Sunday, March 15, 2009

Time Flying, While Standing Still - Eternally Eighteen

In today’s world, I realize my marriage is the exception, rather than the rule. You see, I married a man I have known since the third grade. Not exactly childhood sweethearts, we didn’t start dating until we were 18, but he shares most of my earliest memories. Even though we rarely interacted before we started dating, we can reminisce about our fifth grade train trip to Chicago, a specific teacher we both hated, and the fact that we were in the same place and probably no more than a few yards apart when we learned that Bobby Kennedy died.

We experienced the same fads, lived through the same controversies, mourned the same losses, and shared numerous family friends, as we grew up. Because our memories run parallel, we rarely have to explain ourselves, never question if the other one “knows what we mean?” and easily fill in gaps in each others memories.

We talk about how strange it would be to marry someone you first meet as an adult. We know this is common, but to us it is inconceivable that we could be married to anyone that didn’t remember a certain classmate’s pet iguana, buying candy at the ancient corner market, how frightening the old shoe repair shop owner and his even older mother were and spending recess playing run-across, a game that seems to have been invented and played exclusively at our grade school.

We didn’t begin our romantic relationship as innocents by any means. Growing up when we did (free clinics dispensing free birth control pills, easy access to abortions, no threat of AIDS, no other STDs that a couple of shots of penicillin couldn’t take care of, liberal usage of illegal substances, the height of the sexual revolution and the tail end of the 1960’s counterculture) no one had any excuse to be innocent. If you have seen the movie Dazed and Confused, you’ve seen our youth. Indulging was easy, so why not?

In many ways I believe that knowing someone as long and as intimately as we have known each other makes the passage of time more pronounced. After all, I not only compare my husband’s looks today to the day we were married, or the day our first child was born, I compare them to how he looked playing tether ball in the third grade.

There is one place though, that time seems to stop for us, when the boy and girl and the man and woman hang in suspended animation.

We’ve had frequent, pleasurable and satisfying sex for 30+ years now. There have been ebbs and flows, brought on by factors usually beyond our control. But in this area, we have been surprisingly consistent. Sex is critical to the success of our marriage and we would argue, to any marriage. The physicality of our relationship is, after our kids and certain shared, personally-historic moments, the strongest tie that binds us.

Of course we’ve physically changed a great deal since those early days. While we see each other clearly most of the time, can identify every wrinkle or blemish, every gray hair (or would be gray hair without a dye job) or the lack of hair entirely - when we are in bed, we are 18 again.

In the heat of the all-consuming moment, if you could get my attention long enough to ask me what my partner looks like, I would tell you this: about 6’1” tall and 180 pounds; brown wavy hair with a cowlick that flips the left side of his bangs into a curl and long sideburns that are wider at the bottom than the top, (not mutton chops but not too far removed); probably in need of a good shave, but I love the stubble; full lips that look slightly swollen when they break into a shy smile; hazel, deep set eyes that make it appear as if he just woke up, just got high or both; a light sprinkling of brown chest hair on a long olive-skinned torso; muscular fore and upper arms; a beautiful body without a blemish or a wrinkle to be found, except for one lengthy scar that makes him look a little dangerous; and a Johnson (his favorite name for it) that springs to firm life the second he sees, hears, smells or senses my proximity, no matter how many times it sprang to life and was satiated in the last 24 hours.

If you could get his attention at this delicate moment and pose the same question, here is my husband’s description of me (I know, because I asked this before): about 5’5” and maybe 130 pounds; medium brown, shoulder length hair; large hazel eyes, that get even larger just before, well, you know …; small mouth with thin lips, unless they’d been kissed for a very long time; pale, pale skin that looks so delicate, as if even a feather-like touch would bruise; breasts, man those breasts, more than a handful, always there, looking perky - big enough she should wear a bra, but so glad she doesn’t; small waist, but a soft, rounded tummy-pillow that curves down into hips that echo that roundness on the backside; a perfect, hmmm ... for this he prefers the feline name ... that is always in a state of optimal readiness for him; a beautiful body without a blemish or a wrinkle to be found.

Sadly, in the cold, hard light of day we both admit we have not had sex with the person we are describing in probably 28 or 29 years. Obviously he has changed and I have changed. Even though I'm unwilling to provide a list of the most dramatic changes (some desirable, but many regrettable), I will at least admit the obvious. Our bodies have not been blemish or wrinkle free in many, many years.
But when we are most intimate, when the tie between us is strongest, we are both still 18.

So, as I reflect back on my original understanding of the passage of time, the linear march I’ve described, I begin to see our most intimate visions of each other in a different light. I have moved them from the “Memory” column to the “Reality” column on the spreadsheet in my brain. I firmly believe that the closest any of us comes to perfection is that single moment when our minds and our bodies cross that line. That moment of release makes us our most real, our most genuine, our most authentic. If in that moment my husband is the 18 year old lover of my youth, isn’t that real, genuine and authentic as well?

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