A little romance.

Untitled by Joel Hilgenberg

I will tell this story poorly because it is late at night, and I have wrung every ounce from a beautiful spring weekend, and I am tired. But I will tell it anyway because a commitment is a commitment, even if only to myself (especially that). Someday I will come back and edit….

One day recently, I won’t say which (although it was Friday before last), I had to shower in a bathroom that smelled like poop. It smelled of poop because I overslept and someone else in our family visited the facilities before I got into the only bathroom that has a working shower; and even though Santa gave each and every person living in our house his or her own personal bottle of Poo-Pourri for Christmas (and also left bottle in each and every bathroom), my people seem to have difficulty remembering to use said gifts. Also, they forget that I have asked, quite nicely thank you, please may no one poop in the only bathroom that has a working shower before I have to take a shower because it makes for an unpleasant showering experience, which makes me less than cheerful, and everyone fares better when I am feeling cheerful, especially when they want me to cook breakfast and drive carpool, all before dawn.

This scene is not the kind you’ll read about in a glossy issue of Modern Bride or Martha Stewart Weddings. There you’ll likely find advice for creating spectacular, cherished days, the memories of which will, in theory, provide fortitude when times turn dark. This is a deception. Marriage is far more complicated than its peaks and valleys. Mid-mountain switchbacks make up most of its landscape. Ask anyone who’s tried it: the success of the journey depends on navigating the mundane and ordinary, the meandering, rocky, middle ground. This is one of the truest truths I know. Poop – real and metaphorical – is simply part of the bargain; the ability to deal with it is where the bargain is either won or lost.

All of this is on my mind because also one day recently, and I won’t say which (because it is private), Bernard and I celebrated our anniversary, commemoration of the date on which we hosted a surprise cocktail party in our old house, our cozy cottage, one spring evening, inviting only four neighbors and a judge holding a marriage license. In less than 20 minutes we went from scandalous co-habitants to lawfully wedded man and wife, tying me to the man who my friend Red, among others, described as the absolutely-least-suitable of all the eligible bachelors from my sister’s large, formal wedding several years earlier.

Suitable in the mind of my good friend, among others, meant a man who was an intellectual and professional peer, at minimum, a well-educated businessman of impeccable taste and sophisticated charm, not a mountain-man-drifter who carved elk antler chandeliers by summer and ran a ski rental shop when it snowed. My friend, and all the others, hoped my little romance would be a whim, a lark, a phase. They hoped this hope on behalf my future happiness, because that is what friends do, particularly the friends who are enough older to see what can lie ahead in relationships, and in life.

I knew they were right. I knew, early on, that Bernard and I would fail any traditional compatibility test. Had each of us been asked to draw a picture of life 10 years down the road, the two outputs would have had little, if any, similarity. I am prissy and selfish; he is brash and uncouth. I am mostly patient with people but impatient with process; in this regard, he is my exact opposite.

I knew that our backgrounds and families, our definitions of family, were vastly different. I knew, from reading and research, that unions between a college-educated wife and high-school-graduate husband were among those most likely to end in divorce. I knew I should listen to my friend’s urging of caution and restraint, even though I did not.

The attraction, for me, was sparked by a pure guess, based on instinct, that our human priorities matched, Bernard’s and mine. He afforded every single person dignity, and he avoided those who didn’t respond in kind. I knew he would treat me this same way. This was the only characteristic that mattered to me. I suspected, more than knew, that if asked to delineate an architecture of decency and kindness, we would design identical structures. Flawed and incomplete, but identical.

In the 21 years since that first spark, two-thirds of them in legally sanctioned union, we have traversed the full landscape of both better and worse, in sickness and health, for richer and poorer. Our conflicts, not surprisingly, have stemmed from our differences, often over as simple a matter as how to celebrate a birthday or holiday or anniversary. I expected a present on each and every special occasion; Bernard expected to buy presents only if and when he found something truly special, not merely for the sake of having a gift. These are both little and big matters, trivial yet telling.

In many ways, all of my friend’s predictions have come true. She was not wrong in her forecast. But, then again, neither was I.

Though our mis-matched little romance did not blossom into an epic, cinematic tale, somewhere along our plodding trail Bernard and I, together, managed to stumble into understanding the difference between loving another person and accepting the way that person needs and wants to be loved. That these are two distinct and often different things is perhaps the most profound truth I know. It is the secret in the switchbacks, I think, the key to the managing that rocky middle ground. In this regard he, the unsuitable groom, is a better trail master than I.

A couple of months ago Bernard and I went to the opening reception for a friend’s art show. At the entrance of the exhibit were several small pen and gouache drawings that I absolutely adored – as did everyone else, because each piece had a shiny red dot underneath. Two weeks ago, unable to contain his pride and excitement, Bernard surprised me with a piece he had commissioned from the artist especially for me, for our anniversary, a truly special present that he happened to find at the right time for a special occasion. And then on the evening of our actual anniversary he presented a bottle of sparkling wine, a kind he knows I like. He had custom-cut the label using an X-acto knife.

J_B

He said:

It’s JB for JB, #21.

And so I forgave him for saying, a week earlier:

It’s poop, Jennifer; turn on the fan and deal with it.

Because, in truth, I am prissy and self-centered. He is brash and uncouth. We are entirely unsuitable for each other; and yet here we are, nonetheless.


Food | Week of April 4, 2016

29 Comments Add yours

  1. So, so great. Living life is navigating the middle. I’m just now learning this.

  2. jgroeber says:

    Oh, such a great and heart-breaking, heart-melting truth. I am so very glad you wrote this and put it out there in the world for me to read it. This is what I will ponder for the rest of my marriage: “understanding the difference between loving another person and accepting the way that person needs and wants to be loved.” In this case, as in all cases, it is the wisdom to know the difference that always gets me in the end. Thank you for this gorgeous thing. And most of all, a very happy anniversary to you, dear JB #21.

  3. Leigh says:

    Oh I love this so much.

  4. Barbara Viser says:

    LOL

  5. Michelle says:

    Don’t change a word.

  6. Suzanne henley says:

    Love the navigation of the contrast of the opening and closing images. Feel as though I just canoed Eleven Point.
    What a wrenchingly lovely gem waiting in my inbox to begin my week. I thank you. And Happy Anniversary.

  7. Angela says:

    I struggle how to say this, given my recent circumstances. But Hud and I always had a pretty easy marriage. And I know I am leaning on cliches here. Don’t sweat the little stuff. And it’s all little stuff. And I wish every day that someone were here to poop in the bathroom before I had my shower. Love you both. Happy, happy anniversary.

  8. Ted Nadeau says:

    “… But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.” – https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/19562-the-point-of-marriage-is-not-to-create-a-quick

  9. “…and yet here we are, nonetheless.” cheers xxxoo

  10. I have to agree with jbgroeber who pointed to the lovely line “understanding the difference between loving another person and accepting the way that person needs and wants to be loved” as one of the truest ever written. And with Michelle, who suggested that you not change a word. It’s perfect.

  11. gibett says:

    Beautiful story! A wonderful mix of reality and enchantment. I should love to meet your Bernard as I think we would get along well and likewise you and my Steve. Just this week-end in speaking with my married children and their spouses, Steve and I were talking about how it was the little everyday mundane things that mold our relationships and how they play out… After 35 years I should note that many of our best memories stem from one of those difficult yet mundane issues that required cooperative navigation…

  12. Lovely and truthful as always. The line that Jen and Audrey noted was the one that especially touched my heart as well. So important to remember, with everyone. Also, your new blog theme is inviting! Wishing you a beautiful week…

  13. *Swoon. *Sigh. Love this one, Jen, Love it. We have been married 29 years, and we’re still working on that “understanding the difference between loving another person and accepting the way that person needs and wants to be loved.” It’s a biggie. Bravo for figuring that out, and thanks for sharing this wonderful love story. *Sigh, again.

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