“Sorry, sweetie, I’m stinky,” he says.
He’s been doing yard work. I like his animal smell. I watch him lift our granddaughter over his head so she can pretend like she’s Simba, and all the animals will bow down to her. His arms shake, but he never wavers. He faints at the sight of his own blood, but last year he gave his kidney to a friend. This is my man.
Our story began in an aerobics class. I was the regular; he was the new man. If you’ve ever been in an 80s aerobics studio, you know that the ratio is 30 women to 2 men. Pretty good odds, he thought.
At 34, George was movie-star gorgeous, and each of those 30 women wanted to land him. They brought him home-baked goods and laughed at his over-the-top jokes.
I was unavailable—married, two kids, committed to a high-level corporate job. But there was something about that Cheshire cat smile and, truth be told, my marriage was falling apart. Fast forward a couple of months, and I was separated, soon to be divorced.
We started seeing each other secretly. We both had children to consider, and I wasn’t officially out of my marriage yet. The optics had to be discrete.
One thing that sustained us was the perfectly-imperfect letters we wrote to one another:
“Caught up in your scent, my dreams are filled with you. In and out of sleep, restless. Too much to enjoy to surrender to the darkness. My illusions take on a misty reality. I struggle with the demand to awake, knowing my impatience with times apart. Longing to stay one more moment in the arms of your embrace and the seclusion of this captive moment. Finally, I awake—alone. But not really. Missing you, but glad for the time to savor the scary surprise of this new passion. I shake my head but fail to suppress a grin as I recall things said and knowing glances. Enjoying even now the pleasure of things to come.”
“Consumed by the rain and the darkness. The rhythm of the moment envelopes me: the rain. Your breath on the phone. My breath. And then that moment before sleep, which can sometimes be an eternity. Tonight it is. We’re separated by a phone, a marriage, the hour, and every moment apart becomes an eternity. So I hang up the phone, turn into my pillow, and sigh quietly to myself as my breath synchronizes with the rhythm of the rain and that eternal moment eases me into my dreams of you.”
A few months passed, and we were finally able to move our coupling into the light of day. We introduced our children and began to imagine what it would feel like to actually create a life together.
“The best day of my life will always be the day you walked into Canyon Crest Aerobics. A cautious glance, a calculated smile, my heart racing with anticipation. Though it seemed unthinkable at the time, something told me this was a moment of destiny. I wasn’t just meeting a handsome stranger; I was meeting the man who was destined to be my mate. I was meeting the man who would teach me the true meaning of passion, devotion, commitment. I was meeting the man who would inspire me, challenge me, make me laugh, and make me cry, would quickly become my dearest, closest friend, and my deepest, strongest lover. The man who would help me be a better mother, the man I would grow old with.”
And then, suddenly, every dream we had was threatened. I was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Surgery was scheduled in less than two weeks. I wondered if The Clash refrain was playing in George’s head: “Should I stay, or should I go now?”
We’d only known each other for four short months.
“It’s 8:01 p.m., and I’m sitting beside you. They took you downstairs at about 11. You started surgery at 12:00. At around two, Dr. Sindmack met with your mom and dad, Judy, and me and told us you were fine and in recovery. We all went back to your room to wait, but I soon went downstairs to wait outside the recovery room. When they finally wheeled you out, around 3:30, they took you to X-ray. I followed them. You weren’t urinating, and they wanted to make sure there was no problem. Sheila is with the kids now. I decided to wait for them to see you until Wednesday night. I don’t want them to see you like this. You’re really out of it. I’m feeling so close to the kids and to your mom and dad. Today was no party, though. It really stresses me out to see you in any peril. I had moments when it sure would have been nice to have a secluded place to cry or scream. I love you with all my heart. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Tomorrow came. He stayed, and I recovered. We’ve had 37 wonderful, messy years together. Now, instead of writing letters, we engage in the perfectly imperfect acts of simply living our life.