Thirty years. They navigated the deep, sometimes murky, sometimes turbulent waters of marriage. Staying afloat, largely without listing. Only on occasion having to bail. Though, sometimes, drawing dangerously close to rocky shoals. Nearly crashing into the stubbornly sifting sandbanks of money management, illness, intimacy, in-laws, children and child-rearing, and God knows what else. (Some of the troubled moments had faded so blessedly far into the shadows of faulty memory, making them, even when a flicker of recollection dawned, easy to escape mention.)
Thirty years. The two of them still took, made time to prepare and eat dinner together, alternating by the day who served as chef and prep cook. That part of the rhythm of their living remained intact. So, too, their unflagging pride in the lofty attainments of their loving twin daughters, one a physician, the other an attorney, each with a child aged 5, their darling grandsons, both possessing wisdom preternaturally profound for their spare length of days.
Thirty years. Much to savor. Little to regret. Except, for each, the now nagging tug of their insignificance. All their successes, individual and shared, now mostly the stuff of legend. The sorts of things they rarely recalled, though others frequently recognized them for this or that community or lifetime achievement award. (They had no more wall space or storage room for another box of things, and they, concerned about the size of their carbon footprint, had no intention of adding on to their commodious abode, already filled with the air, the sickeningly redolent sigh of life’s meaninglessness.)
She drummed her aimless fingers lightly on the table, trying to dispel the deafening silence after another meal when they had shared so few words.
“Please pass the lemon,” he said.
She obliged. “Was the salmon grilled to your liking?”
He nodded slightly as if he feared had he jiggled his head more vigorously it might have toppled over his shoulders, falling to the floor. Honestly, he simply didn’t have energy for much more. What would be the point? Salmon to his liking, consuming every bit of it? Or not, eating less? Ah, eating less, he would have felt hunger…he would have felt something, which would be better (or maybe not) than the nothing he felt about the nothing he was.
She nodded, too; the simplicity of the bob of her head expressing the lethargy of her soul.
Then, in a flash of startling earnestness, they, in unison, spoke.
“When did it happen?”
Each knew what the other meant.
“For me, dear,” he gasped, “when all the years of labor…when I poured myself into my work, thinking…thinking somehow that it would give me…that I could give myself the measure of my life’s meaning as a husband, father, provider…and, at the end, to discover…shamefully,” he stammered, “it hadn’t…and now knowing it never could.” He wept, shocking himself at this first sign of emotion in so long a time.
“And for me, dear,” she receiving, reciting, rephrasing for herself his tender-sounding word, “it is much the same. Being a mother, which, yes, I remain, but with less of a role…our girls so grown and so accomplished…and so not needing us…not needing me. And I having been one who shattered glass ceilings…an iconoclastic rock-thrower at all those ivory-towered princes of business who thought…who still think women were made for but a few things and none of them involving the activation of the moral mass between our ears!” The rise of indignation, the first real emotion in so long a time, felt good to her. “But when it was done, it…I was done.”
“So much more of us behind us…” he began.
“So little of us in front of us,” she finished.
“You know,” for the first time in the longest time, he sought and looked into her eyes, “I have felt…I have been so empty…for myself and I know for you…I…I often have thought that if I truly loved you enough, then I should leave you.”
Unflinching, she returned his gaze. “I could not have said it better.”
“You’ve considered leaving, too?”
“But…” again together they spoke.
“You go first,” he whispered, reaching across the table for her hand.
“I’ve always known,” she said, her voice barely audible, “that I’ve never loved you enough…I’ve always…to this day…I’ve loved you more than that.” She took his hand, the feel of his skin against hers warming her heart. “So it’s not…it’s never been that I should leave you, for I couldn’t, I wouldn’t ever leave you.”
He took a deep breath, then another and sighed. “I could not have said it better.”
In the silence of their recognition of undeserved, unconditional grace, they shared a smile.