I’ve been to the IHOP in Harlem twice since it opened in New York City, but according to Simon that location didn’t exist until very recently. Simon is a woman named Santrice, but we refer to her as Simon when she’s a bit off. She insisted Harlem was changing too quickly while running her hands up and through her hair, trying to give it volume after running a block. As always she had an excuse for being extremely late, and that came on the heels of another excuse. “Well you know, I had to find parking and it’s raining.” This coming from a person who always has to find parking, yet never looks up parking garages. Not once, not a single time. It’s like Google hasn’t been invented in her world. “But it’s fine,” she said.
I noticed that each of her nails was painted a different color, and that she had chosen to be extra subtle by having glitter painted over each one. And on a few fingers, little rhinestones dotted them in little diagonal lines. Simon talks quickly so I put my attention back on her, but not before noting how cool she looked with a jean jacket on. She was already halfway through a story about her fiance’s boss. And with a heavy sigh she said, “And then his boss died.” She hung her head, and looked to the empty part of the restaurant.
“How did he die?” I asked her.
“He committed murder,” she said.
I put my hand on the table to signal we needed to slow down, and rewind. “I’m confused. You said he died.”
“He did. He murdered himself.”
“You mean he committed suicide?”
“Yes. He murdered himself.”
“No. No. You see, in America, where we have parking garages and google maps, we say suicide. A person doesn’t murder themselves.”
Simon has no patience for these formalities, and dismissed me so she could carry on. (I think it’s important that I note neither of us makes light of such a thing. And this man’s family will be in our prayers.)
“So what else?” she said.
I thought back to my sophomore year in college and recalled the first time I was responsible for paying my own cell phone bill. I was in charge of my schedule, and my minutes. Five hundred golden tickets to use whenever I wanted. If I was careful not to talk on the phone each day, I could roll over minutes to the following month.
But, as I told Simon, it turns out that this method doesn’t work in marriage. In marriage, you don’t get to stack up points for all of the good deeds you’ve done, and then take a few days off. You work at it each and every day. And when you don’t work at it, you have your first fight. About nothing. And then one of you, as in me, kicks a bag of recycling across the kitchen floor in utter frustration. And when one of you, like him, laughs at this, you let the whole powder keg explode.
I also told her about the post-fight, the calm hour when we sat on our new couch and watched a marriage dvd. Pastor Jimmy Evans has a series called “Marriage Today”, and it’s such a blessing, such a great guide when we are lost at sea. For some reason, I used to get embarrassed about the idea of working at a marriage, rather than just existing in one that’s somehow perfect. I don’t know if I failed to listen when people told me it takes work, or if it’s one of those things that you just have to experience for yourself…but either way, I’m now prepared to roll up my sleeves. There is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to run from– I work at my marriage. I work to keep my husband happy, and his needs met.
And like the dvd says:
“When the grass looks greener on the other side, it’s time to water your own yard.”
Simon listened to this intently, interjecting with her own relationship revelations ever so often, pulling her ears outward. She does this a lot, pulls her ears out while saying something like, “I hear you!”
“So anyway,” I continued, “I’m so in love with him and so committed, but he makes me zany sometimes.”
Simon nodded and then said, “I paid ConEd. The lights are on, and we have electricity.”
“Don’t sit in the darkness!”
“Is that marriage advice?”
“That’s advice for all women.”
Clearly, Simon has about two of the original twelve marbles she was born with, but the sister makes sense occasionally. Don’t sit in the darkness. Own your fears, face them head on, make love and not war, and then…
…get to work.
And to my husband, who never censors me: you give me room to grow, and stories to share. May we always minister and tell of God’s grace with such raw truth, never holding back. I love you.