Morning arrives early when you’ve got a date with self-discipline.
Ironically, it also arrives early when you’ve got a date with your spouse.
Just as the clock strikes 5 a.m., my arm (moving on autopilot) strikes the clock, squelching it in mid-beep before it manages to fully awaken me.
“Urrrg,” I groan, using my other arm to flap blindly in the direction of my slumbering spouse. “Ready to go?”
Today is the first day of our return to fitness after a months-long hiatus, during which I recovered from major surgery. I celebrate the occasion by lying very still and hoping my husband would rather sleep in — but no dice. A surprisingly short three minutes later, his shadowy bulk emits a noise similar to human speech, and I know our first day is a go.
Together, we lace up our shoes with fingers that operate like cold sticks of butter.
Together, we don jackets against the pre-dawn cold.
Together, we step into the dark morning and collect our ecstatic puppy. She bounds around us, all but singing an aria in her excitement, and I glower. My smiling-by-sunrise demeanor seems to have taken a vacation along with my fitness.
The sky lightens as we slouch in silence around our favorite loop. Neither of us feels much like talking. The sound of wind machines whirs in the background, their steady efforts to ward off Jack Frost reminding me of my own chill. My hand drifts over to clasp Chris’s, and our touching palms generate the only real warmth that I feel.
But the walk is still worth it, for we’ve kept our first date of the day, albeit unwillingly. We part just after breakfast with plans to meet again when Chris gets off work.
You see, while two dates in one day may seem excessive, married romance has taken on a new urgency in recent weeks. We’ve enjoyed countless adventures through the years, but lately, our repertoire of romantic ideas has dwindled to watching a movie ... while doing taxes ... in sweats.
And so, In an effort to keep the sparkle in our eyes long enough to wave the kids off to college some day, we’ve implemented drastic measures. A new baby sitter and the arrival my saintly mother-in-law mean we’ll actually leave the house on occasion. Of course I’m overjoyed at the thought, but I can’t help wondering what we’ll do with such exorbitant amounts of free time. After all, tonight’s big plan consists of three leftover burritos and a pink fleecy blanket. Not exactly scrapbooking material — not even for us.
But we set out bravely later that day all the same, I having donned an actual skirt and cable tights for the occasion. The burritos ride between us in Chris’s truck like a lumpy chaperone. They’re perched on a pile of paraphernalia that includes an ice cream scoop, two jackets and a vicious-looking drywall tool, so I content myself with patting Chris’s shoulder from the far side of the cab.
“Maybe we should go to Olive next time,” I venture. “I might even straighten my bangs.”
He grins across at me, the same boyish smile I remember from our early days, and I leave my hand on his back. We drive on in silence, neither of us knowing just where we’ll go. I get the feeling we’re both mildly surprised when the truck pulls in at Fort Walla Walla and we find ourselves under a tall tree, making small talk over dinner.
But there’s no time to linger here. Chris is anxious to depart, having spotted a stray sign he’d never noticed before. And so we loop around the outer edge of the park, stopping by a lonely blue birdhouse to investigate further. It turns out that we’re at a nature haven hosted by the Audubon Society, and we strike out on the faint path with no idea of what we might find.
Together, we peer into a nameless and brush-covered stream.
Together, we chance upon five grazing deer who pretend to be frightened so they can flaunt their white tails as they bound away.
Together, we discover an old barn so pockmarked with age it looks like light-infused pattern of lace.
And together, we get a little winded toward the end.
The walk isn’t hard, but something about the secrecy of this location puts a new speed in our steps. Around the last few corners we discover lolling rabbits, a cat in the shadows and several varieties of fruit trees nestled like jewels in the forest’s green gown. I get the feeling there are plenty more secrets here, too. I can hardly wait to explore them.
We emerge near our starting location at last, feeling like we’ve returned from Lewis’s magical wardrobe. Chris pulls at a few cockleburs hitchhiking in my windblown hair, and we share a kiss before climbing back into his cab.
Our date is not done, after all. I’ve got a coupon for frozen yogurt across town. But even the sweetness of a free dessert can’t rival the joy of sharing this new adventure. This evening had romance, after all.
No, married life can’t all be flowers and wine. And sometimes it’s as simple as waking up to hold hands in the dark. But there’s something about this lifelong commitment that breathes magic into moments when we least expect it.
If only I can keep that in mind when 5 rolls around tomorrow morning — and the morning after that.
Sarah Coleman Kelnhofer writes from College Place, where she hopes to find and enjoy simple things — like chocolate — in the midst of a life filled with complexities. Contributions to this cause may be milk, dark, or white — and should arrive in childproof packaging. At the back door. Very quietly.