We sat across from each other in a trendy restaurant downtown. The converted loft-like atmosphere and soft lighting was perfect for an after-concert vibe. It was frigid last night, a silent night, the kind that lets you know it is really going to snow. It is snowing this morning, big white fluffy flakes falling like a blanket from the sky. We will stay in today and bake cookies with the supplies we picked up at 2am.
He sat to my right, we didn't assume our usual across-the-table positions. It was a telling moment. He looked quite handsome in his tuxedo, fresh off the stage from a performance with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. His singing voice is beautiful, reminiscent of Luther Vandross at times. His range allowed him to sing the Latin celebrations of Mary and the high performance of the INUNISON Choir Gospel Christmas.
We perused the menu, it was 10:30pm on a Saturday night, a time we rarely know to ourselves. He decided on the chicken salad and I ordered a mango chicken sandwich with homemade potato chips. Our waiter was a bouncy young man and was quite delightful. He moved with a quick-step that reminded me of a too-happy art professor.
Our conversation started in a guarded fashion. There was a felling in the air, this mid-December night, that we should talk, really talk about the deep things of life. We took in the atmosphere, the music from the open bar, the few remaining couples around the room. A handsome, same-sex couple, trying to make it through dinner with body language that indicated a disagreement of some order. A young married couple with a breezy friend who came in from the frigid night to pilfer from the wife's plate. She ordered a glass of red wine and the three had a lively conversation. There was a cute little couple across the room, she had on a black, knit, skull cap over the tendrils of blond hair that peaked out. I could only see the back of his curly black hair grazing the collar of his starch white shirt. Just to the left of me was another same-sex couple, these men seemed to be having a more intimate conversation and their body language was more affectionate, they were sitting like my husband and I. I glanced at the people sitting at the bar in the lively, music and wine-filled conversation of a Saturday night with friends. They were all in their late 20s and 30s by appearance and the sound of music.
My husband and I seemed to turn in unison as our appetizers appeared, his a seafood bisque and mine portabello stuffed mushrooms. We took delight in the chef's culinary skills and commented on the food, he tasted mine, he sent his cold soup back. I sipped my herbal tea, he a diet Pepsi. We talked about the lively performance of the Blind Boys of Alabama and the one I called his older twin who danced a jig at the last song. Our talk was friendly, but guarded. We had lived together for years, there was an undercurrent. We had lived through too many seasons, too many words, too many moments in the years of marriage, moves, memories.
I asked him a question to talk about something other than the children and the university. I asked because I sensed a tugging, an urging of my heart to trust the answer. I wanted to slay the demon of fear that kept me silent at times, that kept our conversation just on the surface, just a pebble skipping across the lake. I asked because it needed to be asked, the time was right and I asked him, "So what goals do you have for yourself in the coming year?" He answered with one line sentences for the main categories - financial, spiritual, relational. Then our waiter came up to do refills, it was the moment they appear when you really want to talk in private.
We turned to each other and realized, without acknowledging it, that this was our chance, our jewel, our magic. We weren't parents or administrator, or at-home mom, we were a man and a woman at dinner, talking. The future lay before us like a blank page, waiting for the paint of our lives to create a masterpiece. The past lay behind us like pages in a scrapbook, a testament of what we overcame and survived, memories of the battle, the wounds of a warrior. Yet, tonight, as we sat and took a breath, the mood was peaceful and honest.
We didn't talk about the kids or bills or disappointments, we talked about the parallel lives we were living, the yearning for a deeper more intimate experience. We were calm and cordial and were able to just sit and look each other in the eye and listen. Marriage can be delightful and disasterous. We walked through the landmines of our life and often just wanted to make it through the day.
Our vision was sometimes clouded by the bills, the dirty clothes, the challenges at work, the chatter of the kids, the obligations, the duties, we couldn't see the forest for the trees. There was beauty in the way he appreciated life and people, the calmness with which he handled the storm of university administration. The word of his colleagues rang in my ear about his talent and commitment and ability to be down-to-earth. There was the joy of my quirky humor and attachment to family, the creativity and liveliness of everyday life. The comments of his colleagues and my family rang in my ear about me being so warm, outgoing, classy,and delightful. The things other people saw in us were clouded from our view. Tonight, we cleared the sleep from our eyes, woke up, and looked at each other.
The time ticked by and we were oblivious to the last couple who left, the crisp white tablecloths that had been neatly folded and removed from the surrounding tables. The dimming of the restaurant lights and the admonishing of the waiter to stay as long as we want because the bar was still open. A rare gift to just sit without a need to do the next thing had just been handed to us like a golden wrapped present. We exhaled. Our shoulders eased out of their hunched position and our body language seemed to respond in unison, we sat back with the feel-good of an invisible massage. The fear was gone, the weight was lifted, we shared.
He talked, I listened, I heard him. His eyes glazed, I talked, he listened. We looked each other in the eye, sometimes averting the gaze, but intent, focused. The package unwrapped and examined for all its beauty was no assumptions, no imaginations, no what-ifs. We were able to turn our inner ear to the soul and spirit and absorb. We both felt it. We didn't know what it would mean or where it would lead, but tonight, we were man and wife, talking, listening, caring, sharing, believing, hoping, forgiving, trusting.
Tomorrow will be another day and he will get on my nerves again with his shirt on the floor and I will make his skin crawl with my "no high fructose corn syrup" mantra, but tonight, this quiet, still, frigid December night, we talked, and that is a gift to cherish.