How Long it Has Been

      “How long have we been married?” he asked.

     He sat adjacent to me on the back patio, both of us engrossed in our work from behind our respective screens. The breeze blew, licking the edges of my skin delicately, its chill casting goosebumps across my forearms and on the exposed skin peeking out below the cuff of my jeans. “I don’t know,” I responded. “Fifteen years, I believe.”

     The plants are almost in full-bloom, and the colors and the melody of birds chime together in a chorus woven together across the landscaping and throughout the canopy of the trees. A heavy gust of wind moves through. Our old, black iron furniture rejects in creaks of despair as the umbrella dances above like a flag raised in celebration of new beginnings.

     I look over at him, peering above my screen and losing my train of thought as I notice the familiar strength of his scruffy jawline, the thickness of his lips, and his broad brow. That old Cubs baseball cap I gave him several birthdays ago has seen better days; the fabric on the front edge of the bill has worn completely through to expose the plastic form underneath. It is my favorite hat of his because he wears it when he is relaxed and at home.

     When we first started dating, which seems so long ago, I couldn’t seem to take my mind off of him. He had the perfect eyes–the slightest of greens and the haziest of browns–which didn’t just look at me, but reached inward into the emptiest and darkest spaces to fill them with his sweetness and his love. Although the beginning wasn’t heated and intoxicating, it was tender and paced, like porch swings in the summer and family celebrating on holidays.

     I fell in love with him after the first time we slept together, and later that day he rode his bike from his apartment to my house to let me know he felt the same. We were worlds apart, even back then. I was a dreamer, a writer, and a friend; he was a sequence of common sense, understandability, and bend. His favorite part of me was my smile, which he said lit up his entire world. (He still says that today.) My favorite part of him was the soft skin of his cheekbones right above the rough bristles of his closely-shaven jaw; I used to kiss him there once on each side for good luck every day. (I need to start practicing that again.)

   We were driving out through the countryside in his dad’s green Austin Healey, an heirloom handed down from a generation before, when I first realized that I wanted to marry him, even though I never let him know it at the time. My best friend was in the backseat. He was driving and I was sitting next to him on the passenger’s side. He was wearing a golf cap, the same kind my papaw used to wear, seemingly at ease with one hand resting on the wheel and the other on the clutch. I remember him smiling and enjoying himself, yet remaining reserved  in that controlled way of his. He made me feel safe, like no matter what happened in life, he would be there to make sure everything would be okay. I loved him and I needed him, quite possibly for forever.

     Those days seem so long ago, yet here we sit, across this same rickety table carried with us from house to house with babies in our laps who have now grown to occupy their own spaces. Time has carried us through trials and tribulations which are far too many for this post to profess. Yet here we are still, working carefully to step around each other while holding hands steadily incase the other steps on a loose board, ending up on shaky ground. Things have been changing, again, but we have gone through this before. It’s the seismic shift of entering a new phase together; these are the times we know we have to choose well and choose wisely to grow closer without too much space in between.

     There are a lot of things to blame, like the children, the mortgage, the careers, and the obligations within. Ironically, it’s those same things which provide clarity and collaboration despite the mundanity of life as it moves in and out, day after day, seemingly providing much of the same. Nevertheless, a great purpose and an even greater promise persists with the acceptance of what has become and the remembrance of what has always been.

     “We were married in 2001, so that’s 15 years,” I said to him as he typed a few more keys.

     He looked up at me with those same hazel eyes reaching deep inside of me in that way they always do. The corners of his mouth lifted upwards, the wrinkles around his eyes taking a familiar shape of happiness and home. “Wow, it has been a long time.”

     For a moment we sat, neither of us saying anything as another gust of wind blew in, shaking the umbrella and upsetting the table again. He stood up and came around behind me, leaning down and wrapping his arms around my shoulders and bringing his mouth close to my ear. “Thank you,” he said, “for your words and your laughter and for being my lover and my friend.”

     He held me as the wind quieted again. I inhaled his scent as I grabbed his arm and rubbed my palm across his skin. He felt firm, safe, familiar, and whole. The world moved around us, the children stirring again and the dog barking in protest. Despite the commotion, we stayed locked together for a moment longer.

    “I know, my love. My, how long it has been.”