So on Tuesday my husband
– HOLD IT –
in the past few months writing here I’ve called this man “my husband” more than ever before in our 19, almost 20 years together. We are married, so yes, he is my husband. But in real real life, I always – always – call him by his name . . . when I talk to him, when I talk about him. I don’t even really ever refer to him as Mr. or by any other title – except maybe “your Dad” – but almost always by his own personal name.
We are, after all, individuals – that is the contract we operate under and the reason I married him: he gives me space and lets me be who I am and never asks what I’ve done all day. And this is the first thing I always list when remembering why I love him (because in 19, almost 20 years you can sometimes momentarily forget). And I list it first, because before him, I suffered from Galatea-ism (Galatea – Greek statue whose sculptor prays her to come to life and be his very own Stepford wife).
I’ve been told I exude stillness. Little children and babies quiet down when I hold them. People tell me things – I think because I keep their secrets – plus a friend said it’s because my eyebrows are so straight and “that place of quietness in you.” The first time (in junior high) I was told, “You are always so … so… serene,” I remember staring out in disbelief from the barely reined-in roiling boil of emotion and intensity that was my junior high Self.
In high school, one of my group made me the sudden and uncomfortable center of attention – “You always remind me of a statue. Look, doesn’t she?” Sitting there on a desk at the front of the room facing them, I tried to deflect the comment and their appraising eyes, with a joke about hanging out in museums and my future job on someone’s funerary pediment. But they all nodded and concurred – I remember their faces, the liveliness and flirtatious jokes held in abeyance as they all passed sentence. Yes, I was just like a statue.
In college, too many of the boys I dated projected their own ideas/ideals on that serene and involuntary screen and assumed they knew all about who I was and what I wanted (“Of course you would never do that . . . ,” or “I bet you love . . . ” )
But the man who has become “my husband” called me “Wild Thing” (bless his heart! that's another reason I married him). And then he disagreed with me and called me hard-nosed and hard-headed (more accurate, darn him!) and he asked my opinion, bragged about my accomplishments, listened to my arguments, argued back, came around the next day sometimes more persuaded, sometimes less convinced, sometimes still adamantly opposed - but ready to talk again. (Which is another reason I married him.) I was and am, with him, more real than with other boys I’d known.
Let me be clear, I also married him because he really is as steady as I guess I seem – (to some people. Those who know me better have other adjectives for me . . . ) It's he who is the still point of reliability in our family’s life. He jokes with the children, jollying them out of their pouts. He never shouts. He doesn’t even speak without thinking it through (and through!) – even at home. He is sometimes wrong (of course) but always prudently, conservatively wrong. Sensible, generally fair, pre-eminently sane. He is safe. Which I find entirely alluring.
I never understood the dubious appeal of “being needed.” Ack!
Me, I ran away from neediness.
So much so – even with him . . . I remember once when we were engaged, this man and I, holding his head in my lap and his face looking up at me like a baby’s – happy like that and . . . well, what mothers like to call adoring, though it has more to do with the sweetness of mother’s milk - and the baby's utter and absolute dependency upon that milk.
That look shook me. I felt like a friend of mine who, on a whim, sprung a cartwheel on the parapet of the Glen Canyon Dam. Successfully. But she was ashen and trembling as soon as she landed back on earth, realizing how close she’d come to falling forever down.
Seeing that look, I laughed too loudly and scrambled to my feet, holding my hand out as I made for the door, “Let’s go!” And we have been going ever since. Sensibly, prudently, intensely wrong-headed at times, but always contained in a deep and abidingly companionable reliability.
And we respect each other’s individuality - have I mentioned that? Calling him over and over “my husband” – with that unavoidable little half-lilt of carressing ownership is embarrassing.
But what to call him instead? He is the steady and reliable hub of our family – but “Hub” sounds too much like an even shorter form of hubby which brings us back to husband – again. There’s no escaping it – hub and harbor and the art of husbandry. He is my husband and if I call him henceforth Hub, try to remember that it also could be short for Hubba-Hubba and Hubcap and Old Mother Hubbard – not all of which have anything to do with him, but which does serve to show that there is more there than meets the eye.
– BACK TO OUR STORY –
So Tuesday Hub and our young son were home all day again. Because it snowed – again!?
What state is this - Wisconsin? Someone is confused. We get – some years – a week of snow – usually right around Christmas. But February is supposed to be the month of perpetual (and liquid and often almost warmish) rain, remember?
However, Tuesday morning the roads were too icy for my husband (you know who I mean) to get back up the hill and so he left the car down at the bottom in a neighbors’ field after taking the girls (our daughters – who object to being called HappyKoala and Erminella – go figure) to early morning seminary and he trudged back up the hill on his own. He decided he'd work from home.
I had other things to do that day.
At one point, Hub calls me over to look at another e-bulletin he’s received about Avian Flu – which if I call his pet dread does not mean I don’t appreciate its potential pandemic seriousness and our vulnerability here in a major migratory flyway.
(And “Hub” is just not going to work. I’d try “Fred” as in “Fred Fairly” for the gallant and sensitive though somewhat tongue-tied bicycling Oxford scientist in probably my favorite novel, except I can’t write “Fred” without thinking “Fred Flintstone” which is more the complete antithesis of this man. How about Fritz? for Fred Fairly in Fitzgerald – oh! and for Jo’s Professor Baer in Little Women – Ah?!)
So, when my dear Fritz pointed out that there was a website with advice and a list of supplies for “sheltering in place” in case of Avian Flu I told him to print it up and I’d get supplies when I next go into town – mainly, I admit, to hush his concern and get back to my own work. So he printed the list, but when I began to ask a question about one of the items – he was icily irritated, “Forget it. I’ll do it myself,” as if I were questioning the whole enterprise. Which I wasn’t, honest.
But this time I didn’t say, “I’m just asking. Why are you so angry all at once? You’re not being reasonable” – which swoops us around and around in the downward spiral – trying to prove who is being more unreasonable than whom.
This time I didn’t offer my free psycholanalysis and try to explain what he was feeling to him, “I think you’re just very uptight about this and it’s making your response too intense.” I felt the memory rise up strongly inside me of learning to talk to the worries of the people who come into the Food Bank, over the buzzing of fear that sounds so loud in their ears.
This time I walked over, sat down at the table next to him, took both his hands in mine, looked deep into his face, “Listen. This flu lasts two weeks. If you get it, or I get it, we’ll just take care of each other – okay? – until we die. That’s the worst it can do. And we can handle that.” And his face softened and relaxed – some tightness back behind his eyes let go.
Later in the afternoon when we went out to unbury the car, Fritz flipped snow toward me – a little, almost accidentally. He wasn’t looking when I let loose the first volley in return, though I missed him entirely. He looked up surprised. Then I nailed him. Straight in the chest. Soon snowballs were flying over the hood of the car from one side to the other – mostly missing, but I got snow on his glasses and we are both laughing breathlessly when we get into the car. Our young son who has watched this all from the backseat says, “You should always do that” – a small secret smile of delight on his face. (This is what it means, that poem by Amy Clampitt –
Love is a climatesmall things find safe
to grow in . . .
And then - is it that evening? or the evening after? - I’m slicing a fresh orange – indescribably lucious its scent before even the first taste. “Oh, here. You have to taste this. This is so good.”
But Fritz is working at the computer, “It’ll get my hands sticky.”
“Here I’ll feed it to you.”
We are old, really, my husband and I. And sensible. So where does this weakness in my knees come from as he eats from my hand? Indescribable tenderness fills me, “Isn’t it good?”
“Oh, yes.” He eats the fruit I give him from my fingers. "It is good."
There was once a garden where a tree grew whose fruit was forbidden and guarded by a dragon – fruit so desirable it could stop you in your tracks, entice you from the race you thought you were running.
Am I Eve or Atalanta? Is this Eden? Or the garden of the Hesperides?
Or a garden that grows again and again, everywhere, surprising you always? Is this what love is?
* * *
Helen Mirren, who is playing Sofya Tolstoy, the difficult wife of the Russian novelist, in the upcoming movie Last Station, says in a recent interview:
And who can disagree with Helen Mirren?‘Love goes through so many phases. When you fall in love with someone, you have no idea where it’s going to end up, or the kind of challenges you’re going to have to face with each other. . . . . ’
She added: ‘There’s a wonderful line, which I just love, where Tolstoy says, “Why do you make it so difficult?” and she replies, “Why should it be easy? I’m the work of your life and you are the work of mine,” and that’s what love is.’