One Month Later- Wringing the Romance
I'm going to tell you how to wring the romance from a seven-month-old relationship, much the same as you'd wring sweat from an old sock. Move in together. Follow a two-month housing search with a two-week move-in process. Help hoist a 50-inch television. Stand on the stairs in front of a battered brown wooden dresser, listening to your Beloved say, "A little more to the left. Now, to the right." Examine your Soul Mate's stuff collected during 45 years of (mostly bachelor) life: a half-dozen duvet innards; enough old sheets and towels to outfit a 1960's era no-tell motel; stacks of paper, books, a wobbly office chair, broken vacuum cleaner... odds and ends that could one day prove useful, but more likely, are destined for the tip (dump).
Start hanging your Adorable One's laundry on the line (because you lack a staple of American living, a clothes dryer). Note the college-style collection of tees: a brown shirt with large comic-book skull; a faded black tee emblazoned with cock-eyed TV set that says, "Reality TV show failure;" a bright blue pictogram shirt saying, "Cop Speeding Excuses." Resist the urge to box your Sweet One's clothing and send it to St. Vincent De Paul. It's a small town, and He may see someone else wearing his old shirts. Stash a single tee in your drawer ("by accident") to see if he misses it. Contemplate a slow weeding process of offending items. Giggle like your six-year-old son as you think about it.
Cook together. Grit your teeth when your Beloved points out you've used tomato puree in place of tomato sauce. As long as no one gets ill, you don't care. Start telling yourself falsehoods like, "He thinks I can't cook. He thinks I'm an idiot." Worry about who'll rule the roost. Fret about money, because you've spent the equivalent of one school term's tuition on first and last month's rent, second-hand furniture and odds and ends from the Warehouse. Continue feathering your nest, wondering if you and your fellow Love Bird are truly compatible, or, if you're so similar you'll squabble and pluck out each other's eye balls. Top off the spending feast with dessert: a $5,000 minivan. Watch your joint bank account dwindle, the expense column far out-pacing deposits. Remind yourself you struck this bargain, entwining yourself with someone rich in charm and character but poor in material goods and funds. Every thing's temporary. Nothing will always be "this way."
Now, move around your new home slowly, examining each bare wall (save for the living room, graced by the 50-inch TV). Waltz in the kitchen each morning, avoiding your Dance Partner's toes. Step-one-two, Step-one-two. Remember Oscar Wilde saying something about (paraphrasing here) "Hell is other people at breakfast." Wonder if you really want your Gorgeous One peering at you over his porridge each morning while your hair's frizzy, your blemishes unconcealed. Think about the time he heard you screeching at your Darling Children for a minor infraction (tearing apart your new, albeit cheap, cork place mats).You leave long strands of brown hair on the bathroom floor. You spend too much time with Facebook, when your Beloved's face sits just feet away. Remember how nearly perfect you felt when you were "just dating?" Think about how flawed you feel now that you and your Loved One fall asleep together each night and wake together each morning. Ask yourself: Do I really want to live exposed?
Breathe a sigh of relief when you finally get the new house to yourself: Kids at school, Partner at work. For the first week, The Partner's essentially volunteering at the flight school. Then, just like an episode of Seinfeld (the one where Kramer gets fired from a job he doesn't actually have), The Partner's told he can't hang out if he's not getting paid. For two weeks, the dance continues: unpacking, reshuffling, cooking, dressing, cleaning. You'd gotten used to having a house to yourself during the day (even if it wasn't your home), and now, you've landed the equivalent of a retired guy. A guy, you discover, who talks to himself, sometimes muttering and swearing under his breath. The Partner shaves every third or fourth day, which means most of the time, whiskers obscure his handsome face.Your Soul Mate also has a texting habit – flicking messages to folks "out there" while you are standing right here. Serves you right - you had your own smart phone addiction before shipping your Droid back to the States. Another dose of your own medicine. "Good," you think. "Now I have an 'out.' I've been looking for an 'out.' I'm ready to 'do a runner' (as they say in New Zealand), pack my toys and return to the super-sized embrace of the United States. Thank God I found my "out."
Hardly. Even during this first month of transition, I see my Partner's heart. I feel his goodness. He's patient, yet firm with the kids: "Finley, listen to your mum. What did she just tell you to do?" During the first week of cohabitation, Pete accompanies me, without complaint, to a parenting seminar. He laughs at the presenter's jokes and later joins me in saying, "Oh, that's sad," when the kids misbehave.
He's kind to me, too. He'll make my coffee in the morning and hold me tightly between bare arms at night. He looks after my van, organizes the garage, scrubs infinite loads of dishes. He tells me he loves me often, not as someone who feels he must, but as someone who really means it. We enjoy long soaks in the spa pool behind the villa. The two-hour "summits" result in pruney skin and better understanding. This is where I tell him, "Since I'm the one keeping house, I need to be queen of the castle. We can't both run the show. I know you've lived on your own a long time, and you're used to things your way. I know it can't be easy moving in with me and the kids." Pete agrees, saying, of course, the house is mine to run as I please (I do, however, defer to him for jobs requiring tools, since I'm clumsy and imprecise. Pete is assured with drills, hammers and hangs pictures far better than me). The Partner says he wants to help more with finances. The fact he can't – at this moment, at least – unnerves him We both know it won't always be this way. Nothing will always be "this way."
And, there's sex. Of course, there's sex – a soul-stirring merger of bodies and minds beyond my comprehension. The kind of love-plus-physicality that awakens every cell in your being with gratitude. Profound gratitude that, after more than a year of celibacy-by-widowhood, you've connected to another human in a way you never expected to connect again. Ever. It's so surprisingly beautiful you'd cry, if you weren't so busy laughing.
It's a fledgling relationship, and the physical aspect may wane. Nothing will always be "this way." That goes for the rocky bits, too. Life improves. The Partner is offered a full-time job at the flight school. He says the pay's crap, but he'll eventually gain enough hours in the air to propel him into a job with the airlines. Each morning, he awakens at 6:30 to shower and dress. I open one sleepy eye to spy him as he dries his hair with a towel. He puts on his uniform – white shirt with epaulets, navy trousers with belt, a navy jersey (sweater) if the morning's cold. I hear the belt jingling each morning from the closet as Pete removes his pants from the hanger. The sound is comforting, routine.
I'm excited each day to see Pete again when he returns from work. The four of us – me, Pete, Fiona and Finley - sit around the dinner table nearly every night, taking turns recounting highlights and low lights of the day (a carry-over from the time we lived at Amy's). We share not just space and a dining table, but joys, fears and dreams, too. We are becoming ever more enmeshed.
The kids and I leave Pete (who must work at his new job) during the school holidays for nine days. We travel North, staying in the homes of two sets of new friends. The first couple is Stan and Joy, who, after 35 years of marriage, still call each other "Smoochy" and "Joybelle." On a house tour, I spot a small love note on a bedside table. "Are they still writing each other notes?" I ask myself. After two days in their home it's clear, that yes, they are. Joy told me, "We rarely spend a night apart. We don't like to be away from each other." Despite the death of a son when he was 10 years old, despite years living with her in-laws on a farm in the middle of nowhere early in their marriage, Joy still appears to not only love, but to be in love, with Stan. They have not wrung the romance from their marriage. Instead, I imagine them reaching for a box of wooden kitchen matches, re-lighting the flame of their union, burning complacency and sameness. I watch and listen, hoping to learn. Even though my own healthy marriage lasted a decade, my relationship with Pete is brand new. I'm a second-time apprentice, re-learning an old skill with a new partner.
Further North, we arrive in Whangerai, at the home of ex-pats Becky and Stephen. She's an American psychotherapist; he's a British cardiologist. Between them, they have nine mostly grown children, only one of whom, a seven-year-old, lives with them. They moved to New Zealand about six months ago for something different - to experience life at a slower pace. They're united in their drive to make this home. Their newcomer status is refreshing, our conversations well-informed, intelligent, lively. At their dining table, between sips of Cabernet-Merlot, I mentally nourish possibilities and flatten obstacles.
And miss Pete. Despite the thrill I get from traveling, even on my own with two small kids, I miss my partner. I want him to see, hear, feel and taste what I do. We talk each night on the phone. His Kiwi-Scots accented voice soothes and stirs me. More than just missing him, I'm pining. It's the nagging sound inside my head that says, "Did I forget something? What did I leave behind? Oh yes, my right arm..."
We're reunited early on a Sunday evening. Pete emerges from the bedroom with newly-shorn hair and an Abercrombie navy blue t-shirt (I do like the shirt, by the way). 17. He reminds me of 17. His face is smooth and boyish. I can't stop staring at him. Even during the Rugby World Cup Final at our friends' house that night, I steal glances at my Beloved.
Pete and I, plus kiddos resume the routine of work, school, cooking, cleaning, errands. It's become more comfortable. We haven't actually wrung the romance from the relationship, after all. Not today. And we have kitchen matches, just in case something needs a flame.