Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The promise of honor

Compliments complement. Nothing we do in love becomes worse with a compliment, everything is just made better. But sometimes, I know the tendency is to let them slow or stop, or to be used as bandages when we wound each other.

Marcie and I served each other compliments constantly. Some were too much. My head would swell when she called me a genius, her handsome man or, most preciously to me of all, her hero.

She was better at it sooner than I was, but I am very glad she taught me to be free and direct with them.

The issue really came up in Humboldt. I was under constant stress, working after a full load at school every day, full time, and trying to find little gestures for Marcie to enjoy her life more in Arcata.

I was also a reporter who took his work on the community page of the school paper very seriously. I was neglecting her. One night, she just broke down.

"Frank, I don't even know why I am here," she said. "I hate this place, I hate the hippies and the rain and the cold. I hate my job, I hate how far it is to the city, and I feel like you don't even acknowledge me anymore."

She burst into tears and I remember holding her as she cried on our old green couch, whispering my love to her.

"You don't tell me anything anymore," she said. "We have sex and you don't talk to me, you don't say nice things to me, you just take me for granted and I'm too scared to complain because you're so happy here."

"I don't know why you are just soo distant from me now," she said, wracked by hitches and moans.

I was crestfallen. I had no idea how it had come to this. I remembered how I had spent the morning admiring her as she prepared for work, watching her from the bathroom doorway that morning.

I loved watching her put on her makeup. But I most enjoyed watching her put on her clothes in the soft twilight, her nude form silhouetted by the light in the bathroom, the smell of her lotion my own little alarm clock.

Then it struck me. I had become caught up in my own head. I thought about how hot Marcie was, and I thought about how good she was to me, but I was just not saying it.

Marcie always told me how sweet I was, how good I looked dressed up and how proud she was of me. I was ashamed.

I promised to improve, and I did. At first, she thought that it would pass. But I added little bunches of hand-picked flowers from the roadside and my long hikes in the woods and fields, just because.

I would always try to pick a flower or two with a special connection in my head to her.

"This bunch is for your red hair and your white skin," I said once, holding a bunch of what I did not know was a rare lily in Humboldt County. "It captures my eyes and makes me want to lean over and inhale you."

They were corny but honest, and with them and a conscious effort, I slowly moved my thoughts into words. Now it is habit.

From time to time, when I grew slack in my attentions, I would revive them with an occasion, not noting them but simply reinstating my conscious will to honor her.

She noticed last year the difference and as we cleared our hearts of all our pains and all our unsaid things, she told me about it.

"You have never stopped telling em how you love me, how beautiful I am to you and how happy I have made you and bearable I make the world for you," she said. "I always thought you would just need to be reminded from time to time."

I nodded and kissed her tears as they welled up and slid down her pale cheeks. I was dying inside.

"You have never stopped telling me, not since we had our talk in Humboldt," she said. "Do you remember our talk?"

I nodded and held her close. I whispered to her that I would never stop telling her all of the things she deserved to hear. She wound my fingers with hers, squeezing and massaging them between her own.

My last compliment to Marcie was how good she smelled with her lotions and creams after I had sponge-bathed her on her little hospital bed. I kissed her and she smiled and nodded, mouthed a thank you and rested. She never awoke.

That I kept my promise was the first soothing realization I came to when some of my pain passed, but that it was no longer possible to keep holding up was the most painful one I had to acknowledge with it, despite the honor I pay her here.

I never took her for granted, and I know I never will.