In a season of loss, sex has been a constant. I smell him, clean from the shower. A hand I cannot see comes to rest on my right shoulder. The hand relaxes there, relaxes me. Our stomachs touch. The hand’s thumb reignites to knead that shoulder, the ear lobe located three inches away, and my lower back muscles. On television, kissing always begins on the mouth, but that’s not where I go because first, before we kiss, I need to inhale more of his skin scent—strongest on the chest and the chin. I run my nose in the valley north of his neck, where there are stray hairs that survived the morning shave. I roll onto my back and invite him to let all of his weight fall there. I shut my eyes and I let his hair sweep over my entire face and onto the shoulders his hands have abandoned for my legs. It is the beginning of a routine that will in time lead to children. It is unconditional love expressed through long caresses up and down the rib cage, fingers sliding from the base of the neck into hair so we can be pulled closer together.
But Today and the last 5 Yesterdays, this unconditional love looks very different. It starts slow – that is the rhythm of love: slow and steady and building toward something. Our home is quiet and the air in it, cool. I begin the painful process of trying to sit up and let out a groan just as I reach an upright position. He calls my name from the other bedroom where he’s been sleeping on an air mattress on the floor since I had emergency surgery to remove my appendix. He asks if I’m alright, and what I need.
“Water,” I answer. I’m so thirsty. He delivers it to me, and asks me how I’m feeling with his hand on my forehead. “Better,” I say.
Everything is ‘WE’ for the first 12 hours after I’m discharged from the hospital. We get me to the bathroom, where he’s shifted a dresser that now acts as a crutch for me to lower and raise myself. We wash my face. We get me back to the bed. We update my parents. I don’t have to think, about anything. We feel like a real family.
He peeks his head into our master bedroom nearly every hour and stands in the doorway to report football game scores – he shines here – or the news. He knows that I love watching the morning and evening broadcasts, so he tries to pay attention too. I’m actually beginning to like my love’s interpretation of world events and his stock answer when I ask for updates: “Same thing that happened yesterday.”
When he returns from the store and I ask about the weather, he sets down a plate holding a bowl of soup on my nightstand, runs back into the living room and re-enters our bedroom holding his cell phone. “Here, I’ll show you.” On the screen is a 40-second video of the ugly, urban street where we do our grocery shopping. There’s nothing to see really, except there is. It’s Brooklyn, it’s our neighborhood. It’s a glimpse outside. I smile at him and then I doze off.
When I feel strong enough, this love that I married turns the shower on for me and I assure him I can do this with the door closed. I examine the incisions in the mirror and note how great they look. I’ll be modeling for Sports Illustrated again in no time. I don’t hear any noise outside of the bathroom door and I realize he’s watching television on mute so he can listen for signs of trouble.
This love stops eating his own breakfast the second the shower is turned off so he can join me. He stands there because he knows I’m stubborn. He waits for an invitation to help, catches the towel that I drop and again, waits. I nod at him. He stoops low to serve me. He dries my thighs. He dries my feet. I look down at the top of his head. He rubs his hands together to warm them. From a position on his knees he lotions my legs and my ankles with deliberate tenderness. He smooths out the cotton t-shirt I asked him to bring me, a Dave Chappelle show memento that says “I WAS THERE” on the back. This love walks me back to the bed, puts socks on my feet and then collects the dirty plate and bowl for return to the kitchen.
This love does all of the dishes too.
I have called him lazy. I have said he is undeserving of the effort that I make in our marriage. I have screamed and cursed every word that I picked up from generations of other hurt women. But today, this love is teaching me a valuable lesson. This love shows up when it’s game-time. This love isn’t afraid of hard work after all. Please, Lord, let me remember this. Let me remember how he cradled my neck with one arm so he could support my weight while he fluffed my pillows with his free hand. Let me never forget that when I was too weak to put my own pants on, the love You gave me dressed me in the gentlest way and then prayed over me:
“Thank you Lord for grace— that Grace is a person, and His name is Christ. Thank you for giving us Christ, and for giving us all that we need.”
I try not to think of my Church’s Women’s Retreat which I’m missing— a special once a year celebration and hello, another $300.00 dollars down the drain. I stop resisting the thoughts of sorrow and eventually they get ahold of me. I begin to cry when it sinks in that there is actual fun being had without me and actual wine being consumed over intimate conversations. (There was a waterpark. And a roller coaster. And I know they smuggled wine.) My love listens attentively, then stands up from my bedside and shoves his arm toward my face, motioning for me to take his hand and rise. I refuse to get up so he calls me on my bullshit. He says this is a pity party and he’s not having it. He won’t move his arm until I take his offer for help. I stand, and then with him standing directly behind me, he encourages me to walk by singing the theme song to the Christmas classic “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”.
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking across the floor
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the do-ooor!
Stupid, stupid, stupid song actually gets me smiling. And walking. And believing.
He watched Lassie as a kid, something I never knew. I hate Lassie, but love has my curiosity at an all-time high. What else does he know about himself that I don’t? He breaks the rules and lets me sit on the couch for an extra 30 minutes after a dear friend drops by with food, coloring books and crayons – I am surrounded by love in the form of friendship too, and I am grateful – and my love and I watch an episode about that faithful dog. When it’s all said and done, Lassie saves Lily’s goose, helps a blind mailman, catches the old farmer’s runaway calf AND gets Timmy tickets to the circus! I’m floored, and so is my love. He turns to me, there on the couch, and he says with all seriousness: “Yo, Lassie is out here saving lives.” I know, love, I know.
He loses patience with me one good time and yells. He’s caught me trying to empty the small garbage can in the bathroom and he’s furious. He says something about not wanting to come down hard on me, and I’m genuinely and I mean genuinely shocked that he’s attracted to me when I look in the mirror. My stomach is bloated. Skin yellow, teeth yellow, eyes yellow. Boobs look awful in this shirt without a bra on. The next time I see him he shows no trace of being upset. He smiles and pats my dumpy butt in pajama pants.
By Saturday night I am walking. You can’t tell me I don’t look elegant when I stroll across the kitchen floor. I can also sit up for more than an hour so I’m allowed to join him on the couch for Captain America: The Winter’s Soldier. He’s always been funny and obviously very, very good-looking, but the best of him was hidden until now. I suck on throat lozenges because the tube they put down my throat really did a number on me. No drinks, no cab rides. But this is the best date I’ve ever been on.
Ann Voskamp says: “All the brokenness in the world begins with the act of forgetting.” Not this time. I will remember. I will continue to thank the God of all grace, Who is eternally up to something good, for this wonderful life. For this unconditional love.
We are two connected branches. Sourced on the One true vine.
‘Till death do us part.