His Beard, Valentine

My husband has grown a beard for the winter. I hate it. The beard is thick and bristling: an unfortunate, malignant creature that has latched with scrubby desperation onto his lower face. It makes life difficult. I would like to kiss his lips and not his beard, and certainly not the beard residue from whatever he just had to eat. I am forced to share personal space with it: my pillow, our sink, his hugs. I hate it so much that as I write of my dislike, I look up from my laptop to stare at him in the kitchen and glare at the beard, writing and staring and glaring and writing some more.

He senses the wifely gaze, and he also looks up. He is cooking (curry chicken) and his hands pause midway through the peeling of a garlic clove. Our eyes lock. We stare each other down in the way of married people, and he breaks the silence first.

You were thinking about my beard, weren’t you.

I am caught off guard. It shows in my voice as I say: How did you know!?

The look on your face.

I can’t help it: I laugh. I am supposed to be upset, but I laugh a belly laugh. What look do I have on my face? I want to know.

Disappointment. Disgust.

He contorts his features into a shape–evidently, the shape of my face–and I laugh again and can’t stop. He smiles, because if he can get me to laugh, he has won, and sometimes it’s about winning. He is back to peeling garlic: smugly peeling garlic. I am back to typing at the kitchen table. The beard is safe, at least for now.

The sun is filtering between a latticework of naked tree limbs and refracts through the window onto the tabletop where I work; it warms my back, even though the sky outside is an ice cold winter blue.

***

It was around Valentine’s Day that he asked me to marry him. He was cute and we were young. I liked his eyes: those brown, honest, infatuated eyes gave me butterflies, butterflies that felt like delicious uncertainty with just the right amount of new and nervous, and even a little bit of afraid but in a way that was exciting. That was about eight years ago.

And eight years later all the butterflies are either dead or preserved in Facebook pictures and a single dusty wedding album. If pressed to find a metaphor, I guess I would now choose fire: a tame one, cozy in a fireplace, like the fire that is crackling in our living room right now. It is alive, comfortable, and warm. It still has occasion to spark and pop. Our children gather around it. It is protected and protective.

***

…is patient, …is kind.

I have spent many years killing a powerful maternal instinct to always be there. Almost seven years into this process and I have missed an untold number of milestones, and I am still not entirely certain the proper procedure for how to pick up the older one from kindergarten. Now when the children cry, he hears them clearest. Our youngest one’s first word was Dada, months before he would say anything else. Who has gently, firmly taught them how to behave? Who stays home when they get sick? Who tends to their bumps and bruises? Who cooks breakfast in the morning and sprints to catch the bus after class to get home and make them dinner? I’ll give you a hint: it is not their mother.

***

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

There are many times when he could have told me not to pursue my dreams. Instead it has been the opposite: he has done everything in his power to make them happen, even to the point of sacrificing his own ambitions. So I am at the point where his dreams are nearly indistinguishable from my dreams. Very little is just mine or just his, because without each other we would have nothing at all. We have built this life together, day by day. Together we plant our flag on a veritable mountain of student loans: but it is our mountain.

***

It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. … it does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

And yes, we’ve hurt each other. In horrible ways. We are both broken people with brittle edges and bleeding cracks. He knows, better than anybody, how ugly I can be. Even so I have yet to hear him raise his voice in anger or hate. We tell each other who we really are but there is no rejection. The equation is not: he/she is perfect and therefore I will stay with him/her.

***

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

He is a fact in my life and I can barely remember what I was before. He is my friend and ally. We are exploring the world together.

***

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

We’re stuck, he whispers in my ear. I wrap my arms around his neck (and encounter the beard, which, one of these nights I am going to hack off  in his sleep).

But the truth is liberating. No butterflies, this: it is heavy and burns like coals.

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One thought on “His Beard, Valentine

  1. Jenny, you’ve somehow done it in one brief post: this is marriage. Its irritations, its subtleties, its mirthful, inescapable knowing of one another. May the fire burn on, unto eternity.

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