There was a sweet feature in the paper about a married couple in their nineties. Carol Graeber is in hospice. Melvin Graeber’s next door in assisted living, and visits her every day. He calls her “my baby” and she calls him “my boy.” There’s a photo of him kissing her as she lies in her bed. I had the same exact reaction as everyone else did. (1) They are adorable, and (2) eww. Wrinkly-lip kisses.
Dave and I go for walks holding hands. I think younger people out there look at our gray hair and relaxed skin and think we’re adorable, too. There’s something about affectionate old people that twists the part of the heart that longs for connection. We make assumptions in their favor. But are they still together out of devotion, or cussedness? Are they holding hands because they’re in love, or because it makes it harder to take a swing? This is where the Graebers nailed it. They were both in agreement: the last thirty-five years of their marriage have been wonderful, but the first twenty-five years were touch and go. That’s what they said.
If the young people do think we’re old, they’re just seeing things a little more clearly than we are. We’re still looking at the world out of eighteen-year-old eyes and holding to our end of the contract by staying forever young, and wondering why the Devil didn’t get the memo. Deterioration shocks us. Memory betrays us. We never saw it coming.
The love part is easy. I married a man who welcomed me with a blast on a bugle whenever I came home from work. Who tells me I only have to eat three carrot sticks, but slides in a replacement whenever I take one off my plate. Who is man enough to admit it when I get off a better fart than he does. Who has been telling me I’m beautiful long after it ceased to apply. Who has already made sure everything I’ll ever need or want is on hand and running smoothly, and has done it so quietly and reliably that I probably don’t even recognize the half of it.
Who can be irritable and anxious. Who can give in to despair. Who might have had a little drinking problem. His wife had one, too. His wife, who is amusing but self-centered. Who is more than willing to let someone else do the grunt work. Who can be dismissive and rude.
That’s the real beautiful thing about a long relationship. Not that two people have lived a life of sunsets and chocolate and honeysuckle. But that they have learned to trust that their worst will be tolerated long enough for their best to emerge. That the gnarly bits as well as the rosy goodness will still be greeted by a bugle at the door.
Yesterday Dave and I celebrated our 29th anniversary. Some of those years were touch and go, but most of them have been wonderful. I’ve signed on for the rest. The best.
Dave makes dinner.