“No, she isn’t my daughter,” he corrects a colleague. “She’s my wife.”
On cue, I beam at my husband, innocent and doe-eyed—like I did in my 20’s when he was in his 40’s. His friend invariably elbows him, making comments about cradle robbing and spring chickens. We laugh. I say something clever in reply. His companion looks surprised.
And she’s witty, too?
My cheeks hurt in an attempt to hold a smile. They continue to talk like I’m not there, but my husband reaches out for my hand. Above all, we are the dearest of friends.
But in public? I remain silent.
Silence is expected of younger wives, but—trust me—I have plenty to say to his ogling peers and their stink-eyed wives, unhappy women stuffed into spandex. A decade or two younger than they are, I want to say that I am not some trophy that my husband picked up along the way to the corner office.
We met like they did. Phone calls. First dates. Long romantic weekends.
His business associates' wives often assume that I lurked by the photocopier after hours, beguiling a hardworking family man, using the currency of youth to pry my husband from the steely grip of an imaginary wronged wife.
What I want to say is that I am my husband’s first wife—my husband’s only wife. Because of our quarter century age difference, they assume I am a homewrecker. What disappoints them is that for over twenty years, I’ve been a homebuilder, as faithful and as loyal as their husbands pretend to be.
They assume my husband has children from a previous marriage, lost souls now bouncing from house to house in a never-ending custody dispute. They feel sorry for his fictitious children, all those missed soccer games, unseen plays on opening nights, dirty gym uniforms left at the other parent’s home. Doesn’t she know how much psychological damage she’s causing his offspring?
What I want to say is that my husband is childless by choice.
And due to our age difference? He has made that choice for me, too.
The decision not to have children at the time we married seems plausible. We are involved in so many things that missing the pitter patter of little feet doesn’t matter much. Surely I can nip my need to nurture by the pitter patter of puppy paws?
This plan works well in my 30’s. Cliché as it sounds, my rescue dogs rescue me, adding a new level of unconditional love and entrance into a welcoming community. I become a fixture at the dog park, the veterinarians, and the neighbors, apologizing for my dogs digging holes under the fence.
But in my 40’s? I drop off my nephews and nieces after a day with their fun aunt, waving as they open the door to their cluttered and chaotic homes. My house is spotless, aseptic, quiet.
Whenever I see a long table in a restaurant, filled with generations of well wishers—babies held by doting grandmothers, aunts leaning over to tussle a beloved nephew’s hair—I make an excuse and we leave. My husband doesn’t understand, thinking I don’t want to eat with so much noise and commotion nearby. The problem is that I do. But I want our noise, our commotion, our extended family that isn’t. Not the silence of two people with precious little to talk about—except for how the scallops were undercooked.
People often ask us how we met. I understand the subtext.
I know what they are really asking: Is your young wife a gold digger? Does she have daddy issues? Did she lose a bet?
What I want to say to them is that I met my husband on the subway. It was—and still is—love at first sight. I still swoon when I see my husband pull his car into the driveway. It thrills me to no end to see his blue eyes twinkle when I walk by, his hands tracing my backside when he brushes past.
I do love him.
But these days, I’m afraid to go to sleep.
Now in his early 70’s, my husband seems to age overnight. Exponentially so.
Each day brings a new pain, new ache, new symptom. His left hip hurts. His cholesterol is running high—even though we have cut out red meat and cheese. He needs a stronger prescription for his eyeglasses, bifocals, trifocals—now, multifocals.
More of his teeth need crowns; the crowns he has need root canals.
I spend a lot of time at the pharmacy. With so many new medications, I buy him a pill organizer, since neither one of us can keep up. I pick up his high blood pressure medication along with my birth control pills.
And his hair. God, his hair. At first, the gray around his temples looks distinguished. Like a university professor. Even when he becomes a silver fox, he turns heads. But in his late 60’s? His hairbrush is full of fine white hair, as his pale pink pate pokes through what had once been a forest of thick black curls.
Every new change acts as a harbinger, a warning that time is a non-negotiable asset, a message that I’ll most likely spend my golden years alone.
I kiss him on his bald head when I crawl into bed, earlier and earlier in the evenings; otherwise, he’ll fall asleep on the couch.
I like to read, reassured by his presence next to me, his light rhythmic snoring.
When I finish a chapter, I look over at him. His mouth is open, chin buried into the folds of his saggy neck. He’s pale in this light, hands laying lightly on his chest that rises and falls with his shallow breathing.
I find myself crying. There’s no reason for it. We aren't promised anything more than this moment. There's no reason for me to cry.
Except when you marry an older man, you don’t realize that one day you’ll be married to an old man.
Inevitably, the day comes. Far too soon.
“No, he wasn’t my father,” I correct a nurse. “He was my husband.”