The other day our friend Jim came by to pick something up. It was as lazy of an afternoon as we’re capable of having, and Alex answered the door in his standard post-bike-ride best: A pair of striped boxers and the black dress socks that he’d put on for work at least forty eight hours before. Jim looked at him, scowling, shaking his head. “What are you doing?” Jim asked him, motioning with his hands to Alex’s exposed torso. Alex puffed up his chest, sucked in his belly, then let it all out and farted.
I can’t believe it myself, but this is the very thing that drew me to Alex all those years ago: An unashamed appreciation for life’s simplest, greatest pleasures. I literally fell in love the afternoon I witnessed Alex eating a sandwich over the sink, wearing nothing but his boxer briefs and the twenty dollar Timex Iron Man digital watch that he publicly considers his best purchase in twenty years. It looks like since then, he’s decided to keep his feet warm, too—thus the socks—making me wonder: Is there anything sexier than common sense?
“Tomorrow’s our anniversary,” I told Jim, which elicited a response that Jim’s famous for in our circle of friends. I heard it for the first time eight years ago, the night the three of us crowded into a ski town hotel room for the night; the night that I saw Alex perform for the first time what I guess was standard operating procedure—if you happen to be at summer camp: Reserving the bed he wanted by yanking down the comforter and his pants at the same time, and rubbing his bare bottom on the sheets. “Got dibs on this bed!” he cheered, pulling up his pants. Jim and I looked at each other, slack jawed, before Jim said, “I don’t know how you do it, Jody. I just don’t know.”
We met in the fall of ’98, at a party that he and his friends weren’t even invited to. Because it was the time in my life when I decided working ninety hours a week would be a good idea, it took us about two weeks to speak to each other again and agree to go on our first date. I pressed for lunch, he pressed for dinner and won. Since then, he’s taken me to live in three different cities in four different houses. He has sent me to Italy, and also in a separate turn of events, quite literally over the edge. I saw a therapist once, and as I was explaining why I was in her office sitting on her purple futon, this therapist, a person who is trained to look neutral and serene and blameless while you tell her things that are quite the opposite, smote herself on the head and said, “God! What was he thinking?”
Ever since we were married in Las Vegas of all places, here, during a four-day whirlwind nuptial extravaganza in the company of 90 of our closest friends and family, I’ve heard a lot of “I don’t know how you do it”-type sentiments, including:
You two don’t match
You really keep him grounded
Did he just do what I think he just did?
You’re a saint.
And yet, here we are: October 14, 2007. Alex and I are together for nine years, married for seven. A time when, for reasons that are unknown to me, and that I didn’t bother looking up, a couple’s destiny is ruled by an entity or phenomenon commonly known as the seven year itch.
I may be a lot of things on this day in history. Flaky, tired, overwhelmed, and in dire need of highlights and an all-day moisturizer specially formulated for acne-prone combination skin, but itchy isn’t one of them. It’s true that things have changed in seven years. For one, gray hairs. I’ve found a few in my own head of hair, but not Alex’s, that lucky dog, and have plucked them from my head, knowing that these things are like roaches; for every one you see, there are at least ten you don’t. And for another, I now have collected something like seven different doctors, one for each organ or gland, with a spare, free-range, after-hours-friendly one who is willing to call in a prescription on the fly for acute maladies that present themselves between the hours of midnight and three: Pink eye and ear infections and other delights fresh in from preschool, like SARS and Ebolla.
But Alex is no spring chick either.
In most recent years, he’s earned a secret nickname: Rapunzel, for his long, long locks of hair that also happen to also be his eyebrows. “What’s with the eyebrows?” I’ve been known to say, plucking a few of the more noticeable strays from the pack by twirling them around a doorknob a few times and then slamming the door. “Do you have to tuck your eyebrows behind your ears when they check your eyesight at the DMV?” I asked him once. And then I probably pushed the envelope a few inches too far the day I told him I was starting a grassroots organization called M.A.M.E.: Mothers Against Mammoth Eyebrows.
The difference between us is that he doesn’t know he’s any older. In fact, he’s still pretty sure he’s going to camp next summer, to learn some new tricks, like how to burp the alphabet, or make a bong out of a tennis racquet. He’s got big plans, and they involve first finding his old pair of parachute pants—“They’re around here somewhere”—and then restoring a ’71 GTO in the garage, despite the fact that he’s a man who loves great gas mileage more than Al Gore. More than Bono. I’ll let him figure out that one out on his own; the parachute pants I cannot abide, however, and if it were in the least environmentally safe, I would have burned them in the wood stove several winters ago. I will hide them someplace I know he will never look: With the cleaning supplies, or with the vacuum, a thing he hasn’t touched since the Carter administration, and only then was it a means to torturing his sister.
“How about taking me to dinner for our anniversary, so that I can have a martini for the first time in like twenty seven years?” I asked him after Jim had left the building, still shaking his head and muttering. “You can have a drink, too; don’t worry, your eyebrows said they would drive.”
We went to a nice place while Sophie was at a friend’s house, and laughed and teased each other at the bar, where we like to sit, even when there are perfectly nice tables available in the dining room. I pointed out that he speaks Spanish in a way that sounds like he’s recently sustained a head injury. He remarked that the suitcase I brought home from a trip a month ago is still sitting out in the living room, still fully packed, and he’s starting to tell our guests that it’s sculpture.
Parenthetically, on the compatibility side, we’re both extremely frugal, but for different reasons. His frugality originates with the belief that, no matter what job he has, he’s always ten minutes away from losing it, leaving us all out on the street with a sign that says, “Kidneys, cheap to a good home.” My frugal behavior is inextricably linked to laziness. Bringing another nice thing home means that there’s just one more thing to vacuum/dust/wash/keep the dogs and a sticky toddler away from. And entering a mall makes me want to spin my head around on its axis and throw the nearest clergyman down a flight of stairs.
That’s when we saw Nina, a woman from the tiny town we lived in, whom we know only by first name, which is an upgrade from what we called her for the first two years we knew her: Good Diction Woman. Apart from speaking with balls-on precision no matter what she’s doing, Nina is the real-life version of that sitcom character who works every job in whatever small, funky, fictional town the show’s set in. So in the morning, she’s taking your deposit at the bank, and then your lunch order at the diner, drives the kids home on the school bus that afternoon, and then looks up from her weeding in the community garden to wave at you as you’re driving home from work that night.
Nina, as we learned from our table in the bar, is a bit of a baseball nut, and with the Colorado Rockies going to the World Series, she was beside herself with joy and victorious anticipation. She looked to me to back her up on just what a boon this was to all living creatures in the great state of Colorado, to which I explained, shrugging, “I hate all professional sports, except for the World’s Strongest Man/Woman competitions.”
She looked at Alex like I had sprouted a second head and said the most profound and unprecedented thing anyone has ever said to us, “You’re a very patient and forgiving man. I don’t know how you do it.” Ladies and gentlemen, what a night!
So maybe we’ll chalk this one up to being lucky number seven, instead of the year of the itch. Maybe we won’t have to fight it this year, or maybe we’ll have to gulp down a boxcar full of Benadryl and slip into a Calamine bath. Who knows? Maybe we will complain about and to each other; I about how I envy him. He makes everything—everything—look so easy that it makes me nuts. And he that I have the memory of a whole herd of elephants and boy can I carry a grudge. Maybe we’ll just not even notice the slightest whisper of an itch, and this year will fall away like years do, leaving us at the door of number eight, wondering where the time went. And so on, until Alex is opening the door for Jim in his black socks and Depends.
Blogger’s note: A few weeks ago, the lovely and talented Susan Henderson at LitPark wrote about love. If you don’t know Susan, or the Park, please do yourself a favor by getting to know the two of them.