This last weekend was one of the first that Pat and I have had together without huge amounts of interruptions or massive requirements that pulled us apart and forced us to hide in our separate worlds.
Sure, I had grading.
He had Boy Scouts stuff.
We both had chores and work and other responsibilities.
But something I’ve noticed is that I will always have exterior responsibilities. But I will not always have time with my family, specifically my husband.
So I decided to shut down my computer. Turn off the television. Put away the books and the grading and the thousand other distractors and just be with my husband.
He’s not romantic. He’s not very sensitive. Sometimes, he’s a bit gruff and rude and callous. He can be insensitive. He is very good at being too brutally honest.
Okay, I have listed his faults. I can write them out like I was creating a tape measure of all his flaws and pull out feet and feet and feet of lists of all the things he has done wrong.
But how would I improve our relationship? How would I do anything to benefit him? In our wedding vows, I promised to stay with him. I didn’t promise to protect his dignity and integrity. However, if we were to re-new our vows (which would be kind of nice), I would write that into my words to him. I would promise to him that I would stand as his shield against the world and take as many blows for him as I can while casting aside all my lists of his errors and transgressions.
It’s just not worth it to keep that good of a record.
So, this weekend, the sun came out and warmed the world. Our daughter was invited to play at a friend’s house. Our son crept up into his room and fell asleep and hibernated. For the most part, Pat and I had the house to ourselves and we laid claim to our home and to our lives together.
Twenty years ago, just as I was starting my graduate work including teaching as a graduate teaching assistant, I bought myself a special set of nail files and buffers. The Sunday before I was supposed to start teaching, thinking I’d make a good impression (because everyone judges everybody else based on their nails), I tried to do my own nails. Pat, observing this weirdly feminine behavior asked me what I was doing.
I reached over, grabbed his hand, put it on my lap, and started filing and working on his fingernails.
A couple of days later, he asked me to do his nails again.
A couple of days after that, he asked me again.
I soon realized that I was doing his nails too often and was actually wearing his nails thin so I had to limit myself to giving him manicures once a week.
Yearly, at Christmas, I give him manicure sets. However, as the years have elapsed, I noticed that I stopped doing his nails as frequently as I used to. Eventually, our daughter took on the role because she ended the manicure treatment with painting Pat’s nails a hideous array of colors. Thanks to a compassionate spirit, an indulgent mood, and fingernail polish remover, Pat didn’t care. So long as he could clean his nails before going back to work.
But the Girl has also started pulling away from the weekly Daddy “grooming” times and spends more time with her friends, either playing outside or texting and messaging through her iPad. Our son, who has never wanted to anything related to grooming like that, thinks the entire business is ridiculous and happily hides away when my husband and our daughter have special bonding times.
This weekend, though, somehow, we just suddenly looked at one another and realized that we had this time together, just us. And we wandered around the house and talked about projects we could do.
Or we could just spend time together without thinking about projects or worrying about those kinds of responsibilities.
I trimmed Pat’s hair, shaved the back of his neck. We went outside and sat on the porch swing, rest our feet on the porch’s railing, and watched the neighbor’s children run around the cul-de-sac and play basketball.
And we talked.
As I glided the fingernail file around the edges of his nails, we talked about our future retirement home in West Virginia. As I rolled the different coarse to smooth buffers over the tops of his nails, we talked about work, our successes, our frustrations. I told him about an important meeting I had this week. He talked about a possible promotion. I talked about students asking me to deliver a speech at one of the graduation events this year. He talked about meeting with supervisors and making suggestions for changes in his corporation.
And then, when his hands were clean and his nails lustrous and shiny, we just sat back, relaxed in the sunshine, and watched the world do its thing.
“This is what I hope retirement is going to be like,” I told him.
He chuckled, gently squeezed my hand, and lightly pushed against the railing to make the swing move again.
Saturday/Sunday, Pat and I practiced for retirement. Some of our friends are going through divorces. Marriages that are going on twenty years of life are suddenly ending and the couples painfully sever ties with one another and drift apart. And I worry. I worry that this will happen to Pat and me. That once our children have grown and no longer need us that we will stare at one another and wonder who the other person is and at what point the other person became a roommate and not a partner, a spouse, a beloved friend.
I know that this can happen to Pat and me. I know that we can come to a crossroad where we will stand and point in opposite directions and then shake hands and walk our separate ways.
I know that this can happen.
I pray to God that it won’t. Because after twenty-two years together, I still love him. I still enjoy curling his hands around mine so I can have a better angle on cleaning his nails and giving him a few superficial minutes of attention. I still enjoy holding his hand when we walk through a parking lot. His hands are so much larger than mine that I usually just have to insert a finger into the cup of his palm and he automatically squeezes once, twice, three times before opening his hand fully.
My hand can fall away, return to my side, or I can take the opportunity to weave my fingers into his and match my pace to his.
Or maybe he is matching his pace to mine.
I can’t tell.
I don’t care to know.
I care only that we are still walking side by side and facing the world together.