Our sixteenth wedding anniversary falls on Friday this year: the last day of the school quarter, and the last weekend of Firefighter 1 training. The first thing Ryan says to me in the morning is Happy anniversary, and we share a good hug. Then we are bustling the kids out the door and clearing up breakfast dishes, and I am preparing to take Jenny to a friend’s house for the morning.
Ryan heads to his office to work, a short commute through the hallway, and powers up his monitors.
What were we doing sixteen years ago this time?
At noon, we meet briefly to share sandwiches in the dining room, a three-year-old between us.
An amber alert comes in for a missing child, abducted by her father. I line up my transportation to community choir on Monday. Bio grandma messages me a euphoric thank you for the school picture of a first grader. The afternoon passes quietly, me brainstorming about Christmas presents and doing some sneaky browsing online, Ryan staying hard at work to pay for it.
By 4:30 pm (about the time we were eating white-on-white layer cake at our reception), I have packed a sack lunch for him. He must leave before dinner for the written portion of his Firefighter 1 test. He has been operating as a volunteer firefighter for seven years, but this is a formal certification not all firemen attain. The written portion is intense, the kind of thing that others who sit in the room with him tonight will confess they are taking for the third time. And all you need is 70% to pass. Tomorrow, practical skills will be tested: forcible entry, vehicle fire, breathing apparatus, searching, rope knotting, and more – and that part, you have to nail perfectly or retake.
Without him, the kids and I eat eggs-in-a-nest, little sausages, fruit. Some anniversary dinner. But we will get our chance to celebrate in a few days.
He returns home earlier than I think he will Friday night, after the kids are in bed but before I am. We are quiet together on the couch, savoring a few minutes with the house to ourselves. He reads news articles. I waffle between two quietly intellectual books.
It is on Saturday, when he has left in the wee hours* of the morning without me seeing him, when I am parenting the kids alone and planning pizza for supper, that he drops the unwelcome anniversary gift.
*It might have been in the sixes, which is wee on the weekend.
Around noon, he sends me a line of texts.
So, I want to prepare you.
This is a state supervised class.
Which means they won’t allow me to test without shaving.
I love you.
It will regrow.
I put down my phone without responding and move on to the next task as if I have not read that the world is going to end for a few days. How dare he? This is not the first time he will shave his whiskers for the state, and it will probably not be the last, God forbid. Each September, a mandated training* requires him to shave clean for maximum facepiece adherence. But we already went through that this fall! Staggered through to the light at the end of the tunnel! And now, just when our marriage is at this happy, tender place!
*In previewing this post, he just told me it is not mandated. I am going to go string him up with a running bowline and a clove hitch.**
**He is reading over my shoulder as I type this. Giving me suggestions on what kind of knots I could use.
He tells me he is lucky to be allowed facial hair on the department at all. At which point I tell him if they ever pass a bylaw about that – well – it’s Them or Me. I think nothing of a man without regimentals, as Lydia said. In this case, facial hair.
I am devoted to his.
Simultaneously to growing it out, he developed a whole new level of manhood and authority, a power that made me blush. I cannot bear to have it gone.
His whiskers are not the fast-growing kind. It will be at least ten days till their full regrowth, and a good week before I can look at him again full-on, much less kiss him. I am not punishing him. I am being chaste, waiting for this stranger to move out and my husband to return.
Where is he? Who will take care of me? Who will I snuggle up to so I know it’s going to be okay?
I’m not saying I don’t have my share of fantasies, but I can honestly say that not one of them involves being wedded to a teenager.
I have never been the kind of woman sympathetic to male weakness. When my husband is sick, or moaning about a little thing like his shoulder being out of socket, you know, something like that: I always hate him a little. I try to be nice and encouraging, but underneath I am thinking You wimp. Letting a little thing like double pneumonia take you down. An ancient iron spike through your foot. Pfff. Get UP, man.
It’s a bummer. He tries not to be sick very often.
Or whiskerless, which is kind of the same thing.
Worse, we leave for our anniversary trip soon. I can’t tell you when exactly, because travel plans are the one disclosure he does not allow me online, but all I can say is this.
I hope that hair grows fast.