When we moved into our flat in Cape Town, we called the second bedroom Sara’s room. More than a bed and the mirrored nightstands and the jumbo Marilyn Monroe pillows I’d moved from the master to the guest bed, Sara’s room, rather Sara’s visit, is a link to those back home in California. We counted the days in anticipation of her August arrival.
Sara is the adult daughter of Doug and Rebecca, former clients of ours with a fondness for pugs—five creamy-furred, black-faced, snuffling, bundles of pug love, to be precise. With the breed’s inclination for eye problems, it doesn’t take long to figure out how Doug and Rebecca first met Dr. Dennis. Something was forever going haywire with one or another of the bulging eyes requiring a visit to the veterinary eye specialist.
After we sold our veterinary practice, Dennis approached the Green’s about getting together for cocktails. Sara, now 27, joined in. Our time together always began, whether in our home or at their place, with a martini. Something new and yummy, each bartender (Doug or Dennis) doing their creative best to dazzle our taste buds. The prospect of spending hours in the company of people I adore and the bonus of pug snuggles made for fun times and good conversation.
We’ve had a string of pets, mostly cats for 46 of the 48 years we’ve been married. When Curly, the last cat of the “trio of trouble” (Curly, Larry, and Moe) died, we decided to take a break from pets. It was not easy, but traveling was imminent, plus I’d grown weary of carrying for our ailing cats. I wanted to have no caretaker responsibilities, for a while. Of course, we did whatever was necessary to assure our pets well-being, dreading their demise, dissolving in a puddle of tears and sorrow when one of our cats died. Certainly, not on the scale of those who care for chronically ill people, failing pets can take an emotional toll.
In spite of needing a break, I missed our warm, four-legged fur babies. Curly was a cuddle bunny. He liked being held. As he aged and his health failed, I’d stand in front of the big French doors, looking through the bonsai trees Dennis cultivated, to the blue waters of the bay, holding Curly like a baby. He never resisted, he leaned into my shoulder his head against my neck. I’d talk with him and comfort him, and he’d do the same for me, without having to say a word.
The Greens are more dog people than cat people. Like Dennis and me, like so many people I know, they are deeply connected to their pets. Whenever we arrived at their home, Doug manned the gate between the kitchen and dining room holding back the excited dogs who never seem to have a bad day. When Doug got the nod from us, he swung open the gate. A scramble of nailed toes, muffled yips, and snorts only five pugs can make, barreled forward ready for back scratches and baby talk. Being a pet in the Green household, one is blessed with a ready-made pack and plenty of adoration. If you have the pleasure of the Green’s company in their home, I urge you to wear something other than black!
Over drinks and time, Sara decided to take us up on our offer of visiting Africa. I sensed she might fall head over heels in love with this magical place. I was correct. We’d advised about what to bring encouraging the concept of “less is more.” She bought-in and arrived late on a Thursday night in August, looking perky having flown for 30 hours, with a backpack and a small suitcase. She’d managed to sleep in spite of her long slender body in an airplane seat. Sleep on an airplane—unheard of for this gal.
I was a little anxious about how this might unfold, but I need not have been. I learned a lot being in Sara’s presence beginning the first day after her arrival. She wasn’t feeling well, and after a walk to our Saturday Oranjezicht (orange) Farmer’s Market for breakfast, a gustatory delight we miss only when out of town, I noticed she didn’t eat much. “Not feeling good,” she said. We empathized. Getting to Cape Town from San Francisco is a long, arduous trip with a ten-hour time difference.
Unlike me, who would have pretended all was well or complained, Sara shut her door and crawled into bed. She slept for six hours. At first, I was concerned, but the more I thought about it, the more my concern morphed into admiration. She was caring for herself. The next day, still not feeling well, she once again retreated to her room and slept, at least the equivalent amount of time as the day before. Our friend is turning into the easiest house guest on the planet. Not only was she suffering from jet lag, but she like me would also have to abandon the malaria prevention drug, Malarone.
I wasn’t concerned about the drug I knew it would ease out of her system quickly and she’d return to the excitement she brought along for our Uganda trip. What grabbed me was how quietly she accepted and acted by attending to her needs. To me, overly concerned with what people think, trained to minimize it was a visible, simple lesson. It’s okay, in fact, essential to attend to one’s issues. No fanfare, no drama, Sara went to bed, the only logical, self-preserving thing to do.
Insights continued as I watched and listened to Sara, an attractive, intelligent young woman, who feels no drive to marry. It’s a bit of concern to her parents, but I admire her honesty.
“Too much trouble, the dating thing,” she says.
When I was Sara’s age, I had already been married for six years. It had not occurred to me to have it any other way. In fact, the entire time I dated from 15 on, I was always running scenarios through my mind: could I marry this one? Never mind my thoughts were full of air, dreamy imaginations of how my life would be, how our life would be together. I had no serious plans for a career, not the way young women have today. I needed to get married. It’s what was expected, reinforced by my dad: “Get a degree in education. You can always fall back on teaching if your marriage doesn’t work out.”
I did both. I got a degree in education, and I got married. It turned out I did not care for classroom teaching, and our marriage was challenged by immaturity and many geographical moves courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corp. I’ve not understood Dennis’ brand of love. He communicates love by doing and helping. I’m independent and stubborn. I rarely ask for help, and I frequently spurn his offers. Meanwhile, I want and need to talk love, feel heard, make eye contact, as in conversation. Dennis couldn’t get his mind around my style of love, and I couldn’t embrace his. Both are equally valid. That simple conversation, (Sleeping in Zambia) those moments of honesty, the explanation of the nitty-gritty of what we each need to feel loved has instigated a quiet, intimate, marital revolution.
Looking back, I believe we married too young. Perhaps we wouldn’t have struggled so much had we waited as Sara is doing, but it doesn’t matter now. We did what we did and our relationship has grown us as individuals and as a couple. I look at the person with whom I’ve shared most of my life, and I see signs of aging: wrinkles and arthritic joints. Conversations about body parts and functions are more frequent these days, but so is attention and time for one another. On the inside where the sun doesn’t shine, there’s a light of a spiritual kind, and I believe our gradual transformation is a direct connection to prayers for purification not only for us as a couple, but as individuals, too. We have a good thing going, and I don’t believe either one of us could have fared better with what we brought as individuals to the marriage mix all those years ago. Like a morning sunrise, that would blind if it happened all at once, the truth has dawned, slowly and perfectly.
After several fun evenings with Sara, who was feeling better, we packed our gear for our early morning departure to Uganda. Timoth ( no y) our driver for all things requiring distance, like to faraway wine farms in Stellenbosch or Paarl, and the airport, will meet us at 3:00 am. Middle-of-the-night wake-up calls are low on my list of favorite activities, but it’s 2,538 miles from Cape Town to Entebbe. We have to get an early start.