[BTW, FTW is shorthand for for the win]
Out of all the love affairs of my life, the most unlikely by far has been the most satisfying and most loving— the affair with a man twenty-five years my senior. I’ve written about our relationship before. It’s time to catch you up, because as relationships continue, things change– but maybe not in ways you might expect.
Several years ago, I asked my beloved make a promise to me: that he wouldn’t die. Then I got a little more practical and asked him to promise that he wouldn’t die before me. After more thought, I finally asked him to promise not to die until a week after I died. “Why?” he said. “Do you remember when Farrah Fawcett died?” I said. He didn’t. “That’s because Michael Jackson died later that day and everyone forgot about her.”
Not that we are Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson by any stretch; the point is how levels of fame can affect how people react, what they remember, what they forget. The sensational wins every time. My beloved enjoys fame (he really does enjoy it), and I am not famous at all. I’d be forgotten in a hot second.
“I would like people to have time to mourn me,” I explained, “and then when you die a week later, it will appear that you have died of a broken heart. It will probably be because you can’t cook and you’ll starve to death, but everyone will assume you just couldn’t go on without me.” He agreed to the waiting period of one week, but then he wrote a poem called “Me First,” expressing his desire to die before me. Neither one of us wants the heartbreak of losing the other, as it turns out.
My beloved and I lived together for over eleven years before we did The Thing. I wrote about The Thing in my last missive about our May-December relationship. What is The Thing? Eloping. We took the plunge. We did not elope to Gretna Green in Scotland or even to Sintra in Portugal, both storybook scenarios. We got married on a beach in Southampton, New York, with only our celebrant and two of her friends as witnesses.
It was glorious, the hottest day of the year, blue skies. The ocean breezes kept us cool, I didn’t have a hot flash, I got to be barefoot, and we didn’t have to be self-conscious about people sneaking photos of us or trying to analyze just how emotional we were after finally tying the knot. As I said, glorious. Absolute heaven.
The next day, he headed off to Ireland, where he told people he was on his honeymoon alone, and I flew home with my bridal bouquet, appearing to be not a bride— for what newlywed bride travels alone?— but the most pathetic wedding attendant, unable to part with my bouquet. The Ireland trip had been planned months before (work for him), and we married on the day we did because it was the only day our celebrant would be in town. So we rolled with it. We have learned to roll with almost anything. And I didn’t mind looking pathetic, because I was so darned happy.
And just how emotional we were after finally tying the knot turned out to be the biggest surprise. After being together so many years, we didn’t expect that the act of marrying would change the dynamics of our relationship, but boy did it. We were newlyweds! And we felt like newlyweds! And we cooed to each other, “We’re married!” and “You’re my husband!” and “You’re my wife!” This was a total shock. Neither of us had felt this the first time we’d gotten married. (We’d both been married once before.) More heaven. New heaven. Renewed gentleness with each other, renewed compassion, and renewed joy— all of these gifts just because we said “I do.”
We married on July 21, 2019. When March 2020 rolled around and we had to stay home because of Covid, the newlywed state of being really paid off. We were used to traveling, and suddenly there was no more traveling. We were used to being in our comfortably-sized house, then we learned we would have mold remediation performed, meaning many rooms of our house had to be sealed off and gutted before being rebuilt. So with a little improvisation, our living/dining room became our bedroom as well. At Christmas, I could lie in bed and reach over to turn the tree lights off. It was our own little New York apartment in the middle of Florida. And we were so happy! “Isn’t it great to be stuck here together?” “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere except here with you.” Seriously. It was that icky-sweet. Covid couldn’t take the shine off our fun. How lucky that we waited so long to get married.
Because my husband (my husband!) was almost 80 when Covid started, I was particularly worried about him getting it. I was able to schedule his first vaccination in December 2020. He was one of the first in our state. We’re both fully vaccinated and boosted, but he’s never gotten Covid and I did! He didn’t even catch it from me when I had it! So much for assuming he was more vulnerable than I.
Even though I’d been worried previously about his memory, he still doesn’t have an issue that isn’t normal age-related temporary lapses, the same thing I have. (“What do you call that thing you flip the eggs with?” was one of my recent questions. He rolled his eyes.) He had cataract surgery in 2021. I had cataract surgery in June. I learned last week that my hearing loss is now in both ears and is remarkable enough that it makes me a candidate for hearing aids. I’m having some tests done to determine what makes me dizzy or prone to falling. (We have a motto I have to live up to: DFFD— Don’t effin fall down.) I fell while holding our youngest grandson back in May. Neither of us were hurt. And we actually have it on video. My children laughed! (I’m a pretty good stunt woman, I guess.) Meanwhile, my husband zips on through his days running and swimming with the pulse and blood pressure of an athlete and aces every medical exam at age 81. Who would have thought it?
His sex drive is much stronger than mine, too. Surprised? I am post-menopausal now (hurray! woot! it’s about darn time!), and that’s probably why my libido naps so often. So we do what the very sage Cheryl Strayed recommends and follows (can you be very sage? if anyone can be, it is she). Her recommendation: make regular appointments with your spouse for sex. Don’t knock Appointment Sex until you’ve tried it. There’s a party to go to. You show up. You have fun! You wonder why you don’t go to more parties! You make another appointment!
And, yes, my husband and I have experienced another major change in our lives. We became grandparents. He never had children, and it wasn’t on purpose. It just didn’t happen. I’m actually kind of glad of that, because statistics suggest that his children would not, let’s just say, appreciate me as much as I would want them to. He would have been an excellent father, though, and I’m sorry he missed out on it. But being with a younger woman, he benefitted from other opportunities.
“When your kids have children, they will be your grandchildren,” he used to say. I knew better. Emerson was born in May 2020, and from the beginning, his Bebop doted on him. Then Lorenzo was born in October 2020 (yes, 2020 didn’t totally suck), and Bebop was equally taken. In a family photo taken at Lorenzo’s first birthday party, both babies had their heads turned to look at Bebop. They’re not too young to sense when someone is a special person.
I have watched him with the boys many times with tears in my eyes. It’s so good to see him experience this kind of love and wonder. It touches everyone who witnesses it.
My sons, the new parents (maybe because they were new parents) each had an epiphany on Father’s Day. They sent my husband (their stepfather, of course) touching cards about how DNA doesn’t matter and how grateful they are to have him in their lives. They wrote even more touching personal notes inside, thanking him for being who they needed him to be. He kept the cards— and he doesn’t keep cards from me. After reading them, he was in tears— happy tears. “I didn’t know I mattered this much,” he said. “I didn’t know I mattered at all.”
And that is how the best love affair of my life is going. Two thumbs up, baby. Two thumbs up. Of course, there are bound to be bumps on the road ahead, but right now we’re cruising with the top down and the wind in our hair, Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” on full blast. (Sunglasses on, baby.) I say: love who you love and enjoy every bit of it. It won’t last forever. Farrah’s and Michael’s numbers came up, and so will ours— the order is anybody’s guess.
Here’s his poem:
We often fly in the sky together,
and we’re always okay—there’s our luggage now
waiting for us on the carousel.
And we drive lots of places
in all manner of hectic traffic,
yet here we are pulling in the driveway again.
So many opportunities to die together,
but no meteor has hit our house,
no tornado has lifted us into its funnel.
The odds say then that one of us will go
before the other, like heading off
into a heavy snow storm, leaving
the other one behind to stand in the kitchen
or lie on the bed under the fan.
So why not let me, the older one, go first?
I don’t want to see you everywhere
as I wait for the snow to stop,
before setting out with a crooked stick, calling your name.
—from Whale Day and Other Poems (Penguin Random House, 2020) © Billy Collins.