I have been married for over a year.
In a year, the red and green of our personalities have slowly mixed into a mutual brown. As these things go, we have made a charming and comfortable color, one that could be found on a pair of L.L. Bean Chinos or on fresh cut oak. Brown is brown, however; muddled, common, and as firm as an old chair.
Before we were married, each of us shared the dream that one color would win out, if not totally, at least with one brilliant streak. I hoped that I would be the green man I wanted to be (and that my father never was). I would bring out the trash on Mondays, bring home a big paycheck, and wash the dishes in the evening. My wife had similar red expectations of herself; for hiking, employment, and well annotated photo albums. And yet, after a year, the colors have mixed, muted, and shifted to an everyday brown.
The honeymoon wakes, easily, into a dawn of bills, jobs, and evenings on the sofa in front of the Big Bang Theory. She slips neatly into your side, and then shifts again so that you can rub her back. It’s not the life you wanted, or she wanted, but it is the life you have cobbled together and polished up.
So, one week after my first anniversary, I lost my wedding band. I didn’t lose it as I have lost keys, phones, and wallets; never to be seen again in taxis, locker rooms, and on subways. The wedding band came off honestly as I swam laps in a pool. At the shallow end, I still had it. By the deep end, it had come off.
I hung on the deep end wall and stared, confused, at my ring finger. I am no longer the man I was when I the ring was placed on my hand. The year had taken something from me so that the ring was not so snug and close fitting. I had taken to spinning and worrying the band in idle moments. Now, it had spun and worried itself away into the bottom of the pool.
But now, in the fading light of evening it hid itself in a crowd of hairballs and paint swirls ten feet down. I dove down and went shuffling through the ear popping pressure but the ring did not make itself known. I dove four or five times more; but found nothing. When I told the lifeguard, he nodded wisely, as if I had lost an earring or a bandaid. “Such are the things of this world” his teenaged, sunglasses eyes muttered. “All are lost to the hairballs of time.”
The ring, by itself, was not valuable. But nothing is valuable by itself. It could be replaced, but not completely. It would always be the replacement for the one I lost, the one that had been put on my hand in front of family, friends, and several well paid caterers. Nobody would need to know, a green voice spoke in my ear. “Just buy another.”
But the green man didn’t speak to my one year bride at the dinner table, I did. “The ring,” I carefully said, “is on the bottom of the pool. I will go get it tomorrow when there is more light.”
She gazed at me, not entirely in love. I saw, in her face, the act of shushing a noisy classroom of red doubts — “Why did you take it off?” “Where is it really?” “WHAT DID YOU THINK YOU WERE DOING?” Instead, she said “Of course. I hope you find it.” Then we had cheeseburgers, watched TV, and went to bed.
Marriage unites two people by grinding them together in the name of trust. I had dropped the linen of easily told lies: She had unsnapped herself of her doubts. We stood together, united in a tentative and hopeful trust.
Which was rewarded the next morning when a six year old girl with a pink mask and a yellow swim suit decorated with “Dory”, found my ring at the bottom of the pool. She produced it with great joy, I replaced it on my finger, and then rewarded the treasure hunter with ice cream.
Love is the reward we fight ourselves for. It sits with two cups of coffee at the breakfast table in a robe and bare feet. It rubs our shoulders, folds our shirts, and takes out the trash when we forget. It is something we don’t deserve, but somehow have; for better or worse, for richer or for poorer…