|He looked at her sleeping in the moonlight next to him; it had been a long day for both of them in their different spheres. She worked hard. He had been stable for the first 15 years or so, until he decided his calling was elsewhere, and pursued it. She had supported and tolerated him for those years and the dark years that followed. Through it all she had managed to gather laugh lines in addition to the barely perceptible crows' feet that were crawling onto her soft face.
She had been 17 when they met, he had been 18 and was not adept with women, he was rather shy and easily intimidated by females. He did manage to play doubles with her that first night. His regular doubles partner never forgave him for that. He had no idea he had hurt her, that there had been a romantic interest by his previous doubles partner until after he and Lori were married.
He did know that if he did not ask her out it would be a regret held the rest of his life. She was beautiful, grey-blue eyes, dark blond hair that reached her well formed bottom; she was slender with smallish breasts. She radiated an inner beauty and peace that made her physical attributes, stunning as they were, watery next to her quite strength. He was a slug.
After a week spent gathering his courage he was prepared to ask her out. She was not at class. He was certain he had lost the opportunity to see her. He convinced himself that he would not be capable of summing the courage to again ask her out, if she returned to class.
The following Saturday he saw her, oddly enough, in a hardware store. She was with two friends. Their eyes met and she gave him a large, sincere smile. The smile was returned and unconsciously he approached the three. He was focused on Lori, she was warm and welcoming. He asked if she was going to return to the class. She was. He suddenly realized what he was doing, his tongue thickened discernibly, it was difficult to speak, which was okay because he did not know what to say. He extricated himself from the three, most likely not graciously, and fled. Leaving without the varnish he had been in search of.
The next Tuesday he prodded himself all night waiting for a moment when they could talk privately, which is a difficult thing in a volleyball class. Eventually his fear of regret overcame his lack of courage. She consented to dinner with him on the following Saturday
At the conclusion of their first evening together he realized with some fear that there would never be another woman for him. He had thought that perhaps he might get married when he was 27, it seemed a good age for marriage to him. Most definitely he was never going to have children.
They were married less then a year later, against everyone but her mother's desire. Seven years after that they had two children, oddly, he found her stretch marks erotic, and a mortgage payment. In that order, there was little they had done in the conventional order of a culture he watched from the outside. But it did not bother her, she loved him.
She was, of course, different after two children and almost 30 years with him, her hair was now a lighter blond and cut short. Her body had changed with childbirth, but it still enticed him. He took great pride in this woman, in her tolerance of him and her love for him. When she listened there was no one else, only the speaker. She could make a complete meal from a head of wilted lettuce. She had an aura, she made people calm. She could love him, she did. He could not understand it. She could burn him with her eyes.
He also was different. Somehow her bearing their children had left him with more weight, making him a below average slug. Years of sun had taken its toll; no longer did he have a young man's firm, clear skin, deep crow's feet accentuated his scarred persona. Joints ached with a lifetime of a young man's foolishness. Too late he gained the maturity and sense of purpose of a man, but his love for her had never wavered, he loved and protected her more fiercely then he had thought possible.
She was a mature woman now in addition to raising their children, she had unknowingly raised him, they had raised each other. The good years and the bad had in the end, forged them into a stronger couple. They stood together, laughed together, and cried together. They lived together, their life was together. At times they made love like animals in rut. Other times they made love with a tender depth and passion so encompassing that he had to hold her to keep from falling off his tenuous grasp on life. They loved with a depth and strength of passion neither could have imagined 30 years ago.
He watched her in the moonlight next to him. The slow even rise and fall of her breast. The set of her jaw and lips gave her a hard edge unknown by any but her closest confidents. She had been hardened because of him, she was never mean, ever. In their 30 years he had seen her bitchy once. In learning to live with him, cope with him, to cope with what he had done she had learned skills counter to her nature. She was letting her hair grow, for no other reason than to please him.
Never had he purposefully hurt her. But he had hurt her, strained her patience, her love. He had abused her love. He was ashamed. He had never been unfaithful. He was proud that she was the only woman he had ever been with. His demons were not going to let him sleep. He got up, crossed the room and sat in the chair; he had a clear view of her. He never tired of looking at her; hers was a constant, true beauty. Despite him she had retained a beauty of innocence. He didn't understand.
He thought of all he had taken from her, of all that she had given him, offered freely. His thoughts turned dark, dwelling on past mistakes, past acts of selfishness. He knew she loved him and held nothing against him. Nothing was ever used to hurt him, she couldn't, she loved him. He had done what he thought was best for his family, for her. It is easy to look behind and see the folly, the immaturity, the unreasonableness of youth. The past haunted him.
His past with her, with their children, he found excruciating. He wondered if all fathers look back with regret. He thought they must, there was nothing unusual about him. It was a hard lesson to learn. But, a lesson he had learned. He had done nothing that he had intended to do as a young man, accomplished nothing. A sigh escaped him.
The children had grown into a good man and a good woman; she said it was because of him, that together they had produced good people. She said he had been a good father and that he was a good father. He was not sure. He did not believe her. He did not feel "good". But their children were good, she was good. He had seen it. She rolled over in bed, he saw her realize he was not next to her.
"Can't sleep?" She asked drowsily, "is it bad?"
"It's difficult" he replied.
She stood up and came towards him dragging a blanket. She curled into his lap, tucking her legs underneath her, resting her head into his neck and shoulder while covering them both with the blanket. He held her and she was soon sleeping soundly in his arms.
Her faith and confidence in him was boundless. He knew he did not deserve her faith, her confidence, or her. But he would accept her misplaced feelings and her. He would try to be what she thought she had. Life was good.