The Taste of True Love

Anniversary celebrations, particularly at this stage of the game, traditionally include a “renewal of vows” –but if you’ve been following this blog, you already know that I don’t believe in them; which raises the question–What do I believe in?

Dissing vows or admitting that I don’t put much stock in: “till death do us part,” probably doesn’t give a full enough picture of how important this relationship is to me–nor  does it reveal how hard I work to protect it. As a lifelong educator, the least I could do is to offer whatever wisdom I’ve gleaned from a relationship that’s been allowed to thrive for 25 years.

I touched on this with a fellow American, as we walked through the streets of Santiago last month. Noah talked about open relationships–and swapping, and I talked about fidelity.

“It’s not that I think that there is something inherently wrong with the way you see it,” I say, to my young American friend.  In fact, I appreciate the transparency of Noah’s generation. “Back in my day, we just cheated on each other, while pretending that we were ready for commitment.”

“When you have kids, the cost is greater,” I explain, referencing friends whose marriages fell apart after swapping; or whose relationship survived, but suffered root-deep damage.

A sobering silence follows. Noah and I both share the history of a “broken” family.

We pause at a playground on the hillside of Saint Lucia. I explain to Noah that Casey and I don’t stay together for the kids, but that we are extra careful because of them. He climbs atop an intricate metal structure, as I talk about the preciousness and weight of parental responsibility–while considering that this playground would be an insurance nightmare in the States.

Noah motions to me to join him on a long, wooden seesaw.

“That doesn’t mean our world revolves around the kids or that we don’t take risks,” I tell him, as he raises me precariously into the air. “Casey and I are committed to having lives that are alive,”  I say, “He took off for a month last summer to study yoga, and I did something similar a few years before that.”

It was after the birth of our second son that Casey and I realized that we were both holding back in some subconscious attempt to maintain the stability of “equal deprivation.”  We decided then and there that we wouldn’t survive this way–so we gave each other permission to act on behalf of our selves–even if left the “other” behind for a bit. There was a great deal of vulnerability in that decision, but ultimately it brought new life to the relationship.

When you spend an entire day with a man you hardly know, these are the kind of conversations you  have as you walk along the river in a foreign city past lovers lying in the grass.

The topic returns to sex.

“One surprise is that it keeps getting better,” I say. The same is true for another friend of mine from school who has been married longer than me, and who was just as much a “player” as I was back in the day.

“There’s a gift that comes from commitment, from fidelity, that draws lovemaking from an even deeper source,” I tell Noah.  “It’s not something than can be artificially stimulated by the titillating experience of swapping–or by pornography.”

I launch into my organic sex soapbox; and Noah politely listens.  College students “living life” suffer enough lectures from middle-aged professors “about” life, without having to endure another from a friend of their mother’s; but I’m on a roll…

It’s really hard to capture how loosely and how carefully Casey and I hold this gift of our relationship. We certainly don’t pretend we aren’t attracted to others. We’ve always known that each of us is susceptible to falling in love–or lust–with someone else. We’re pretty honest about the close calls. We’re in this together, and we remind each other of that.

After 25 years, I think Casey would be really happy with a long-legged brunette with silky hair who rides horses and has a barn and who challenges him–on the outside.

Instead, he’s got this curvy, curly-haired petite woman who regularly has him traversing the inner landscape of just about everything, whether he wants to or not.

Today, it’s Noah who’s traversing, and he redirects the strength of current with a “Terre Mote,” a famous Chilean drink, appropriately named, “Earthquake.”  A third of the way down, Noah’s voice gets louder, and mine softens into the sweet memory of the youthful abandon I see everywhere around me in this outdoor bar.  By the time night falls in Santiago, and Noah and I return to Nunoa to eat Egyptian food with our hands. I am too tired to talk, and my thoughts turn inward.

The love my husband and I share is so strong that it increasingly has us placing each other’s happiness above our own comfort–even 5,000 miles away, when I’m sleeping in another man’s apartment–a Chilean colleague who I described via email to my husband as “gorgeous.” Granted “Pablo” is away for the weekend, which is why he lent me his place, but that doesn’t stop Casey from slipping into a well of self-doubt on the opposite continent. Casey didn’t realy his angst, however, because he appreciated how VITAL  it was for me to find myself “free” in the world again.

When I return home to the States two weeks later, I laugh when he shares what he put himself through, and then exhale, as he wraps his arms around me and reclaims me as his own.

There was a time when I would have loved to have “collected” another experience–a swarthy Chilean man, for example; but that fleeting pleasure has become “too” sweet for my taste, which has grown much finer.

Kelly Salasin, May 19, 2011

On my 21st Wedding Anniversary

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Summer Small Talk

Vincent Van Gogh/detail (visipix.com)

It’s a New Moon so there’s little light in the sky when my husband gets up before 4:00.  He returns twenty-minutes later to kiss me goodbye, and though I’m groggy, I clearly hear the sound of the front door shutting and the finality of his tires down our driveway.

It will be close to two weeks before we see each other again–which I suppose is nothing in the lives of businessmen or military families–but it’s twice as long as we’ve gone without seeing each other this summer.

As teachers, my husband and I are rarely apart which makes this parting prickly, but sweet, in that it creates a heightened awareness and appreciation of “other.”  Of door latches.  Of tires kicking up gravel.

When I wake a few hours later, I stroll up the road to the farm stand for the Sunday morning tradition of scones and coffee.  The grass is crowded with Keens and Birkenstocks and barefeet as we commune again in the rhythm of the season. The berries are ripe for picking and the day which started cool and rainy promises to grow warm.  Too warm, if you ask me. We’re not accustomed to the dusty roads and steamy nights of late. We’re all thankful for the recent rain which gives our place on this earth its lush summer quality.

How’s your summer, Kelly?” a neighbor asks as she sidles up beside me.

I never think to ask others questions like, “How is your summer?” and I have no idea how to answer. I once had a friendly chiropractor who started each session with: “What’s new?which never ceased to produce anxiety in me because I never knew what to say–even if thought about it before hand.

The problem is that my mind works in “essay,” while the friendly person beside me is seeking fill-in-the-blank.

Smalltalk is really just about making a connection, my husband explains. One is supposed to say, “Not much, how about you?” but my mind takes it literally. I’d rather not respond at all unless we’re going to sit down with our coffee and scones and really talk.

Then, instead of smiling, I might say this:

My summer’s been shaped by comings and goings–and that feels strange.  Fragmented.  Unfamiliar.  Like the sound of a door closing at 4:30 am and your lover leaving home.

It’s not just that my husband is gone, but the kids too. They left a week ago. With my sister.  And before that, my husband said goodbye to all of us for the month (delighting me yesterday with an 18 hour surprise reprieve.)

While he was gone, we’ve had company, who’ve doubled the size of our family; and who have gone.

It is I who have remained constant.  My heart parts and receives and parts again, like a revolving door.

Each time, I return…to self.  Lighter.  Fuller.  Unfamiliar.

How is my summer?

Strange.

How about yours?

Kelly Salasin, July 2010

MisSing CaSey

I think I started missing Casey long before we were dating.  As the manager of the restaurant where we both worked in our early twenties, I was there at least 6 days of the week, while he was only scheduled for 4 or 5.  Once the season (and our infatuation) heated up, the restaurant was a lot duller on the nights when Casey wasn’t waiting tables.

I’m not sure if he started picking up “doubles” before–or after–we started seeing each other that summer.  I know that it meant that we could accelerate our flirting–because there was a lot more downtime on the lunch shift, and more importantly–less witnesses.

Casey crossed the line one afternoon with the comment, “Nice legs.”  I had worn a skirt to work that day, but that didn’t give the staff the liberty to treat the boss like one of the summer girls.  I flatly ignored his comment (but inwardly glowed.)

Giovanni/detail/visipix.com

Once safely into the month of August, Casey and I advanced our “relationship” into the next level–with a secret out-of-town date.  After that, I made sure to schedule him whenever I’d be at the restaurant; while he made sure to pick up as many extra shifts as possible.

On my mid-day breaks, I would head up to the  Top of the Mast lounge which was closed during the day.  I had long ago discovered that its cushioned benches made for a perfect napping spot after a late night at the bars and before a long evening at work. One of the hostesses downstairs was a good friend, and I’d have her send Casey up to the me on some errand so that we could steal a few private moments together.

By the end of August, Casey had unofficially moved into my apartment. In September, after most of the staff headed back to college, we were inseparable, spending literally every waking, working and sleeping moment together.

Moret (visipix.com)

When Casey’s father invited him for a game of golf one afternoon, we were taken aback.  How could we manage that long apart?  But we forced ourselves, and it was truly one of the most agonizing afternoons of my life.  I had no idea that I could miss someone that much.

When my old college roomate got tickets to Genesis, a second parting was forced.  I adored Phil Collins–and my friend–but I didn’t want to go anywhere without Casey. Embarrassingly, I don’t remember a single thing about that night, except for the pit in my stomach.

The next month, Casey and I hijacked our relationship out to Steamboat Springs for the winter.  There were a few lean weeks before the season started where we survived on cheap noodles and love.  But once the snow started flying, we both got jobs–only they weren’t at the same place.

Hodler (visipix.com)

Casey worked at the restaurant on top of the mountain, while I taught skiing to preschoolers at the bottom.  In the evening, I was a waitress at an upscale restaurant, while he bussed tables across town at the Mexican place.  Occasionally, we’d grab an hour together between shifts, but mostly we saw each other in bed.

Eventually, we got used to it.

So much so, that 25 years later, it takes three days– instead of 3 hours–before I really begin to miss him.

Oh sure, I notice he’s gone right away especially when I’m the only one putting the kids to bed, or cleaning up the dishes or locking all the doors.

But it wasn’t until last night that I truly “felt” his absence–right in the pit of my stomach.

And this time, it was a good thing.

Because it means that underneath all the thoughts and responsibilities and roles that separate us–even when we are together–the love is still alive.

Kelly Salasin

(note: This is the second in a series of posts in the category, A Month Apart. To read the first post, The Music of Goodbye, click here.)

The Music of Goodbye

(At 18, my husband went from his mother’s home to his girlfriend’s–and later to his wife’s.  At 44, he sets out on his OWN.)

vispix.com

Music comes of its own accordlyrics with meaning, sometimes encoded… like the song that flowed during the spring of my 23rd year when I returned from Europe to the arms of my first love.

How do you keep the music playing?
How do you make it last?
How do you keep the song from fading too fast?

Most tunes came for a day or two, but this one wouldn’t fade…

How do you loose yourself to someone, and never loose your way?
How do you not run out of nothings to say?

I began to suspect that my dental work was picking up a radio station because this melancholy tune had no place in my “reunited” bliss.

I know the way I feel is now or never…

By the time summer rolled in, that song burst into meaning–so much so that after too many drinks, I LET IT OUT–torching it at the piano bar above the restaurant that I managed…

The more I love, the more that I’m afraid,
that in your eyes I may not see
forever, forever…

Hearing it now, it still gives me chills. He was cheating. The one who begged me to be his, the one pleaded with me to come home, to be a wife, instead of a world traveler. I’ve never forgotten that lesson. Now, I listen closer to the songs that come.

Renoir (visipix.com)

This one had been a beautiful duet, but I had been singing it alone–and  never noticed.

A quarter of a century later, in the spring of my 47th year, another tune has come to stay:

After you go, I’ll have a lot more room in my closet.
After you go, I’ll stay out all night long if I feel like it.

But this one isn’t much of a mystery.

And when you’re gone, looks like things are gonna be a lot easier.
Life will be a breeze, you know.
I really should be glad.

In fact, I’ve known about this departure for a long time, so I’ve been daydreaming about how nice it will be without him:

After you go, I can catch up on my reading.
After you go, I’ll have a lot more time for sleeping.

Only now that it’s just days away, I have to face the broader impact of his leaving than lines from corny hits from the 70’s.

Because it’s going to be hard. So while my mouth keeps going on about all the reading and sleeping I’ll get to do, my mind has sneaking behind my back to make a list of all the things that HE does–that I DON’T.

Like wash pots and pans and sticky tupperware and condiment-laden bottles.

It’s painful (and embarrassing) to witness just how much I come to rely on this man, and the list goes on:

Who will check the mouse traps?  Who will get up in the middle of the night when I hear a sound?  Who will fetch water from the pond when the power goes out?  Who will fix the cabinet, the faucet, the chair, the fill-in-the-blank-here, when it breaks?

Each day, my mind is a little less willing to be lulled by the song about how good it’s going to be, insisting that I deepen to the complexities of this goodbye.

Who will play Bad Cop to my Good Cop (and vice-versa)?  Who will take the kids for a ride so that I can find my way back to center? Who will put them to bed so that I can open us a bottle of wine?  Who will listen to my regular conundrums?

I’ve been wanting to write this post all week, but I thought I’d call it: Razor’s Edge–after a favorite film of ours where the characters manage loss by thinking of all the things that annoyed them about the recently departed.

As my husband becomes a middle-ager, the “annoying” list grows thicker:

He gets up to pee too many times during the night.  He crumples tissues into tight little wads that he leaves beside trashcans. He leaves countless whiskers around the bathroom sink.  His mood swings rival any woman’s.

Pickenoy/visipix.com

To have a month apart from each other can only be a good thing. Only he’ll be fed organic meals prepared by others while he immerses himself in yoga and learning and stunning women from around the country, while I’m left behind with the house, and the land and the two kids.

That Razor’s Edge process is looking more attractive than dealing with the reality of all that.  But behind the cutting loose a loss is the love. And that’s the part that’s hardest to bear:

No more tea brought to me in the morning. No more extra covers at night. No shoulders rubbed after I’ve spent too long at the computer. No melting hug to soothe my anxious mind. No loving, breathing body beside me, entwining his legs with mine.

There is much more to this goodbye than all these lists, but some things must wait to be knownlike the mystery of a song–and a marriage–and the discovery of all that “is” between a man and a woman.

Which brings me back the words of that bittersweet love song from my twenties. I finally hear and have the “happy ending” that I wanted–the one that defines a romance that knows how to grow within the letting go~

If we can be the best of lovers
yet be the best of friends,
if we can try,
with every day
to make it better
as it grows
With any luck
than I suppose

the music
never
Ends.

Kelly Salasin, June 2010

ps. but I am looking forward to having a room to myself

pps.  Bonus tracks

RAZOR’S edge:

True heart:


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