I stopped in time to let them pass – the young girl on her beach cruiser and the handsome boy pedaling behind her. They waved at me, happy. Not the least bent out of shape that I’d infringed on their right of way, slammed my brakes so we didn’t collide. I watched them ride ahead, her cotton blouse billowing in the wind as she glanced over her shoulder to see where he was. He stood off the frame, leaned forward and pedaled faster, the two of them laughing as he raced to catch up.
Young love, I thought.
And I remembered what it was like. Those plutonic days when I saw my husband across the parking lot and hoped we would talk. The ticket stub I saved from our first date. The autumn leaf I pressed between pages – a token of our afternoon together. The electricity of his hand slipping into mine.
Last Friday we celebrated our anniversary.
After passing the baton (a plastic serving spoon) to our babysitters and sitting down in the restaurant, I apologized. I didn’t have a gift. I hadn’t even had time to look up the traditional gift for fourteen years. (We like to give traditional anniversary gifts. Or a silly variation on the theme.)
When I told my husband as much he calmly replied, “That’s okay. Because you have one more year to figure it out.”
“You mean we’ve been married thirteen years?” I asked, eyes wide. I hadn’t done the math. I hadn’t remembered it right. But it didn’t matter. We just laughed and ordered from the menu.
Our love isn’t new anymore, it’s approaching middle-aged. But with a decade-plus behind us, there’s more texture to our relationship, more richness. A safety and acceptance sustain us that didn’t during our first kiss. We know everything about each other (good, bad, and ugly) and that simultaneously expands and simplifies our love. Yet, when he puts both arms around me, I still flutter – surprised that our old love can occasionally feel new.
Below is one of my favorite poems by Ellen Bass. You decide if it’s about old or new love. Either way, the romantic in me nods and agrees with Bass, “I want to slip into that woman’s middle-aged body.”
At gate C22 in the Portland airport
a man in a broad-band leather hat kissed
a woman arriving from Orange County.
They kissed and kissed and kissed. Long after
the other passengers clicked the handles of their carry-ons
and wheeled briskly toward short-term parking,
the couple stood there, arms wrapped around each other
like he’d just staggered off the boat at Ellis Island,
like she’d been released at last from ICU, snapped
out of a coma, survived bone cancer, made it down
from Annapurna in only the clothes she was wearing.
Neither of them was young. His beard was gray.
She carried a few extra pounds you could imagine
her saying she had to lose. But they kissed lavish
kisses like the ocean in the early morning,
the way it gathers and swells, sucking
each rock under, swallowing it
again and again. We were all watching–
passengers waiting for the delayed flight
to San Jose, the stewardesses, the pilots,
the aproned woman icing Cinnabons, the man selling
sunglasses. We couldn’t look away. We could
taste the kisses crushed in our mouths.
But the best part was his face. When he drew back
and looked at her, his smile soft with wonder, almost
as though he were a mother still open from giving birth,
as your mother must have looked at you, no matter
what happened after–if she beat you or left you or
you’re lonely now–you once lay there, the vernix
not yet wiped off, and someone gazed at you
as if you were the first sunrise seen from the Earth.
The whole wing of the airport hushed,
all of us trying to slip into that woman’s middle-aged body,
her plaid Bermuda shorts, sleeveless blouse, glasses,
little gold hoop earrings, tilting our heads up.
Have you ever loved or been loved like this? Tell us about a new love, old love, or new-old love in your life. And I’m curious, what’s your favorite image/detail in Bass’s poem?
Photo courtesy of Michelle Lehnardt