Wednesday, January 20, 2010

'Til Death Do Us Part

Til Death Do Us PartThe first time my mother noticed my father he was running barefoot through a field of thistles, playing baseball. He tells me this like it’s a great secret, his grin visible through his tone even though it’s nearly midnight and we’re both exhausted. The Toyota continues to push through the snow but he’s back on campus falling in love all over again.

I have strong images of my parents in their college days, pieced together from old yearbooks and photographs and television reruns from the seventies. He was farm-boy-cute with his thick wavy hair, long sideburns and pale splay of freckles. I can imagine his hair, dusty from the sand around home plate, impatiently pushed out of his eyes, his polyester plaid pants rolled up at the hem to avoid tripping, his feet calloused and dirty. College Father is always in polyester plaid just as College Mother is always in a short checkered dress and thick-heeled Mary Janes. I can’t explain why. That’s just how it is.

The loud crack of the bat is like a gun sounding off as he hits the ball and then there’s his half run, half hop as he tries to avoid thistles on the way to first base all the while trying to catch her eye as she stands with her girlfriends on the edge of the field. Maybe he whistled or winked as he was catching his breath. Maybe he did nothing more than play barefoot to catch her eye. “It wasn’t so bad,” he tells me, “I only had to dig a few spines out of my heel.”

I am convinced that the “eye catching” was not conducive of their love. I think her reaction may have been more of the eye-rolling variety and though she may have giggled at his naked ankles and boyish behavior she had no suspicion that this, indeed, would be the man she would marry.

I see my mother as a calm, gentle girl with Marsha Brady hair and a quick smile. She would like me to think of her as a serious young woman, sensibly dedicated to her studies but I am much more inclined to enjoy the idea of her being a bit sassy and flirtatious. I don’t know what it was exactly that caught my fathers eye. Was it the curve of her hip in that tight checkered dress? Was it the way she chewed her bottom lip as she took notes in class? Was it her obsessive picking of hangnails or her giggle at the sink as she washed pots in the college kitchen? Whatever it was - he was head over heels and had to convince her of the same thing.

To this day I’m pretty sure that my dad looks at my mom and can’t believe he’s so completely lucky to have her in his life. Whether she left that baseball field with good feelings or bad feelings - it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that in the end, once he convinced her that he wasn’t a complete nut, she chose to choose him and I’m convinced that no one could ever have loved her more than he does. I have never witnessed a man more in love with his wife.

I always know when my father is talking about my mother because he loses fifteen years off his face. He softens. He brightens. His voice changes somehow. He cherishes his three daughters. He adores his grandchildren. But, oh, does he love his wife.

As a little girl, my favorite thing about car rides was watching my dad hold hands with my mom. To me, this was the apex of intimacy and I was amazed that they would display this in front of us. Sometimes their fingers were weaved together. Sometimes my father would lay his hand on top of hers and rest it there. Like a voyeur I would study “the art of the holden hand” and was caught in the beauty of this simple act so much that I didn’t dream of meeting a boy and having a first kiss - I was reaching much higher than that. If I could find a boy who would hold my hand then he, surely, would be the one for me. How disappointing it was when my first hand holding experience was an awkward fumbling mess. His name was Nick. He had blond, curly hair. He asked me onto the floor for the couples skate at the roller rink. I went for the finger weave. He went for the clasp. His hands were sweaty. I did not fall in love with him. My belief in “the art of the holden hand” was crushed. For awhile.

Through the years I think my father has only grown to love my mother more - to sink deeper and deeper into his awe of her. While I was in high school she went to England for a week and he missed her desperately. When we missed one of her calls he sat at the phone and played back her message over and over again just to fill his ears with her voice. And this is what I want. To be missed when I’m gone. To be kissed when I am here. To have my hand held in simple moments. To be loved beyond a capacity I have to understand. This is how my father loves my mother. This is how we should all be loved. Completely. Unselfishly. To the hilt. To the max. ‘Til death do we part.

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