It was my husband’s birthday yesterday. Ever since August, I’ve claimed he and I have been married twenty years. But the truth is, we’re in our twentieth year, and his birthday marks a spot on our life calendar because it’s a simple matter to add and subtract by twenties (20+20=?). I have no idea what I bought him for his birthday twenty years ago, but I often consider what we have left of our early days together.
We don’t have a lot. We have much, much more, and a lot less, too. I had fully expected to work at writing until I had accomplished something great; I constantly compared myself to the great writers of history (T.S. Eliot wrote his masterpiece by age 23; therefore, I must write my masterpiece by 23). Guess what? After twenty years, I still haven’t written a masterpiece. In fact, I gave up writing poetry and, instead, have written a few mediocre books.
In the early days, my husband was a physical artist. He traded that work for other skills, and I don’t like to second guess his reasons for doing so, or whether he’ll take up drawing/painting again. As far as physical things–which I don’t care that much about–most of our original books have been destroyed by mildew, and the vast majority of our wedding gifts have broken or have worn themselves out. We still have our original bed frame, however, constructed and carved by my dad. And, astonishingly, we still possess our first coffee grinder, and it still grinds our fresh coffee beans every morning.
Imagine that–an appliance with a 150 Watt motor, grinding coffee every day for twenty years! How could that be? I don’t know, but all kinds of campy words come to mind, such as the daily grind is an image of our lives. It certainly is. We grind together in work, in play, in love. I suspect I just used a euphemism, but I’ll let it stand. That Braun grinder has almost become a symbol, a hanger-on of our former, younger selves. We were poor! We were Pacific Northwest coffee people! We bought an eight dollar grinder from the espresso shop where I worked, and with my employee discount. As poor as we were and continued to be, we always gave in to the need for freshly ground coffee.
Lately, we’ve been too lazy to regularly clean the grinder with its coffee scoop/brush that it came with. Not cleaning it has caused granules of coffee to block the contact, so that pushing the button has led to utter silence. Whenever this occurs, I panic. Our grinder can’t break. It can’t. It’s a symbol. And then I take a deep breath and calmly examine it, clean it, and then it magically grinds again. The other week, however, the motor sounded as if it was wearing down–the same sort of sound that a car with a dying battery makes–or that of a whimpering puppy. The dying sound hasn’t immobilized me with irrational fear, not yet, because the brave-little-grinder is still doing its job. But I have to ask myself what I’m so afraid of.
As I’ve said, we’ve lost a little and gained a lot over the years. We have four children, two who are nearly adults. We have a beautiful house, a dog, a cat–the grandparents live next door. We’re wealthy because we’ve invested in the future*. And yet, I’m still afraid of losing some intangible or abstract part of my life. If I construct a list of intangibles, I can’t find one in the mix that matches my fear. I’m not afraid of losing love. My husband and I are in it for the long haul.
Since I can’t put a name to it, I’ll just shrug and claim this anxiety is over losing me, even though that doesn’t quite match the fear, either. After twenty years, I’m the same prickly, difficult person. I’m the same person who almost decided I was better off as a hermit, but whose mother advised her to marry her then fiance because nobody else would be patient with her. I haven’t lost myself, just certain parts of my autonomy that I can’t let go of. Some fears are better left alone, I think. I’m about to face a new era of life, and I hope our Braun grinds away through it, but in case it doesn’t, it’s just a machine. And machines that run off 150 Watts are notoriously bad at intangible algorithms.
*not monetarily, at least by American standards, but because we’ve invested in our children and in a home