My wife and I communicate quite differently. Last night she spoke to a group of girls. She distributed paper hearts and instructed them to write things they love on their heart. Then she told them, “The less temporal the love you listed, the more time you should devote to it. The more temporal the item, the less time.” She pushed them towards cultivating legacies that will outlive them, relationships that will benefit beyond their presence. Her advice was beautiful. Her delivery kind and full of life. Lyrical even. I attempt to convey similar sentiments to my students, but I do so by reminding them, as often as possible, they will die soon. “You will all be dead before you know it. You’re wasting away now. What are you doing today that is any different than yesterday?” Some students giggle at my goth-like pedagogical gloom. Others roll their eyes and pray / hope / curse me to fulfill my own destination sooner than later. My wife inspires. She caffeinates. She’s an Enneagram 7—the Enthusiast—with a need for pleasure and to avoid pain. I suck air out of rooms like a Hope Hoover. I’m an Enneagram 4—the Individualist—with a need for melodrama and a penchant for hyperbole. My wife: “Live forever with rightly chosen loves.” Me: “You’re expiring, even now, so don’t be stupid.” My wife’s name is Latonya, and people actually call her “La La”, as in a musical notation. My name is Kevin, and for a long time people called me “Hamster”, as in a rodent. She does not have any tattoos because she prefers to keep her options open. I tattooed a hamster on my leg in 2011 because I’m deflating anyway so why not paint the bag. She likes to dance and eat spicy Indian food and drive with all the dashboard lights flashing warnings because it will all be okay. I enjoy my couch and black coffee and walking pugs by creeks that smell of turtles because they’re heroic in their isolation.
I tell people our races—like our genders—are the least of our differences. She’s the penultimate of four children born to Pentacostal pastors in the bustling suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri. I hail from the sticks of South Arkansas’ oil country, the only child of a Vietnam veteran and a Southern Baptist pragmatist who split when I was seven, leaving me to make siblings with a cat named Oreo and a Beta-player VCR. She was raised on gospel music with a gaggle of cousins, napping under pews in various churches as her parents prayed new hands from stubby arms. I was raised on BMX bikes and urban legends about the devil haunting tall trees, fearing occultists might peel my cat like an apple when it wasn’t even Halloween. Growing up, Latonya wanted to be a lawyer because she liked to argue. Also, her Aunt Stephanie was a lawyer, and her Aunt Stephanie was super cool. As a child, I wanted to be Alex P. Keaton, from Family Ties, because he was so smooth. Later, I wanted to be a drummer and then a minister. Neither of us became any of those things. Latonya no longer likes to argue, and I now prefer Michael J. Fox as a teenage werewolf, rather than a Republican. Latonya always saw herself marrying a dude who wore suits to work. Who played guitars or pianos in the evenings. Who cooked extravagantly while she read Isabel Allende novels on the sofa. I foresaw a pig-tailed hippie gal in overalls sharing long-neck beers. Who collected old records. Who recited bawdy poems in bare feet. We could not have chosen more differently. The choice could have only been made for us, outside of our hands and apart from immediate consciousness.
We met in line at a concert in Kansas City, Missouri. Waterdeep recorded their Live At New Earth album in March 1998. She traveled with college roommates from North Missouri. I traveled with vagabonds from school in Central Arkansas. We met in line through mutual friends I knew from summer camp. She thought I told good stories. I liked the way she laughed. We parted and found each other a year later at summer camp—the same one where I met her roommates years earlier—and that was that. She called me “Little Man”, which I relished until learning she called all camp-men “Little Man.” That summer was 1999, twenty-one years ago. A child born that summer could now legally drink alcohol, gamble at casinos, buy weed, go to nightclubs. At twenty-one years of age together, we do none of those things. Twenty-one years later, we chase two pugs, fret over parents, grocery shop as a team, avoid each other’s music, tolerate each other’s music, occasionally jam Modest Mouse or Patti Griffin or Erykah Badu together, kill kombuchas and half a bag of salt-and-vinegar something during Saturday Night Live recaps. We read the same books, read different books (so the other doesn’t have to), drink too much coffee, play too much backgammon, debate commute paths, complain about the youth, pour ourselves into the youth, give wildly different advice to the youth. She travels. I stay home. She attends lunches and brunches and wine nights. I am a good turtle (first tattoo). But we are twenty-one years old as friends, fifteen as bearers of the same name.
My wife can eat literally anything, drink it all to a moderate, even-keeled savoring—the Epicurean Enthusiast dining lavishly as long as the day is called today. I can eat rice and scrambled eggs, drink nothing funner than simmered down Topo Chico—the Grumpy Individualist hoarding calories before Skynet pimp-slaps me through the wavelength of a flip-phone. She invests in the least temporal things imaginable. I try each day not to die a little more. We do all this together. In song. In word. In deed. In similarities and differences. In blessings and Pull-n-Peel Twizzlers. On January 15, 2005, I quoted Johnny Cash in my wedding vows, assuring Latonya I would “Walk The Line”, but we should have danced instead to Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat: “Opposites Attract.” Her hair fronds up and bulbous. My beard droops down and broom-straw straight. A four-year-old once told Latonya her hair would protect her from predators. Same kid ran his fingers through my beard, clutched them tightly, and lifted his feet to swing. She inspires children to compose dinosaur adventures. I invite them to practice Biblical scouring. She buys packs of twenty-two different Paper-Mate colored pens. I use the same Black Uni-Ball Signo 207 for everything. But we make it work. We make it more than work. We’ve had twenty-one years of practice, fifteen in close quarters. And I look forward to getting better at all of this. Her song is the soundtrack of my best living.