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Surprise {December Daily 2012 | Day 22}

The light above the gas pump casts a half shadow across the face that I have known for well over a decade.  It is familiar and strong and oh so loved.  It is  the face I see every morning before the day becomes a whirlwind of work and school and chaos.  It is the first face I remember seeing when our baby was born quickly, unexpectedly, scarily.  I know the past that formed that strong line of his jaw and the sparkle in his eyes when he talks about dreams for the future.  I know that I can ignite an instant debate by teasing him about his blue eyes.  “My eyes are green,” he’ll say and I’ll roll my undisputedly brown ones and never admit defeat.

He has finished pumping the gas and as he settles back in the seat of the Honda, he says, “I was listening to a story on NPR when I got home from work today.  That’s why I stayed in the car for a few minutes after I pulled in the driveway.”

“Oh, I thought you were on the phone.”  Internally, I cock an eyebrow.  It always surprises me when he tells me he listens to NPR.  I’ve always considered it my domain more than his.  I am an intellectual snob, a quality I do not find the least bit endearing in myself.  I perpetually underestimate him.  That is not to say that I don’t see his strengths.  He is my hero.  I expect him to always be amazing in times of stress; I expect him to laugh daily; I expect him to be there, like he always is, in the good times and the bad.  But, somehow, even after all these years together, there are times when as constant as he is, he reminds me that he is still a mystery.

“It was a short story.  Something about the 11th street bobsled race.”  he continues as he starts the car.  “I’d like to see if  I could find it again.”

I try using my phone to see if I can find the story for him on the NPR website.  I don’t have any luck so I put my phone down. The tiniest flicker of a memory flitters around my brain.  My dad always listed to Bailey White read her short story on All Things Considered on Thanksgiving Day.  It was a tradition for him to call me to the kitchen. “Daph, come here.  She’s on.  Come listen.”  and there, in my parents’ kitchen, listening to Bailey White’s southern voice pour through the radio, my love of the short story was born.  It seems incongruous to think of my dad and his intellectual quirky anti-social moodiness sharing this love of short stories with my loud, larger than life, take charge husband..  But apparently that is exactly what’s happened, here in our little red car, headed over the bridge to the Shrimp Basket to celebrate the reading award our oldest daughter has earned at school.  These days, I often miss the stories that are happening all around me.   And that is what happens now.

I forget about the story over my steamed shrimp and the constant whomp, whomp, whomp of our youngest daughter kicking the underside of the restaurant booth.  I don’t give it another thought when we are back home and the girls are fighting over whose turn it is to sound like a deranged elf on the Christmas Karaoke microphones.  It is not even in my realm of consciousness when I sit down to make my grocery list for Christmas Eve and Christmas Dinner and wonder how we’re going to fit all of the family who will be here in our tiny, crowded house.

“Let me ask you this” he says from the tattered chair nestled beside the not-yet-decorated Christmas tree.  He is looking something up on the iPad.  Let me ask you this usually means he’s having technical difficulties.   I walk over and peer down at the screen and see the familiar NPR logo.  The story that I’ve forgotten about bubbles back up.  I may have forgotten but he hasn’t.

I tell him to come into the bedroom and I’ll look it up on the desktop computer and see if I can find it.  I search our local NPR affiliate station and with a couple of clicks, I’ve found the story for him.  It’s a piece by Ron Carlson called “The H Street Sledding Record”.  Because the world is completely interrelated, there is a link from the This American Life page to Amazon where you can buy the compilation that has the short story.  It’s available for instant download so we download it to the iPad.  I think that he’s going to sit down and reread the story to himself.  Instead, he asks if he can read it to me.

So, we sit in our bedroom and interspersed with the sounds of our children’s voices coming over elf microphones, he reads me the story about a man, his wife, their daughter,  some horse manure for Santa’s reindeer, and building memories and dreams.  I listen and am thankful for that voice, as familiar to me as his face, that pauses on some words and rushes through others, that voice that is as much full of army sergeant as it is Alabama drawl.

I can count on one hand the number of times we have danced together.  But this, this sitting together on our bed while he reads to me, feels like the best slow dance in the history of slow dances.  When he finishes the story, he says, “it made me think of you.”  I realize in that moment that even after twelve years together, he still surprises me.  I love him for all the things I know about him and even more for all the things I don’t yet know.

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