By Jill Chapin
I remember the first time I laid eyes on you. You and Jeff arrived at our apartment to share a gorgeous summer Saturday with me and Leslie, my roommate. I took one look at a tall rugged, long-haired redhead with a mustache, slightly freckled, and had two simultaneous yet opposing thoughts: This is not my ideal guy, and this guy is perfect in every way.
I will admit that my list of important qualities and the reality in front of me both included a tall, great looking guy with a lean strong physique. But why didn’t I have on my mental list those innocent eyes, that quick laugh, and an easy, sunny personality?
Whatever. By the end of our first date, I actually mused out loud to Leslie along the lines of, how does my first name sound with Terry’s last name? Although I barely knew you, I knew with a certainty that we were the missing piece in each other’s lives. Maybe it was a genetic thing, like when my dad spotted my mom at the bottom of a staircase, seeing only her backless gown and blonde hair, and he told his friend, “That’s the girl I’m going to marry.”
I remember Leslie describing you to my mother shortly before you were to meet my parents. She told her you had long hair and a mustache but that you were really nice and smart. She was so apprehensive about you, certain that I was bringing home a hippie. But after meeting you and seeing how much you seemed to care for me, how personable and considerate you were to her, she went from fearing you wouldn’t be good enough for her daughter to fearing maybe I wouldn’t be good enough for you!
I became enchanted with you even though your family would laugh out loud at that. You? Lying on the couch at night, asking your mom to make you a sandwich? You? With the enormous hangover the day of your cousin’s wedding? You? Who threw away your Harvard application because it was too long, and your mom retrieved it and filled it out for you? You? Who left a damsel in Germany and then another one in New England with hardly a proper goodbye to either?
Yeah, that’s the guy I fell in love with. I guess I saw you as a diamond in the rough, and although I didn’t want to change you, I knew that your lust for me would morph into a lasting, adoring love the more you got to know me. I know that true love and adoration usually should precede a wedding but I didn’t have time to wait for this life force to align itself. I sensed you were terrified of making a non-refundable decision such as marriage, and the sooner we took the plunge, the sooner you could begin to realize that you couldn’t live without me.
There was a brief stumbling block within a month of our vows. I became a bit upset when you announced one Sunday morning that you would be out with your friends all day to look for sound equipment. It wasn’t that I wanted you to forsake your friends. Not at all. But you seemed not to care one whit that we were spanking new newlyweds, that having just left Chicago, I knew no one in Los Angeles with whom I could spend the day, and that I had no car to go somewhere on my own. After I calmly pointed all of this out, you rethought your plans and included me to join you and your friends. And to your credit, you were able to put yourself in my place. I think this moment was the beginning of you understanding what commitment, love and compromise were all about. As for me, in all fairness to you, I had my moments of clarity too.
This likely was the embryonic moment when I too began to feel an unbreakable bond strengthening between us. But it just came naturally. I remember telling friends that you and I never understood what it meant to be “working on one’s marriage.” How do you work at something that is so easy and effortless? We really didn’t get it. You had no – zero, nada, nil – bad habits that annoyed me. At least not for the first fifteen or twenty years. For all of my schtick, you seemed to have none. Never left the toilet seat up. Always put the cap back on the toothpaste. Always hung up your clothes, kept the cars tuned up, paid the bills on time, showered every day – these are the kinds of things that have amazingly decimated some relationships. Now in our later years, I have come to realize that your minor irritations were just latent; while mine surfaced early, yours did not appear until well into our marriage. And by that time, I was too much of a fan of yours to have any of them become a deal-breaker.
I’ve joked with friends that – although once nothing bothered me about you – now your very breathing annoys me, like when you exhale too loudly when we’re on the phone together with family!
But with each passing year, I know we both realize that our sense of immortality was simply the fantasy of our youth. Yet it’s that very sense of time creeping up on us that makes us uber-aware of how damn happy and lucky we’ve had it since we joined forces so long ago.
You are my rock. Are my insecurities hard-wired or gender generated? I don’t know. But your constant sense of who you are has never wavered, your anti chicken-little outlook counterbalances my worries, your devotion to your family is not forced; it is real, it is sincere, and they are what matters most to you, always.
You have changed, though, in wonderful ways, in thoughtful ways that never occurred to you half a century ago. It’s why I am even more certain than the first day we met that you and I – to quote a movie line – complete each other. Despite my self-doubt, I never doubted that you needed me as much as I needed you. We’re a team.
We’ve gotten into the habit of saying “I love you” every time we get off the phone or go to sleep. Is it because of a morbid superstition that we want our last words to be those, or just because we feel good acknowledging our affection? Probably both.
I don’t want you to ever think that I don’t appreciate and adore the wonderful husband you are, even when I’m not being the most wonderful wife. You put up with a lot of idiosyncrasies that even I marvel at your ability to handle with such equanimity.
Sure, we’ve had our arguments. But too many couples we know who couldn’t make it to the finish line of matrimony admitted to never fighting or raising their voices or disagreeing. That’s a recipe for dissolution because we all know the saying, “Forget it, it’s not worth fighting for.”
As we’re getting older, we are aging gracefully. Yeah, one of us has a bit of a hearing loss and the other a bit of a loss of balance, but on the whole, we are in excellent health, and I think it’s the endorphins that we produce with so much laughing that keeps us not only young at heart but heart-healthy as well.
As odd as this may seem, we view aging as a hilarious adventure. We can’t remember anything and sometimes it’s too funny for words – which is a good thing because we can’t remember them either.
Our marriage has gradually converted from a lustful ‘you complete me’ kind of relationship into an ‘I can’t live without you’ bond. This means that we literally need each other to complete the sentence that forms in our heads with a crucial word missing. An animated game of charades kicks in with pointing toward an object whose name we are struggling to recall. With tongue-in-cheek and a cup-half-full philosophy on life, we see our memory lapses as one of the most amusing moments in our morphing marriage, especially when you get so frustrated, you actually make up a word that sends me to the floor in a puddle of laughter.
In closing, you should know that throughout our nearly fifty years together, I have actually shuddered, imagining what my life would have been like had I not met you.
Luckily, I’ll never know.