When I was a freshman in college, I joined the crew team. This stumps me. There were many reasons why I shouldn’t have joined the team: first, I was terrified that my legs would bulk up like the awesome rowers in the Olympics. When an athlete is more concerned about her appearance than her ability, she tends to put a damper on the purity of the sport. Also, I hated the monotony of the gym’s rowing machine that we had to visit regularly. The only thing I did appreciate about it was the nice, zephyr-like breeze that blew from the front wheel. To top it all off, I couldn’t seem to position my oar properly and was always caught off guard by a nasty snag in the water that caused a muddy surprise to splash up into our faces. I hated that. As did my boat mates, who typically got the worst of it.
As I reflect on it, there were two reasons I signed up for the team: first, because rowers tend to be genuine folks and I thoroughly enjoyed the friendships. Secondly, because the coach was cute (of course!). So there I was, waking up at four-thirty in the morning to drive down to our boathouse that happened to sit aside the stinkiest stretch of the stinkiest river on the East coast: the James. We slipped our boat into the river right after it had run through the roughest part of the city – right after the mile-stretch where folks dumped in all of their cigarettes, Mountain Dew bottles, and broken appliances. One time, my oar bumped a dead body that was floating by. Of course, that could have just been in my imagination, but it was a definite possibility. Despite the imagined-corpses, the “is that poop?!”, and the broken refrigerators, some mornings were slightly magical – enough to make me feel like I was doing something poetic, something Hemingway-ian. Even the James River has a beauty of its own when the lights are low enough. That must be why the coach scheduled practice before dawn.
One weekend, we travelled to a regatta in Pennsylvania and stayed with a boat mate’s family who lived close to the river. Bridgette’s family had a house big enough for 30 sleeping bags, so there we crashed. Her parents fed us like kings and queens, and we had a marvelous time together. Of course, I have no memory of the race itself – whether we won or lost. So let’s just say we won. What I do remember was how Bridgette’s mother wrapped her arms around her husband and called him “Beloved”. The whole weekend! When she needed help getting the waffles off of the waffle iron, it was “Beloved, would you mind flipping that Belgian for me?” When she wondered what he thought of our probably-amazing race, she asked, “What did you think of that victory, Beloved?” Or when he was just sitting with his coffee mug, looking out the window, she’d wrap her arms around his chest and murmur, “Whatcha thinking about, Beloved?” He was a fifty year-old man – more gray than not – with crowfeet wrinkles, a shy smile, and a uniform of working-man denim. Yet, he was Beloved. Each time she called him “Beloved,” something in me snagged like a lopsided oar in a quickly moving current. It capsized my heart and I remember it all these years later.
Here’s why: in calling him “Beloved,” that man’s wife secured his spot as the most important, sweetest, dearest person in their home. As college girls, we were accustomed to being the main attraction. Everyone watches college girls: they’re so pretty, so young, and have all the potential in the world. In any other home, we would have been the highlight. But in this home, “Beloved” was. Not only that, in any other home, we would have subconsciously thought that all of the males were swooning over us. And we would have pitied the husband who was now stuck with a fifty year-old wife with gray hair and crowfeet wrinkles. But, this woman put an end to all of that egotistical nonsense. There was no mistaking: she was the Lover, he was Beloved. We were the lucky ones who could watch and learn.
Enjoy your home,