On the morning after I stayed at my then-boyfriend-now-husband's house for the first time, he made me breakfast. Dexter Gordon's "I'm a Fool to Want You" was playing. I sipped freshly squeezed orange juice at a kitchen table overlooking the home's tropical backyard. Sam boiled water, sliced fruit and toasted whole grain bread made by a likeable, couch-surfing, wanderlusting friend named Keith, but whom everyone called Dude. Sam moved expertly and deliberately doing several things at once, and made me the best cup of coffee I'd ever had using a French press.
That was in 1997. My whole coffee-drinking life to that point had included Yuban stored in the refrigerator and automated coffee makers with timers to be set before going to bed. The French press required a different, immediate kind of effort. I watched the steam rise as Sam poured the boiling water over the beans he'd just ground. He pushed the plunger down halfway at first, then all the way after a few minutes of letting it steep. He added cream and a little turbinado sugar to mine and served it to me at the table. The whole thing was cinematic, and though it would be another year before I said it out loud, I fell in love that morning, watching from my spot in the sunlight.
This is the moment I thought of 18 years later after our fifth grader realized at 9 p.m. last Wednesday night that she'd lost her pencil case at school. That pencil case had a thumb drive in it, and that thumb drive had a two-month project on it, a project she was due to present the following day. I hardly need to say what happened next—the furrowed brow, the trying to hold back tears, the rush to the computer only to realize the most recent version saved there was half-completed. Despair doesn't begin to describe the situation. Lo, the unadorned grief of a heartbroken child.
My small person cried an ocean that evening and no amount of consoling could stop it.
Still, I tried. I hugged her and stroked her, whispering that all would be okay, that she wasn't alone, that I would help her reconstruct the project. Meanwhile, my husband—who is too frequently my business partner in the corporation known as Parenting Inc.—trudged down to the school (huge bonus to living one block away) to see if any of the custodians might still be on campus. It should be noted that I'd immediately declared that idea ridiculous.
Did you know that school custodians keep very late hours? Parents: See them. Know their names. Say thank you.
So there I was, holding the entire weight of our knee-buckled child in my arms, my silk shirt reduced to an oversized tissue for her tears and snot, when my phone ding-dinged. "I got it!" read the text, followed by several party-hat-and-confetti emojis. Upon seeing that, our child flung herself to the ground in relief.
"Dad of the Year!" I typed back. "Your daddy is a hero, Ruby," I said to her.
In this, a most mundane and domesticated moment of our partnership—and there are lots of those, believe me—I experienced an unexpected and breathtaking surge of love for this man I've known for almost two decades. The feeling was not unlike the falling-in-love days of our love, the kind we started out with but which, as hard as we try and with every passing day, isn't as accessible as I would like it to be.
For longtime love is twisty and turny in ways you can never anticipate. There are missteps and choices and injuries and sleights that for some are beyond repair. Old love can include hate at times; or at least a very discernable dislike. Then there are placeholders of apathy and boredom, which can drone on if you let them. And for those of us with kids, it is deceptively easy to put all the focus and energy into them only to turn around and wonder: Is this all there is?
Sam and I have had our share of all of this to some degree over the years. We've loved and loathed and fought and laughed and wept and fallen apart and—miraculously—come back together again. There has been a lot of forgiveness and letting go and evolution; of freedom, understanding and support. And for me, growing in love has necessitated a letting-go when at a certain age I understood very clearly that so many firsts were behind me. Even as there are others to still be had, the nostalgia for what once was threatened to overshadow future possibilities.
Witnessing my husband be an outstanding father during the Thumb Drive Incident brought me to a deeper place in my marriage. It was remarkable. Just like in the beginning with the French press coffee, it seems those little things are the biggest, bearing out the most lasting impact. And while we're not exactly breaking any records with our 14-year marriage, I feel like we have accomplished something. I'm so grateful for all of it.