A Lover's Rock
"Much to my surprise, our relationship matures and blossoms in the tender and weakest moments, where actions speak louder than words and love becomes a fortress."
My husband of twenty-six years, says, “My love, I’m going to check out the free eats. I’ll catch up or see you at the register.”
We’re at Costco, doing our bi-monthly hunting and gathering to offset expenses incurred at Mississippi Market, our most excellent natural foods cooperative. His words convey intent but I know they also mean, “Remember, now, we’re connected and I love you.”
My Leo the Lion lopes off through the concrete Serengeti to get snacks from men and women offering food samples, leaving me to forage for packaged goods on my own. I’m his ‘its-not-hygienic-enough-Virgo-the-Virgin’, so he knows eating from these stands gives me the creeps. I strut down an aisle to snag a few bags of G.H. Cretors Chicago Mix Popped Corn, my current addiction. Headed toward the check-out lines I’m secure in the knowledge, that soon, I’ll be rejoined by ‘My Love’, our favorite term for one another. The endearment replaces our first names and comes in handy as a reminder to ‘make nice’ before petty arguments escalate.
In our first year of marriage, living in a small Alaska town, we always stayed together when grocery shopping. Exploring aisles, we flirted and laughed, thrilled about each other’s preferences as we bonded with the newest member of our union: food. We gathered familiar ingredients for his famous spaghetti which our grandchildren loved (I am a grandma-by-marriage) or hunted for exotic spices needed for my latest culinary obsession, be it sushi, Indian, or experimentations with tofu. Shopping, we were always hyper aware of other peoples’ astonished or menacing stares, or frequently, the hilarious rubber-neck head turns, eyes bulging like a cartoon character hit upside the head. In our ninety-nine percent, majority-white populated town of Wasilla (renowned for being the hometown of Sarah Palin), we were the only black and white couple for miles, in any direction.
That first year we bonded with another member of our union: race. Ours was a learning curve. We found a rhythm to talk honestly about the racial baggage each of us toted into the marriage. We were especially united against the myriad forms of stupidity, ignorance, and disdain that showed up as unfair or rude treatment, slurs, and absurd comments. In my memoir, Zebras from Heaven, I share a list of empowering tactics we used in those days. The one we agreed on the most: never allow anyone to diminish or take away our joy.
The racial baggage in our two-person tribe has gotten a lot lighter over the past twenty-six years. What we feel now, almost take for granted, is so different from our early years together. We are so secure in ‘us’ and the projection of ‘us’ that we no longer pay attention to what others may zero in on when they look at us.
Later in the week, with cupboards stuffed with lifetime supplies of Costco purchases, I turn to My Love in bed and say, “I’ve been with and lived with you longer than anyone else on the planet.” Even though he is older and I am not his first wife, he agrees that it’s the same for him. I ponder our relationship’s longevity. So far, it has occupied almost half of my life. Because we did not have or raise children, the highs and lows of our relationship are not reflected through the lens of parenting or providing for a growing family. When I look back on our marriage, it’s clear our bond has persevered and strengthened because vows, such as, ‘I’ve got your back’ were tested.
Years ago, for instance, when My Love abruptly stopped taking a prescription drug to combat numbing feet without informing the doctor, and against written warnings on the drug’s pharmaceutical sheet, the sudden withdrawal instantly altered his brain function and behavior, inviting a mania orbit that took us months to move through. I witnessed amazing and bizarre acts of a chemically imbalanced mind. The overzealous energy, writing on walls, and other uncharacteristic acts, like giving away large sums of money to strangers, alarmed me while his brilliant insights and poetry, blew my mind. It was an alarming experience. For me there was a persistent and peculiar awareness that our love, and my commitment to our union, was being tested. When we embraced amid the turmoil, I could feel each of us grappling for a bridge across this incredible and messy new reality. I chose to honor him and us. My Love was in a fragile state. I had to be his rock. And I was. And we survived.
Years before his episode, I had a meltdown. I became physically drained and had to cancel my company’s inaugural seminar – a one-day event for aviation and earth science professionals. This was before the world-wide web, widespread email use, and PowerPoint slide presentations.
I wore all the hats in my one-person consulting firm. I conducted research, developed seminar topics, created and compiled presentation materials, designed attendee handouts and got them printed, secured venues (rooms in upscale hotels or city trade centers), and successfully marketed company seminars and services. Weeks before this seminar I created presentation slides and mylar sheets for the overhead projector. Confident that my verbal delivery of seminar topics would be a piece of cake I focused on other tasks. Then, three days before the seminar I caught the flu. The same day, my menses started, which wouldn’t have been a big deal but I was unaware that an ovary battled endometriosis and uterine fibroids were growing. I ached all over, bled heavily and profusely while the flu bug kicked my butt with an escalated temperature, and extreme nausea. Trips to the toilet were so frequent I felt my skin shrink.
I pressed on. Drank fluids, took aspirin and drops from a tincture of echinacea and goldenseal to strengthen my immunity system. The night before the seminar I started to practice verbal delivery of the introductory presentations. I quickly found out I couldn’t think straight. My brain synapses were so out of whack I questioned if one plus one was really two. I got worried. I asked my husband to listen to me.
He looked concerned but said, “What you need is rest. For weeks you’ve been working twelve to fourteen hour days and haven’t slept or ate well. And you’re not drinking enough fluids. Stop what you’re doing right now. You know this stuff. You’re prepared. Just stop and go to bed.”
In my confused exhausted state, I became more despondent. If you asked me my name, I would’ve paused and really thought about it. I felt numb. This feeling was unchartered territory. What did I really need to do? No way was a night’s rest going to do it. I pleaded with my husband to help me cancel the event. It was late at night so we had to wait until the next day, seminar day, to cancel.
That night my husband gathered me in his arms, walked me to our bedroom, got in bed with me with our clothes on, and held me against his chest. Every cell of my being melted into the shelter of my husband’s arms. His embrace was the exact place on earth I needed to be. I slept a sleep I have never slept before or since.
Much to my surprise, our relationship matures and blossoms in the tender and weakest moments, where actions speak louder than words and love becomes a fortress. Memory’s gift conjures the feelings of those moments. Thinking about My Love’s embrace on a forever ago night, there is even a soundtrack for the memory, a gift from Sade: “You are the lovers rock, the rock that I cling to. You're the one, the one I swim to in a storm, like a lovers rock.”
As we have joined together, let no one put asunder.
Kim-Marie Walker’s debut memoir, Zebras from Heaven (Onyx Communications, 2007) is available online. She has been published in The Compassion Anthology, Alaska Wellness and Alaska Women Speak and writes a blog about her ongoing solo pilgrimage to historic U.S. slave trade ports. She is editor of Loving Anthology: Our Voices, Our Lives. For more information, please visit Loving Anthology About or www.kimmariewalker.com.