I lie next to him, our wrists touching lightly. I can feel his pulse on the back of my hand. Or maybe it’s mine, I can’t tell. His hands are beautiful – strong, with long, tapered, artists’ fingers.
The blue highway of veins is slightly raised and delicate. Have I ever really noticed them before?
We are so close, so intimate, but there is still a mystery between his body and mine.
In those veins, we don’t share the same blood, so there will always be things about him that will remain unknowable, unexplored, elusive – even after all these years.
Yet, here we have promised to stay, wed together – not by genetics – but by our values and beliefs, our mutual joys and sadness.
Here we are connected by our various fears and disappointments, as well as our memories of the past, and dreams for the future. And here, we are forever conjoined by the miracle of our two children.
This is our marriage.
I met Mac when I was seventeen. We were in a class together in college, freshman year. I noticed him the second week, slouching against a wall, waiting for class to begin. He was wearing an old hat, like your grandfather might wear, with a small feather in the band. I thought it suited him.
He had on a flannel shirt and classic Levi 501 jeans, extra long. What I noticed most was his eyes – almond-shaped and intriguing, looking out from underneath his curly blonde hair.
He seemed so cool, too cool for me, but worth a try.
If you want to call it love or lust, at first sight – either one – I wouldn’t disagree. Back then, all I knew was I was going to get to know that tall guy. After a series of contrivances whereby I put myself in his path – literally right in front of him – in the checkout line at the bookstore, I finessed a date.
It’s funny, through the years we each claimed credit for manipulating that scenario. I’m sure it wasn’t him – he’s just not that devious. But however it went, the rest, as they say – well, you know what they say. It’s just another cliché.
This whole piece is just one cliché after another, but I really can’t help it. The fact is, Mac and I have a chemistry that has never completely faded. Nowadays, they tell you not to build a marriage on simple physical attraction, but we are a testament to the fact that it can be done.
Like all couples in love, we spent the first months intoxicated with one another. We were each other’s drug, we couldn’t get enough, and being apart was a cruel withdrawal. We were serious about our relationship from the beginning, but level-headed enough to give ourselves time.
Five years later, my father married us on a cold, drizzly, November day in Michigan. We were so eager to be adults – we got an apartment, a cat, a coffeemaker. I remember my numb fingers and throbbing arms, bringing home groceries from the store, a mile away, not owning a car.
We ate a lot of Kraft Mac n’ Cheese with all kinds of cheap stuff added to it. I worked at dull temp jobs, and he took a lab job at the University of Michigan. We moved to North Carolina and eventually Mac landed a good job that was the beginning of a great career for him.
As for me – well, I was always, me.
But then a few years later our children entered our lives, and I became Mom. And they became the center of my world, physically and emotionally. And Mac definitely took the back seat.
Like everyone, the two of us have had our rough patches. Fundamentally, we are very different personality types. Yes, we complement each other, the introvert/extrovert dynamic and all of that.
But our differences have also been vulnerable spots, places where we have hurt one another. And there have been dark moments when I believed that the only thing keeping us together was his willingness to change, his focused determination to work on things.
Because, where I tended to be skeptical, he believed that we were capable of growth. He just always seemed to have a deeper faith than me. And, to me, that has been his shining, hallmark trait – his unending loyalty and devotion. His tireless motivation to make things right. Because, underneath of that, I believe, lies the deepest, most utilitarian kind of love.
The kind of love that never says never.
A lot of people talk about how a person can change within a marriage, how one can outgrow the other. Or how they might develop unexpected personality issues or other unforseen difficulties. And how so much can change over the years. So, how did we know what we were getting into when we signed the contract?
We didn’t. We made a bold leap and convinced ourselves that it would all work out. It had to work out. We just desperately hoped that each of us would stay as committed as the other.
Mac and I have never known which way the road would take us. But isn’t this true about anything in life? I come back to the words devotion and loyalty, when I talk about our marriage, because to me they are so powerful. They’re the quiet, non-glamorous, “action words” of married life that don’t get a lot of attention.
And now, here we are, in a beautiful foreign country. We are well-worn traveling mates. Lying on the warm, white sands of Portugal, I am such a grateful wife. We are celebrating our twenty-ninth wedding anniversary.
We’ve had a crazy amount of togetherness this past year, that’s for sure. And as I watch Mac walk out to the water’s edge, with his slight limp and long torso, I thank God for the strong attraction between us.
It brought us together all those years ago, and it just never let us go. And I know that we both feel the responsibility to respect the magic in that, and to nurture it and protect it.
But watching him, as familiar as he is to me, I also know that, who we are together, our relationship, remains a bit of an enigma. And to me that makes it all the more worth having.
And, hopefully, in the days to come, we will continue to discover new things about one another, and we’ll see where our partnership will take us.
Because, like the ocean surf pulling at my toes, it has its own steady tidal force that is bigger, more powerful than the two of us.
And thinking back on that mid- September day in Geneva, New York, when I first saw my husband, and first got to know him, I feel lucky as hell. Because there are not many gifts like that, that come to us so easily.
And, as I look out on this huge expanse of ocean, I marvel how we ever met in this big, wide world. How did it even happen? A different college choice, a different class even, and it would have all been completely changed.
None of it was ever up to us.
And I can’t really that, except to say that it’s a mystery.
Like the faint veins beneath my husband’s skin, I can only glimpse a tiny portion of the larger, interior organism. The map of arteries to his heart travel someplace I’ll never see, can’t even completely fathom.To a place unpredictable and as frustratingly complex as any puzzle.
And, in a way, our marriage has felt like that. Like nothing I expected it to be. Like a place I could never completely understand or control.
It’s been a place of hard days, and struggles, and times when we were selfish rather than giving. A place of real loneliness. A place that sometimes held divisive anger and bitter tears.
A place where thoughtless mistakes were made, and hard lessons were learned. A place that we carelessly took for granted.
A place where we squandered away so many chances to say I love you or I’m sorry.
But it’s been a hugely gracious place, too, with so many gifts celebrated from one year to the next. A place where we’ve had someone to understand, and to believe in us, and to tell us we’re okay.
A place to play and be our silly selves.
And it has always been such a place of immeasurable joy and challenge in raising our kids.
It’s always been a place where we’ve made each other laugh. Where private jokes and silly banter wrapped us up like an old, familiar blanket and held us snug, and in some crazy way, reminded us of our commitment.
How we are the same, yet different, family, yet not – but all of it bound tight together.
And always, this has been a comfy, easy place, where we simply get each other.
This has been a place of cherished daily ritual, where the focus has been on taking care of one another.
A healing place, often slow and never easy, from the challenges of physical and mental illness.
And a place where we’ve fretted over the kids, wanting to support them, trying to understand them, and really see them as they truly are.
And a place where – with our hearts breaking – we dropped them off at college and drove back to an empty house.
And recently, since my mom’s death, it’s been a painful, empty place – but still, a place that I could somehow bear, alongside him.
And honestly, it’s been a place where the small things have mattered the most.
The clothes folded and put away, the bread baked for morning toast, the back-rubs, the pep talks, the daily love notes scrawled on stickie pads.The sunflowers placed in a pretty vase on the table, the trash bins rolled faithfully to the street.
It’s been a place to spend a summer evening, swinging silently on the front porch swing, just listening to the cicadas.
And it’s a place where, when I climb the stairs at the end of the day, someone is waiting – someone sincerely wanting to know about my day.
And throughout everything,this been a place where we have recognized the value of being completely present.
Where we’ve taken the time to show our support – at performances, and soccer games, corporate dinners, and funerals – even when we’d rather not. Because we’ve known what it has meant to the other person.
So much of marriage is simply showing up.
And now, unbelievably, it is the place where, twenty-nine years later, our relationship is transforming into something completely unexpected in mid-life. He, a little grayer, and me a little more at peace with things, perhaps.
And today, I am humbled by the inexplicable truth that this has been a place that neither of us could ever abandon. A place we could never manage to quit, even when it has felt too difficult.
A sacred place where we’ve sometimes had to remind ourselves of the solemn promise that we made to one another.
A place that I was brought into, through my parents’ marriage, and a place I will continue to inhabit, with my husband, my best friend, my beloved – until death do us part.
It’s a place veiled in mystery and contradiction, a place I will never fully comprehend, but will always be immensely grateful for.
It’s a place called love.