Stolen Moments and Past Wars
We resorted to stealing again this weekend. We’ve been doing it our whole relationship. My husband and I recently traveled to Gettysburg. On the winding drive up there, we sat quietly in the car listening to an audiobook. My mind was pulled back to the early days of our marriage when we drove across the country from Texas to Maryland. It was a trip full of delight and our hearts, mouths, and souls sang with joy. Although we had been married for almost a year, this was the first time we were going to live together. This was the first time we were going to be able to consistently sleep in the same bed. We thought the hardest part of our marriage was over. We thought that now we were in the same place and time zone, things would be emotionally easier, physically easier, mentally easier… but they weren’t. My husband worked a job with extremely demanding hours. He worked seventy hours a week on average. Some weeks he worked nights, some weeks he worked days, but most weeks he did both.
I worked jobs that required me to go in most evenings and weekends. So we stole. We stole moments together throughout the week. We stole precious time late at night when we both should’ve been asleep. We stole moments early in the morning. We stole moments at the strange hours in between. One of us exhausted and barely awake, the other fully awake and alert. One carried the other as well as the conversation. We rattled along this way for almost two years. In that time, we had a child and our hearts grew but also continued to slowly break. Not the great shattering of something being dropped. A singular moment of heartbreaking destruction but the slow cracking that happens when a great weight has been placed upon it.
In January, his time on shift work came to a long awaited end. The terrible schedule looked to finally be ending. We would get to be a family. We would get to rest. Together. Instead of this strange separateness we had become accustomed to. Instead of stealing moments, they would be freely given. A part of our daily life, not something that had to be snuck or fought for.
Then the lockdown happened. He worked in the mornings. I worked in the afternoons and evenings. When one worked, the other kept our beautiful baby girl occupied and out of the way in our shrinking apartment. Everyday our apartment got smaller and smaller. Our work got more and more complicated as we figured out the technology to work from home. We were back to stealing moments again.
We were used to this though. When we had begun our relationship, states separated us. Our grueling schedules of the careers we had chosen lent themselves to long hours and late nights. We loved our jobs and we love our jobs. They took time and dedication to build and they take time and dedication to build. We stole moments. Those precious three day weekends, and once a year summer vacations. Christmas and thanksgiving were sweet once again, after years of loneliness because of those who weren’t at the table. These familial holidays became celebrations once more because we got to be together. We stole moments together and I treasured them.
I am a naturally tense person, almost always on high alert. I watch everyone around me, mostly silent until asked or required to make a response. With him though, from the start, our conversation flowed like a river. A healthy thriving place full of water and sunlight. Where the fish can freely dance and animals trek to to drink its life giving liquid. Our jokes and remarks wound their way throughout the day naturally. Since the first day I met him, he was home. A stolen home. An almost secret home. But he was home. He was my home. He is my home. Not the shrinking walls of apartments we’ve grown out of or the confines of a childhood house forever changing. He is home. He is the gift given to me that I cannot hold no matter how I try. While sitting on the river bank of our love, I try and hold the water in my hand. To contain it. But no matter how I try, it leaks and the droplets runaway.
So there we were again. Stealing time together. Stolen moments have been rare lately. Between work and moving and parenting and everything else… moments together have become a luxury. One that seemed expensive. And like a dish at an exclusive restaurant that seems so appetizing on the menu, so deliciously decadent, it can either be a delightful dessert or a sour disappointment.
So there we were walking the path of our forefathers. I have never fought on a battlefield but I have walked many. And although I likely never will fight in an actual battle, I have fought many ways I have fought in war. I fought in war with myself since I was a teenager. I fight with myself to tame my tongue and to keep silent when anger bubbled up within me. I fight with myself to be kind when I want to be mean and have courage when I feel cowardly. And I’ve been quite cowardly lately. I don’t want to be cowardly. I want to be brave. I’ve always wanted to be brave and I’ve also struggled with being able to do so.
I thought about the battlefield while we walked it. I thought about all the what ifs of that particular battlefield. What if Stonewall Jackson had been there? What if Chamberlain hadn’t been leading the 20th Maine? What if Sickles had followed orders? What if Grant was leading the Army of the Potomac instead of Meade? What if? What if? What if? And while these thoughts whirled around in my head, I thought about the what ifs in my life. What if I had gone straight into college after high school? What if I had moved down to North Carolina when we got married? What if I went to Texas with him? What if there hadn’t been a global pandemic? What if? What if? What if?
But life can’t be lived in the what ifs. It can only be lived in the now. It can only be lived in the present. And I am thankful to have a person who is willing to steal time away with me.