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Blessed by a Blast from the Past

A harried wife is reminded what keeps her marriage strong.

Jennifer Gentlesk sorts laundry while her husband heads for the golf course

Morning light brightened the bedroom that Sunday, but I wished I could go back to sleep. Maybe then I could pass off the fight my husband, Anthony, and I had the night before as just a bad dream.

We’d gone to bed still mad at each other, and now he was at work. Not that he liked working on Sunday, but the restaurant he and his brother ran was open and somebody had to be there.

Amazingly our girls, Grace, six, and Genevieve, four, were still asleep. Might as well get a shower before the morning mayhem erupts. I went into the bathroom and almost slipped on Anthony’s rumpled pajamas on the floor. Couldn’t the man put his clothes in the hamper?

The toilet paper was out too. I remembered a colleague at the high school where I teach once saying, “You’ll know who does the lion’s share of housework in a marriage by whoever changes the toilet paper.” How ridiculous, I’d thought at the time.

Now, nine years into our marriage, I understood. I was always the one who replaced the toilet paper. And emptied the dishwasher. And folded the laundry. And took the trash out. And vacuumed.

The fight had started on the car ride home from dinner at his sister’s.

“What’s wrong?” Anthony asked.

“Nothing,” I answered, clearly meaning, “Something.”

My mind was stuck on the conversation he’d had with his brother-in-law after dinner. It began with an innocent question: “Hey, Anthony, have you played much golf lately?”

Golf was a sore subject with me. Anthony loved the game. I didn’t want to be the reason he never got to play, but a round took hours! Hours we didn’t have enough of with both of us working.

Anthony shook his head. “I’ve hardly gotten out all year.”

But you played golf two weeks ago! I wanted to point out. Yes, he’d gone out early in the morning so it didn’t cut into our family time all that much, but still…

“It’s so hard with the kids,” Anthony continued. “There’s just no free time.”

In the next breath, he made plans to watch the Eagles game the following week with his brother-in-law and brothers. I couldn’t believe he was complaining! Didn’t he see the glaring difference between his free time (limited) and mine (none)?

I didn’t say anything, but I was fuming. Of course Anthony picked up on it in the car. “Nothing’s wrong?” he said.

“We can talk later,” I said, nodding toward the girls in the backseat.

We did talk in the kitchen once the girls were in bed. I replayed the conversation with his brother-in-law. Anthony looked hurt, then annoyed. I got angry. “Don’t you realize how much I do around here?” I yelled.

“Don’t you see how much I do?” he yelled back, equally angry.

I furiously scrubbed the counter. He retreated to our room. “I’m going to bed,” he muttered. “I have to get up at five-thirty tomorrow.”

He’d left for work before I woke up. Now I wiped the steam off the bathroom mirror and cringed. I looked as wretched as I felt. Anthony and I hardly ever raised our voices, but when we did fight, it was over the same things.

“If you’re upset, you have to tell me before it builds up,” he was always reminding me. That would mean risking being a nag. So I could either be a raving lunatic or a nag. Great.

The bathroom door burst open. The girls. “Mom, we’re hungry!”

I poured Cheerios, found socks and shoes, braided hair, settled a dispute, packed coloring books and stickers to keep the girls occupied at church and herded them to the car.

Our pastor could have delivered a brilliant sermon and I wouldn’t have heard a word. All I could think about was how I’d left things with Anthony. After church I checked my cell phone. Nothing from Anthony.

That afternoon the girls had a playdate. I would’ve loved to sit down with a book but the house was a disaster. First, the laundry. I stripped the sheets off our bed, tugged off the pillowcases.

Maybe while everything was in the machine, I could run out and get a present Grace needed for a friend’s birthday party. Plus, there was the stack of library books to return and two baby gifts to send out.

Why didn’t Anthony ever worry about this stuff? If he had a moment free, he’d sit down and watch a game. But if I ever relaxed things would fall apart. They already were!

In the past month alone the heating repairman and one of Grace’s friends had commented on the state of my housekeeping. When I told Anthony, he just laughed. He didn’t understand why I was upset.

I dropped a pillowcase. I bent down to get it and noticed some stray socks under our bed. I reached for them and my hand bumped a container. I pulled it out. A large flat Rubbermaid storage box.

Anthony’s “Commencement 1999” book from college was on top, then his knee X-rays from high school football. Beneath that were letters, lots of letters. A few from his parents and friends, but most of them—dozens and dozens— were from me, going back to high school, when we’d started dating. He’d kept every card and letter I’d ever written him.

I found a green envelope with my handwriting in all caps: “DO NOT OPEN UNTIL 295!!” That would be Route 295, the highway south to his college, Georgetown. It was the card I gave him before freshman year.

“Dear Anthony, I’m sad just writing this because when you’re reading it, we will already have said goodbye…” At the end I’d put my college address at Princeton and added, “Please write!”

He did. And I wrote back, enough to fill a box. I sat on the floor and read my old letters. Most of them went on for pages, listing the many reasons I loved him. That made me think of all the ways he showed his love for me—and for our family—now.

The wonderful vacations he planned. The meals he cooked—to the amazement of friends, Anthony was in charge of dinner and groceries. If he didn’t have time to cook, he’d bring something from the restaurant. The taxes, which he took care of because I hated the forms. The bills. The bowling and pool trips he took with the girls so I could get work done.

Love is patient, love is kind… That verse had been read at our wedding.

Maybe even more than the love we had for each other, I was struck by how well I had communicated with Anthony. I told him everything: what I feared, what I hoped and prayed, what I wanted from life, what I wanted from him.

Yet now that we were settled into our marriage, did I speak up for what I wanted and needed? How could I expect him to know when I was too afraid of being a nag to tell him?

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. Lord, in the daily chaos of life I sometimes forget it was you who brought Anthony and me together. Help me communicate with my husband better.

Just then I heard the front door open. I walked out of the bedroom. There stood Anthony in our messy living room. “I can’t stay,” he said, “but I wanted to bring lunch for you and the girls.”

A peace offering…more than that, a love offering. Tomato basil soup, the girls’ favorite, and a steak burrito, mine.

“I’m sorry about last night,” I said.

“It’s okay.”

I took a deep breath. “Do you think we could sit down later and talk?”

“Of course.” Anthony wrapped me in his arms, kissing me on the top of my head.

That night we talked, the way we used to when we first fell in love. Honestly, with patience and kindness. We agreed to each take time for ourselves. I’d speak up if I needed him to help more around the house. And I’d remember how hard Anthony worked too.

With kids and careers and everything else, life was not going to be perfect and neither was I.

The next morning Anthony was already gone when I got up. I checked my phone. There was a text message: “Salad in fridge is for your lunch. I’ll pick up the girls from school. See you tonight. Love you!” Not exactly a 10-page letter but just as sweet.


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