Standing in our kitchen recently, sorting bills, Mr. Bailey casually mentioned the day before had been his father’s birthday.
My head snapped up from Prima’s fifth grade social studies project, me gauging his emotional temperature accurately enough to decide where this surprisingly casual comment was heading.
(The senior Mr. Bailey died nearly nine years ago at an age well-qualified as “too young.”)
The comment had a peaceful tone, with webs of gossamer memory laced about it. There were no tears, just quiet recognition, and my neck muscles relaxed.
It wasn’t until hours later that the recognition of what the day was — and how it had passed — truly hit me.
I had remembered the day and noted it to a friend that afternoon, but had not seen Mr. Bailey long enough to discuss it with him. My head, crowded with thoughts, ideas, to-dos, pushed the recollection aside.
That evening, my Mr. Bailey had been out to a happy hour with friends after work and so had gotten home later than I expected.
Not that I was raging mad — I was just exhausted by the day, which consisted of work early in the morning, a field trip with Secondo’s class, a hurried lunch of peanut butter and jelly while rushing into the office for meetings in the afternoon, followed by school pick-ups, a workout, more work, culminating in dinner and bedtime routines with alternating quibbling and keyed up children.
I had just settled into the couch for more catch up work and guilty pleasure TV when he rolled in.
I admit: my reaction to Señor Bailey’s re-entry was underwhelming.
All I could think of at that moment was that he spent a kid-free, parent-taxi-free day at work, probably met a client for lunch, and ended his day with 4 hours at the bar in the company of four great friends, beer and food. (Did I mention I had eaten tomato soup and a grilled cheese, while standing at the kitchen counter, for dinner?)
OK, so I wasn’t actively angry, but I was annoyed. I was measuring up my day against his. I was chairwoman of the righteous campaign of me. And I was chillier than I could have been. I gave a half-hearted attempt at conversation then resumed my final activities, “as I was.”
And in that moment, I had forgotten all about his dad’s birthday.
If it was on his mind, he didn’t mention it. He was quiet and reserved and retreated to watch baseball in the bedroom.
We do things like this in a marriage. We give, we take, we hold back, we push, we pull, we dance. And sometimes in the very human act of being in this lifetime relationship, we forget to be human.
It’s surprising (albeit common).
It’s surprising a day that was crushing in year one, then heartbreaking in year two, dips unconsciously below the radar in year nine.
Once I connected my attitude that night and the significance of the day — I was ashamed. And I got human.
How could I have placed it aside so easily? How could I have been oblivious in those moments when his quiet should have tipped me off?
Did I not remember his dad, his curls fuzzy and black tie loose, dapper and rugged, smiling as he swayed across the dance floor with Mrs. Bailey at our wedding?
Or holding Prima on his lap, his big hand protectively embracing her little belly, his eyes on fire with pride?
Or locking my muscle-bound, mountain-tall Mr. Bailey in his vise embrace of paternal love and safety in a way no else ever could, ever again?
The truth is his father is enigma to me — I was not around him long enough to crack his strong-silent code.
But there are two things about him I know to my core.
First, he believed his greatest accomplishment in life was creating and raising three wonderful sons. (In a moment of heady expression and sincerity he confessed this to me in the middle of a noisy party about a year before he died.)
Second, his greatest accomplishment in life is the greatest joy of mine. And for that, I am forever grateful.