One of the highlights of my week involves opening the New Yorker and
spotting a cartoon that feels meant for me. The other day I found one
by Roz Chast about a man being brave enough to wear a beret. He tells
himself that men all over the world wear them, so why shouldn’t he.
The look on his face seems to imply that he’s ashamed or worried
about other people think of him. I chuckled and showed it to my dear
M. He smiled and retorted “and would you like a baguette with that,
how about some cheese?” Though he didn’t say it in French, his accent
was thick, borderline cartoonish. His response was meant to remind me
of my trip to Paris several years ago. When I was there I thought it
would be sweet to buy my husband an authentic beret from the city.
Unfortunately my request marked me a tourist, and I was made to feel a
little foolish by the men in the shop. Still, if you knew my husband,
you would know that a beret is a perfect present.
The rest of my time in Paris was magical, and very memorable. Mostly I
remember our walks through the streets and gathering my courage to go
to the salon and get most of my hair chopped off. It remains one of
the most honest and true experiences I’ve had. Upon my return everyone
seemed a bit shocked and surprised to see the new me. This past year I
again decided to drastically change the length of my hair. I
desperately needed to feel a certain lightness that had somehow been
eluding me. And somehow braving the shears and putting myself in
someone else’s hands has given me what I was looking for. After I cut
off all my curls I went back to the Laundromat to finish the laundry–
M came to pick me up and walked right by me. I was pleased at the
results. Several months later, I still look in the mirror and smile.
What does it say about my personality that I like surprising people in this way? Perhaps we
all enjoy this a bit: M with his hats, T with his suits and bowties,
me dressing up for storytimes at work. (Wearing pajamas to work is
definitely one of the perks of my job.)
In all our years together M has changed very little. Indeed he has
lost more of his hair– hence the need for his berets. He still looks
so much like he did eighteen years ago when we met. Though maybe the
changes have been gradual and not ones that have registered with me.
Pressed to look closer I would admit that his beard has a bit more
gray and that there are a few more spots on his hands. Yet in other
ways we have changed together, fitting like pieces of a puzzle.
Fingers entwined as we walk or sit side by side. To me this is what it
means to be happy.
I have been surprised at the number of people I have heard of who have
recently found themselves in an unhappy marriage. Many of the people I know, or those I
follow online, are in the process of getting a divorce. I guess if the
statistic is as high as I think it is, it stands to reason I would
know many of these people. For some this would certainly be the right
choice. But I wonder how many have regrets? Of course marriage isn’t
easy, and it’s so much more challenging than it seemed would be
possible as we were saying our vows. When some of my younger friends
ask, I tell them there are ups and downs, as there is in any
relationship. But what does it mean to want something different than
what you have? Or how do you then act upon those desires? How many
people feel the need to find someone better, smarter or prettier? As
we age, why don’t we honor those changes? Are we afraid of what it means?
What’s it like to live in a world where beauty spots are just that–
beautiful. Why do we honor youth in a way that borders on obsession,
with a need for botox or plastic surgery? Why not see it as hardwon
and in some ways a badge of honor, representing experience. Some of
those changes only happen after you’ve lived so long, or been together
for so long. How do you throw away a shared history and start over?
After all these years there are times when M finishes my sentences.
Maybe that’s silly or cliched, but I see it as someone knowing me so
well, or more importantly, understanding me and what makes me tick.
And, best of all, still loving me anyway. I know I’m not easy to live
with: I gripe, I complain, I’ve aged and maybe not so gracefully. Yet when
I look at my husband, I see a man who has remained true to himself
and his family. He believes in the healing power of a good book and a nap.
He will tell you that it will right most of what ails ya.
When I close my eyes, I see a vision of the man I said goodbye to this
morning: a rain hat on his head, wearing the red sweatshirt to which
we each claim ownership. I kissed him as I headed out to the car,
confident that I would return to him this evening, and sometimes
that’s all I need to get me through the day. What truly sustains me is
the thought that there will be many more days and nights ahead of
us, with someone right beside me wanting to hold my hand.