By Donald Delver
December found me on leave from Germany, visiting my hometown of Cincinnati. A longtime friend had invited me to a Christmas party at her home, a beautiful two-story brick house built in the 1880s. I greeted my friend and her husband, put my bottle on the drinks table, and hung up my coat. Everyone was gathered in the large parlor, either near the fireplace or the huge live spruce.
I knew no one at the party, apart from my friend and her husband, and after an hour or so of drinking alone and feeling less and less Christmassy, I met a young woman at the drinks table. She had seen me from across the room, she told me later, and had admired my broad shoulders in the white turtleneck sweater I was wearing. What had intrigued her, she said, was the bottle of clear liquid I was mixing into my drinks. The label was in Spanish, and she wondered if it might have been a rare vodka I had brought along or something more exotic. I was struck by her waist-length, straight brown hair, her pleasant smile, and how she effortlessly started the conversation.
“I flew home standby on military planes,” I told her. “We stopped overnight in Texas, and I bought this alcohol puro in Mexico. Here it’s called White Dog or White Lightning, and among soldiers it’s well known that a man who drinks too much of it will likely wake up the next morning in a stranger’s yard wearing only an ill-fitting negligee and combat boots.”
She laughed and stepped closer.
“What do you do over in Germany?”
“I’m an instructor at the Military Police Academy in Mannheim.”
We wound up sitting together in a quiet corner of another room downstairs, talking about this and that. She would lean forward when I said something, and her eyes didn’t glaze over as some of my friends’ did when I rambled on too long. At one point, I leaned forward when she did, and we kissed. It felt right, and we kissed again. Somewhere between the second and third kiss, she moved to my lap, and we made out like two love-starved teenagers. I had consumed enough liquid courage by then to invite her to go upstairs to find an unoccupied bedroom. She turned me down, but I called her the next day, and we went out to dinner. At the end of our third date, she invited me to her place, and we spent the night delighting in each other’s bodies.
We laughed easily and often. When I went back to Germany, we wrote long letters to each other. I began missing her more and more, and after about six months, I invited her to fly over and visit me. I was surprised and pleased when she agreed. We traveled around Germany together, picking our way through the ruins of German castles, admiring the sylvan beauty of the Black Forest, and sampling German foods paired with sweet white wines that danced deliciously on the tongue. We made joyous love in quaint German guesthouses.
Not long after she returned to Cincinnati, I received orders for training stateside. I made a long- distance call.
“Barbara, it’s so good to hear your voice.”
“David, I’ve missed you so much.”
“Listen. I’ll be home for a few days before I have to start training at Fort McClellan. I don’t want to go there without you. Will you come with me?”
She needed a few days to consider it, but by the time I returned, she was all packed and ready to go.
We lived together for a month, and when my training was complete, and I received orders for California, we got married. The Presidio of San Francisco was a tiny gem of a military base, but Barbara never liked being an Army wife. She found work in the metals industry, and after my enlistment was up, I found work in retail security. We made friends, lived frugally in a small apartment, and worked hard, trying to get ahead.
The laughter still came easily, at first, and with the long hours came promotions and greater responsibility. We still talked about our shared dreams, we still made love, but less often, and we still found delight in each other’s company, but as the years passed, the pressures at work grew with each promotion. The hours spent working increased along with the new titles. One of us was often too tired to cook dinner, so we got takeout. We were too tired to talk about our day, so we watched a little more TV. We were too tired to make love, so we just slept.
Towards the end, we owned a nice home, nice cars, and nice furniture. But we had put far more effort into achieving success at work than we had put into maintaining a successful marriage. We had grown apart. Counseling did not bridge the emotional gap we had created between ourselves. After twelve years together, divorce sent us in different directions.
I wish our marriage license had come with a warning: Work as hard on your marriage as you work on anything else. And, to always leave room for delight.