It was a lazy Thanksgiving morning even though I had a few things to get done. Bill had to work half a day which meant more of the load would fall on me. The house needed picking up. I’d have to drag the fleshy twenty-two pound turkey out of the cooler it’d sat in all night, soaking up brine and put it into the oven. I went over the dinner menu in my mind, tallying up the hours and minutes I’d need to start cooking the side dishes before my sister and parents arrived for dinner. I contemplated showering and getting ready first thing that morning but opted to stay in my PJ’s instead. Mid-morning, Sarah finally wore me down and convinced me to give her a much-anticipated haircut. She wanted bangs and had begged for days now. We put on the radio, dancing around to Yesterday by The Beatles, and cleared a space for a mock salon by the kitchen sink. I laid out the comb and scissors while Sarah perched on the stool, twitching like a nervous squirrel.
“You’re going to have to hold still if you don’t want me to mess up, Sarah.”
She stiffened in a valiant effort to hold in her excitement. I parted the hair at the crown of her head and combed it forward. I could see her smiling behind the curtain of hair. I wondered why she wanted bangs so badly. It had taken her months and months to grow her bangs out the last time. Whose haircut was she admiring so much, she felt compelled to imitate it? I held the scissors up to the edge of her face, the first strands of hair in between the blades.
“Are you sure?” I asked one last time.
“Yes, Mommy. I’m sure!”
I let the scissors close with a snip. A six-inch clump fell into her lap.
“No turning back now,” I declared.
She sat quietly as I made my best attempt to cut a straight line across her forehead.
I was just finishing up when Bill walked into the house. Something about the way he stood in the doorway, smiling through the beard he keeps because he knows I like it, or the outline of his strong thighs through his jeans, or the same familiar black and white sneakers he buys over and over, or his laughter as the girls tackled him to the floor, just took my breath away. Suddenly, I wished more than anything I’d gotten myself ready first thing that morning. I wanted to kiss him but I turned away because I hadn’t brushed my teeth. I didn’t hold eye contact with him either because, in all his overwhelming handsomeness, I suddenly felt shy.
It’s amazing that after twenty years together, there are still these rushes of unexpected affection that send me into a slow swirl of stomach flutters and teenage self-consciousness. To me, this proves that, in all the things we have gotten wrong through the years, we are still doing something right. I don’t believe in soul mates. I believe love is a choice and yes, sometimes very hard work. It’s not easy to put away your pride for the benefit of this thing called marriage, or act lovingly toward your other half when the elusive romance muse hasn’t shown up in months. It’s not easy, but the effort is worth it.
When you can reach out and feel his strong hand in yours while walking the dog, or fall asleep with your head tucked into the nook of his neck, or sink into his arms and let the tears roll freely without having to explain why, it’s worth it. I’m convinced there are no good or bad marriages. Like fruitful or barren backyard gardens, there are only those that are richly tended to and those that are dispassionately neglected.
This Thanksgiving I stole a thousand glances towards Bill and drowned in the fullness of gratitude for my husband’s presence. I’m thankful for the way he fathers our children, the way he loves me through my worst moments and yes, the way he looks in his jeans.