I’ve been thinking about love lately–love and marriage.  Partly because I’ve been writing about this topic in some of my other creative work, and partly because yesterday was not only Liam’s medieval birthday party, but our 11th wedding anniversary as well.

We don’t have much of a history as far as anniversary celebrations go.  One was obviously spent in the hospital recovering from childbirth, another was spent in heightened anxiety and sadness over T.’s impending surgery, only days away, and many were spent–sometimes disastrously but always in memorable fashion–at favorite restaurants with the kids in tow.  We have never celebrated an anniversary alone, actually, but I think this was the first year that we didn’t celebrate at all–we’re both fighting colds, exhaustion, stress, and general grumpiness has been in the air.

Eleven is a funny anniversary year, too.  Ten is such a big deal–a decade, and all the years leading up to that milestone seem big, too.  But eleven has a flat tone to it, those strange matchstick numbers standing side by side, with no roundness to them, no pleasing curves.

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I had some solitary time today to think about these things.  I walked back from the pool a little early this afternoon, leaving Scott with the kids, so I could get a head start on grading the stack of midterms waiting on our kitchen table. I passed by our neighbor’s house, as I always do.  For weeks now since the tragedy next door his brand-new white sneakers have been sitting, perfectly lined up together, under the stool outside his front door, exactly as he left them.  I walk by each day with Willa   and look at them and wonder when someone will come and take them away, clean house, box up those shoes and do–I don’t know what–but something with them. Today–finally–our neighbor’s son and a friend brought a silver trailer and carted away furniture and boxloads of things all afternoon.  Later, after they left, I walked past the house again but the shoes were still there.  Someone had kicked them aside in the process of moving out the furniture and one of them was flipped over.  I wondered why no one had set them straight again, or why they were even still there, and why those shoes bothered me so very much. It was jarring to see that one shoe there, at a right angle to its partner, askew, still white and hardly-used.

But it made me think about love.  Their love.  His love.

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When I think about love I think about my grandparents, married for so long.  I think about how I woke up one morning in their apartment, lying on the hard fold-out couch bed in their living room.  I heard their voices from the veranda outside the room, mixed in with the scraping of a knife on toast as someone–my grandmother perhaps–spread jam on her bread.  They talked, quietly, but intently, in a way I’d never heard them speak before.  I thought then about how that was love: the rise and fall of their voices, the companionable sipping of coffee, the things that didn’t need to be said hanging between them like light.

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Last night Scott and I exchanged cards briefly, quietly, on the futon in our family room.  It was the first chance we’d had to talk in days.  Our trip to visit our friends had been stressful; we’d spent Wednesday running interference for L., who literally bounced off the walls all day, non-stop. And I really mean non-stop all the way through the morning, through the 40 minute car ride into the Shenadoah mountains, the 30 minute hike, the 40 minute ride down, lunch (which he refused to eat), the afternoon “rest” time, the walk we went on because things were so out of control, the party, and the fireworks.  When he finally went to bed at 10:15 our nerves were stretched taut, our tempers frayed; it’s taken days to mend them.

I realized then, and today too that marriage isn’t always years of rounded pleasant curves and loops and soaring times.  Sometimes it’s about being staid and stalwart; being the two walls side by side that hold up and protect what you love the most: each other, your children, all those moments of understanding hanging between you like light.

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