Harlan and Jennifer in Lagrasse, France, October 2013
"Never go on trips with anyone you do not love." -- Ernest Hemingway
A marriage has phases, like the moon. When full, its dazzling glow sparks a sweet kind of lunacy. It can gleam like the grin of a Cheshire cat, Pepsodent bright, harbinger of mischief and mystery. Or it can be a scimitar, its shine alluring but with a sharp edge. And sometimes there is the dark side.
Harlan and I were just learning how to be married when I was diagnosed with lung cancer. Since January we have lived in the shadow of my illness, and it was starting to define us. We needed to see our marriage and ourselves in a new light.
In October we spent several weeks in Europe, most of that time in Spain. I can recommend going on a honeymoon a year or more into a marriage. It was a chance to reconnect, rekindle, reignite.
While Harlan and I each brought baggage to our relationship, for the most part it was carry-on. Compatible and companionable, we are both well-traveled and travel well together. But this was our first big trip since I got cancer, and we didn't know what to expect.
At times we each felt frustrated that I am not as active as I have been in the past. I am easily fatigued because of the medication I take, and there were some days when I just felt too crummy to leave the hotel. My energy comes and goes, ebbs and flows. I waxed, I waned, I whined. A few times we spat barbed words that stung, but in general we were patient with each other and we found our stride.
Fall unfurled in southern France, Barcelona and Madrid. Trees turned red and gold, bald patches appearing as they lost their leaves like a chemo patient sheds her hair.
The south of Spain was warm and in bloom, and honeybees abounded. Observing acts of pollination, frenzied floral procreation, I thought about cohabitation. Apart from humans, is there a species drawn to mate for love and companionship, even when the "use by" date for breeding has expired?
My favorite days were in the small, southern villages of Andalusia. We rented a car and drove to the coast, then into the mountains to explore the ancient "white towns." We slept late, took ambling walks and ate long, lazy lunches in new locales. In the evenings we sipped sherry in the town plazas, watching life stroll by as cathedral bells tolled the hours. The full Spanish moon cast a gossamer scrim, camouflaging imperfections and illuminating a lover's charms. Harlan beamed amorously at me and I gazed at him with stars in my eyes.
Once in a blue moon, the recipe is just right when two people come together. Take a few sweet nothings, whispered softly, fragile as spun sugar. Add salt from a warm sea breeze, a little wine, a pinch of spice. Let simmer until you find yourself shaken and stirred.
Like honey, love can be sticky, but its sweetness helps all kinds of medicine go down.