He had no idea what time it was.
He emerged from sleep in a gradual ascent--a diver breaking the ocean surface and taking on light. Breeze swam through the window screen. It caressed his shoulders and back and pooled within the bedroom. The dryer in the next room hummed like a boat engine. Dishes rattled and tinked in the distant kitchen sink in waves of washing and rinsing. The wind whispered Shhhhh as it billowed through the hickory tree leaves. The billowing leaves leaned toward him then drew back like a darting school of fish.
He didn’t know if he was waking to breakfast, lunch, or supper. He didn’t know how long he’d slept or what day it was. He inhaled the cool air scented by the lavender his wife planted in the near field.
He’d been earning money for his family during the past three months and had not taken a day off in more than ninety consecutive days. And now, it was over. He’d volunteered for every and any shift. He’d starved himself of food, sleep, and affection. In two days he would go back to a normal schedule of work. The stack of envelopes on the table near his bed would enter the mail and reduce all debt balances to zero. The ache in his feet, knees, and shoulders subsided. He’d buried their debt in the deep. He’d drowned their desperation in a dark, oxygenless canyon. It was time to come ashore.
He wandered toward the sound of his children’s voices as they giggled and rattled through the living room. They’d grown. He hadn’t noticed how much each night as he kissed their foreheads in the darkness. When he emerged from the hallway they turned and shouted “Daddy!” They ran toward him and he scooped them up, one under each arm. He flopped down on the couch while one tried to tickle him and the other complained about his unshaven “pokey” face. He kissed them while they squirmed.
Breakfast. The smell of bacon and the scramble of the eggs told him it was morning. The clock read 8:14am. He turned his head toward her as she set a plate in front of him on the coffee table. Although she would never think it in her bathrobe and no make-up, her wordless smile was celestial. She handed him a mug of coffee which he held against his cheek. He felt the warmth and breathed it in. She kissed the top of his head as he wrapped his arms around her waist. He leaned his temple against her womb. She leaned over his ear and whispered “Thank you.” He thought of all she had done while he was gone. He thought of the constant cleaning, cooking, chasing of the children and mediating their disputes, directing their endless energy, disciplining them out of selfishness, and warding off colds and sore throats while suffering them herself. He looked up to her and whispered, “Thank you.” She snuggled in next to him and braided their fingers together.
He knew this was a woman of honor. She was not willing to sacrifice her commitments for comfort. She didn’t shrink back from pain. She organized the investment of her time and energy into achievable goals and met them. She didn’t bury her dissatisfaction in face painting, mindlessness, or spending. She did not shirk or spite the reality of the eternal like the defeated legions which surrounded her. She didn’t make the mistake of bullying others into a false respect. Instead her actions generated a true respect by her constant lack of violence. When she needed a break, she articulated it and did not allow herself to rip others apart out of frustration. Her self-awareness was power, and her self-discipline was a beauty which also served as a guide for him as he admired her. She looked at each adversity as an effort to create, develop, and sustain her character. She grew wiser with each success and each failure. Her tenacity generated a constant respect and cemented his trust. Although the bills were now paid, he would always be indebted to her. He would enjoy the opportunity of each day and night of paying his debt to her by living in the same strain of honor.