As summer appears to be drawing to a close and evenings are getting cooler, Kenny and I will be moving indoors for our evening ritual of sitting together after dinner, sharing a bottle of wine while we talk for hours about our day, our kids, finances, plans for the future, and whatever else randomly comes up.
Ever since we were dating, we’ve been talkers. 18-hour drive to see the fam? We’ll talk all the way. Off early on a work day? Pour the wine and pull up a chair. We’ll be talking til the sun goes down. (On one particular trip, coming home to Oregon from California, we talked past the only exit to the northbound freeway and ended up in Nevada before we realized we were off course.) Friends often ask, “What is it you two talk about??” I don’t really know. We just, well…talk.
But all married couple have subjects that are, essentially, off limits. Hot buttons guaranteed to ruin a perfect evening by even a nonchalant reference or offhand comment. For many couples, it’s finances. “Gee, dear, I noticed we’re overdrawn. Do you know why?” can result in a snapped, “How the hell should I know?? Probably those golf clubs you bought last week that you didn’t tell me about.” For Kenny and me, financial discussions are usually reduced to a simple, “We got any money?” “Yeah, we’re good,” or “Not so much.”
What we can’t talk about is his smoking. Kenny has smoked since he was in his teens, and no amount of cajoling, pleading, threatening, shouting, or black lung photos from the local high school science lab will get him to permanently put those things down. In fairness, he has tried to quit. He’s tried gum, e-cigarettes, willpower, Chantix, and everything else on the market, and he’s been temporarily successful several times. But he always starts again. Any reference from me about his continued smoking can tank an evening faster than one can say “I slept with your brother. At our wedding.”
I understand that cigarettes are reportedly tougher to give up than many other drugs. I also understand that it’s easy to tell somebody else to give something up while you avoid your own failed battles. Glass houses and all that. I’ve been unable to completely let go of carbonated caffeine and I can’t seem to lose the same 10 pounds I’ve been working on since 1987, so I’m not judging him. Simply put, I love my Big Guy and would like those years together that cigarettes will probably take away.
But since it’s such a communication landmine and years of talking have continuously resulted in the same conversational impasse, I decided to write him a letter. Sort of an “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Jimmy Stewart scenario of what’s going to happen when my Marlboro Man is no longer here. Since he doesn’t read my blog, I’m taping it up where he can’t miss it. On the beer fridge.
I give up. You’re right. You’re 57 years old, and you can do what you damn well please with your body.
You say you like to smoke and you simply don’t want to quit. Okay. You also repeatedly tell me your Great-Uncle Beaufort smoked all his life and lived to be 96. Well, I talked to your mom, and she says you’ve conveniently forgotten that Uncle Beaut was also hitched up to an oxygen tank for the better part of the last 20 years of his life.
You know that I’m a terrible nurse. Like, seriously terrible. I have absolutely no patience, and I’m not a nurturer. And FYI, cigarettes don’t always kill you. Often they just make you very sick, for a very long time (just ask Uncle Beaut). During that time, I’m going to be your nurse. Think about that for a moment.
But in the likely case that you continue to infest your body with hundreds of toxins 20 times a day, causing you to suddenly drop dead in the not-too-distant future, I’ve taken out a chunky-butt-size life insurance policy on you and have mapped out my future without you.
I’m going to get a boob lift, a tummy tuck, and oh, what the hell, maybe even a face lift. If I’m going to hit the dating scene at 60+, I’m going to need to step up my game.
I’m going on a week-long shopping blitz to replace all those dating clothes and stilettos that I tossed out to make room for the married-with-grandchildren yoga pants I wore when we were happier at home with family than dancing til dawn.
I’m selling our home, with the yard that you worked on every day, and getting a townhouse that needs no maintenance.
I’m trading in your truck and your fishing boat for the red Shelby you always said you wanted to buy me but that we couldn’t afford.
I’m finally going to respond to those stupid Facebook dating-site ads that say “Meet Single Seniors Now!” I like being married. I’d rather it was you, but you’re not here.
And that RV Across America trip that we talked about for years? I’m doing it. I’m taking our map down from the wall, with all the push-pins of places we wanted to see, and hitting the road. And because I’ll miss you every single moment of every single day, I’m putting your picture in the front seat and taking you with me. It won’t be the same, but it will have to be enough.
We could have done this together. We still can. Just try one more time.
Because I’m stupid in love with you. And I’ve never mastered stilettos anyway.