My husband, Chris, works in the bowels of the house, at a standing desk in the basement next to the oil tanks black and heavy like trains in a rail yard, on an area rug that had met one too many times with an irreverent Jack Russell in the wee hours. I busy myself upstairs for AirBnb, our “Upstate Woodland Fantasy Getaway.” Chris was sick yesterday, so I took him a cup of lemon tea—a great feat of loving kindness as tennis has made my knees into vessels of roiling pain and stairs require the same focus and endurance as disarming a ticking time bomb. When I handed him the tea, nonchalantly as if nurturing comes second-nature and my knees didn’t hurt, he mentioned his feet were cold. He needed his slippers.
Tomorrow my husband and I celebrate 22 years of marriage. My religious friends would say we owe this to God’s grace, but I’ve seen marriages crumble to bits, friends who had religious weddings and noble intentions and fierce commitment. I believe in the grace of Holy Matrimony. But grace is easy, the free, unmitigated gift of God. Cooperating with grace is hard.
Our marriage is not too too romantic. We are happy sometimes and unhappy other times. Sometimes for a long stretch. Author W.H. Auden wrote,
Like everything which is not the involuntary result of fleeting emotion but the creation of time and will, any marriage, happy or unhappy, is infinitely more interesting than any romance, however passionate.
We willed this marriage into being, planned it carefully, which I detailed in what was somehow my most controversial post ever. You can read that here. I extolled the virtue of careful discernment over romance. Romance is the sparkling walls at a junior high dance, tangled slow-dancing to “Endless Love” with the 8th grade boy you like. Marriage, that’s time and will. That’s teetering up and down the basement steps, twice—tea and slippers, knees on fire.
Tomorrow we celebrate our anniversary in the southern Adirondacks with New York friends we love, Joan and Bob. They have a camp, which in Arizona culture means “cabin”. “Camp Perfection” I call it, for it’s 1930s storybook diminutive charm—think, Goodnight Moon or Three Little Pigs, the house made of twigs. Camp Perfection is snug as early childhood and built to the same scale.
I’m taking a bottle of champagne I discovered in our pantry. I can’t remember how it got there (time taking its toll). Joan and Bob are making steak. My husband, under the fiendish powers of our animal-rights-activist daughter, will bring his own veggie burger. Time and will…he snores, yells more than he should, is ever more deaf and is experimenting with veganism. I expect coffee in bed. With refills. I correct his grammar like his life depended on it and acquire dogs more often than I buy new socks. And I applied to graduate school far away and somehow got in. It all evens out.
He is a man who put the heavy-handed kabosh on graduate school when I was a young, insecure mother in my early 30s, thereby fertilizing regret soaked depressions and marital discord for the next 15 years (time); this same man just presented me with leather bound notebooks to take to graduate school (will), a better school, a degree more suited to me, the perfect time.
Audrey Hepburn is credited as saying,
People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.
I’m grateful my husband didn’t throw me away as the dogs appeared, as I dipped and bobbed in prickly, irrational depressions, mourned my father for 3 tear-soaked years, agonized over parenting I never felt I was doing right and corrected him for parenting I was sure he was doing wrong.
And I didn’t throw him away, when it seemed his only will for me was cleaning the kitchen and rustling up casseroles, when an undiagnosed medical condition set him raging for years until he was diagnosed and treated.
We endured. We are restored. We have evolved. God willing and the creek don’t rise, may we continue to do so.