I Kiss Your Shoulder at First Light

Dear Kathy,

I don’t know exactly what time it is, but I’m awake. Strange, I’m still tired. It’s almost like I woke up so that I could lay here and feel my fatigue. As today’s first light shows through the boulevard’s maples, I kiss your bare shoulder. Quietly. Softly. I kiss your shoulder and rest my hand on your back.


Dawn shines through the Shenley Drive maples.

I’ve been tethered to myself lately, reckoning the distance between the man I am and the man I long to be and shaking my head. The destination is over the horizon, and the road is black ice. So I kiss your shoulder to say, “I’m more grateful for you than you can imagine,” without spoiling your last hour of sleep. There’s no reason for both of us to look out the window and contemplate mortality and, at least in my case, feel fat.


Cole’s legs and my belly: I don’t know how to break this to you, Kath, but I’m pregnant.

That’s another thing: I glimpse myself walking by windows and see the reflection of an animated pudgy-guy butter sculpture. You may remember a time when I cleaned up pretty well, when I didn’t grunt when bending over. I do the weight loss calculations and string together a couple of interior expletives: 3500 calories x the 50 lbs. I want to lose = $%#&! So, again, without your knowing it, I kiss your shoulder. And at the moment, my hand still rests on your back—a fragile man steadying himself.

Since I’ll get a nap this afternoon, I stay awake in gratitude. You don’t mope around, gazing into your naval and mentally kvetching about your wounds and flaws. Instead, you do shit, extremely beautiful and useful shit. When we needed a roof, you said, “I can do that,” and you did. Even though you used to faint at the sight of blood, you said, “I do believe I’ll become a nurse,” and then you hauled off and did it. Now, you not only treat cancer patients, but you look at them with compassionate eyes. When the downstairs bathroom got shabby, you remodeled the bad boy.


That’s some fine tile work . . . especially for a rookie.

And over the last few months, while I’ve napped, you’ve tended plants. This summer we’ll have tomatoes, basil, cilantro, and peppers, and the yard will be a riot of color because you go to work for ten hours, then come home and head to your basement “greenhouse” to make sure no plant is thirsty.


Even the animals love to hang with you in the basement greenhouse.

Now you’re awake. You roll toward me. I draw you close and kiss your boney elbow. (You could put somebody’s eye out with those elbows of yours.)

Understand, I’m not saying all these nice things about you because I’m entirely hot dog water. I’m a nice guy, patient, low-maintenance, and I do cook you some good food. I’m much less neurotic than I was years ago. That counts for something. I do more chores than back when I was a lazy slug. And I work as hard at writing as you do at gardening, though your produce tastes way better than mine.


Pretty soon, my love, I’ll make you some pasta with pesto.


It’s only May, and your flowers are already gorgeous.

The thing is, I sometimes wonder if you knew what you were getting into when you said “I do” on July 30, 1983. Elena and Matt have given us Cole, and Micah is making us proud. Good stuff! But you love the rush as a plane accelerates toward take off, and I’d rather snort wasabi than fly. You love to sail, and I’m always a-scared the boat will capsize. You like to ski and build snow forts, and I like to drink hot cocoa by a fire. In short, whatever the woman equivalent of a mensch is, that’s you. As a guy, I’m a fraidy cat, a poor man’s Woody Allen.


Please be careful! Don’t stand so close to the edge!

I do lots of mulling over as I watch you sleep. Often without realizing it, my lips are drawn to your shoulder, cool from the open window. I rest my hand on your back, cooperate with love’s gravity, and kiss you so gently you don’t feel it—most of the time. Once in a while you go hmm, and I know you understand what I mean.

I mean I’m glad we’re together. The sight of you walking in the front door is a joy to me. Falling asleep and waking up next to you is unmerited grace. This is what I’ve been saying, kissing your shoulder this morning at first light.




Flowers everywhere, including on our busted-ass back steps. This summer you’ll make them beautiful again, like you do everything else.

33 thoughts on “I Kiss Your Shoulder at First Light

  1. Hi Pastor John,
    I hear how much you admire and adore Kathy, but, you know, she’s awfully fortunate for YOU too! I laughed and laughed at the pic of you and Cole! Why? Maybe because I can relate to the body circumference? Your prose is so very excellent-such a talent! Thank you for sharing you and your world!

    • Thanks for the compliment. Re: body circumference: Kathy and I just walked the dog, and I could feel my gut undulate with each step. $#%&! Ah well. Peace, sister. John (P.S. Kathy does know she’s lucky. In an hour I’ma serve her tomato-tortellini-basil salad. Topped with fresh Romano. Which reminds me: the Dipkos should have dinner in Kathy’s lovely backyard with the Colemans sometime this summer.)

    • Thanks, Nancy. And for the tweet thingy. Danged if I can figure that stuff out. Some of my belly fat may be migrating to my brain. (I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your reading. I sent the book manuscript off to the printer today, so I look forward to being more faithful in keeping up with you and my other buds.) Peace, John

  2. Tears of joy for the love you have, and also for fearlessness in which you proclaim it to the universe. Ps. I love the snorting wasabi comment and may just use that in conversation soon–thanks 🙂

    • Hey, I’ve got an idea: if I ever have that Behrend get together, we can get down on some wasabi! You still in Franklin?

  3. I see, like me, you married out of your species. I marvel everyday that the woman loves me despite everything I am and have been.

  4. Nice! You have a way of saying things the rest of us feel but can,t quite get spoken … and that makes us look like shmucks when our wives read this!
    Love you anyway.
    Vince K.

    • Shit, Vince, you make me laugh! Love you back. Tip: Show Marge the post and tell her, “What he said!” Peace, John

    • Thanks, Rose. That one felt good to write. And you’re no slacker in the great department. I love how you keep plugging away at life–passionate in your search for gladness. Or if you’re anything like me, failing gladness, at least okayness. John

  5. I am tempted to plagiarize you and leave it on my wife’s pillow. I love how you can make this passionate, yet not too sugary. Waxing poetic with your words coming from your memories and your complete attention to your wife is a better measuring stick for a true display of love than overuse or reliance upon the heart for syrupy emotion. You have my deepest respect, for you have shown me that you are. (in the sense of being)

    • Wow! High praise, brother. Thanks. And leave that sucker on your wife’s pillow–may want to tweak the boney elbows part. Your secret is safe with me. Peace, John

    • Thanks, sistah. A course, remember, I was born in 1961. Your husband may be a young padawan learner. I was always loving to my wife, but awfully lazy and unhelpful. Here’s a lesson: tell your fella I suggested he kiss your shoulder in the middle of the night. Your soul will hear the “I love you.” John

  6. How beautiful. But like I tell your sister,I wish you could see you through my eyes! I think you’re pretty special. (Warts n all Lol)

    • Thanks, B.A. And congrats on the wedding. Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you about June and July. Will do so soon. Give your spouse a kiss on the shoulder for me. Love, John

  7. Please don’t put yourself down so much! I think you are a wonderful man and Kathy is just as lucky to have you as you are to have her. A wonderful couple. Thanks for all you have done for Vince and me. Love you guys! God bless


    • Hi, Lily. The Coleman family had dinner last night out on the brick patio, which Kathy also built. Lots of plants going on out in the backyard. Yep, I feel pretty lucky. Peace, John

  8. John, What a beautiful love letter to Kathy; from the heart…such a word-smith. You are a wonderful couple and Dave and I are very grateful for you both and all you give in so many ways.

    • Thanks, Nancy. I really appreciate your reading and responding. I’m so blessed, and you and Dave are included in that. Peace, John

  9. Pingback: Belated Happy National Napping Day! | A Napper's Companion

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