When my wife reads this she’s gonna kill me dead. You see, we’re not into public displays of affection. A peck on the lips at the airport is about the extent of it, and to say we’re understated would be an understatement. But I’ll tell you this straight away, as I often tell my wife: I like her more than a medium amount.
In middle-age I became a novice married man, and we found our balance on the scales of wedded bliss, with my wife being smart on the one hand, and I, on the other, able to lift heavy things. With she being cute, and I able to lift heavy things. With she having miraculous powers to actually consider the future and I, in the moment, lifting.
Fifteen years later we refer to the present as “the good old days,” and I’m still rounding the learning curve of coupledom. We continue to expand our glossary of secret terms and their acronyms, a code uncrackable by the NSA. An abrupt maneuver while driving, most often a U-turn, is known as a “Hang On Deary” or “H.O.D.” Dusk in winter is the “Blue Snow Hour.” Friends of our neighbor have become the biblical “Tribe of Dan,” and our cats have more nicknames than the Gambino family.
When we got together her kids were grown and my prefrontal cortex had long since, more or less, been hardwired to adult specifications, so we skipped the sturm und drang of young love, and skated smoothly across that three-year mark when divorce rates peak, as one’s body lowers production of those speed-like chemicals responsible for the mad rush of infatuation, and brings on the chemistry of cozy.
I lucked out with in-laws. My father-in-law was not just a Republican, but an Arizona Republican, and I land on the other end of the political spectrum, slightly to the left of Fidel Castro, but we found bi-partisan consensus in our affection for his daughter. My mother-in-law defies stereotypes, and while she and her daughters tote some of the usual baggage associated with those relations, my new-found son-in-law strong point appears to be detachment from such burdens. That, and walking on water.
The two of us not only use secret terms, we also have secret identities. My super-hero name is Kevin and my wife’s is Howe. It all started early on a Christmas eve morning some years ago. There was a foot of unplowed snow on the streets and I was out shoveling. Down the alley stood what we then called the “Party House.” That day it caught my eye because an entire window was engulfed in golden flames. I ran into our kitchen shouting, “ Fire at the Party House!” and called 911 as my wife burst out the door. I grabbed our fire extinguisher and followed her down the alley through the snow, panting and plodding in a manner perhaps unbecoming of a super hero. My wife and a passerby pounded on the front door while I aimed our extinguisher through the window broken by the heat, and pulled the trigger until it ran empty. The floor was still aflame so I tossed in snow by the mittenful and snuffed the last of it. Meanwhile Party Girl came to the door, half-drunk, half-asleep, drooling and covered in soot. The fire truck arrived, barreling up the snowy avenue while I, holding my dinky extinguisher, ducked out of the way. As we stood there watching the professionals take over, my wife asked if we should stick around, and I actually got to say, “Our work here is done.” Thank Kevin! And Howe!
So we’re a good team. And we don’t just balance each other out as opposites. We have similar tastes when it comes to food and bedtimes, politics and television (we don’t own one). I was fairly content all my years as a quirky-alone, but friends scatter, or die, or get very, very busy, and somewhere along the line the party-crashing bonhomie of youth evaporates along with the shitty beer. Then, halfway through life, in a stroke of good fortune grand enough to restore my faith in the universe, along came my wife. And I learned that what makes a house a home is having your favorite person inside. This may seem obvious to longtime couples, but my compass had been spinning with no True North, and a kitchen was just a kitchen and a bed was just a bed.
A local poet, the same one who signed our marriage license, once began a poem with the line, “Andrea knows so many interesting things.” It’s true, and a rare day it is when I can stump her with a vocabulary question. All those obscure words from all those 19th century novels float miraculously accessible inside that cranium, along with a host of other knowledge and earthly, womanly wisdom. And when we shop she plays the maven. Is that the most we’ll pay for that rock-bottom bargain? Quoth the maven, “Nevermore!”
When my wife’s dad died we hosted a memorial service. We got to the hall early in the morning to set up tables and decorate, just the two of us in a large, quiet room. After a while the helpers started to appear, and then the crowd trickled in and gradually swelled to a boisterous hundred and twenty people. There was food, music, speeches, laughter and tears in a hall full to bursting. After the meal the drawn out exodus began, and as the cleanup wound down the helpers left as well. Eventually, as if it had all been a dream, it was just the two of us again, alone together, tidying up a quiet room.
To be understood and appreciated by someone, to be held in higher esteem than one holds oneself, to be defended to a fault against the pains and petty tyrants of the world, that is my wish for others. And may taking care of that someone, in turn, come as second nature, and become your first priority. I once told my wife I’d do my best to outlive her, and she said that was the nicest thing anyone had ever said. You see, I was telling her I’d take one for the team, and suffer the worst so she wouldn’t have to. Not that we control such things, and statistically that’s in doubt. But better late than never — I’d learned what love’s about.
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