“May you never find yourselves back to back Without love pulling you around into each other’s arms.” — “Life Prayers,” James Bertolino
First, I kiss him hello.
It was our routine when we were under the same roof, so I see no need to change it now that my husband is in assisted living, and our lives together are separate and often apart.
Then, I ask him if he’s had a good day; if he’s been busy that morning. He tells me stories about snowmobiling or getting the boat out, working or going to meetings, friends he’s seen that day, big events and small — all created within the boundaries of his imagination, of course.
I can usually tell within the first few minutes we’re together if he knows me, thinks I’m his mother or if I’m merely someone familiar.
“Well, hello,” he said on day last month. “Glad you could make it.”
It was early in May, one of those improbably beautiful times of blue skies, trees newly blooming, tulips showing up in bright colors. There was music that day, a monthly concert of hymns and songs from another era, songs that Art and his neighbors sing – people who can no longer speak on a regular basis know every word to “His Eye is on the Sparrow” and “America the Beautiful” – and they sing.
Everyday miracles: You take them where you can get them.
When there was a break, between songs, I leaned over and asked about his day, if he’d had a good day, if he’d been busy.
He nodded yes and said, “I got married this morning.”
He’s told me that once before. He’s even confided that he was going on a date on more than one occasion. My favorite was when he told me about plans that evening with a woman who was so tall they wouldn’t need a ladder when they painted the ceiling. “Wow,” I remember saying.
I’ve learned not to take any of it personally; to let things go, most of the time.
So when he told me about the wedding that morning, I said: “Well, I guess my invitation was in the mail.”
He didn’t answer. He was busy singing; it was a hymn he’d learned as a child.
This month, on June 9, we celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. I looked it up. It is the crystal anniversary – fitting if you think of it, fragile yet enduring.
Last year, I invited a few friends to meet us for cake and coffee to celebrate, to remember a day – with all due credit to Emily Dickinson – that dwelled in such possibility. We were surrounded 15 years ago by family and friends, a congregation of well-wishes and joy. One of my uncles teased me that I never stopped smiling during the ceremony, not once. One of my co-workers groaned when he said ours was the longest reception line he’d ever endured. People had so much they wanted to say to us and each other, some meeting for the first time, others instantly in reunion.
There is a picture of us from that day on Art’s wall. I have the same one at home, on the dresser.
We are both smiling.
After the reception, for an hour or so before a family dinner, Art and I went back to my place. We sat on the love seat, holding hands, quiet, not talking, a little stunned at what we’d just pulled off.
It was my first marriage, at 50; his second, at 67. He was a widower, a colleague, a friend. I was as surprised as anyone when he asked me out on a first date, which lasted three years before he suggested marriage.
We talked, briefly, about the difference in our ages and what could happen. His worst fear, he said, was leaving me too soon.
I don’t think either of us imagined that he’d leave while still here.
Last month, we sat shoulder to shoulder once again, singing songs from a time long ago. He was using his walker as a seat that day, and I always sit as closely as I can to talk and hear and be near him.
He reached out and took my hand and held it tight. Then he leaned over and said: “You know, Susan, I’ve always been married to you.”
I didn’t know what to say, afraid I might shatter the universe we were inhabiting at the moment, but I couldn’t help myself.
“Me, too,” I said.
And held onto his hand, as if it were yesterday, today – and even tomorrow.
Susan Harrison Wolffis is an award winning writer known for her engaging writing style.