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Good Letters

20101013-deep-friends-by-jessica-mesman-griffithDave and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary this October, sitting across from each other at our wooden dinner table with the long crack down the middle. In the candlelight, we gave up on conversation and watched our four-year-old as she delivered one of her surreal monologues. Occasionally we locked eyes, our expressions wondering at her, as they often do. Our five-month-old sat in his high chair, sweet potatoes in his eyelashes and hair.

These are not the years of restaurant dinners, weekends away, expensive gifts.

Our eyes said, may those years never come.

I love to hear stories of proposals and engagements, the romantic places people choose, rich with personal or family history, or the gestures, drawn from some timeworn cultural tradition (the Welsh man, for instance, presents his would-be bride with a hand-carved spoon).

As a child I begged my parents to tell about the first time my dad saw my mother, her waist-length ironed hair caught up in the breeze under a large oak near their Catholic high school.

The first time I saw Dave, he was giving a reading at a bar in Pittsburgh, and someone was whispering in my ear that I should, at all costs, stay away from him. That’s funny, I thought, because I think I’m going to marry him.

In fact, none of the circumstances of our early meetings seemed to promise a lasting bond. We did everything exactly wrong. Many of our first conversations involved barstools and entirely too much beer. They make for funny stories, but they aren’t exactly what we want to pass onto the children. We had so many false starts, it’s a wonder we ever ended up at the altar.

But sometime in those early days, I had dinner with a grad school classmate, a woman I really admired. “The thing about you and Dave,” she said, “is that you are such deep friends.” I was so surprised by her observation that I thought about it for a couple of days. Were Dave and I really deep friends? What a strange thing to say. And what a beautiful thing to say. I even suspected it wasn’t true, that she’d totally misread us. But it sounded so admirable, I wanted it to be true.

In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes of the basic forms of human love: Eros, Affection, Charity, and Philia, or true friendship. Of these, it is friendship he describes as the most spiritual of loves, the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauty of the other:

They are no greater than the beauties of a thousand other men, but God opens our eyes to them. They are, like all beauties, derived from Him…increased by Him through the friendship itself…. At this feast, it is He who has spread the board, and it is He who has chosen the guests. It is He, we may dare to hope, who sometimes does, and always should, preside.

Looking back, remembering those early days, it does feel that Dave and I were brought together and sustained by something greater than just us two. It’s easier now, of course, with these children beside us, to discern the outline of some master plan. But there did seem to be some force bringing us together, even as we tried to sabotage it.

Wiping up the dinner crumbs, blowing out the candles, I remembered when I discovered that the table had cracked. It was nine years ago, in a deep Pittsburgh winter, and the extreme heat from the radiator in my apartment. The thermostat was controlled by the upstairs tenants, who cranked it to 90 degrees to heat their space. I remember waking with bloody noses from the dry air, throwing windows open to the snow to get relief.

It was one of those mornings that I woke to find the table had cracked from end to end. It was the one piece of furniture I’d ever purchased—with the paycheck from my first job as a writer—and it was, I thought, ruined.

So many of my expectations proved wrong. I never thought I wouldn’t go back home to Louisiana after graduate school. I never imagined that table would last through the winter, let alone enough years to see the dings and scrapes of two more cross-country moves, the crayon and paint smears of my children.

And yet, it turns out I was right about Dave. We sat at this table together many snowy nights. I pretended to work on my MFA thesis but really I daydreamed, watched him chew the pen in his hand, grading papers in his Notre Dame t-shirt, which he wore tucked in under his cardigan.

You are such deep friends, my classmate said, and over time, my eyes have opened, and I have found it true.

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