I should probably say, any time I mention Matthew or talk about our relationship here, I run the post by him. It’s all about good spousal communication.
I forgot how it feels when I have dirt under my fingernails I can’t get out. I was visiting my partner in Seattle, in our tiny apartment, where I have this cactus. It’s not really a cactus, it’s an Aloe Vera succulent that my mom mailed me in college. I kept it alive through 2 moves, including the big one from Pittsburgh to Seattle. And then I gave it to my partner to care for, first when I left to work in Boston and now I’m living in Washington, D.C. full-time except for these weekends.
I expected it to die under his care. He’s great when it comes to politics and being kind to me and caring for the people I care for, but small responsibilities aren’t always his forte. It might be sending me a t-shirt I desperately want while living abroad or buying a plane ticket to see my family in Tennessee, but he lets the small things go. I thought this plant’s life would be one of them.
But it wasn’t. I had forgotten the other piece of his personality, the loyalty and the willingness to care for small, unpleasant duties when he knows no one else will. It came through in how he cared for the hyper and unctuous kids at his weekend gymnastics-teaching gig. I should have remembered it from how he tracks his sister’s chronic illness, no matter how it hurts him or how detailed it gets or how truly boring medical care can be.
Since I left the plant with him, it has flourished. It began life 8 – 10 inches of fleshy limbs, with widely-spaced saw-tooth thorns and a thin root base. Its thickest arm was only ¾ of an inch wide and half that in thickness. It is now more than 2 feet tall, with 1.5 inch limbs, each more than an inch thick at the base. This plant has not only grown tall and wide and healthy-thick, it’s become fecund. In a year, it’s had 10 babies.
So that weekend, on a trip where I spent less than 36 hours in the same state as my husband, I spent an hour in the bathtub repotting this plant. He sat on a chair on his computer, chatting a bit, watching me cover myself with dirt. I hand-mixed the soil (3 parts potting soil to 1 part sand, all bought from our corner hardware store), playing with the dirt more than entirely necessary.
I showed my kind of caring: getting in the mud, getting dirt under my fingernails so deep I couldn’t get it out after a shower and 3 handwashings. I showed how I care by making new homes for the plants, placing them, having a big weekend of work and rapid change. But Matthew, in the way I should have expected, showed and will show how he cares by fulfilling the daily duty of keeping them alive. I’d forgotten how it feels to have dirt under my fingernails, and how my love shows love through honoring duty.
“The best place to seek God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.”–George Bernard Shaw