big heart Out of the blue, my friend Mr. Edmund would ask “Susan, what is this thing called love?” He was 93 years old at the time, which was still very young for him as opposed to some folks who are dry and crumbled at 40. His question alluded to a song made famous by Frank Sinatra and Cole Porter. Even after so many years of friendship, I knew his query was primarily rhetorical and one that he liked to answer himself. “It’s a mystery!” he said brightly and indeed, even after his passing, it still is.

I have a pretty bouquet of roses on the table from my sweetie and a belly full of chocolates. I made Perry his favorite cake Sunday night and showered my kids with Starbuck’s coupons. Both Valentine’s Day and my friend Mr. Edmund have come and gone while I am left pondering  “what is this thing called love?”

I recently told a friend a story about Perry’s and my honeymoon. It was 1985 and we travelled from North Carolina to Maine and Cape Cod, two fresh-faced little college kids who dared go where not many Southerners had gone before us- across the Mason Dixon line. After two weeks on the road we were broke and homesick and stopped for a night’s stay at a little motel on the New Jersey Turnpike. The place was one step above a truck stop, hell it may have been a truck stop for all I knew, and I remember the woman at the registration desk looked scary with her frizzy bleached blonde hair. The cloud of smoke that surrounded her did not look like a halo. Our room had a broken window and some plumbing problems. I shored up the door with a chair; I’m still not sure it wasn’t a front for a brothel.

It turned out that our questionable surroundings were not our biggest problem. It was time for dinner and Perry suggested we go to McDonalds. We’d only been married just a few short weeks and I didn’t want to burst his bubble but the truth was I’d never been a fan of McDonalds in the first place. We’d eaten at McDonalds with increasing incident due to our decreasing funds and I was sick of it. I simply could not stomach another Big Mac. Now, I’m not a person prone to hissy fits or at least I wasn’t then but for reasons unbeknownst to me, I threw my husband down on the bed and began screaming dramatically “I am NOT going to McDonalds. I HATE it! I HATE McDonalds!.” I still recall the look of surprise on his face and my clenched fists.

After that, we didn’t go to a McDonalds for a very long time…

It’s been nearly thirty two years since that day and in that time, my husband and I have weathered our share of ups and downs over things much more challenging than a hamburger. We’ve spent our fair share of time being both the bug and the windshield. These experiences have taught me that love is not for sissies and that it requires a generous dose of patience. You learn that even when you know someone for most of your life, there are always new things to discover about them. Most of those things you will find endearing but there are the occasional things that will drive you as crazy and unmercilessly as a dripping faucet. I’ve learned that for love to last it needs plenty of space to breathe in and how laughter can be the saving grace that stops you from killing the person who seems put on this earth just to drive you ape-shit, particularly if hormones are involved on one or the other’s part.

During those early years of our relationship, I remember how our love- just like life itself- seemed simple. Over time, it became as weighted down as that mattress in the truck stop and more complex with a growing family, mortgages, careers and the things that hurt us that can be hard to forget, even when they’ve been forgiven.

We travelled a long way from home in those early years but we have come further today than I would have ever imagined. Love changes a lot over time as it trades in the sharp corners of its youth for something more rounded and flexible and less prone to breakage over something as simple as a piece of charbroiled meat on a white bun.

Love on the other side never fails to amaze me at it’s vastness, how it comes to permeate your home and your closet and your outlook on life. How it scatters on the floor like the toenail clippings I know my husband did not vacuum up last week and how it spreads out your front door and into the neighborhoods and lives of your friends and co-workers. How it’s like travelling on a trip where you need one person to drive and another to read the road map.