

My frame was askew, bulging wrongly here, shooting crazily there.

But then he came along and put his hands on it; tweaking, observing, joking, he righted the cockeyed complexity that I brought to the table.

Eighteen years ago, on an unseasonably warm and sun-lit November day, during a weekend where he consulted spreadsheets and I talked a lot, Byron and I publicly declared our commitment to each other.

And there hasn’t been a piece out of place since.


 

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Nine Volts

Chirp.

My brain is asleep. So is my body. The noise doesn’t fully register.

After a quick blip of “Huh?” I drop back into the blackness of sleep.

Chirp.

Hell and damn it. My brain pushes to consciousness like it’s swimming up from the bottom of a murky lake, half panicked, gasping for air. As it surfaces and draws in a shuddering breath of wakefulness, the only thing to pierce my confusion is this: there’s a chirping in the hallway. I lie there in the dark, discombobulated, trying to figure out what day it is, what time it is, what my name is, who’s the president, why Kanye’s a genius, why creme brulee isn’t the new kale, and how in the glottis my husband can still be snoring when there’s a robin or a katydid or a Kristin Chenoweth periodically pipping mere feet from his head.

I spend a few minutes engaged in magical thinking, during which I dreamily muse that the noises might simply have been the house settling, or something toppling off a shelf in the closet, or the sound of a ghost sharpening knives, lulling myself with assurances that the chirps won’t necessarily contin–

Chirp.

This time, I’m awake enough to understand: it’s the smoke detector remonstrating us for letting Daylight Savings pass without changing its batteries.

As I sort out what’s happening, I rue the law of batteries that decrees they must die when it sucks the most. Commiseratively, my husband, Byron, exhales a steady zzzzzzz. This takes me back to the early years of our marriage; he slept, while I felt around in the dimness for babies and boobies. Sometimes, with the first kid, he’d wake up, too, and we’d turn on a bedside lamp and spend precious Hallmark-sponsored moments together staring at our daughter’s soft, tiny fingernails while she nursed.

A few weeks into that, we realized that middle-of-the-night communal marveling resulted in a completely non-functional household the next day. If we hoped to eat good food and pay bills on time, then at least one of us should get some sleep. During the next handful of years, as my breasts and I continued to work the black hours, Byron applied himself wholeheartedly to the task of getting reasonable sleep, The result of this was a household wherein Daddy made delicious homemade pesto that Mommy loved to eat–that is, once she lifted her head off the steering wheel, wiped the tears off her cheeks, and trudged into the house for dinner.

In the intervening years, the zzzzzzzzzs have continued, but nowadays I sleep (or read or fret) rather than nurse. Instead of tag teaming our days, as we did when the kids were new, Byron and I now share a common purpose at night: resetting for the next day.

Unfortunately, that smoke detector is putting a serious crimp in my reset.

Shivering in anticipation of the cold air, I try to convince myself to throw open the covers and stand up. I try to make myself be the adult in the room. I try to fool my brain and body into thinking the chirp is actually a hungry baby.

Brain and Body are no patsies. They know I’m messing with them. In desperation, Brain argues that the definition of “adult” is actually, simply, clearly “the tallest person.” Then Brain points out that Byron fits that definition. Because Brain is emphatic about making her case, she also notes that the smoke detector is high on the wall, near the ceiling, a place that’s easier for taller people to reach.

The notion of thumping downstairs to get a stepladder convinces me: I’m going to shove the snoring guy and make the chirp his problem.

Rationalization is a glorious thing, for it throws itself across descriptors like “lazy” and “selfish” and muffles their mealy yelps. I mean: obviously, I have to wake Byron because he is taller. Possibly, irrationally, I have to wake Byron because he never nursed babies.

We’d have to ask Brain to be sure on that one, and she’s currently refusing callers.

With Byron’s next wall-rattling inhale, I slip my knees behind his, trying to pry him to consciousness with a hearty spooning.

He doesn’t stir. Spooning feels too much like clean, direct love, and this endeavor is about hoggish, miserly love. This is about a love that entails him getting up and taking care of things so that I can stay in the bed and be warmly supportive from the island of mattress.

I whack my foot into the back of his calf. Twice. Firm-like.

He rears up, bleary and confused. Poor thing’s a full four minutes behind me that way. Since he’s the one who’s discombobulated, and since he doesn’t know yet that he’s about to get up and handle my problem, he deserves kindness. Softly, I start to talk. In truth, I could just say “Eep, opp, ork, ah-ha” for the first few words, as I’m only moving my mouth because the act will get him to remove his earplug. Once the earplug comes out, I shift into genuine content: “So there’s a noise in the hall…”–

as though it had been scripted, a chirp echoes loudly.

“Wait. What?” he asks, his brain pushing up from the bottom of the same lake that had recently been drowning my consciousness.

“There’s a chirping noise out in the hall from the smoke detector. It’s been bleating every few minutes.” Then I trot out our household’s most terrifying currency: “I’m worried it’s going to wake the kids.”

Although Byron is less scared of wakeful children in the night than I am, he snaps to and gets that this is a pressing matter if we want to avoid a kitchen full of cranky whiners in the morning. Marshaling his forces, he thinks through the situation. “There are actually three smoke detectors on this floor of the house–one in each bedroom–and also a carbon monoxide detector in the hall. It could be any of them. Have you noticed where the chirp is coming from exactly?”

Every single day, my husband teaches me. Abstractly, I knew some nice men had come a few years ago to remodel our kitchen, and while they were here, they also updated the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors throughout the house. Once they took down all the hanging sheets of plastic and drove away in their trucks, though, I got distracted by the new cabinets and forgot to look up and see what they’d done elsewhere. In my defense, if I look toward the ceilings, I see all these cobwebby things that someone should deal with. It’s better to keep my gaze aimed forward, really.

Helpfully, I answer Byron while sweeping an arm wide. “I know the noise is coming exactly from out there. Not in here.”

We decide to listen for the next chirp with an ear to specific location. As I listen, I realize both my pillow and my husband’s back are very soft.

We wait. And wait. Some more.

Because we are wide awake and ready to figure this thing out, there is nothing but silence.

After a few minutes, Byron throws open the covers and wanders into the bathroom to relieve himself, at which point a chirp from Could Have Been Anywhere resounds loudly.

How frustrating. But as long as he’s up…

Coming back into the bedroom, Byron grabs his headlamp. He straps the thing to his head and goes out into the hallway, ready to narrow down the possibilities.

With the stoic patience of a Scandinavian type in his forties, he stands there quietly, leaning against the banister. In his underwear. Wearing a headlamp.

Minutes pass. Silence.

More minutes. Still nothing.

He just stands, quietly, his eyes clapped on a six-inch space high on the wall. Waiting.

Eventually, I hear him yawn, and even though there’s nothing I can do, I can’t take it. I hoist myself from the bed’s warmth and join him in the hallway. I ask if he’s able to reach the detector, should he need to, or if he’d like me to run downstairs and get the step ladder. Thankfully, his legs are step ladders all on their own, so I am safe from the threat of exertion.

There, by the banister, we stand together and stare at the plaster. Come on, you damn thing: chirp so that we know it’s you. If it’s not you, then it’s time to bust this process into the kids’ rooms.

Silence. Obviously, our focused attention has made the thing shy. Trying to fool it, I begin to look around. The only thing worth looking at is Byron, all tall and leaning, shirtless, in his underwear, the headlamp an unexpected accessory to his ensemble. He wraps his arms across his chest, warding off a shiver.

Cripes. He is the cutest.

He stands there in his headlamp and underwear, the perfect foil to an unpredictable, ridiculous thing, and somehow it’s a metaphor for our marriage. All my own unpredictable ridiculousness ever needs is him, standing there unwaveringly, ready to deal with things–all the better if he’s in his underwear and a headlamp as he does it.

After a few minutes, freezing, I return to bed. As I lie there, willing the detector to chirp, the shadowy image of Byron, still leaning against the banister, makes me smile. When we got married, I thought I knew him. Our years together–fifteen!–have schooled me, though. There was no way for me to know that the 28-year-old anthropology-major-turned-naturalist that I married would

teach our sixth grader how to play cribbage so that the kid could feel confident when his new elective class in that game started;

attend cross-country banquets with our ninth grader, willingly spending hours making small talk (which he hates) in the presence of a pasta buffet (which he hates) because he delights in the community she’s found;

become a literacy volunteer at an elementary school for a minuscule monthly stipend because the work matters;

take up blackwork embroidery at age 43 as he continues to explore the various permutations of being an artist;

train our kids’ palates with his excellent cooking, to the point that they’d rather have a dinner of groundnut stew or Thai curry than spaghetti;

tell me every few days, “I like you so much”;

hear my point more than my fumbling words so that I always feel innately understood;

stand in the hallway in his underwear and a headlamp at 4 a.m., hoping to catch a wayward chirp.

 

Eventually, after silence reigns for a few more minutes, Byron surrenders and returns to bed, but not before checking the supply of batteries. We’re short on the nine-volt version, which he’ll need the next day when he changes out the batteries in all the warning systems. Then he snuggles under the covers, and we chuckle, knowing the offending detector, wherever it is, will be issuing a tweet any second.

It doesn’t, though.

As the minutes pass, the house is quiet. Dark. Still.

It sighs a little, as do I, when Byron drops back into sleep and emits a gentle zzzzzzzz.

I lie there for a long time–like a nursing mother listening for her baby’s cry–expecting another chirp. It never comes.

There is only Byron,

the soft skin on his back,

his steady breathing

the perfect noise.

 

SONY DSCSONY DSC

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Cherish

As the Catholic priest with multiple boyfriends can tell you:

monogamy isn’t necessarily natural.

However, despite evidence that the romantic ideal of meeting The One and living happily ever after is a crock, we are trained from birth to believe in it. Perhaps we’d do better to widen the scope of our relationship discourse, to make room for the legitimacy of bisexuality; fluid, changing sexuality; polyamory; extra-relationship affairs as a means of strengthening the relationship; asexuality. Perhaps we’d do better if we stopped trying to shape everyone with the same cutter.

I also think we would do well to put less weight on that ideal of “one relationship, for life, equals happiness.” Rather, Dan Savage‘s notion of relationships seems more pragmatic; quite simply, he asserts that “every relationship you are in will fail, until one doesn’t.” Somehow, that way of phrasing it eases the pressure to Arrive At One’s Destiny.

Even further, I appreciate thinking that redefines “successful” when it comes to relationships. “Successful” doesn’t mean sticking to each other until you’re dropped into a pit six-feet deep. “Successful” is a word that can be ascribed to any relationship, so long as you take something away from it when it’s over. Every failed relationship can be a success. For me, I dated a gay guy in high school, not that I knew he was gay until much later, and although I wished for so much more in terms of feeling desirable, I also gained great things from that relationship: I gained confidence, openness, the ability to look someone in the face and not crack when receiving bad news; I learned the power that comes from being stronger than expected. Just as importantly, I learned how to keep dancing all the way to the end of the extended six-minute remix of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.” Later in life, I had a taxing and joyful relationship with a troubled man; being with him taught me negotiation, self-protection, and how to appreciate my own zest and ease with regards to change and adventure. A bit after we broke up, I entered a relationship with someone who kept me in constant doubt–yet I also learned endurance and how to package my strengths and how necessary it is to listen to instincts. Beyond that break-up, I dated a quiet man, and from that relationship I became aware of my spark and convinced that zingy is as valuable as steady; as well, I got lessons in living without resentment and an ability to recognize how un-needy I actually am.

Each of those relationships, save for the last, played itself out. They failed. Ultimately, in terms of getting me to who and where I am today, they were extremely successful.

The last relationship, the one with the quiet man, continues not to fail. All predictors point towards us confounding everything I’ve just typed, in fact, as we continue to feel complete and satisfied within the confines of a monogamous commitment. A big part of why we’re so happy together is our agreement that what works for us needn’t work for everybody. Another big part of our mutual satisfaction is that we like each other better than anything.

It doesn’t hurt that he’s a good cook, and I’m a good eater.

Anyhow, I don’t entirely believe in the traditional romantic ideal, and yet I’m 100% living out the traditional romantic ideal–which grew out of thousands of years of patriarchy and out of the women’s movement of the 1970s. Men liked the idea of one man plus however many women he desired; women seeking equality then piped up and said, “We actually like the one man with one woman thing.” If nothing else, these frameworks help track parentage. For Byron and me, our traditional dynamic means we’re pretty sure both kids are his.

We had a particularly attractive milk delivery person about ten years ago, however. She was cute enough that Byron has just cause to suspect she may actually be the father.

 

Can I just say that any time I crack a stupid joke like that, I know Byron will enjoy it?

I also know he’ll enjoy my rants about people who refuse to be reflective.

Plus, he can’t stand a martyr, nor can I.

He’s down with a deep debriefing in the kitchen after social gatherings.

He notices small things, like how the bikes in one city in Turkey are different from the bikes in other areas.

When I’m stewing and tangled inside, he’ll stroll into the room with a glass of scotch and say, “Here. You need this.”

He takes Tae Kwon Do with self-conscious Paco. Because Byron is painfully uncoordinated when it comes to choreography, he does not want to take Tae Kwon Do. Because he sees self-conscious Paco is gifted at the sport, he takes it nevertheless, in a move of Papa Solidarity.

He explains to Allegra the choices a scientist can make when designing her experiment. He can support the rationale of including cranberries and sunflowers, if the scientist thinks those are necessary materials.

He loves logistics. He loves maps. These are felicitous counterbalances to a partner who prefers a plunge followed by a freefall.

He teaches cooking classes at the local Co-op. They are so wildly successful that I cannot bemoan the lack of leftovers.

When I tell him I’ve created a situation in one of my online classes where I could really use an image of a four-armed Cyclops (long story), but I don’t want to deal with the copyright issues attendant to finding the necessary image online, he takes ten minutes to draw me what I need.

We are married. We are monogamous (although, in the last year alone, when I’ve spoken to others about the self-awareness of couples who choose open marriages because that feeds the needs of the involved individuals, I’ve received in return gasps and questions of, “So…is…that…something…you…and…Byron…???” OH, please. Simply because a person accepts something doesn’t mean she lives it. JEEEEEEBUS, JOANIE. I also think all drugs should be legalized. Does that mean I’m on heroin right now?). We prove that a good match on paper doesn’t necessarily deliver a good match in real life. On paper, his love of chickpeas and my love of the Arby’s drive-thru would never predict an easy compatibility.

We also prove that most long-term relationships are a matter of luck more than anything. As the years tick by, and various life circumstances come ’round, I am able to see new beauties in Byron–things I wouldn’t have even known to vet for when we were courting. Everything I thought I wanted when I was looking for a beau? Well, not much of it had anything to do with getting through daily life or periods of crisis with that person. The questions in my mind were more “Does he want children?” than “Will he actively seek ways for me to be away from the children so that I can be happier when with them?”

Moreover, when we were dating, I might have thought, “I’d like to be with someone who will go to the party with me when a friend turns 40.” As it turns out, I got that. Not that it matters; I’m perfectly capable of going to a party by myself, if I want to go, and he doesn’t.

Look. A friend had a party. We went to it.

 

I would not have known, back when I was on the look-out for love, to include a criterion that read, “The person you choose does not need to be able to play the guitar. However, if you one day have a child together who wants to play an instrument, say, saxophone, and he’s feeling kind of nervous about putting it up to his lips for the first time, this person you’re looking for should know enough to wander into the room and pick up a guitar and talk out loud, randomly, while trying to strum it. With Daddy doing this casual sidebar music, the nerves of the over-thinking child will be distracted and defused, thus allowing him to relax and squeeze a huge BWWWHAP noise out of his saxophone.” Nope, I wasn’t looking for that one at all when I was dating.

BWHAAAP and strum, a synergy I couldn’t have known about until it happened.

 

When I was dating around, I knew I didn’t care if the potential partner could dance, but I did care that I could go out and dance when and how I wanted. I knew that much. What I didn’t know how to test for, during the dating period, was a partner who could handle this situation: “If you ever get together and then have a daughter who becomes a middle schooler and who knows she’s not a natural at dancing, and one night you take her to a dance and notice her looking longingly at the participants from the sidelines, try to get her to dance with you. When she refuses–GAWD, DAD–go ahead and open the door on the dancing by grabbing a friend and hurling your terrible-dancing self out onto the floor, so as to show the middle schooler that having fun takes precedence over looking perfect. All the better if the friend you’ve grabbed to make this point is a guy.”

GAWD, DAD and friend scare the hell out of the turkey in the straw.

 

When I was out trolling the world for love, I was used to traveling and getting myself from place to place. Hence, it wouldn’t have been on my radar to want a partner who would one day be in charge of the guide book, who would love to plan our movements, who would want to think through the time tables. Little did I know, if I hooked up with someone like that, I’d be free to stand around and chat and laugh instead of squinting my eyes down real tight-like and trying to figure out which direction is north.

Couldn’t tell you which way is East, either.

 

Without yet knowing everything about myself way back when, I couldn’t have known one day a Must Have for me would be this: when we go to a museum, and there’s a display of Roman jewelry, I’d like a partner who glances at it and says, “This stuff looks like you.” When, in response, I get all clappy and shout, “YES! I am nuts for every last thing in this case,” my best life partner should then take a few minutes to play the game called If There Were A Gift Shop Here That Had Replicas of Some of This Jewelry, Which Pieces Would Jocelyn Buy?

I had no idea how to look for that, back when I was dating, because I wasn’t yet aware I cared about Hellenistic fashion.

We both agree the jingly ones are always best.

 

Really, there was no way our younger selves could have predicted that discussions of oils and jams would one day be fascinating and that we could serve as support staff to each other when deciding which small container would best fit into a suitcase. All I knew, when we were courting, was that I liked his hair.

Isn’t much of marriage made up of, “Yea, get that one” moments?

 

When we head to the bowels of the earth,
when I’m feeling down, down, down,
he’s the one I want next to me.


It delights me that he closes his eyes when I suck his face off.

It delights me that his cheek is very soft, moreso when his eyes are closed.

It delights me that everything ends with a laugh.

It delights me that somehow, without planning it, I stumbled into a life with someone who’s as big a cheeseball as I.

It delights me that I was fortunate enough to clod-hop my way into this relationship that is the one that didn’t fail.

Thirteen years after we married each other, thinking we knew each other–yet how could we know anything at all when nothing had happened to us yet?–we can only thank luck, affection, and jollity for carrying us through.

A shared enthusiasm for dark beer hasn’t hindered our sustained devotion, either.

We plan to crack a few tonight on this, our anniversary,

and raise our glasses

to love

in all its many forms.

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Still At It

Since I have stacks of papers this week–both revisions and new essays–I’m going to continue to milk the anniversary in this post.

Here are a couple of videos wherein I babble about our weekend. The first video has ice and gives you a spin of the kitchen.

This next video has a picture booklet and a quilt. Buckle up:

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Neuf

A pot of water boiled on the burner behind my husband, as he leaned against the stove, pulling my face into his sweatshirt. This story does not end with seared human flesh, so relax, gentle reader.

He hugged me to him for a long time, hard.

Finally, I managed to choke out, through thick tonsils, “I really love the hug. But I’m having trouble breathing even when my air passages aren’t obstructed by a hoodie. Let me come up for a gasp.”

I reared back, gulped in some oxygen, and nuzzled back in for the hug.

After a minute, he took my hands off the sweatshirt covering his back and tucked them underneath, so they touched his skin.

“That’s never bad,” Groom pointed out.

“Brave man. You’re not very discerning about who touches your unclothed bits. You have no idea where these hands have been. But I like your skin.”

We were quiet for a minute. The water burbled behind us.

“I’m really sorry you’ve felt so pooky for so long this week,” he said into my greasy hair.

“I’m really sorry I haven’t showered for two days,” I responded. “And thanks. This tonsil stuff has been suck slathered onto a crud cracker.”

“I’d do anything to help you feel better,” he said, hugging me tighter, cutting off any hope of breaf to my body.

Breaking away for a few more gasps of air, I pointed out, “You let me watch America’s Test Kitchen and brought me omelets and espresso milkshakes in bed. You made me feel twelve kinds of better.”

“Well,” he noted, “I like you.”

“I like me, too.”

Then he turned to the pot of water and poured in the macaroni that he would bring to me, minutes later, after I’d crawled back into the bed. While I ate the noodles, wincing with every swallow, he joined me under the covers and stroked my calf with his foot.
—————–

Nine years ago today, my husband literally was The Groom. I was the other one. As we stood up in front of 120 friends and family, it was unseasonably warm. That Santana song featuring Rob Whatzhisfutz was the #1 song in the U.S.. I cried a lot during the ceremony, and not just because that Santana song featuring Rob Whatzhisfutz was the #1 song in the U.S..

I’d never actually dreamed of being a bride. However, I had dreamed of finding a One True Love.

It’s simple to feel that I’ve found such a thing when we’re both in perfect health; it’s unquestionable that I’ve found it when one of us is suffering an illness.

I am constantly awestruck that I have something to believe in.


I was a bride married to amazement
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms

–Mary Oliver

These banners, painted by my mother-in-law, were the backdrop to our vows.

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We Was Cute Once

 

Two weeks ago, my husband, nearly 37 years old, lost his first grandparent.

Seemingly the most hale of his four living grandparents, his grandmother went into decline rather abruptly, with a kidney infection turning into congestive heart failure turning into pain and exhaustion that sapped her will to fight.

Her husband, a former bank president and World War II pilot, had been the one we’d all been watching. He is the one with Alzheimer’s and untreated prostate cancer. He has been the one everyone’s efforts have been concentrated upon for the last three years. Tacit agreement had it that he would be the first to go.

Yet he didn’t. He hasn’t.

Rather, his wife of more than sixty years belied expectations and, after painstaking caretaking of her husband, has left him behind, alone. Forlorn. Wishing for death.

Fortunately–although it didn’t feel that way at the time–Grandpa had already moved to the Memory Care wing of the Senior Home a couple of months ago, after he was found by a state trooper wandering down the side of the highway. So his transition out of the immediate life of Grandma (known to our kids as “GGma”) had already taken place. He was somewhat accustomed to being apart from her, down the hall, over in his new digs.

However, with daily visits and enduring devotion, they weren’t really apart. As GGma’s health became more grave, my father-in-law had to break the news to his father: “Mom is dying, Dad.”

And the Alzheimer’s? You know, that cruelest of diseases? It, of course, provided no mercy.

In this case, it meant GGpa–although unable to recall names and places–remained bitingly aware that his helpmate of decades was passing out of his life.

They had a private religious service together in her last days, led by their pastor. After it, GGpa was inconsolable.

Two days later, when GGma died–peacefully, comfortably, all wishes expressed–it was GGpa, with his unreliable brain, who sat beside her, lucidly, holding her hand, rubbing her cheek, even after she was gone.

The very image of them, there in the hospice, slices me in two.

Today, November 12th, would have been their sixty-third anniversary; yet after all that time, they were not a habit to each other. They were not one of those couples who sit in the Embers, indifferently eating their omelets, not speaking to each other, staring off into space. Rather, after sixty-three years, they had an active love for each other, feeling complete only in the other’s presence. Even GGpa’s advancing dementia couldn’t diminish their interdependence.

It is from this perspective of ongoing conscious appreciation that I greet my eighth anniversary with my groom a day after theirs, on November 13th.

He is, quite simply, my all, my everything, my favorite and my best. There are at least 4.569 reasons that add up to the way I dote on him. Here, I give you five of ’em:

1) He is unflappable and uncomplaining. This is a much-needed and -welcome counterpoint to all my complaints and flap.

2) He knows how to communicate with me in Jocespeak (woe to those who consider it a dead language!). I am, you see, a person who can get dramatically derailed during a slow bend down to tie her shoes. But with Groom giving me directions, I get it done every time. For example, when I go out to run an unknown route, he is smart enough not to tell me, “Turn right at Oneida Street,” but instead to break it down thusly: “When you see the big rock on the righthand side that looks like Richard Nixon with his cheeks waggling, turn right. After that, you’ll run for about the length of time it would take you to sing the extended dance remix of ‘Tainted Love’, and then you’ll take a left.” Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about.

Similarly, when we were recently up the road at an important crossroads for migrating raptors (Ye Olde Birds of Prey), a place we go to often in the Fall, and he was off hiking with friends while Niblet and I hung around the main vantage point, resting our weary paws and awaiting their return, we got to witness the release of a big bird. It was tossed up into the wind above the overlook, and the whole thing was cool. When Groom and Friends returned from their hike a few minutes later, I tried to describe the bird to them. “Was it a hawk?” they asked. Weellllllll, er…..yea? I could tell them that it had parentheses-like curves around its eyes, and its beak looked rather like a bracket (<>). And, for big sure, it wasn’t an owl. So what kind of hawk had it been? “Like, not small,” I reported with authority. Groom knew then to ask, “Was it bigger than a package of Double Stuff Oreos?” “‘Bout the same size!” I reponded, gleefully. That answer, coupled with a photo I’d taken, narrowed it down. Due to his patience and bilingualism, Groom discerned, “It was a red-tailed hawk. See in the photo those red markings?” Not at all sure how they looked like my beloved Oreos, I nodded agreeably nevertheless.


The bird is released

3) He sighs gently and happily when I rub his wrist.

4) He raises our children with consistency and patience, yet he loves it when I point out the benefits of storing them in the freezer.

5) He has always and ever made me feel like my foibles increase my charm. Were I more perfect, he would love me less.

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For all these reasons, plus twenty-thwifty kamajillion others, he leaves me agog.

In an ideal world, he and I will die together, when I’m 104, and he’s 101. We’ll be on a hammock together, eating truffles and staring at the branches up above us in the sky, when suddenly our hearts will simultaneously stop beating.

The world not being ideal, this will most likely not be the case, although I am having a truffle fridge installed at the base of our biggest tree, just as a nod to possibility.

Alternatively and more realistically, then, I wish for a death like GGma’s.

Indeed, my acute and illimitable hope is that, in fifty-six years–better yet, in sixty-six–when I am at long last diminishing and facing the Great Beyond, it will be with my constant and enduring companion sitting next to me, knowing me as no other, stroking my cheek as I exhale one last time.

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