Waking up in the cool white hotel sheets after a fun night out, I shifted closer to the warm skin of my sleeping husband and gently kissed his shoulder. So in love. So blessed. So happy. From our corner window I could see the old and beautiful dome of the Pasadena City Hall where we came to celebrate his 45th birthday. How did we get so old?
When I first re-met my Harry 25 years after high school, he was a man with many rules. THIS is how the world works. THIS is how love goes. THIS is how relationships are. One of his rules was that he didn’t celebrate his birthday. He said his parents always forgot it and it was too painful to remember, so he just didn’t celebrate it. But for his first birthday with me, I gave him a gift certificate to a hip barbershop in LA for a shave with a blank card where I wrote the prophetic words, “For everything you are and everything you will be, I love you.” He saved the card.
For his second birthday, I grilled him a giant Rib Eye steak topped with a dollop of butter molded into the shape of a heart with one candle.
Now married, we decided to make a weekend of it.
He began to stir in bed. My Harry turned over and nestled his head in my neck. And I held him. I don’t know what was going through his head. Maybe memories he’d shared before with me of his parents leaving him alone in 7th grade while they went on vacation. Maybe of times when he’s settled for less. Less love, less friendship, less peace. I kissed him on the top of the head and he said, “Thank you for the best birthday ever.”
When we first became friends I was determined to show Harry what my world looked like and break his rules. His world was a place where love was something you got because you gave someone else something they needed. It was earned because of something you did. And no matter how much he loved, gave, helped, listened, comforted he never seemed to get back the same in return. He didn’t believe in unconditional love because he’d never experienced it. It was, I give you this, you give me that. That’s how the world works. You have to earn your place at the table. It was like he was the king and they were his serfs. They owed him. Feudalistic.
But in that room, in that moment, there was no need, no debt, no obligation. There was only love. He grabbed me closer and took a deep breath. Pressing his lips against my neck he kissed me and as he exhaled he released the words that seemed to be a revelation,
“I feel safe.”
And then he burst into tears.
I felt his breath and the words wash over me and all I could do was cradle him in my arms. I was his mother, his friend, his wife, his lover, anything I could be. I gently stroked his head and whispered, “It’s okay.”
For the past two years I’ve watched Harry reach back into the past and remember a happier, quieter, kinder world; before the bad relationships, before the cruelty, before all the rules. I’ve seen his spirit change as his heart became softer as he took baby steps into a world where you are loved simply because you are worthy of being loved. A world where you don’t have to wear the armor of protection. Where there is a God who will absolutely love unconditionally, and wants to bless you. One where it’s safe to simply be you. Nothing more, nothing less.
I was so honored that God used me to show another human being what it feels like to be loved. My Harry, who I also call my king is that not because I owe him but because I’ve found him to be honorable and worthy to lead. And until my last breath I’m going to celebrate his life and his birthday because some rules were meant to be broken.
We spent the weekend marveling at the books and art pieces at Huntington Library, sampling the food at Farmers Market, visiting Canter’s Deli because it was featured in an episode of Mad Men, and learning about Hancock’s dinosaur discoveries at the La Brea Tar Pits. We went to church as a family on Easter Sunday and gave our dog Lucy some new toys. It was an awesome weekend chalked full of fun. But the part I don’t want to ever forget is the love that we shared that quiet Saturday morning. Where I vowed to continue to break Harry’s rules.