When I first met the man I would marry, we were in our early 20s. College life was our present, and we downed shots of tequila. Our worries were about making the grades to graduate and having fun on the weekends.
There is a picture on our mantel showcasing the night we met. My hair was fuller then. I had the kind of mane Rachel from Friends flaunted. The thick layers framed my cheeks, and there may have been bangs.
Since meeting him, my entire world has changed. Once, there was a girl who read Vogue and desired material possessions like high-priced shoes and purses. I realize now those brands are unattainable on our meager salaries, and they wouldn’t add any real value to our life together. I used to throw back vodka and tequila shots. Today, I cringe and get queasy at the thought of any liquor touching my lips. The party has changed.
The young man in the photograph has changed a lot too. I met a man with a sparkle in his eyes and a shine on his cheeks. The boy in the picture had longer hair than he does now. His beard was a dirty blonde color and shorter, and he hardly ever kept a mustache in those early years. Today, the color has changed. In the winter months, there is almost always a mustache to accompany a full wiry beard. He says it keeps him warm. There was one little patch on his face that refused to fill in during those early years. It finally did fill in somewhere over the last five years.
The boy I met at a party so many years ago became a teacher and my husband.
As I snapped a picture a month ago, I noticed another change in his beard. The dirty blonde color has allowed a fading silver color to mingle amongst the dark blond hairs. There are gray strands streaking wildly into his hair with each passing year.
His beard has cuddled all my insecurities over the years; I fit delicately under his chin when I wrap my arms around his torso. His beard has held my giggles, my smiles and my tears for over 13 years.
It’s caught his tears too. When a loved one died, he sat silently crying his own tears into his beard. As we watch certain movies, especially Backdraft, I don’t hear the tears fall, but they are always there throughout the sad final scenes.
My fingers trace the gray-blond streaks on his face and I say, “You’re going gray in your beard. It suits you. I like it.”
“Yeah, the kids at school like to remind me I’m going gray and bald,” he replies.
“You know what they say gray hairs are?”
“Strands of wisdom.” I smile wide.
He scoffs, “You’ve got a cliché saying for everything, don’t you?”
“It’s true. Look at how much we’ve grown over the last 13 years together. We’ve come a long way.”
I believe they are indeed strands of wisdom. When I met him, I didn’t want a boyfriend. But I found a sensitive, sweet man, and I married him. I later watched his face grow uneasy when I announced there were two lines on a pregnancy test, and he would be a father.
The day came when they induced my labor, and it was time for us to grow yet again. He stood behind me as I gave birth. I laughed like a mad woman with joy when I brought life into the world.
Then I watched a moment in time stand still as he held our son for the first time. Nervousness melted instantly away, and within a few brief seconds, love molded between a father and a son. He held the little boy I carried inside of me for nine months, and he continues to hold us.
A relationship grew into a marriage. The marriage produced a family, and age has crept its way into the years we have spent together. The beard which once framed a youthful 24-year-old face is slowing losing pigment to our gray middle years. There is beauty in those small reminders that we are actually growing old together.