As I move the kettle to the back burner, I cup my hands around it to enjoy its warmth, and with it my husband's presence, solid and sure. This is how I know he loves me: the small but meaningful act of making me coffee every morning, although he is long gone when I make my way downstairs to find it waiting, undisturbed by teenagers and cats.
Somewhere once I heard a line about a woman knowing her marriage was over when her husband stopped making her coffee in the morning. A small act, or inaction, with large ramifications.
I hold my husband's small act close in a houseful of men. On vacation last week I realized that the three males with whom I live interact mostly on the strength of sarcasm and insult. It grew wearying, and once or twice even bordered on hurtful. The younger members of my family are still figuring out the line where acceptable social discourse meets rudeness, which line may well differ between men and women in any event.
"This is the way men talk to each other," my husband explained. Maybe that's true for him, or maybe it is more broadly. I cannot know. I do know that more than once on our recent trip I found myself clenching my jaw and wishing that I might have had a daughter with whom at least some of the time I could camp.
And yet, and yet. My sons and husband know me well enough to anticipate my needs. They advocate for me. They love me, simple as that. It is a love that can feel foreign, which affords it a gratifying element of surprise.
They know me well enough, I wrote (did you notice?), which leaves room. I hold a core part of myself at a distance from others. I always have. It's a protective stance left over from an emotionally difficult childhood. But it is my fault, not theirs, that they cannot bridge the gap. How can you bridge what you do not even know is available to access?
As I nurse my morning coffee, I realize that I need to place more faith in gestures, in rituals of comfort and care. In that direction love lies, at least in my house.
I see you, grown and growing men. I hear your words, and today I recognize them as posturing. What matters most is the hand (strikingly large; I don't know when that happened) you placed on my shoulder as we hiked down a mountain a few days ago. You were steadying yourself but also steadying me. That hand spoke love as clearly as the coffee pot, each and every morning.