It’s not our first date, but trying to get the meal just right keeps me nervous. The worst thing I could do is fix something bland. (Or, well, serve liver. Liver would be worse). She’s carnivorous, but believes in the importance of a green vegetable. She likes bold flavors, some heat, some spice. Something a little unusual is good. I plan the menu a couple of days ahead and during the night before I’ll visualize how I’m going to pull it together. Which pans, which dishes, how to arrange it for maximum visual appeal. The wine has to be red. A southern Rhône might work, or a Barolo, or maybe a peppery Australian shiraz. Pick out the wine glasses. While I’m cooking I’m mentally testing bits of conversation, something to ask her that I’m curious about, or something that happened to me during the day that I think will amuse her. Jazz plays softly in the background by the time I light the Jameson bottle oil lamps, bring out the plates, call her to the table.
This we do two nights a week. Two other nights, she’s the one in the kitchen going through a similar process, although it’s still up to me to pick out the wine and light the lamps. A fifth night is reserved for family dinner with Marian & Josie & Chris, and on Fridays and Saturdays we eat in front of the big screen streaming a movie or whatever series we're binging or catching up on. This has been our pattern, more or less, for very many years.
I was very comfortable with the notion of being permanently single when she and I first got together. Wrecked marriage was a few years in the past. There’d been a couple of romantic dalliances with varying levels of satisfaction. I was in the process of breaking up with the woman I’d most recently been involved with because she wanted more from the relationship than I did. She wanted commitments that I was never going to be able to give. Not to anyone. It wasn’t about her. I knew that.
So why, within six weeks of getting out of Lynn’s bed the first time, was I so sure that she and I would both be better off getting married and spending the rest of our lives together? I didn’t know then and twenty-seven years later, I still don’t. She’d been living the life of sequential monogamy that I imagined for myself for a decade and seemed to be quite happy with it. She was extremely skeptical of my plan. It took a lot of convincing.
At this point, I think we’re both pretty sure it’s going to last, but I take nothing for granted.
I was reading a lot of Rilke in those days. One of my failings in relationships had been jealousy and possessiveness. I knew this was poison. Rilke was tremendously helpful. “…a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude.”
In 24 Frames Jason Isbell sings, “And this is how you help her when the muse goes missing / You vanish so she can go drowning in a dream again.” I’m learning to play it myself and I choke up every time I get to that line.
When we got married and I first moved in with she and Marian, we renovated the basement of her townhouse as my refuge. She liked telling people she kept her husband in the basement. When we moved to Lakeridge a few years later, I took one of the upstairs bedrooms as my study. There’s a full bath attached, so I’m as settled as can be up here. As far as it concerns Lynn, not much has changed since I retired. We might say hello in passing in the morning, talk briefly at noon before fixing our separate lunches. I come down at 7:00 to read for a bit or to fix supper if it’s one of my nights. But it’s not until we finally get to the dinner table that we fully engage. And for that hour we are fully present to each other. Did we get the meal right? Is the other as pleased as we’d hoped? What happened in your world today?
In the best of the conversations we have with those we love, or come to love, I imagine a translucent bell shaped dome of solitude descends around the two of you. You’re in a semi-separate world of your own, where nothing is as important as those moments with that person.
Mark Frisse was the first person I told that we were seeing each other. “Wow,” he said, somewhat flabbergasted (most people who knew both of us had a similar reaction – we weren’t anybody’s idea of the perfect couple). “That woman has whole cities inside her.”
Very perceptive. I expect never to fully explore, or even be able to visit, all of them. So every night is date night.