Today we mark ten years of marriage. Happily, even. With a touch of pride and a cautious joy. Given that a few short months ago I didn’t think I wanted to stay married I’d say we’re doing pretty well.
Ten years ago when I married you under the muggy late-spring sun on that post-thunderstorm day in May, I thought you were so sexy. You were standing up there in your rental tux, all dapper and grown-up and ready to whisk me away into a world of which we clearly knew absolutely nothing.
Let’s be honest, we were just kids playing a grown-up’s game, me still a teenager and you barely finished being one. We were in love though. I’ll swear it to my grave that we were. You know, of course, that at that point it was the kind of hormonal, romantic-notion love that is positively bursting pregnant with hope and naivete. The sort that’s certain the world has bestowed a never-ending burning love upon them. Love that aches when physically apart and smolders when together. Sexy back then was breathlessness and wide-eyed lash-flutters, heart palpitations and passionately united bodies unmarked by child-rearing and age.
Let’s be honest though, we were truly in love. We spoke each other’s names softly when we held hands at the downtown jazz club, ordering things that made us feel grown-up like escargots and wine. We laughed and gazed in one another’s eyes, and we strolled along the boardwalk as lovers, doing all those things young love is wont to do. We dreamt of the love-saturated life in technicolor that we’d lead, bright future indeed, then went home to our tiny apartment to make love without worrying about babies waking up to nurse or toddlers wetting the bed.
Four months ago I had the worst Christmas of my life.
We were either fighting or simmering below-the-surface the entire day because we just couldn’t for the life of us meet in the middle. The middle of what? I don’t know exactly but it felt like a desert. Vast and expansive and completely parched, populated by bills and piles of laundry and peed on sheets and harsh words, in the company of a whole herd of tiny dictators that apparently we were qualified to birth and raise. We couldn’t even be happy together on Christmas. It was wretched. It had been that way more-days-than-not for a long while.
The day after Christmas I emailed a marriage counselor and asked if you’d come with me.
I had no idea how we got there, to that horribly unhappy place, but there we were. I guess it has to do with having a bunch of beautiful babies in a relatively short time, moving across the country, getting little sleep and even less alone-time, and watching your dreams and plans crumble. They say we humans tend to take out our stress on those we trust and love the most, and I’d wager that after several straight years of this we each just grew tired of it.
We grew tired of each other. I didn’t know you anymore, and the leftover tired bits were not altogether amiable, nor mine for you, if I’m being truthful.
We talked about it. Actually mostly we fought about it, but when we managed to talk civilly it was pointless. We had no magic solutions. We didn’t want to divorce, but we tossed the word around, wondering if it was a looming inevitability.
If something drastic doesn’t change, we said, there’s no way we’ll be together in a year’s time. I just… (deflated and hopeless). I just don’t know anymore. I don’t.
Trapped. Wounded. Our aching and bleeding frail hearts had grown paper-thin. The old tired wounds kept piling on hurt and anguish and brick-by-brick it continued until there was a mammoth wall looming in between us that we did not know how to dismantle.
It was wearying to keep our secret as we played married bliss to the world.
So, finally, hanging on by a bare thread, we dragged our marriage into a therapist’s office, cracked and bleeding, plopped down into the chairs where the air crackled with awkward tension. It was the sexiest thing I think you’ve ever done for me. For us.
You know, to be honest – I think we’ve come to a new kind of sexy now.
Today you showed up at the zoo to surprise me and the kids. You finished work early and ran to us. Kids that were whiny and tired, a hot and sunburnt wife who handed the deliciously chubby baby over for you to hold. And you came to us, your smile twinkled the corners of your eyes and you walked with us. You just came to be with us because you didn’t want to be elsewhere.
We stopped for ice cream on the way home and then you started teaching our oldest to ride a two-wheeler in the driveway while twilight set on and the baby chattered and crawled and ate dandilions. Our daughter rode her tricycle around and we all basked in this glorious life of sunshine and bare filthy feet and toddler drama, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything sexier.
Today sexy means fathering our children and making them feel loved. Making my coffee at night so it’s ready to go in the morning when you leave early for work? That’s sexy. Doing the hard things and swallowing pride down deep when conflicts arise and saying sorry and being sorry and loving me more than your own pride is sexy. That’s what sexy is. Damn straight that’s sexy. It’s sexy when you hold my hand tenderly across the space between our chairs in marriage counseling and when you look at me like that. Like you know we can make it, even if we can’t figure out how. Like you just desperately want to like/love me but can’t and so we ask for help and you are willing. Willing to do the hard things. Talk the hard talks and live the hard ways.
It’s not easy being married almost a decade and realizing you really kind of hate the person beside you in the bed. When the empty space in the sheets between you may as well be a chasm for all the touching we’d done lately. Our feet used to find each other in bed as our dog-tired eyes drooped shut and we were in between awake and snoring. Then somehow they stopped and the space in the sheets grew cold and our hearts got all bent outta shape and frail.
So we fought for it. We stumbled on redemption in the unlikely sexy acts of taking out the smelly-diaper trash, going to marriage counseling, and texting each other apologies for misspoken harsh words.
Tonight, while in the driveway, your eye caught mine between helmet tightenings and you gave me the lovey eyes. You haven’t done that in a long time. Your smile crinkled your eyes up and you did that thing with your eyebrow that you do when you’re content. We had an argument the other day and it felt like the exception rather than the rule, and last night our feet found each other again in bed.
The hard work of Every Day Life brings restoration to a crumbling marriage and whispers sexy back into a couple of hip minivan parents with tired circles under their eyes and a spirit bolstered by a hope that simply refuses to die.
There’s none other in the world I’d rather do that hard work with than you.
All of my love forever,