We ten hikers had cleaned up well. An hour ago we had looked like a ragtag band of misfits, covered in mud, sweat, and rain after slogging through surprise storms and seventeen miles of soggy farm fields and Tuscan dirt lanes.
Now, here we were, sparkly and clean, on the terrace of the former manor house raising flutes of champagne to toast Greg’s and my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.
”So,” asked one-half of the newlywed couple on the trip, ”what is your fondest memory from being together? Or should I ask, what’s the secret to a long marriage?”
Greg and I glanced at one another and held back from sharing the recent incident that had marked our marriage.
"No, not that story"
“Should we tell?” our eyes asked one another. “No, not that,” our unspoken words agreed.
“It was the day Greg saved my life twenty-two years ago,” I said instead.
We had been walking in Scotland for days. When we got to the Isle of Skye the wind was fierce, as were the mountains. Greg felt a need to hike them. Rising vertically from the sea to the summer sky, these mountains were playing seductress to his love of hiking challenging, unusual terrain.
The morning was clear, a green light for hiking and a requirement for going up these mountains. When we were halfway up the mountain, a cloud blew in hard, blinding us. As I was trying to make sense of being lost, Greg grabbed me and pulled me toward him. In fact, he yanked me so hard that my arm hurt.
The cloud moved on, and we saw that, before Greg grabbed me, I had been ready to walk off a cliff. I stood wrapped in Greg’s arms as we looked thousands of feet down. Sheer rock. He had sensed the danger and reacted, saving me.
“We need to find a different trail,” Greg said calmly, taking my hand and leading me away from a terrorizing ‘woulda, coulda been dead’ precipice. No drama, we just continued moving up the mountain.
We soon met other hikers who knew the mountain, and we asked if we could join them. When our group reached the summit we all ate our sandwiches and chocolate bars and talked about our favorite hikes and this place.
“Unpredictable,” they warned. “Not like Switzerland.”
We all put away our trash and got up to strap on our backpacks. When Greg and I turned to join our hiker friends they had disappeared. Another sneaky cloud had covered the peak, and we could neither hear nor see them. How could they have disappeared in minutes?
The mountain spirits were not playing nice. We made our way down, slowly, cautiously, staying close to each other. That night we curled into spoons, sleeping as heavy rain blew all over the inn’s roof. I never got warm.
Our Tuscan hiker friends were enthralled and satisfied that catching your wife in a freak cloud gust on the Isle of Skye was a good reason to open another bottle of champagne and continue the anniversary celebration.
On the bathroom floor
In reality, however, our love bond was not sealed in the Skye clouds. It was sealed on our bathroom floor on Sunday afternoon just two years before this trip to Italy.
I lay on the floor, my left arm in a sling and a patch over my right eye. I had undergone rotator-cuff surgery four days earlier and, while coming out of anesthesia, I had rubbed my eye and scratched my cornea. I was also having a bad reaction to the pain medication.
“Greg!” I yelled downstairs, trying to get him to hear me over the Patriots football game on TV. “Can you come up here? I need you.” Then I closed the bathroom door.
He knocked, and I told him not to come in. No husband should see his wife like this.
“There’s something wrong. Can you go to CVS and get some suppositories? I’m constipated from all the pain medication.”
He left me and the game and did the errand, slipping the box through a crack in the door when he returned.
I followed the instructions and waited. What had felt like a tennis ball stuck in my anus now felt like a football. The pain and blockage was excruciating, as if I were in labor except instead of a baby pushing into my vagina this was a pile of crap trying to get out of another body cavity.
I started to panic. Earlier that week the recovery room nurses had asked me what my pain level was on a scale of one to ten. “About a five,” I had said, not complaining.
Not today. “Shit, man,” I said to myself, reverting to Sheila’s Boston gutter talk. “This is a ten. I’m gonna die.”
“Greg!” I yelled. He opened the door and poked his head in. “You have to go back to CVS. Get something for an enema.”
“Should I take you to the hospital?” he asked. “No hospitals,” I said, glaring at him through my one good eye.
He came back fifteen minutes later with the enema kit and slipped it through the door.
Yearning for a jackhammer up my ass
When I was a kid my mother forbade us from bathroom jokes and disgusting words like “fart.” To rile her up my sisters and brothers made up new phrases like “fanny burps.” I thought about fanny burps as I read the enema instructions. What I wanted was a jackhammer up my ass.
I squirted the enema water, and it went all over the bathroom rather than up my ass where it was supposed to go. Some jackhammer.
My husband knocked on the door. “How is it going in there?”
“Come in,” I commanded. Then my tone of voice switched faster than a Skye cloud. “Please help me. I’m so scared.”
Greg knelt down on the floor and calmly told me I’d be OK. Then he took over with the syringe.
Finished, he said “Give that a few minutes,” and kissed the top of my head as he left.
Ten minutes later I walked downstairs and asked, “How can I ever, ever thank you for that?”
“It’s what we do,” he said. “This is love.”
Now, as we hikers finished the anniversary champagne, I raised my glass for a final toast.
“To my love. Thank you for saving me.”
Greg took my hand and squeezed it with as much love and care as he had squeezed that precious enema syringe.