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Love: tea, kindness, and whiskey.
Recently, I tried paddle boarding for the first time.
I was out at sea with my partner who was holding the board steady.
As I moved up from my knees and onto my shaking legs, I waved madly trying to get the attention of my son and daughter, and then finally as they saw me, I fell. Spectacularly.
Instead of falling sideways, my feet went backward, the large piece of fibreglass slipped out in front of me, and I felt sure that I would hit my head on the back of the board.
Suddenly, I was in the water and it was cold and soft and salty all around me. My partner was in hysterics, as was I.
He hadn’t let go of me. He never lets go.
Because I take so long to get under the waves, he makes me swim to him. Underwater, I open my eyes, and I can see the whites of his large hands, amongst the stirred-up sand, reaching out for me. I get there fast, splashing furiously because I don’t want my feet to touch the unknown ground. When I get to his hands, he hauls me up and swings me around, like I am on a merry-go-round.
And I feel so alive.
(Although if I even glimpse a crab, a fish, or a stingray I scream for a piggyback to shore.)
I was as frightened as a field mouse when I’d met him (we lived on the same street). I had only ever experienced egotistical relationships—ones where men told me, “Relationships are hard AF. “
This one began slowly, in moments. There was no rush—no gushing declarations of love.
Just many late conversations over coffee after our children were asleep, and then finally, one evening under a branch of the Pohutokawa Christmas tree, he kissed me.
Soon after mentioning I didn’t have a date to a friend’s wedding, he offered to take me. Quite a big deal, seeing as we had only just met.
Just before the ceremony began, he gave me a glass of bubbles and took my hand, hooking it in his.
Fingers intertwined, we walked through an archway of fairy lights toward an open fire, and we took our seats among the other guests.
I knew when I saw his tiny tears as he watched two strangers get married that he was a special man.
For months, we wandered and meandered through malls and market stalls, picking out everyday items for our kids, plums, peaches, spinach, beets, and broccoli.
Everything felt so easy, but we both tread cautiously.
One day, after having to put our children on planes and say goodbye to them for a long time, I was on my way up one of the busiest city streets, and he on his way down.
And on opposite sides of the road, stopped by traffic lights, we noticed each other.
It was the longest light-transition I had ever experienced, but when it turned red, he ran over and scooped me up holding me tight. My feet lifted off the footpath, he felt what I felt, and in that moment, we both knew that it was a day we will never forget: a day so hard, you could have carved our hearts with a knife.
That day will be etched in our footpath forever as the toughest and most painful day of our lives thus far.
We just held each other and cried, and the busy street roamed around us.
I felt like I was not alone. I was home.
Fast forward to now, and he doesn’t care if I can’t cook dinner because of a migraine. He just pulls me backward by my belt, as I walk toward the bed. He kisses me goodnight—forcefully but so gently. And he brings me a cup of peppermint tea.
He drives me to the station in winter so I don’t have to walk in the rain.
We hardly ever say I love you. We don’t need to.
He makes me laugh.
I can ask for any accent day or night, and he nails it, every time (especially Tom Hardy in “Peaky Blinders”).
And he will always give me the tenth one free on his coffee card after buying nine.
We hardly buy gifts, but I like when he does, they are so small and thoughtful: New Stabilo pens wrapped in newspaper and twine. Or baby plants because he knows I am learning to grow small things. And then he waters them for me when I forget—without a word. On both, the homemade card says “To my little beauty.”
Yesterday, we walked on the beach as the tide was coming in, and as our path got narrower between the water and the rocks, I started to panic. His arm simply held mine more firmly, and in places that I would normally need to jump or run a little to avoid getting wet, he slowed me down.
I was safe and secure either way. He wouldn’t let the raging waves wash me away—not today, not any day.
Love is mindful, quiet, sometimes huge, and sometimes subtle.
He never minds when I change the music from hard-core hip-hop to 70s soul.
He buys three little salt lamp bulbs at a time and hides them in the wardrobe so I don’t run out. And he will get the expensive supermarket treats (like fizz and sea salt crisps) that I can’t afford.
He built us a bed when I moved into his home because it was too dusty sleeping on a mattress on the floor, and when I said it was too big for me, he knocked it down and built it smaller.
I am his “Princess and the Pea.”
His happy face is my safe place. When we occasionally stay in a hotel, he asks for our favourite room, and he always says we are on our honeymoon.
Even though he is 10 times bigger than me, he makes no complaint about using the hand towel because I need two large towels (one for my hair and one for my body).
These small gestures show his degree of care and mindfulness. To me, these gestures are grand.
Recently, when I really needed to go to the emergency department due to severe pain, he simply wrapped me in his tattooed arms, and with time, I felt calm again.
He always reads what I write and is always supportive and sweet and hearts my articles on Elephant Journal even though he is hardly ever online.
On the dance floor, he beams his big smile at me, and I beam back.
He is so handsome in black. I lose my breath, even now four years later.
We wake up with clothes strewn on the floor—his shirt, my thigh-high stockings—with delicious memories of the night before.
All I really know is that love should feel like we are falling from a great height, but we are laughing because we know we have a net of support underneath us. Or, a nest made of little ruffled feathers, fallen flowers, worn lace, and soft fur.
Love is comfortable. Simple.
Like cheese and crackers.
Or Chinese checkers, not chess.
It should feel like you are free as a bird.
Of course, it’s not all baby-baby and disco balls.
We stumble, we fall, and it can take a while to crawl back to each other, tails between our legs.
We crumble on bad days and make each other mad, usually over silly things. Like leaving the fridge open and the state of the lawn or the compost bin. And quite often, neither of us wins.
We retreat to our own dens and come back when we are ready to talk again—usually, laughter, a crossword, and a piece of chocolate brownie gets us back on track.
I was always told love is work, and love is complicated.
But mostly in our case, it’s not.
It’s still hot, like a small glass of whiskey. But it doesn’t burn, because we’ve learned: a little rough at first, but then smooth.
El amor, el amor. Love is love.
Love is kindness. Like “Amelie,” the movie. Like Julia Child’s husband, Paul.
Or Queen Victoria’s, dear friend, Abdul.
And it should always be a f*ck yes, no less.