Two pairs of shoes: Moments from a marriage
I probably own more than 20 pairs of shoes and boots, but I wind up using only two pairs of Merrell clogs: black fabric for outside and white leather clogs for home. When I’d come home from work, I’d switch the black clogs for the white clogs inside the pantry on my way to the kitchen.
My late husband Terry used to spend a lot of time out in his garden in the backyard. He’d tell me that when he entered the house through the back pantry door, he’d look for the black clogs. If they were there and the white clogs were missing, he’d smile and think “She’s home!” Or he’d be puttering in his workshop till after dark. He would glance out his workshop windows over to my window in the house. If my light came on, then he’d know “She’s home!”
When we’re in our teens or twenties, and we “fall in love,” sometimes we assume this is what the entire marriage will be like. When the first flush of infatuation dies off—and it always does—some people panic and leave. The high divorce rate is directly linked to the illusion of “eternal love” which is not love at all but infatuation. We are bombarded with this notion from movies, TV, popular music—everywhere you turn, there it is. Infatuation is biochemically driven temporary insanity.
Infatuation is a wonderful feeling for sure, but it has a short lifespan that runs from six months to two years, according to psychologists and others who study the phenomenon. It has even been suggested that infatuation is Nature’s way of convincing us to reproduce, because without that … who knows. Real love is different.
Infatuation flies on wax wings. At first you soar high and fast and far… then the wax melts. When you crash to the ground you must choose between limping away in failure, or picking yourself up, linking arms and trudging through life together on firm ground.
Real love wears hiking boots.
Real love is checking to see if the at-home shoes are in the pantry, and if they are, feeling warmth rise in your heart because … she’s home.
That’s what marriage is. It’s mowing the grass. Pulling the dandelions. Scrubbing the bathroom and bleaching the fridge because you know that your spouse absolutely detests those chores, so you silently agree to a division of labor and do that yourself while he does other things. And there are surprises at times. One day I came home to find Terry on his hands and knees, diligently scrubbing the kitchen floor, grout and tiles, with a small green scrubby sponge and dish detergent.
In his pastoral work as an Episcopal priest, Terry had to meet with young couples several times before marrying them. One of the things he told them in premarital counselling was: “The husband should expect to take out the garbage.”
If a husband-to-be protested and tried to argue for equal time, Terry would laugh, wave his hand and say, “Look. You will not win this one. Women have deep natural aversion to that chore. Trashcans are dark, they’re dirty, most of the time it’s after sunset when the trash is taken out. So just do it. They have no problem changing diapers, but they do not like dealing with the garbage. Hey, I don’t understand it either! This is just the way it IS, so don’t even try to fight it.” He’d tell me about these discussions. I’d nod and say “Ah… I taught you well, Grasshopper.”
The cooking, the cleaning, the trash, in sickness and in health: this is real love. Marriage is cooking so your work-exhausted wife has something to eat. It’s bleaching the bathroom and kitchen for a cleaning-challenged husband. It’s cleaning the inside of the car when your wife gets food poisoning and couldn’t wait for you to pull over to the side.
It’s noticing the little things, that the house shoes are the white ones. And it’s patching things up, even when you thought you would never be able to put them back together again—and then you do—because you’ve chosen to.
There was a time when if something broke, we’d patch it, repair it, polish it and keep it rather than just throwing it out and buying a new one. Newer is not always better. Sometimes you get the very same problems—or worse ones—just wearing different clothes.
Life is a crazy quilt, not an orderly log cabin design. With crazy quilts you save every random scrap of fabric that comes your way. You throw nothing out. Everything is saved and used.
There is no order or plan with them: you just stitch them together any which way as best you can. They never come out even. They’re never symmetrical. You never know how the finished quilt will look when it’s done.
Crazy quilts have their own beauty. Each is unique. Each is real. They contain so many small bits and pieces of the fabrics of our lives from so many places and times. They are never perfect. Each new section tells its own story: some bits are boring, some painful and some beautiful. They tell the story of real lives lived long and well. And it rarely comes out exactly as you envisioned it.
A pair of worn-out white clogs. A light in the window. A favorite coffee mug. Stacks of books in the “reading now” pile. A recipe card that is wrinkled and tattered and grease-spotted from long, beloved use. These are the crazy-quilt pieces of a marriage, of a well-worn life shared, patched and irregular but still intact and loved. It might look crazy to outsiders, but a “till death” marriage is something only the couple understands.
Infatuation crosses its legs in high heels and dangles a champagne glass in make-up and manicures. It all comes off in the wash, but when infatuation ends, it rushes out the door and gallops on to the next exciting shiny new thing. Shakespeare compared it to fireworks: they’re bright and brilliant and thrilling but last only seconds. “…like fire and powder, which as they kiss, consume.”
Real love lasts. Real love wears muddy work boots and snuggles with the dog and the husband under a warm and worn-out crazy quilt on a threadbare sofa, the one the cats scratched up. But you keep the husband, the dog, the sofa and the cats because you love them all and they are your family.
Real love lasts, because real love is not just a feeling; it’s a decision, one you make every single day of your lives together. It won’t be easy, but it’s worth it.
Cherie Calletta was born and raised in Hammonton. She went to Japan for four years to teach English as a foreign language. She later spent about five years in Germany outside of Frankfurt am Main. After several years in Charlotte, North Carolina, she returned to Hammonton in 2002.