Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tell Me, Tell Me . . . Do You Love Me?

I'm hardly through my first double something—either sit-up, crunch or v-up—with nineteen more to go on this first round, and she's already into her news of the day. She is Kristina, my trainer. A lovely creature, with doe-eyes, a B.A. in Fine Art, and a fridge-pack beneath her XXS Gold's Gym trainer shirt, who's found an equally enthralling creature with whom to spend her waking and some sleeping-on-the-couch hours. It's early days yet, just the first couple months, but the rhythm of their relationship has a swing to it that looks promising and feels familiar.

"There is one thing that bothers me about Ezekiel. He hasn't said he loves me. I'm just dying to tell him I love him, but I can't."

"Well, just do. Just say it," I puff, as I crunch through the sixth, seventh and eighth.

"No, I can't be the first one to say it," she declares. "So, I'm resorting to things like, "I would say 'I love you' right now but, of course, I don't yet." She rolls her eyes at her own transparency.

"And what does he say to that? What number is this?

"Twelve. He doesn't say anything. He just smiles at me. Or he reaches over and rubs my head. Sometimes he puts his arms around me and just holds me tight and breathes in deeply. I think I can see it in his eyes. But, I just want to hear him say it. Just once." She moans, a little. "That's twenty."

I lie flat on the floor, arms and legs in dead starfish pose. I let out a small wail: "Oh dear, you poor thing. That's what it must be like being married to me. I never say it. And that's all Kevin wants to hear. This must be how he feels. You poor things."


One of the things Kevin wishes he could change about me is the way "I love you" trickles from my lips. Slowly, reluctantly, like calcium carbonate at the end of a stalactite. "Love ya" is never coming out of my mouth—the hot knife through the buttered end of everyday conversations, like it seems to in this culture. (I walk by a girl walking to her car. She's tossing out "love ya's" as she throws her backpack into the back seat. From what I've eavesdropped, she's actually talking to her roommate, not even a love interest.) And then, when I do say "I love you," (perhaps on a day that coincides with the blue moon or the summer solstice), then the next question is always, "Why?"

"Why? You want to know why I love you? Isn't it good enough that I love you?"

"No. Tell me why?"

Then out of my mouth comes some lame thing about that I just love the Kevin-ness of him. That thing about him that makes him Kevin. By the look in his eyes, I can tell that's not what he wants to hear. He wants something about his sense of humor, his brilliance, his athletic ability, his leadership, his charisma, his cheekbones. But I don't offer that. I've got rocks in my mouth. And I try to explain that there is not a specific thing that makes me love him. I just love him. And I'll continue to love him, even when those things are gone.

Yes, there are certain things I enjoy about him. I like the way he can make me laugh out of nowhere. I like the way he has calf muscles that look like somebody took a chisel to his leg and cut in at a 45-degree angle. I like his soft yet courageous heart. I like his mind, even though I don't get how it works. I used to like his curly hair, but that's a cruel memory now. I like the way he thinks about me, and lets me be. I really like that moment when he starts to run, the way his body moves from stationary to flight in such a smooth motion. At a certain angle, I stare at his wrist bones; but only at that angle. However, those things can change. He could lose a leg, and then where would the calf muscles be? Gone, just like the hair. He could put on 50 pounds more and not be able to move at all. So what good does it do to list off a grocery list? Besides, the question always makes me feel like a performing seal. Like I have to find something about him that is the reason I love him.

I think the first time he asked me this I did actually attempt to answer him. The things I offered weren't of the ilk that he found pleasing. They were trivial. Like wrist bones, and the shape his mouth takes when he's about to say something that he thinks might not be well received. He shook his head at my answers and said, "That's not reasons to love somebody." "Well, that's all I've got." I could see his disappointment but couldn't find it in myself to dredge up cosmic causes for me and him. You know, like he's Superman, the Clark Kent to my Lois Lane, the lid to my pot, the cream to my scone.

My mind goes through these things as I see him waiting for this answer. Then I offer, "I just love you. There's no because." Especially when I see you every day, and sleep next to you every night, and wait for you when you're late, and watch you sitting apart from me at church, and wait for you when you're late, and pick up your socks, and talk to you while you fall asleep mid-sentence, usually before ten, and try to go back to sleep again while you shuffle around the bedroom in the dark at four in the morning.


One very hot Saturday at the end of July, I stood in the driveway of our home with my three sons. We each held a broom in our hands; Seth holding it so non-comittedly that he was soon banished to stacking chairs. Our task: to sweep the driveway before the wedding party arrived to take their pictures before the reception. "THE WEDDING" filled this summer. I had spent weeks, it seemed, on my hands and knees, planting, weeding, transplanting, mulching, and trimming in preparation for Kelsey and Matt's wedding. Kelsey's the daughter of close friends and we had just finished our landscaping overhaul—a match made in heaven.

That afternoon, between the ceremony and the reception, we were at home doing final touches, like erecting the wedding arch, stringing the lights and setting up a hothouse of cut flowers. Kevin's final touch, he was convinced, was that the driveway needed to be swept.

Picture this: our driveway is 100 yards long, shaped like an old-fashioned thermometer, with the bulb end close to the house for parking. It's asphalt, which sheds little grey pellets after the winter's cycle of snow-melt-freeze-snow-freeze-melt. As part of the landscape overhaul, we had a turn-around installed next to the elm tree, and two new parking spaces cut into the left side. Both the turn-around and parking spaces are covered with pea gravel. Winter detritus and pea gravel, and delivery trucks and cars up and down make for a not-quite-so smooth driveway.

In my eyes, it didn't look so bad. I didn't look out there and think, "Oh, heavens, we've GOT to sweep the driveway." Because who wants to sweep a driveway, especially our driveway? I wanted to plant the last few daylilies that I had picked up at $2.50 each that morning at Home Depot. The flower bed was to the north of the house, near the garbage cans. Nobody would see them, but I thought they would look just great there. But, I could see, by that twist of his mouth, that Kevin really wanted the driveway swept.

As he was finding power for the DJ and spreading bark under the crabapple trees, he didn't have time to sweep the driveway. That's why I was standing there, in 95 degree heat, with three reluctant sons, sweeping the driveway. The conversation went something like this:

"Why are we sweeping the driveway?"

"Your dad wants it swept."

"Tell him to come do it himself."

"He's busy doing other stuff. We can do this. He wants it done. So we're doing it. . . . And do it properly. To get this gravel up, you're going to have to really bend down into your broom. Use your core, bend your legs." This is me in my best, rational, calm mother voice, when inside my head I'm thinking, "The whole freaking driveway . . . he's got to be kidding."

"I'm only 10. I don't have a core," Adam whines. Half-hearted sweeping motion, like he's trying to get dust priceless China with a push broom. "This isn't working. We'll be sweeping right through the reception."

"Get your whole body into it. Lean into the broom. Move it into a pile. Then go get the shovel and the wheelbarrow."

Christian, voice of reason, trying to sound really adult: "I don't see why this is necessary."

I'm starting to lose my Virgin Mother-like calm as I realize how long this will actually take us. So, I level with him, one pseudo to another: "Christian, I don't think it's necessary either. But, it's really important to your father. Every time he looks out here, all he can see is this driveway. Something about it makes him cringe. So, we're sweeping the driveway. We're going to give dad an hour of our time and sweep this bloody driveway. Part of being married is doing what you can to give your partner what they want. This we can do for him. Hopefully when you're married you'll do things for your wife that you think are totally unnecessary but that will make her happy. This will make Dad happy. So, we're going to do it." I look at him, as the sweat runs into my eyes, and I can feel the dust creeping under my fingernails—my worst. "Alright?"

He looks at me with seventeen-year old chagrin mixed with a little affection, "Alright! I just asked."

We swept, we piled, we shoveled, we barrowed and dumped. Amazing how much debris can accumulate over a winter and a spring in pieces no larger than a young, green pea. At one hour, we stopped. The driveway looked like we'd given it a haircut and a shave. Who knew it could "clean up so good" as Grandma Rose used to say? I didn't have eyes to see that one. But Kevin did.


Back to the question: "Why do you love me?" Instead of asking "Why do you love me?" Kevin should ask me, "When do you love me?" Then I would have lots of answers and things to point to: I am loving you when I stand out in 95 degree heat sweeping a driveway that bothers only you. Not only that, I actually coerced, cajoled, threatened, and cheerleadered two sons to sweeping that driveway with me. I am loving you when I sense you awake and unable to sleep at four in the morning, and turn to offer what I know puts you right back to sleep. I am loving you when I let you sleep on late Sunday afternoons and put out the chairs for yet another youth meeting at our home. I am loving you when I buy the big bottle of roasted, salted cashews and the Australian black licorice. I am loving you and seeing you clearly when, after years of resistance, I drop my unspoken but probably still sensed desire for you to "just get a job with a company." I am loving you when I listen to you unload about the day, and actually bring my brain to bear on some of the issues you face. I am loving you when I give up my writing day to finish your projects. I'm loving you when I dress up in pioneer clothing, bus to Wyoming and push handcarts with other people's teenagers because you have to go. I'm loving you when I match your socks! That's when and how I love you.

If I can make a statement like "I love you because . . . ," it naturally follows that there's also an "I don't love you because" somewhere in there. Surely love, the relationship of love, isn't a cause-and-effect. Is it true that because Kevin makes me laugh, I love him? Some days he doesn't make me laugh. Some days, I just roll my eyes and half-bite my tongue. Some days he just gives me a wide, wide berth, and has been known to banish me to my room. So on those days, do I not love him, because I'm not laughing, and does he not love me because I'm shouting at his children? No. We're just not enjoying each other so much, and we're both watching and waiting to see what is needed. (Timeouts in my room with a book! Divine.)

Ultimately—in the end, and the middle and just about as soon as the honeymoon ends—long-term love has nothing to do with the object of love, and everything to do with the one loving. It should be enough to say, "I promised to love you. So, I do. And I will. Just watch."

Title: from "Do You Love Me," by The Contours

Thursday, September 2, 2010

On That Beautiful Morning Sun

I'm walking again on the mountain, after a hiatus for the past month. From the path, I can see the entire city laid out beneath me in meticulous squares, lives stretching to the lakeshore, one straight road at a time. The Monopoly cars are busy down there. But, up on the trail, the mornings are mine. The sun hasn't quite made up it up and over. The air is still and, for the first time in months, there's a chill against my upper arms as I start walking.

The path is also used by the local gas company as a maintenance road in case the huge pipe underneath my feet should rupture and mimic the long-awaited earthquake along the Wasatch Fault. So there's a median and a two tracks. Tickseed fills the median and lines the edges of the tracks. No matter which side I choose, I feel like I'm walking between my own personal corps of yellow-faced marines. Every morning, I feel like nature's throwing me a wedding. I can smell the damp underneath the summer grass, where the dew hasn't evaporated. Sometimes, I disturb a shadow of deer (although most of them are in my garden, eating at the salad bar).

It's quiet up there on the trail. Occasionally, a biker will pedal past. This morning I saw a fellow walker on my periphery as I started out. All the way from Y Mountain to Rock Canyon and back, only one other walker on this mountain side. Toward the end of the outward leg, I looked down from the trail into my in-law's yard where my father-in-law was standing, like Adam between his peach trees, surveying the late summer garden. I would have shouted but I don't think his hearing aids work past thirty feet.

Some mornings, Dave Matthew sings to me, "It's good for the soul when there's not a soul in sight." I think I know what he means. I find my place when it's just me on the mountain. Walking alone, just me and the creeping sun, the smell of summer rotting beneath the grass, and my iPod, invariably I have the moment. It's the same moment and happens after I've been walking for a while and I pass from the shadow of the mountain into the sunlight. When I feel the sun on my skin, and the chill gives way to warmth, I have to stop.

I turn my face to the sun. My eyes are closed. My arms stretch up to touch the sky. My fingers are spread wide. If I open my arms out just wide enough, I can feel my chest muscles pulling into my shoulders. I breathe deeply through my nose. I feel the cool air flow through my nostrils and down into my chest cavity. I feel as if I am swelling from within, like the center of me is expanding. If I weren't so chicken, I would stay there for longer than the few moments I allow myself. But mostly I am a nervous supplicant, afraid that my devotion will be seen by Chuck and his golden retriever. So, I repeat the embrace every few steps. (From afar, I must look like I'm conducting a band in some southern high stepping competition).

I've seen that pose before. Hiking into Delicate Arch one summer day a few years ago, my sister Margo suddenly stopped on a red rock slope. She turned to the sun, set her feet shoulder-width apart and raised her hands to the sun. "Sun worshiper," she proclaimed. I'm not sure if she was naming a yoga pose, or her personal religion. But she was beautiful. So I took her photo.

I hadn't yet felt the urge Margo felt to stand so, to align herself with the sun, and to worship at its warmth. But this late summer, I've recognized in myself the same physical/spiritual need to come to that stillness, arms stretched high, chin tilted and hands reaching heavenward. I feel on the cusp, "born before the wind; younger than the sun." I'm sailing into Van Morrison's "mystic."


The ancients built altars in their holy places. They made sacrifices and brought offerings to these altars of earth and uncut stone. Noah, upon leaving what must have been a stinking, musty place of shadows, and stepping onto a dry earth with all his beasts and creeping things alive, built an altar and "offered burnt offerings." Following a prompting, Abraham gathered up his family, and left his homeland. At the place where God spoke to him, Abraham built an altar. Then he travelled on to Egypt. After waiting out the famine in Egypt, he made camp again at the holy place of that altar and "called upon the name of the Lord."

I don't know for sure what physical posture Noah and Abraham assumed when they came before their holy altars; or Elijah, Saul and any other number of Old Testament worshipers for that matter. But I'm sensing that, even with millennia between us, their bodies before their earthen altars and mine upon my mountain path would not look so different. Abraham tells the King of Sodom, "I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth." I know that feeling, that physical urge to stand still before the almighty, to lift up mine hands unto.

In our modern temples, we come to prayer at an altar. I've never been completely comfortable in those movements of the ceremony. I'm a somewhat diffident pray-er there; the gestures and motions feel awkward and cramped, and so public. But lately, on my mountain slope, I think I have felt to pray as the ancients and as our modern ceremony intends but can only vaguely suggest: body and face aligned to the sun, arms spread wide to embrace the warmth, my skin turning golden in the morning light, every muscle and bone and sinew stretching toward.

Title: Van Morrison, "Brand New Day."