46: For Richer

46: For Richer

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

For Richer, For Poorer

Nobody has ever measured, even poets, how much a heart can hold.
~Zelda Fitzgerald

I stood alone in the dairy section and stared at the price tags on gallons of milk. I blinked, swiped at the tear that trickled down my cheek, and snatched up a gallon marked “manager’s special.” I ducked my head as I pushed my cart away, not wanting other shoppers to read the distress on my face.

With both my husband and me out of work, our family was living entirely on the remains of our checking account. I knew that things would be infinitely worse without that bit of padding, but it was still hard to watch the numbers get smaller with each bank statement. Particularly with no job prospects on the horizon. So even the $1.59 for the gallon of nearly-expired milk felt like an enormous expense to me. I had no idea when, or if, we could replace that $1.59 with income.

Our fourteenth anniversary was a few days away, but I was having a hard time even thinking about that. I knew it would not be like any of our previous thirteen anniversaries.

The day after our wedding, we drove to a lovely bed and breakfast for our honeymoon. In the parlor that evening, over wine and cheese, we met three wonderful older couples. All three were celebrating anniversaries: twenty years, thirty-five years, and forty-eight years. When they asked us how long we’d been married, we giggled. “One day,” Pete answered. After congratulations had been shared all around, we were showered with advice. I don’t recall most of it, but Pete and I took it to heart when the couples agreed that we ought to make our anniversary a real occasion every single year. They had all found that going away as a couple, for a week or for just one night, had made a difference in their marriages.

And for the past thirteen years, we had followed that advice. On anniversaries three and six, with tiny babies at home, we chose to go out for an especially nice meal instead. We took this promise seriously enough to work it into our budget every year, setting aside a bit of money each month to pay for our special anniversary celebration.

This year, I knew it would not happen. It could not happen. All of our money had to go toward food and housing. I was forgoing haircuts, eating my meals just shy of being satisfied—not to save on calories but on pennies. Surely I couldn’t mourn an extravagance like a night at a hotel. But I did.

I desperately wanted to hide my sadness from Pete. He was discouraged enough by the mere fact of his unemployment. So I didn’t even talk about our upcoming anniversary, because I didn’t know how to bring it up without the conversation turning toward our traditional celebration.

But he knew. I could see it in the way that he looked at me, the tenderness in the way he kissed my forehead. As the days passed and we came closer and closer to our anniversary, his face seemed to grow darker. Not in anger, but in thought. Determination.

The morning of our anniversary, I awoke after Pete. I pushed myself out of our empty bed and shuffled into the bathroom to wash my face. And then I stopped. In the middle of the bathroom counter, there was a small scroll of sorts. White, narrow, tied with a shiny red satin ribbon that I recognized from our daughters’ hair bow box. As I picked it up and pulled at the end of the bow, my fingers shook. As I unrolled the paper, what I saw brought tears to my eyes—tears totally unlike the ones I’d shed at the dairy case. Pete had typed out a love poem from a book he’d given me for my birthday the year before.

So many images came into my mind as I read and re-read those words. I saw Pete thumbing through the book, reading all those poems until he found the perfect one. I saw him sitting at the computer—when had he done that, since we were nearly always in the house at the same time?—clicking through to find a fancy, poem-worthy font. I saw him trimming the printed-out page, most likely with a ruler to keep the edges straight. I saw him going into our girls’ bathroom and digging around for a ribbon in that messy, tangled box. And I saw his thick man-fingers struggling to roll the paper up tight and tie the shiny red bow. Had he kept the little scroll in his nightstand drawer until this morning? Had he smiled, scroll in hand, as he eased out of bed while I slept?

Described in plain terms, what I received for my anniversary was a rolled-up piece of paper tied with a used ribbon scrap, bearing a recycled poem from a one-year-old book. What I really received was a piece of my husband’s heart and evidence of his continued commitment to me and to our marriage. I did not need a night at a bed and breakfast or even a fancy restaurant dinner to see that, and to feel its impact.

Pete spent no money on this anniversary gift, and I was glad. Because numbers in bank accounts, as I was learning the hard way, are anything but permanent. And often, so are the things that we spend those numbers on. But the time and the creativity and the thoughtfulness that came straight from Pete’s heart will stay with me forever.

~Mandy Houk

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