Standing in the corner of our bedroom is a life-size cardboard black and white photo of Keith and me at our wedding reception fifty-two years ago. It was a surprise gift given to us at a family reunion, masterminded by our children and niece and nephew, who snagged the original snapshot from our wedding album.
The camera captured a young couple, hands clasped, eyes sparkling, preparing to lead the first dance of the night.
The cardboard cutout is positioned at the far wall in our room, just opposite our bed. I’ve spent most of the day in this bed, down with a nasty cold. Medicated with decongestant, my head propped up on pillows, I dose off and on all afternoon. Every time I wake, here is that young couple standing at the end of my bed, expressions full of expectation and hope.
Lying in a pile of pillows and blankets with Vicks on my chest, wearing an old faded nightgown, hair askew, coughing and sneezing, in walks Keith. He carries a cup of warm home-brewed Kombucha tea and a small square of dark chocolate. “Thought you might like something of comfort,” he says as he places the treats on the nightstand and turns to go back downstairs. Before he leaves he returns, kisses my forehead and says, “You are so beautiful.”
After Keith leaves I look at the photo again. Fifty-two years—a lifetime, really. I think of that wonderful phrase “you don’t get married, you become married,” my wise neighbor quoted about a young bride and groom. We, too, have been “becoming” since our wedding day. As I gaze on those young faces, the phrase that keeps coming to my mind is evolution of intimacy.
As I sip my tea and nibble on the dark chocolate, I picture Keith and me in our twenties: idealistic, optimistic, and horny. Intimacy meant making love, which began with learning how to both give and receive pleasure: learning to be patient, explore, trust, and most importantly, talk. When the children were born, intimacy encompassed witnessing the miracle of birth, as well as a new-found intensity of love for the gift our love had created. At the same time, physical intimacy was often interrupted or postponed by sick babies and tired selves.
As we aged into our thirties, forties, and even fifties, physical intimacy continued to be an important aspect of our intimacy but was being continually redefined by the subtleties of life. We both went back to school, we started new careers, our children became teenagers then moved on to college away from home. We each experienced the death of a parent. Time was in short supply and being intimate had to be planned and often hurried…until the children left home, when suddenly we had time to spare.
During these years our emotional intimacy was maturing rapidly. We became better at talking through issues, seeking each other’s counsel, appreciating each other’s wisdom—which inspired a new level and definition of intimacy. Our book was published, and we realized how much we had grown up together…and how giving one another the freedom to change had enhanced our ability to remain intimate.
My thoughts travel quickly through our sixties and into our now early seventies. We have both become orphans, as both of our parents are deceased, and we’ve survived the heart-wrenching death of one of our grandchildren. During these years Keith had three major operations, I was is a serious car accident and now we are dealing with my memory and cognitive decline. Our twenty-something bodies, once full of hormones, are now scarred, wrinkled, sagging, and flawed. Throughout these life events we’ve remained steadfast in our devotion and caring. In fact, we’ve felt honored to be able to be at each other’s bedside, day and night, through sickness and health, offering the healing, intimate touch only one’s life-long partner can provide.
I look up again at the young couple staring back at me, and think of the journey they have traveled together. A lifetime of change, challenge, accomplishment, and steadfast love that changed not only year to year, but moment to moment. I wonder what is still yet to come.
I doze off for a spell and when I awake, I smile as I recall Keith’s intimate words, “You are so beautiful,” even as I lay in bed with a red nose and watery eyes.