What does true love look like?
Not the new, immature, infatuation/hormone-infused, fleeting kind. That variety, you can see on television or the Internet (for better or worse) any time.
Rather, the veteran, settled, mature, self-sustaining kind.
On a recent weeknight, just before she headed up to bed, my wife of nearly 33 years, Kellie, told me to expect an Amazon delivery around 9 p.m. It was, she said, an early gift for my upcoming 56th birthday.
Sure enough, just after 9 p.m. the Amazon truck pulled into our cul-de-sac and parked in front of our house.
Being in my PJ’s, I waited a few minutes, then retrieved the package from our porch. The standard brown cardboard box gave no clue as to the contents. I shook it. Nothing sloshed or rattled, near as my middle-age ears could hear (over the constant tinnitus, that is.)
I carefully opened the box, removed the plastic balloon stuffing, and pulled out a medium-sized canvas bag containing two collapsible rubberized bowls and a plastic-covered mat about the size of the bottom of the bag.
My brain teetered on the fine line between intrigue and confusion. I had no idea what this was and how it served as an early birthday gift.
The next morning around 5:30 a.m., Kellie was getting ready for work as I was feeding our dog, Daize.
“Did that package come last night?” She slipped on her shoes and coat.
A lightbulb flashed in my tired brain. “Yes!” I confirmed. “I’m sorry, I forgot to tell you.”
“Do you like it?” she asked, offering no clarification or explanation of the mystery gift.
This was one of those delicate moments that come with long-term relationships. Answer rightly, affirm the very foundation of the life we’ve built together. Answer wrongly, completely screw up everything for who knows how long.
“Yes,” I said plainly, as honest as my continuing bafflement would allow.
As a veteran mother and now grandmother, Kellie is immensely skilled at ferreting out nuggets of candor from piles of crap. “Do you know what it is?” She probably knew I had no idea what it was.
“Well…” I said, noncommittal.
“It’s a bag to carry all of Daize’s stuff when we go on our trips,” she explained. In our new Empty Nester stage of life, we like to go on what we call “adventures,” or short trips and vacations.
“Since we want to travel more, and you’re the one who takes care of her, I saw it online and figured it would be a perfect gift.”
Unspoken was the fact that we cannot leave our dumb dog with anyone because she has psychologically and spiritually attached herself to me.
Faithful readers know, I did not want this dog. We adopted her as an act of kindness (Kellie’s, not mine) from a man who was dying and had no one else to take her. We had another dog who was old, sick, and dying and I didn’t want to rob him of any time he had left in our world.
But Kellie and our girls tag-teamed me. Now, Daize is my shadow’s shadow. She is constantly (and sometimes literally) under foot. She gets me up at 4 a.m. every day to go potty (both of us), and stares at me with longing in her big, brown eyes.
She is further proof of God’s wicked sense of humor, mocking our human arrogance.
Twice we took short adventures and left her with our youngest daughter. Twice we had to come home early because she had worked herself into psychosomatic sickness that magically disappeared when I appeared.
Suddenly, I got it.
“Oh, wow! That is so thoughtful!” Once again, I found myself bathed equally in sincere awe of Kellie’s intuitive thoughtfulness and Catholic shame and guilt for my lack thereof.
She had gone well beyond the obvious and easy options for an avid reader (more books that likely will never be read); and music and movie enthusiast (why buy anything when everything is on one stream or another, most of which we already subscribe to.)
She had dived deep, layers and layers beneath the surface, to think of me as only someone can who truly knows me. Truly cares about me. Truly understands where I am on Life’s Road.
All joking aside, I don’t really hate Daize.
Yes, it is irritating sometimes not being able to take a step or a bite of food without a furry, four-footed pal at my side. But it is also a blessing to have something (or someone) love you so much. So, she is mine whether I like it or not.
Kellie knows that (and reminds me of it constantly.) She also knows how much I do really enjoy our little adventures, which now must, of necessity, include Daize. So, she got me a gift reflecting the intimacy of a relationship 37 years old and counting.
More importantly, the dog bag truly embodies her loving heart, her generous spirit, and her sense of humor. All which still amaze me after more than three decades.
Some of that amazement comes from the fact – no hyperbole, no joke – that my brain doesn’t work that way. (This was not the first time she has given me such an unexpected gift, which only multiplied my astonishment and embarrassment.)
Now, don’t think I am some kind of emotional miser.
I give. However, my offerings usually come in more traditional forms: volunteering time, donating money, sending flowers for no reason, buying Girl Scout cookies I don’t want or need.
Kellie herself credits me for doing all the things she doesn’t like to do: ironing, cleaning, emptying the dishwasher, filling her bird feeders.
I do indeed do all those things.
However, truth be told, I do them partly to take them off my wife’s already overfull plate, and partly because I am a bit anal about such things and want them done a certain way. The right way. My way. So, don’t nominate me for sainthood just yet…
I could iron a million shirts, or put away dishes for eternity, or feed the birds until they’re too fat to fly away.
But to my eyes, true love looks like a dog bag filled with new adventures with my soulmate.