My wife and I cringe as we tiptoe onto the first step of our swimming pool. We’re up to our ankles, and that’s where we’ll stand for some time, because it’s scientifically proven that cold water is way colder than it used to be.
It’s just the two of us at the pool, which is rare, but getting less and less rare as the children grow up. In a few years, it will be just the two of us all the time. What will that be like?
The sun has gone behind the neighbour’s tree, casting the pool in shadow, which is taking away what little incentive we had. Every time I swim now, I think, “What if the shock is so great I have a heart attack?” We used to have a thermometer in the pool, but it really made no difference; there are only two temperatures: cold and too cold.
I whip off my T-shirt outside for the first time since September 2014, and I turn to Deb. “I blind you with my chest!”
“Oh my God, look at that,” she says. She’s not looking at my chest but my shoulder. “That’s a long one.”
I look down and see a hair growing where no hair has any business growing. Rogue hairs. The middle-age scourge. I hate them. I pinch it between my fingers. “Don’t pluck it! Gross!” Deb says. I pluck it. This ain’t our first date.
My moles are all there on display too. I was mostly mole-free when we started going out. Deb had no idea what she was getting into, which is why it’s so important to look at your future spouse’s parents, because therein lie clues as to whom you will be sleeping with in 25 years.
Deb has just purchased a new bathing suit but is wearing her old one-piece because she can’t bear to part with it. The elastic is gone on it. But then, the elastic is gone on a lot of things these days.
“We’ll go on three,” I say. “One…”
“No, I’ll go when I’m ready,” says Deb.
“We’ll go together.”
“It’s not up to you.”
We don’t go. We’re standing so close, I can see the texture of Deb’s skin, the freckles, and, yes, the wrinkles. It’s not an insult. Four kids? She’s earned them. I can see the individual hairs of her eyebrows, so blonde they’re almost white. Or are they grey? Either way, it’s all real. There’s no makeup. There’s never been makeup, except on very rare occasions. “Makeup Mom” has always intrigued the children, almost as much as my freakishly long arm hairs.
A few days from now, Deb and I will be walking, and I’ll say to her, half teasing, mostly sincere, “You look pretty good for a woman about to turn X.” Deb will stop and look at me. “I’m turning X-1.” “But you were born in 196X… oh, right.”
Good at compliments, bad at math. It’s a gaff Deb won’t forget for days, maybe years. My wife: she doesn’t wear makeup and she remembers things.
But right now, we’re still contemplating getting wet.
The sun moves past the neighbour’s tree, opening a patch of light at the far side of the pool. “Look!” I say. “An oasis!” I step onto the rim of the pool and scamper over to the spot. I sit on the edge with my legs in the water, the sun hitting my pasty, moley chest.
“I’m glistening! I’m sparkling like a Twilight vampire!”
Deb shakes her head at me, on the verge of an eye-roll.
We’ve been together for 28 years, married close to 25. That’s more than half our lives. It’s not always easy. No marriage is. Sometimes marriage is like this swimming pool, taking up so much room in the yard, yet we often forget it’s even there. It requires a ton of work just to maintain it, prevent things from getting too murky, but it gets used less and less every year. Sometimes we wonder, why keep it going at all?
But then we find ourselves together, on the verge of diving, not a whole lot different from when we were young and smooth-skinned; we’re still beautiful (well, one of us at least), and all those years of earned wrinkles add up to this moment. And I think, is there anyone else I’d rather be ankle-deep in freezing water with? Half our lives. As the saying goes, that’s a whole lot of water backwashed through the filter. What happens next? What will it be like?
“Are you ready?” I ask.
“OK: one… two… THREE!”