There is a hole in my husband’s jeans from the time he climbed over a fence in rural Oregon. Rusted strands stood between him and a white farmhouse that we hoped would have gas or a person willing to give him a lift to a station. I sat in the car, dumbstruck, as he wiggled over the barbed-wire. A dog barked from an unseen place. Is this going to be a scene from one of those movies, I worried. A lone house in the middle of nowhere-a raging animal. The woman who came to the door couldn’t have been more friendly. She gave Dennis a container of farm gas and drove him back to the highway. This was our second time hitting empty, two days in a row, and we were newly married. It felt wild and zingy.
And true, it was my fault. I was driving and lost track of the needle-more caught up in Dennis’s stories about ex-girlfriends. I relished these stories like the soap operas I never admit to watching.
I’m starting to believe there is an enigmatic link between liberation and fear, between trust and skirting the edge of disaster. Perhaps this is one of those life truths, but it seems especially true in marriage.
In a few days, we will celebrate our six-year anniversary. The adventures have only increased and range from collaborative art projects to nearly setting the house on fire. I’m learning that life with a boundless optimist means there is little control over the shape and frequency of transformative moments. I’m convinced that Dennis’s superpower is turning a possible crisis into a Marx Brothers movie.
He whistles while he looks for keys that have been missing for hours. He dances on a kitchen floor coated in peanut oil from the turkey-fry-gone-awry. He’s quick to offer a homemade cocktail and an ear for troubles, small or large.
And, he’s human. He doesn’t like a crowded kitchen when he’s cooking. Distracted drivers irritate him. He’s prone to shouting expletives at them. There was the time my mom and Dennis and I sat on the balcony of my parent’s beach condo. A man walked toward us and peed in a sand dune. My mom said, “Oh, my-Well, isn’t that interesting,” and Dennis yelled, “Hey, asshole!” Panic swept through my body. I had never cussed in front of my parents. Ever. My beloved let it fly like a bird free from its cage.
I never thought of myself as a worry wart. Living with someone who is more go-with-the-flow than me, an involuntary inverse reaction occurs, as if balance is the secret ingredient. The trouble is, I suck at gymnastics, and balance beams are exhausting. Between the ages of ten and thirteen, I broke both legs and one arm. I struggled with depression during high school. I fell multiple times on rusty nails. In other words, I was a mess.
Two weeks ago, I returned home from errands to find our bathroom in a state of disassembly. The tile had been peeled. The toilet was now sandwiched between the tub and the sink. Instead of a floor, there was a large hole. I peered into a part of our house that hadn’t seen light since 1890. “I wish we had discussed this first.” No, actually, I said something more judgmental like, “Honey, I don’t want this to turn into another one of those projects.”
“Have a little faith,” he quipped.
Perhaps this uncertain ground we walk upon is fortified by mysteries beyond trust and respect.
Dennis’s latest hobby is building cigar box guitars. The study is now a depository for potential guitar necks, various cigar boxes, mini amplifiers, tools I don’t know the names of, at least one saw, sandpaper scraps, and sawdust. He nicked his toe on either a clamp or a wood scrap as he walked through the room.
“I just stubbed it,” he said.
Blood spotted the floor.
As if delivering good news, he said, “Oh, I guess I got it pretty good.”
I cleaned and wrapped his toe. He smiled, and I remembered the first guitar he made last fall. He gave it to a teenager he didn’t know in Franklin, Tennessee. The kid played slide like the guitar was his best friend, and Dennis said, “You just need to have this.”
Maybe these moments are the closest I come to daily proof of resurrection. Rather than anxiety, there is humor. Instead of despair, there is dancing. Maybe marriage is about saying, “I see you, and I feel seen.”
The hole in Dennis’s jeans is frayed now.
I want a pair of my own.