Just the two of us
My wife left town for a summer trip a little over a week ago as I write this. Let’s call it 200 hours, during five of which (I’m almost positive) I’ve slept.
I don’t understand the mechanism here, but then nearly 30 years of marriage has its share of mysteries. There are drawers I’ve still never opened and bottles in the bathroom I still can’t identify, so it’s no wonder that relatively small changes disrupt my rhythm.
Sleep is not normally an issue for me, but when my wife is away or I’m away from her it becomes fragile.
So it was easy to drive down to Seattle very early last Saturday morning. I was up, if not necessarily completely conscious.
A friend and I took advantage of the nice weather to walk along the waterfront, something we haven’t done since the last time summer showed up.
We were joined by some wild-eyed people on the downtown streets, obviously inspired by the sun and the early hour, and eventually by tourists who picked a nice weekend to visit, but mostly by people doing what we were, walking and talking.
Puget Sound provided the backdrop, and our conversation consisted of historical trivia, articles or books we had read that made us wonder what we really knew.
At one point near Centennial Park, we wandered into a discussion about the Kennedy assassination, a subject that when talked about in public can make even boring old guys look pretty wild-eyed themselves, no matter how dispassionate they are. We moved on.
And then I realized that we’d been doing this, my friend and I, on these same streets and in this same way, the same subjects and with occasionally the same mild arguments, for somewhere north of a quarter-century. Half of my life.
I don’t understand the mechanism of this, either. My impulse, if asked, would be to tell you that I can count my long-term relationships, the ones that cover decades, on the fingers of one hand, but the truth? I would need more fingers.
There are dozens of them, in fact, helped along now by social media. Some of these attenuate by the facts of life, get stretched out over time and thinned, geography and a million other reasons to have nothing in common anymore, and still they have strength.
Months or years go by, but what has changed seems meaningless compared to what hasn’t.
And the most consistent of these? It might surprise you. It always surprises me.
It’s not my marriage, although that probably needs its own category. Still, intimacy has its own variety, years spent holding hands and others not really speaking. Consistency would make it something else.
But I’ve been a parent for nearly 27 years, and I’ve seen two different lives. One child burst out of the door after high school, going to college in a different state and then moving on, marriage and more.
This is expected, understandable, and disconcerting, although I’m used to seeing her maybe once a year now and having to live with that.
And one child may never leave.
This is what surprises me, then. When my wife goes out of town, I’m tempting to start with the jokes and not stop until you’ve left the room, bored.
Two male inhabitants, suddenly without feminine supervision? Hide the Pop-Tarts and open the windows. You’ve heard it, you know the routine.
But the truth? I’ve worked at home since before he was born; I will never leave, either. I held him when he was a minute old, I was there when he took his first steps, I saw the oddities and differences as soon as anyone else.
Proximity and necessity left me in charge more often as the years went by, dealing with schools and social workers and doctors and just day-to-day.
And somehow, this boy and I, we became a pair.
I know him the way a parent knows a child, but the surprise? He knows me, too, and maybe better than anyone. He knows my rhythms, my habits, my moods, and he tolerates all of them because he always has.
Day after day, year after year, as he grew up and I grew old, we kept each other company, and it’s only at this stage that I’m starting to realize how grateful I am.
It’s a special circumstance, of course. My son has different challenges and different abilities than most, maybe, but routine has a way of blurring those differences into normal, into just the way we are, the two of us.
A couple of guys, surely, but mostly just a couple.
And if and when he leaves, I’ll be the one who will truly know what he’s accomplished, and what I have, and how much of it was done together.