I don’t like getting massages. Everyone who knows me knows this.
You know me.
You know this.
Yet, every time we go on vacation, you suggest we get a couples massage, the kind where we lie side by side in a darkened room while two massage therapists thump on our arms and legs.
The last time we got one together, I read the question asking how much pressure I wanted, and I checked the box for medium. I figured light would be too, well, light. Plus I’m ticklish. The box with the word heavy typed next to it looked ominous. So, medium it was.
Fast-forward twenty minutes. A sturdy blonde woman with a thick accent was pummeling my legs with enough force to make me gasp.
“Uh, I, uh, gasp, thought I checked the medium box?”
What is heavy? I wondered while she expertly flipped me over to my back, and I bit my lip to keep from moaning. A body slam to the floor?
This time we were ushered into our room by a small women wearing a purple smock. She dug around in her pocket and produced two pieces of paper, not much bigger than a business card.
“On here,” she announced, “On this card here, you will write something nice to each other. Something meaningful, and loving. Then you will read it out loud.”
I felt alarmed, the way I imagine someone standing in front of a firing squad might feel.
I looked at you and back at her. I may have smirked a little.
“And make sure,” she arched her eyebrow at me, “It’s meaningful. And nice.”
She left the room and you and I smirked at each other. Actually, I smirked, and you bent your head and started to write, what? What were you writing? The last time I saw you actually put pen to paper and write something meaningful, it was a Christmas card to your nephew. Except you bought him a birthday card by mistake, so, not meaningful.
I ran through the usual phrases in my mind.
I love you.
We are so blessed.
You complete me.
But besides being excruciatingly boring and generic, none of those capture the truth. Also, one was from a popular movie so it wasn’t really mine to use.
What could I possibly write on this piece of cream-colored cardstock that could explain how marriage is a steady push-pull of compromise and concession, negotiation and heartbreak?
You know, like the time we had a huge fight because you wanted our son Charlie to finish his spinach at dinner but I didn’t really care and we wound up screaming at each other. Over spinach.
I should have made corn instead. The kids all like corn.
Or the look on your face when you came home from work one day in November, and I told you I had met with the doctor and he said our 18-month old baby boy—the second son who came so soon after our first, who we nicknamed Tobes, who we rocked all night long through ear infections and respiratory problems and a deep, barking cough—had autism.
Only you can understand the stress of traveling with four boys and one girl and autism. You know things that know one else can know.
You know that bringing 13-year old Jack anywhere is like plucking a fish out of the cool blue ocean, and asking it to walk on dry land.
Then, he has to ask one million two thousand times what time the flight leaves, and what time it lands, and if there will be pretzels or Cheez-its on the snack cart.
And just as it’s time to leave, the fish will swim away and hide beneath his covers, crying that he can’t possibly go on vacation now, because America’s Funniest Home videos has a new episode on Sunday night and he can’t miss it or the rest of his life will be terrible.
You know how I apologize for him constantly. I am always saying I’m sorry, or pandering to get my point across, or sucking up to someone so they might understand just a tiny little bit about our story.
Like the time Jack was stimming and jumping in the corner of Friendly’s and the manager—a stout woman with graying hair—approached him from behind and I got up from the table and went over and touched her shoulder and explained how he has autism and he just needs to move sometimes and, ha ha, we call it his zoomies. And she looked over her shoulder at me with an expression I couldn’t read and then she told me curtly she was only trying to help.
I apologized—oh, of course! I’m so sorry!—and when her eyes didn’t soften I apologized again and told her I didn’t mean to upset her, I hope I didn’t upset her?
This is my life.
He is my son.
You, though, you move about the world with this boy without the burden of apology strapped to your back. You walk lighter, with purpose. You stand tall, because you know autism is a diagnosis and not the boy and you apologize to no one.
I wish I could be more like you. That’s what I’m trying to say. But I can’t. I can only be like me.
I am scared every single day. I think you are, too. I don’t know. We don’t really talk about it.
I love the way you smile at your daughter.
I hate the way you use every single pot in the kitchen when you cook.
I love the way you put your hand on the small of my back when we walk into a party.
I hate the way you start to snore just as I’m trying to fall asleep.
In fact, I am thinking about inventing a boxing glove women can use when their husbands snore. Because when you wake me up in the middle of the night, bad things go through my head. I mean, really bad things.
These are all the things I think about when I think of you. I just couldn’t figure out how to write them down in such a little space.
After a few minutes, I scribbled a handful of words on my card. They may not seem like much, but actually they are everything.
They are vegetables at dinner, and a giant stuffed pig squeezed into a suitcase, and dirty pots in the kitchen sink.
They are the steady ebb and flow of marriage against a rising tide.
They are a life without apology.
When I heard you shout them from the cool blue ocean, I smiled.
Jack, buddy! Jump in! Jump in and swim to me like a fish! I know you can do it.