My husband, Paul, tells me that in every relationship there is one person who holds up the light so the other may stand beneath it. To him, it’s all about the lighting.
When he picks me up at the train station on Friday evenings and we round the corner at Mile Road, I’ll peer up at our home, the second story of a coastal Maine cottage. For all the world, it looks like a UFO has landed on top of our neighbor’s unit. A blue glow pulsates from the windows and a row of soft lights, like a landing strip, snakes up the staircase. Step inside and there are no shadowy corners or darkened nooks.
Just when I think there cannot possibly be another lighting project, he finds a space below the end table or a dim area in a kitchen cabinet to brighten. When I open the cupboards, it’s more likely that a flood of yellow light will spill from them than a can of beans.
There are five phases to the projects:
1. The Design Phase, when we spend hours at Lowe’s or IKEA and measure every light fixture and agonize over the color and wattage of each bulb.
2. The Installation Phase, when it is important to double (and perhaps triple) check that the power is off at the breaker panel. Once, when Paul was rewiring a lamp, he plugged in the electrical cord and said, “Here, hold this.” When he snipped off the end with scissors, my entire life flashed in front of my eyes, briefly illuminated by sparks and a whiff of smoke, before fading to black.
3. The F-Bomb Phase, when Paul is angry at the light fixture.
4. The Honey Phase, when he is angry at me. If I ask whether the white wire is supposed to be disconnected, he’ll say, “Honey, I’ve tried that.” It sounds sweet, but I know that “honey” is just another term for bee excrement.
5. And finally, comes the “Aha” Phase, when he couples one white wire with another white wire and we bask in the glow of our accomplishment.
“Did Willy need a little more light?” he’ll ask.
It is always about me. So now I suppose you’ve figured out who among us holds up the light so the other may stand beneath it.
It is this duality in our relationship that makes it shine. He drives, I sit. He cooks, I eat. He confidently changes lanes in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and I freak out. I can’t help it. When the gods have given me everything, I’m afraid they’ll get jealous and take something back.
Sometimes, I wonder if Paul is attempting to make up for all the years I faltered in the closet. He lights up the dark spaces so that I will always be able to find my way home. But if I asked him, he would never own up to it. For someone who loves to hold up the light, he hates to stand beneath it.
Before we were married, Paul toiled for days stringing up hundreds of paper lanterns in just the right shade of pale blue from the ceiling of our wedding tent. The June air smelled of freshly cut grass, and when we stood under the tent after the sun melted into the horizon, it looked as if the Milky Way had been lassoed and tugged into place, so that it could drift above our heads.
“That was Willy’s vision,” Paul told our guests — and it was, though I’d done no more than tear a photo from a magazine.
I have barely the mechanical skills to screw in a bulb. But I can string a few words together and fill them with enough light to illustrate my love. Paul is the man who quite literally lights up my life. Without him, my world would still be dark. In fact, you never would have noticed me.
To my husband, it’s all about the lighting. But for me, it’s all about what he has enabled me to see.
William Dameron is a Boston-based writer working on a memoir. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.