A few years ago, on a rare, non-sweltering summer evening in the sandhills of North Carolina, my husband and I sat on our back deck with a couple of grilled steaks and a couple of micro brews, watching our dogs play in the yard and talking wistfully about our hopes and our dreams.
I talked about my hopes and my dreams, while Justin sat contemplative and content. I was fishing for something.
My incessant babble was, most likely, a plea for commiseration. “I’d like us to take a year off and travel the world when you retire from the Air Force. I mean, you’ll only be 38, and that gives us enough time to save. We could go anywhere. See anything. And then one day it might be nice to just buy a ramshackle beach resort on the coast of Nicaragua. You know, get away from all of these pressures and learn about what’s really important in life. I could run the hospitality end of the business since — well — I actually like people, and you could… I don’t know… be in charge of breakfasts. It could be fun for a couple of years! We could learn SCUBA and hike volcanoes and adopt a pet monkey.
“Haven’t you always wanted a monkey?”
Justin gave me a smile and a slight laugh and gazed across our confined patch of earth, where the dogs wrestled in the dirt amongst the patchy grass and paw-carved holes.
“Did I ever tell you I wanted to run a sustainable eco resort for rich people in Australia?” I asked, trying again. ”You know, back when I first started studying environmental policy and sustainability, and then I quit school and had all of that time to think — I was going to move to Australia because that was one of the few places with schools offering degrees in sustainability. Can you believe that? Now it’s a trend. Sustainability. I totally should’ve jumped at the head of that horse when I had the chance. By now, I’d be like the leading guru on self-sustaining eco resorts. With yoga. And we’d raise our own goats. Way Down Under. Or wherever. It felt like nowhere was too far away from home, you know? I finally realized my life was in my hands.
“That I could do whatever I wanted.
“That I could go places.
Justin nodded. And smiled. Again. Obviously, he didn’t know. And clearly that bemused smile was all the agreement I was going to get.
So, I did it. I asked the question. I asked the question that hopeful, doe-eyed women like to ask their men during moments of contemplative intimacy — the question whose answer women believe will connect them in a blissful euphoria of mutual love, respect, and understanding. I believed that when he answered, he would validate our compatibility in one fell swoop and any concerns I had about our future — about the meshing of our dreams — would vanish in a puff of fluffy reckless wantonness.
“What are you thinking about?” I asked with an encouraging smile.
The setting sun brought forth clichéd flecks of gold in his deep brown eyes. For real, kids. Just like in the movies. He gazed across the yard where Capone, our all-American white mutt with the big brown spots was sniffing along the fence line and raising his leg every few yards so the ferocious wood squirrels beyond would know what’s what.
“I wonder…” he started, and my punchdrunk brain swelled with anticipation.
He wonders what? Whether we’ll have enough money to do it? Which country we should see first? Whether we’ll have kids by then and could still manage to travel? I’m sure we could figure out a way. We’re resourceful. We can handle whatever life throws at us because we’re in this together. Which he’s about to wholeheartedly prove. I can feel it.
Seriously. The female brain — at least my female brain — really does work that fast.
He looked directly at me and smiled.
Here it comes.
Then he said, “I wonder what Capone would think if I walked over there and peed on the fence.”
He laughed, and simultaneously pissed all over my big, validating moment. And I had a choice. I could laugh along with him, or I could punch him in the face. Those damn gold flecks were still in his eyes, though, so I laughed. It was funny. Some tears may have escaped the corners of my eyes, but I’m still not sure which kind they were. Joy? Disappointment? Maybe surrender.
That day I surrendered myself to the fact that relationships, while sometimes deep and emotional and inspiring and powerful, still involve real people. Not scripted actors. Real people who joke and play and expel noxious gases and sometimes pee on fences just to see what will happen. Not that he actually did that.
He wasn’t aware of this fact at the time, of course, but Justin’s response was a gentle reminder to me to just enjoy the night. To stop worrying so much. To live now — not ten years from now. And then I knew:
Setting suns and micro brews and big back yards with charcoal grills — one brown mutt and one spotted white — that was my life. Not Australia. Not Nicaragua. And we definitely didn’t have any goats. At least not yet. That was my life, and it was great, and I was missing it.
Sometimes I still slip back into the what ifs and one days and worrying too much about what lies ahead. But then I catch myself, and I wonder:
What would Capone think if I peed on the fence?
And it still makes me laugh.
This piece was originally published on Domestiphobia.net.
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