We laid on our backs on the raft, with the slight breeze off the mountains gently rocking us in Tupper Lake. Lincoln chose the cool, soft pine needles on the shady point instead.
We began to reminisce. It’s a luxury of one’s post-retirement years. My mind is free of work-related details, so I get to focus keenly on Ray.
It’s fun to try to recall the beginning of a conversation. Ray was talking about how thin he was in the photo of him kissing me in my dashing Zorro costume. For several years, I dressed up for Provincetown’s Carnival parade. I was Merlin, the Maharishi Yogi and Rafiki, the wise baboon in “The Lion King.”
“I was really sick that summer,” said Ray. “I spent most of it in bed. You were out on the boat every day.
“I know. I had a great summer, riding the wakes of the ferry and whale watching boats. Did that upset you, or hurt you that I wasn’t around?” I asked, hoping to be assured “no.”
“It was a really hard summer. I was lonely, and I thought you were angry at me,” he replied.
“I wasn’t angry with you.”
“It felt like it. I think it was that summer that turned me off on Provincetown.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, and I was. “But you didn’t want my attention when you were sick.”
“No, you’re right. I didn’t want you around, fussing over me, but I missed you.”
We stayed silent then as we rocked in the hot sun. I was both glad to know about his feelings and sad. But, I’d rather know than not know.
There is more than one behavior I regret. The same is true of Ray. Sometimes we talk about the wounds of coping with the other’s failings, but we mostly spare the other from feeling any further guilt about it. And the number of failings, though remembered, were few, and far outweighed by the extraordinary feelings associated with deep, abiding love.
Tonight, Ray and I walked in the dark down the grassy hill to the dock, naked and holding hands so that neither fell. Lincoln didn’t go into the water, but watched anxiously as we each swam in different directions, I to the raft and back, and Ray close to the dock’s ladder.
“I think this is one of my favorite things to do in life,” I told him, “skinny dipping with you in the dark, cooling off before we go to bed.”
“Me too,” he said as he handed me a towel.
“I know we don’t have a lot of physical contact, but what’s your favorite form of it?” I asked him.
“Yes we do,” he protested, “but I’d say it’s our kissing.”
“I love our hand holding,” I told him, “like walking down the hill together.”
“I like taking your arm,” he said.
I want answers to all of the questions that pop into my head about Ray. I’ve been with him for 43 years, but so much of that was spent being busy, and creating patterns of living that facilitated our busyness. The busyness has ended not only because we’re no longer at a job, but also because I’ve let go of the need for everything to be perfect and under control. I no longer jump up and down to straighten this, and fluff that, so I now have time to get to know my husband better. Doing so means talking, asking questions, listening to the answers and reflecting on what I’ve heard.
Having deeply intimate relationships in our lives is a privilege denied to many others. I don’t want to take any of mine for granted. That’s why I ask.
“You’re a much deeper thinker than I am. You’re a great observer. You don’t miss a thing,” said Ray. “I just don’t think that way.”
Many of us are frustrated in politics that the other side doesn’t see things the same way we do, or communicate in the same way. But the same frustration, to varying degrees, can exist in a marriage, and if we don’t allow for it, we suffer.
“Why can’t you be more direct?”
“Why can you say things less harshly?”
“Just say what you want. You always think something better is going to come along.”
“There are better choices than pulling into the first fast food restaurant we see.”
“I don’t want to talk anymore about it.”
“How can you just fall asleep without reconciling? I’ll be up all night.”
Acceptance of the other, as they are, unless it impacts your life negatively, such as with abuse, is key to a relationship lasting. You shouldn’t stand for unrepentant drug abuse, but failing to talk with the same gentle nuance is not a reason to call it quits.
Ray is far less a romantic than I am, but we make room for each other’s difference in thinking, seeing and feeling. We may not share the types of men we find attractive, but we share values. We prioritize loving kindness over financial gain, freedom of spiritual beliefs over adherence to tradition or dogma and fairness over personal or national advantage.
I’m enjoying these reflections, reminiscences and expressions of appreciation and joy. Life is constantly changing. I want to be prepared for the changing ending my chance to better know my best friend.