I didn’t know I was this in love with my husband. I know that sounds ludicrous. We’ve been married for a while. Together nearly seven years. But my god, love is strange. It’s bigger than I expected. If you can think of my little gay heart as a house, I feel like I’m on a home makeover show, and someone redid the rooms while I was gone and added a huge expansion. In fact, I think my HUSBAND did the renovation. And I’m still a little shocked, to be honest.
This is smarmy. This is over the top. But we just celebrated my husband’s birthday, and frankly, I’m writing about love because I’m truly, actually, really surprised.
The change, I think, is this – I feel like he is family.
I know. Confusing, right? He was family when we got married. He was family when we decided to have a baby together! Yes. Totally true. None of the way I acted or felt when we made those decisions has changed. He was family to me then. He is family to me now. But it’s kind of like thinking you won the lottery, the Mega Millions… and then you get on the phone with the lottery commission, and they’re like, “Ma’am… it’s the Mega Billions. You won the Mega Billions.”
Yeah. The love. It’s bigger than I thought. And I feel like it’s something that’s just happening to me.
I noticed it over the holidays. This was the first of the NEW Christmases. My entire family commented that it was different this year. This was the first Christmas that my parents hosted their grandkids, the first year where we all brought our kids to the house we grew up in. This was the first Christmas where the rhythm of the celebration was based on people 5 years old and younger, not on my sisters, my brother and I.
For years now, Christmas morning has been a quiet breeze. Adults with coffee sit around, sweetly opening our little packages, oooh-ing and aaaah-ing over the treats and treasures we’ve brought for each other.
This Christmas morning was chaos. Paper shreds took flight around the room. Yelps of excitement burst at random as new presents were opened while no one was looking. I can’t even remember if a coffee pot was turned on.
But the real surprise, the thing which somehow I didn’t expect, was looking over at my husband and finding abiding comfort, tidings of great joy, in the simple way he shared this time with our baby girl. He held up bits of wrapping paper for her to discover. He opened her new toys with her, exploring each one piece by piece. He stacked up blocks for her. He cheered with glee with her as they all came tumbling down. He guided her in gratitude, “Let’s say, ‘Thank you, Grana. Thank you, Granddad.’”
Watching him, suddenly I could see it. Suddenly I was outside time, feeling the past – full of love and hope; the present – as brilliant as the flames in the living room fireplace; the future – a maze of love with twists and turns to celebrate together. Watching him, I felt a pull like gravity.
Weeks later, Christmas decorations long since stored in the basement, I got a call that my grandmother was dying. I was sitting on the couch not sure whether to stay in Minnesota of fly the next day to Texas to see her. I called my mom who always says the wisest things. She said to me, “It won’t be easy, but you won’t regret coming to see her, Brent. You won’t regret being able to talk to her, right now, while you can.”
And then my husband said, “I can do this. I can take care of things here. We’ll be ok. This is what our family does. We go. You have to go. This is our family.”
Our family. Our family. Our family. It rang like the deep tone of a giant church bell. Our family. Two words that covered us, the generations that brought us here and the generations we dream will be beyond us. Our family. Two words that covered us… Charlie and me.
We talked every day and every night. And when Grandmom died, he was already packed for a funeral. I was desperate for him to get to Texas, desperate to hold our daughter. I wanted them at the funeral. I wanted Charlie to see my Grandmom’s legacy, so brilliantly shining in those precious days. I wanted him to see my family the way I remember it, see the love I knew growing up, hear flashes of the memories I shared with my uncles and aunts, cousins, brother and sisters, my mom, my dad. I wanted him to see the little town where my grandparents lived.
After the funeral, we walked from the church to the house I grew up visiting every summer. It was still there, the old house with the stone walls that my Granddad and his father laid by hand.
We walked into the back yard. I stood under a tree. I bent my knees, drew my straight arm back and pretended to toss. “We threw washers here under this tree in the summer… we played in the back yard for hours… it still smells the same.” We walked around to the front yard. “Granddad would walk outside at sunset with us to pick up pecans from this tree.” I leaned over and found a pecan, the shell hard and round like a stone. “We’d fill paper bags full of these, then shell them while we watched John Wayne movies.”
I waved my arm to point at the ground below the front window. “Grandmom had giant four-o-clock bushes in this flower bed. On cool days you could see hummingbirds from living room.”
He saw all these little parts of my childhood. “That is so special, babe,” Charlie would say, when I mentioned the pecans, when I pointed to the ghosts of hummingbirds, when I ran my hands through the bars of the windchimes in the carport. He held our baby girl. “This is where Papa grew up,” he told her.
I’m trying to understand exactly why I’m so aware of the depth of my love for my husband these days. It feels new to me. Stronger. Bolder. More part of my heart than before.
Maybe it was the death of my Grandmom. Perhaps her passing was the cosmic event that drew us in closer to each other, the way gravity is pulls at the universe when a star bursts and passes away. Or maybe it’s the way that our daughter is transforming the way we altogether experience that universe.
Maybe it’s this. The spot on the planet we’re in right now, this spot in time, is full of wonder, gravity, love. Charlie is the only other person that has ever existed that is sharing this entire view with me right now. Maybe that’s what family is. He can see the way Phoebe looks at gold-leaf wrapping paper. He can see the way she squeals with glee when our cat walks in the room. He can see me – the way I look at my sister with tears in my eyes when the wind chimes ring, the way I laugh a tender, full laugh as my cousin throws out a perfect dice roll at a table full of my family. Over seven years of our being together, he’s learned to see my memories the way I see them, as precious gems to carry with us always and give away as often as we can. When I hand him the memory of my Grandmom and I playing cards, or my Granddad and I picking up pecans, or my family at Christmas time, he holds each one as if I’ve handed him a rare gift. He stares at it with me in wonder. He holds onto it. We carry it together.
I’ve always believed that in the end, we choose our family. I just didn’t know that, as we become that family, my heart is changing more than I ever imagined.
Charlie, my love. Happy Birthday. I love you. I love you. I love you.