He and I, we know we are among the lucky ones. Every time one of our single friends laments the lack of good options out there, we feel the breeze made by the bullet we dodged just by falling in love with each other.
Swoosh. There it goes again.
One swoosh leads to another and we find we are suddenly in the middle years of life. The last four decades are garlands of grace some days and other days we can’t deny the truth: we are getting old. Mirrors do not lie, and neither do small children: “Your skin is so floppy, Mommy!” (Bless it.)
We have mostly accepted the irreversible damage the sun has done to our skin. We face the horrifying reality of being the age our parents were when we began high school. (We graduated in the 1990s, which I still think of as ten years ago. What can I say except that math is hard.)
Just for fun, we google things like “arthritis relief” and “unhealthy moles”. We ask our kids questions like “What exactly does bae mean?” We aren’t young, but we aren’t really old, either. We’re just...here.
I suppose I believed Rod Stewart’s song alone could keep us forever young. I planned for both of us to spontaneously combust into old people on my ninetieth birthday. I would wake up, put on a pair of gold metallic sneakers and hand him a jaunty fedora and a rolled up newspaper. Our golden years would begin with a bang.
So, fifteen years later, it’s been a bit of a surprise to find most of our days are fairly unromantic buzzkills. By nine o’clock every night, all we want is for all the children to go to bed right now. We want to watch Netflix or disappear into a book in our attempt to forget the day’s real work/kid/personal drama. By eleven o’clock we go to bed.
Forty is the most tired decade of our lives.
There are nights I lie in bed after he’s asleep and I wonder if he and I could become the kind of people who shake their heads and say those cliche words: “We just don’t love each other any more.” My heart rejects the idea, though. NO. We could not become those people. I remember how we got here, and our story can’t end like that.
It is a mystery, the way each person’s story forms around their moments and days. I wonder how much power we have over the story he and I are writing together right now. Can we make it and still be happy together just by sheer desire?
The unfortunate truth is that love and commitment are sold separately too often in this world. I found neither during my university years. But oddly enough, a few years after graduation, I found them both in this one old college friend. We have known each other now for more than half our lives, which is completely ridiculous and borders even on puritanical when I say it out loud.
How do we maintain our street cred, I ask you, when we live in a house filled with four kids, one little dog, and the general sense that this life is more than we deserve? (We don’t. Thus the need for a good midlife crisis.)
I first saw him during my freshman year of college. I felt absolutely...nothing. No sparks. No heavenly harps of destiny. No butterflies in my stomach reciting Shakespeare’s sonnets while rainbows fell from the sky. He sat on my friend Christy’s sofa, next to his perfect girlfriend, strumming Beatles songs across guitar strings. I breezed past them to the kitchen, brain-dead to any siren song of fate.
He thought my shorts were a little too short. (So judgmental and prudish of him, don’t you think?) I was definitely not his kind of girl. At nineteen years old, despite the fact his only worldly possessions were a guitar, twelve t-shirts, and a bike, he already knew someday he would marry that girl to his left. His future was all planned, and the girl with the too-short shorts was a non-factor. I barely existed.
Somehow we became friends. His girlfriend was jealous and we found her feelings absurd, but really cute.
It wasn’t like we were in love or anything.
The next year we lived next door to each other. He was nursing a broken heart after breaking up with his perfect girl. Neither of us was looking for more than friendship. We walked to class together. We played cards together. We talked for hours into the night. When he looked at me, I could tell he was the first person who had ever really seen me.
But we weren’t in love.
I moved thousands of miles away at the end of our sophomore year. We stood in the driveway, purposely not saying goodbye. He stared at me over the roof of his silver Honda. There was a strange and painful sensation in my chest. I had no words to make sense of my sadness, so I squeezed his hand and waved as he drove away.
We weren’t in love, but I cried hard and ugly for an hour after he left.
Years went by, and we talked every once in a while. We graduated. We got jobs. We called each other on our birthdays. We had lives and plans that didn’t include each other.
I kept a photo of him in an album. He was frozen in time with a big group of our old friends. Everyone else was smiling, but his mouth was turned up in a little amused smirk. The look in his eyes made me nervous, like he knew something I didn’t. I sort of wanted to punch him right between those eyes.
I was pretty sure he didn’t love me. I felt exactly the same about him.
One summer I took a trip to visit my old college friends. In a pizza place with a giant dinosaur on the wall, my true feelings for him landed in my lap before the pizza was on our plates. The shock I felt cannot be put into words. (Him?? I love...him???) He figured it out a few days later. Neither of us said anything. I drove home across four states with tears rolling down my face. I hid in my life far away from him because I suddenly felt six years of love all at once.
My love for him wasn’t just a feeling or a desire. It wasn’t what I chose, and maybe it wasn’t even what I necessarily wanted. I simply realized that he and I had somehow become love. Or maybe we had always been love without ever realizing it. One thing was certain: we would never be anything else again.
Eventually we were married under a palm tree. A spider landed on my bare shoulder during the vows and I laughed at the ridiculous way life surprises us by being perfect and awful all at once.
In the beginning of our marriage I thought my job was to make everything better for him, and that all he needed was a simple combination of Mother Teresa, Julia Child, and Marilyn Monroe. I know differently now.
I know that all he ever really needed was for me to be me. The best part about the midlife experience is I am too tired to fix everyone. There are nights I cry in the shower because of all the things I can't fix for the people I love. I go to sleep with prayers for help on my lips and a heart in my chest that dreams of hope.
In the morning, ordinary light streams in through our windows, and my eyes open a crack. The beehive shapes in the wallpaper slowly come into focus. Reality and life grow clearer one breath at a time.
His arm slides over me and pulls my body close to his. I empty myself out and sink into the memory of a million magical embraces. Everything is going to be okay.
Right here, in the middle of all the years and all the things we can't fix, we are right where we belong because we are together.
(Even if he does still think my shorts are too short.)