Something Better Than 'It'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Miami. -- So I read where babe du jour Pamela Anderson and Motley Crue rocker Tommy Lee just wed after a whole week of dating. There they are in People magazine -- lusty, busty and deeply smitten with the urgency of it all.

I remember that feeling. Seems a long time ago. Marriage'll do that to you.

Which is why I sometimes find myself looking over at the missus and wondering if we've still got it.

I'm not even sure what "it" is, but we had plenty of it once upon a time, 17 years, five kids, two mortgages and a marriage license ago. "It" made us worry the clock and count the seconds till we could be together again. "It" put the secrets of the universe in the lyrics of a corny love song. "It" kept us on the phone talking to each other for hours straight.

Now I fret that we have more in common with the couples I sometimes see in the market. You know the ones. They've got that been-together-awhile look. Time has gnawed the urgency from their step, taken the goo-goo from their eyes. And they walk the aisles together, crabbing about the most trivial stuff:

"George, what're ya doin'? It says 'Ten Items or Less.' Geddovah here!"

"What, you think I can't count, Doris?"

"Fine. Far be it from me to keep you from making an ass out of yourself!"

A chill travels through me. Is this what we have to look forward to? Heck, we're already too close for comfort as it is:

"Why are you turning here? It's quicker if you turn at the light."

"I like turning here. Do you mind? Who's driving anyway?"

"Fine. I won't say another word. . . . But my way is quicker."

The years have given those exchanges the timing, rhythm -- and familiarity -- of an Abbott and Costello routine. And that's what concerns me. We used to surprise each other. That's not so easy anymore.

I remember once when we were dating, I gave her flowers, and when she asked why, I said, "Because it's Tuesday." She cried.

I still buy her flowers for no special reason, but she just says, "Oh, how sweet," and goes to get a vase.

So, yeah, sometimes I wonder if we've still got it.

But a few days ago, Marilyn flew across the country to help a friend who's going through a tough time. And her absence has given me some answers. Because, man, this house is empty without her. Empty in a way the kids and the television are powerless to fill. Empty in a way that makes me hate her phone calls because they always end too soon and then the place seems more hollow than before. Empty.

Dumbstruck and lonely, I bump around the place like a blind man. Every corner and crevice bespeaks her absence. I know I should be big about it. I know she's on a mission of mercy. But it doesn't matter. I want her home.

Something happens when you've got a good thing and you work at it for a long time. Like ivy on a trellis, you grow onto, into and around each other. It's as satisfying as placing the last piece in a maddening jigsaw. As reassuring as having a partner on a long and arduous journey.

Which I guess is as good a description as any for a marriage that works. And here, a song suggests itself. Bruce Springsteen singing, "I'll wait for you. And should I fall behind, wait for me."

Maybe you think that's not a lot to want out of life, someone to walk with you and wait for you. For me, though, that is life.

Marilyn and I don't have "it" anymore.

We have something better.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

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