"Hey beautiful," husband says brightly as he answers the phone, his tone instantly communicating how happy he is to see my name on the iPhone screen. Fifteen years later, my face still warms at the greeting, creases in deep parentheses.
Husband almost never uses my real name. Perhaps it's unconscious, a genetic abnormality passed down from his mother who is compelled to nickname every person and pet in the family. Or perhaps it's the intimacy of being able to call me something others can't. I've never asked. It just has always been.
Because of the rarity of which I hear my name, the few times when husband has actually spoken it aloud to introduce me or to ask me a question in a larger group setting--it has always sounded wrong. It does, however, instantly get my attention.
In the never-ending soundtrack where familiar sounds of mommy, honey, and wifey act like mindless elevator music, the off-key syllables of "Jen-ni-fer" clank like a cowbell in a Beethoven lullaby, making my head snap towards the new sound.
"Beautiful" is the name he always comes back to. After fifteen years of responding to it, I could legitimately fill in the Nickname box on all those government forms with that one word. Beautiful.
When we were dating, I would have automatically dipped my head low at this adjective, felt my skin burn all the way to my roots before drawing eyebrows together and growling back, "I'm not beautiful. You're deluded."
It wasn't that I was coyly trying to get him to repeat himself. I simply, rationally knew better. Cellulite here...and there...and there...and.... I had never been the beautiful one. My extraordinarily short dating rap sheet was living proof of that. Plus, I did own a mirror.
I finally told him that if he wanted to love me forever, he might as well accept the truth, too, and not blind himself just to keep from hurting my feelings. I wasn't dumb.
But nothing I said stopped him. If anything, it only made him try harder to convince me, to make me see what he saw.
I never could. Most days, I still can't. But after all this time, he still comes up behind me and whispers those words, unprompted. To the exposed body stretched beyond recognition then scarred by incubating and birthing twins, he says "beautiful." To the crow's feet, wrinkles, and increasing frequency of gray slithering through my brunette locks, he says "beautiful."It has taken several years for me to learn to bite my tongue, to accept this phrase for what it truly is--an offering of love. But accept it I do, turn to kiss the mouth that presents this offering.
As we grow together, I repeatedly pray the same prayer: "Lord, make my desire only be for my husband and for his desire to only be for me."
May we always be this way.