I think about this every year on our wedding anniversary, but this year, on the 45th, I thought about it a lot: one spring long ago I planted carrots in my vegetable garden, and was late in thinning them. When I got around to it, I pulled up a pair of carrots that had sprouted too close and had grown around each other in a spiral. They were still tender and flexible, and I unwound them carefully. But when I laid them side by side on the ground they still retained the imprint of each other's bodies, protruding where the other had receded, receding where the other had protruded.
Even though I'd only been married a decade or so at the time, I realized that my reciprocally-spiralled carrots were a perfect metaphor for what happens in long coupledom. You swell to fill the other's vaccums; you shrink to accommodate the other's expansion. In theory this is good, especially if there are children, who get the benefit of a nest made soft by complementary parental feathers. But once the nestlings have fledged and if (God forbid, but actually, when) one of the spiraled carrots disappears, what becomes of the one that's left with all its weird little bumps and hollows?
Taken as a whole, my spouse and I have for the last forty-five years made an acceptably substantial and well-shaped carrot. But alone, each of us has atrophied in certain areas where the other one feels at ease: he deals with the income tax returns; I do the talking at parties. In stormy weather, I light the candles while he fires up the generator.
This began immediately after our wedding, when (much to his relief) I took over the writing of letters to his parents and he dealt (with admirable ease, I thought) with our homeowner's insurance. It continued through our parenting years: he taught the girls to ride bikes; I made them write a couple of sentences every night. Now, after almost half a century of efficient division of labor, I can barely find the fuse-box, and he cannot tell swiss chard (is that the curly stuff?) from kale.
On this recent anniversary, I went to a yoga class--something I like--and then we drove to the top of Mount Equinox, to see the view--something he likes, having seen Disney's Bambi at an impressionable age. Once there we took an impromptu little hike, something that after forty-five years I should have anticipated, but hadn't. As we walked, my short lycra socks kept creeping down under my heel and I kept stopping to pull them up. There's nothing worse than sock-creep when you're hiking.
We walked on in silence for a while and then he said, "put your foot on that rock, please, and let me try something." He rolled my sock tightly down towards my ankle. Then he rotated it sideways as far as it would go. He did the same with the other sock. We walked on. No more sock-creep.
I was grateful. And then I started thinking, for the umpteen-millionth time since I got married on a hot Alabama August day at the tender age of twenty-two, about what to fix for supper.