May 29, 2013
“Can I tell you a story?”
I said: “Wuuf…” It was The Golden Gilf talking to me, and I promise you no one has ever said no to her, not in her entire life.
We were at Duffeeland Dog Park, late in the day, because Publius Ovidius Naso, my regal and gangly Bloodhound bitch, simply must have time together every day with her courtiers.
“They told me people tell you stories. Is that right?”
She’s The Golden Gilf because she is as close as normal guys get to that Hollywood illusion of beauty, a woman as gorgeous on the inside as she is on the outside. If you don’t know what a gilf is, it must be tragic for you to have to live on a planet without search engines. It suffices to say that ‘gilf’ is a more frank rendering of what we mean when we speak of a striking woman.
And she was so striking I was dumb-struck. Time is kind to none of us, but I swear it likes her best: Blonde hair falling like a veil to her shoulders, jade-green eyes, luminous skin, no make-up, no jewelry. Her figure makes you look for more, a rare enough experience in a world of Emasculated Michelin Monsters and Women Without Waists. She looks and acts like a woman, of all things. If she’s sixty by now, you can still see her at sixteen, most especially when she smiles.
She had a little champagne-colored Cocker Spaniel, and the dog was completely in her thrall, gazing up at her with infinite patience and a loving devotion – an experience I completely understood. It made me wonder what kind of a man it would take to make her feel that way.
“I want to tell you this because I want to tell it to someone. Is that alright?”
I managed to stammer out something like encouragement, and I promise I didn’t make too big a fool of myself. I am very happily married, and a tongue-tied shyness is a thoroughly appropriate response for a married man around a beautiful woman. Not only that, it was all I could manage anyway. So there.
“About eight years ago, my mother came to live with us for a while. She was really on her way to managed care, but she wasn’t ready to admit that, so she stayed with us for a few months. While she was there, she had me buy her a little jar of Taster’s Choice instant coffee – decaffeinated.
“That was just silly, just the kind of thing that happens when people get old. She had no interest in that coffee, and the jar stayed with us, unopened, when she moved on.
“Well, my husband is a trickster, all day, every day. His attitude is that the best part of marriage consists of pulling my pigtails and making me squeal. He thought the whole grand comedy was funny, a series of seemingly unavoidable comical wastes of time.
“So what was his way of redeeming everything by making it enduringly funny? He hid that jar of Taster’s Choice in a place he knew I would find it eventually. That’s all. He just hid it, waiting for me to find it.”
“What happened when you did?” I said that, with actual sound coming from my throat and almost no nervous croaking.
“I laughed for a long time. And then I hid it from him. And when he found it the next time, he hid it from me again. And we took turns like that for years, never saying a word to each other about the game, never needing to negotiate the rules, just knowing from years and years together how to make love with each other by pulling each other’s pigtails.”
I smiled at that. We do that kind of stuff, too. Every truly loving couple does – and all the others remember how it used to be and wonder what went wrong. I said, “That’s charming…”
“That part is. Last fall we lost our house. That’s why we’re here in Sun City, because this is a cheaper place to land. My husband is phlegmatic and optimistic: Tomorrow’s an adventure, but yesterday’s a great big bore. He hated what we were going through, but he hated it like surgery: Get it over with, then get on with it.
“I hated it like chronic pain, an agony that just wouldn’t stop. I was ashamed for our having failed, but more than that I was in mourning for everything we would be leaving behind. But we had to move, and so I had to work through it, to get us packed up and moved out in time. My hands were shaky, my eyes red and raw, but I worked, even though it seemed as if nothing would ever be right for us, not ever again.”
I said: “And then…?”
She pulled her lips in upon themselves and blinked very quickly, wishing away tears. “And then I found the jar of Taster’s Choice…”
She said nothing for a long time, and I didn’t goad her. Naso had her head parked between my knees and I was rubbing at her floppy jowls, a torment she will gleefully withstand forever.
“Things are just things,” she said. “Money is just money. Love isn’t an object or a deed or an activity or a sentiment or a gesture. Love is an idea of the mind you sometimes express with the body, but the idea endures where the body fails. The idea outlasts everything, even the lovers themselves.
“And marriage isn’t a special day or a special date on the calendar or a honeymoon – or a prison. Marriage at its best is mutually-enthralling love-making, but the love-making is something you’re doing all the time, if your marriage is working. For us, it’s a jar of Taster’s Choice, among dozens of other completely-private treasures we share.”
“Did you tell him? When you found the jar, did you tell your husband what it meant to you?”
She smiled, and I joined a vast company of men who have had their hearts melted by that smile. “No. I just took it to our new place and hid it there. I found it again last month, so the game continues as before. And I really didn’t need to talk about anything. That silly little jar of coffee said everything I needed to say.”Her smile deepened. “True marriage is a love so big that no one else can even see it – and so big that you and your lover can’t see anything else. But it’s little things accumulating every day that make it so big, and sometimes it’s the tiniest things of all that let you see the whole.
“You can always spot the unhappy couples, because they’re always squabbling, especially when they’re pretending not to. And you can just feel the happy couples, because their love for each other seems to cascade over everything. But you can never be sure, when you see any particular object or incident, if what you’re looking at is just a jar of instant coffee, or if it’s a little episode in a decades-long act of love between two people who really know how to make love with each other…”
She pulled her dog up into her lap. “I like that. I like it in my own marriage, but I like to think that way when I see other people: This all looks so mundane and pedestrian to me, but that’s only because I can’t see all the secret love-making going on in the seemingly-meaningless details. I know my own life is much richer than anyone else could guess. How much don’t I know about other people’s lives? How were they rescued from despair by something too small for anyone else to notice…?
“It’s a nice way of thinking, isn’t it?”
“It is,” I agreed.
“The world is just out there. ‘Happy’ or ‘sad’ are ideas you impose on it. Some days it rains and some days it freezes, but how you take it really is up to you, don’t you think? And if the two of you want for your marriage to be wonderful – enduringly, soul-enrichingly beautiful every day – that’s easy. All you have to do is make love in every way you can imagine.” She laughed and the whole world was redeemed by the sound.
I smiled. All around the dog park, the goofy old men smiled at The Golden Gilf. They were smiling at the woman, and who could blame them? But I was smiling at the idea, and my plan is to smile at that particular idea forever…