By Aurelie Sheehan
Author of History Lesson for Girls
This month my husband and I are celebrating our eighth anniversary -- safely and well beyond the Seven Year Itch. We have a good marriage, and much to celebrate. What makes it work? I don’t know -- luck, probably. Or maybe it’s because it resembles, more than the relationships I’ve had with some men, the neglected, yet deeply important bond I shared with my childhood best friend.
It’s Jenny -- not Jim, Joe, Jack, John, or Jasper -- who gave me a sense of what is possible in love (minus, as they say, one thing).
1. Conversation before, during, and after school
As teenagers in a suburban Connecticut town in the seventies, Jenny and I were completely baffled, often quite amused, and sometimes horrified by what we saw around us. What could we do about it? Not much -- except we could talk.
Talking is how we made sense of things: seventies-style foibles, marriages gone awry, a school full of aliens from outer space. We laid out plans for the future, we contemplated the Essential Truth of Jim Morrison (and Jim Morrison's leather pants); we talked about poetry, mascara, and everything in between. Words were our currency, and with them, we remade the world.
My husband and I also remake the world through talking. Our world has gotten a little wider, perhaps, but we still analyze and discuss the heck out of it to make sense of the thing. We’ve got certain spots for certain kinds of discussion: the Big Topics often require the chairs in the living room, the Tense Topics are done on the fly (room to room, too hot to sit for long), and the Fun Topics are done during dinner prep. At lunch, we talk about the news of the day. And at night we talk about all manner of subjects (though he’s currently wary of revealing important new plans to me at this juncture, for once or twice my ever-lengthening silences have turned into sleep.)
Soon after we met, I told my future husband that I wished we could take a train together, a long journey, so we could just talk and talk and talk. He smiled at me. He said he likes trains, too. And he didn’t have to tell me he likes to talk. A few months later we rode our first train together, a dream come true, two very chatty people in seats 2A and 2B.
2. A whole bunch of sleepovers
They were about time, of course. Time to talk (definitely), and time just to hang out. And also my sleepovers with Jenny re-energized the most basic routines of life. A slight bore on its own, brushing my teeth became incredibly fun when we were doing it together, when a toothpaste glob had trickled down her chin, and we were nearly dying of toothpaste asphyxiation while laughing and doing a chicken dance in our Lanz of Salzburg nightgowns.
When my husband goes away, I realize how simply having company for all the mundane and everyday chores (going to Home Depot, making dinner, taking plates out of the dishwasher) makes each thing a lot more fun. Not that I always appreciate it -- it’s an embarrassment of riches, now. Do I get worked up with joy over going to Home Depot to pick up a new mop head? Not totally. But were we to do the chicken dance in the parking lot.
3. A second pirate in the Caribbean
A few months before we got engaged, I was applying for an important job. Right before the interview, my husband said: “Okay, so listen. Helen Keller once said: ‘Life is either a grand adventure or nothing at all.’ So go get ‘em, honey. You’re going to do great.”
I got the job, but more significantly I got the concept. I like to think of this marriage as a grand adventure. Yes, we’ve got the Home Depot runs and the domesticity, but the fact is, ever since I met my husband, I’ve had a conviction that our life together is full of possibility.
It’s a feeling I remember from high school, when Jenny would look over at me, we’d lock devilish stares, and then go out and do some incredibly stupid thing. But fun thing, usually. We gave each other chutzpa. We said yes to galloping our horses down the road at top speed, yes to the next party, yes to skipping algebra. Yes, most of all, to life.
4. A secret language
Jenny and I made one up and used it whenever necessary. It was an offshoot of a language she used with her dog, a waddling little Pekinese called Tammy. “Hey, Beeyoqueen, I sib suddo,” one of us would say. It was cool to have our own secret code. We felt it would be useful should we ever get arrested, for instance, which we, well, were. (It wasn’t quite as fun to chat in the back of the cop cruiser as we’d imagined it would be.) But even a simple interaction -- asking for a match or a sip of Seven-Up -- changed if we spoke our own language; it became consecrated, wholly our own thing.
My husband and I have our own language too. Sure, we’ve got your classic marital grunts and shorthand expressions to get us through before the second cup of coffee. But we’ve also developed a fascinating franglish to deploy when trying to baffle our seven-year-old. “Success a la Target purchase? Le puzzlement de la petit Potter?” he might ask, to which I’ll gesture in a quite Parisian fashion. (The kid is catching on, by the way.)
5. A place to stash my (proverbial) cigarettes
I had secrets then and I have secrets now. Back then, they were easy -- externalized, something to hide in a drawer. I don’t smoke anymore, and so I’d say my secrets now are more in the lines of character flaws. Not that I’m completely and utterly flawed, but still. These flaws or weaknesses insist upon themselves, seem tricky enough to keep coming back, and my husband knows them as well as I do. He also knows my strengths, as I do his. But I like to know that I can safely store my pack of bad habits in his house, and he won’t throw me out for it.
6. An undying, forever-feeling, all-or-nothing, Us vs. Them conviction
It may not be at the forefront of my consciousness every single time I pour a jar of Trader Joe’s marinara into a pot for a hasty dinner while he’s lying face down on the couch before a televised golf tournament. But put us at risk and it’s right there. When the doctor told my husband about his predilection for heart disease, for instance. Or when we had to find our way through the crowds in New Delhi during the Republic Day parade. Or even at certain unending dinner parties at which new theories on why there’s no such thing as global warming are being explained.
We band together then, as Jenny and I did when we were teenagers. Back then, every day felt like running the gauntlet, filled with new threats and drama and confusion. We were trying to step up to the plate; trying to explain, to articulate, who we were. We were able to succeed, sometimes, because we knew we had each other.
7. An apparently untiring audience for the first draft of my poems
And this was a heck of a lot easier for Jenny, because I only wrote one or two poems a week. And they were poems. But now I write novels. And I want him to read not just this draft but that draft and then that draft, also? The man is incredible as a reader and editor. The poems Jenny and I shared were in our handwriting, in our journals, and I’ll always love her careful square letters, whimsical and reluctant both.
8. A person who will tell me if these black shoes look better than those black shoes (she was a little better at this)
Well, never mind about this one. Forget it.
9. Mad Magazine, or something similar
We were very, very funny. We had a repertoire. We had an arsenal. We especially liked to use it during class, or when describing the personal style of various sinisterly athletic classmates or the Spanish teacher who just gave us a C+. My parents thought Jenny was too critical, too sarcastic, and her parents thought I was an oddball, out of touch. It didn’t matter what they thought, as long as we could laugh.
I remember dating a guy who was nice in every way, but our senses of humor didn’t quite match up, and that was it: we were history. Thankfully, my husband is in the other room with a big red ball on his nose right now, about to launch into morning limerick, so I think we’ll be okay.
10. Changes, yes, but some things that stay true
She changed a lot, during those years, and so did I. It was not always easy. And there have been stretches in our adult lives when we’ve fallen out of touch, when it’s not been possible to explain life changes, new mates, rapid decisions. We weather these dry spells -- in part, I believe, because we remember how our friendship was a ballast we could find nowhere else in our young lives.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments. My husband and I used Shakespeare famous words at our wedding, as have many other plucky English majors.
The quote is also a decent definition of friendship.
Copyright © 2007 Aurelie Sheehan
Author Aurelie Sheehan is the author of the short story collection Jack Kerouac Is Pregnant and the novel The Anxiety of Everyday Objects. The director of the creative writing program at the University of Arizona, she has received a Pushcart Prize, a Camargo Fellowship, and the Jack Kerouac Literary Award. She lives in Tucson with her husband and daughter.
For more information, please visit www.aureliesheehan.com
Photo credit: Martha Lochert