“If we were vampires and death was a joke
We’d go out on the sidewalk and smoke
Laugh at all the lovers and their plans
I wouldn’t feel the need to hold your hand
Maybe time running out is a gift
I’ll work hard ’til the end of my shift
And give you every second I can find
And hope it isn’t me who’s left behind
It’s knowing that this can’t go on forever
Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone
Maybe we’ll get forty years together
But one day I’ll be gone
Or one day you’ll be gone”
– Jason Isbell, “If We Were Vampires”
I love this new song from Jason Isbell. It may be the best “marriage” song ever written (note I didn’t say love song; there is a difference.) It certainly will be played and danced to at our wedding, whenever that may be. And I am sure it will still bring a tear to our eyes, taking us back to the first time we felt it.
Isbell sings of an eternal truth; but it’s one we don’t like to think about, especially at weddings, which are usually about beginnings. But a marriage is ultimately a commitment to an end. Because despite the fairy tale, no one, and no marriage, lasts forever…
Here in these simple, beautiful lyrics, Jason lays down the marriage gauntlet – to him and his wife, to Kim and I, to anyone who has the audacity to want to get married. “Maybe time running out is a gift. I’ll work hard ’til the end of my shift.”
I’m not sure everyone understands that time running out is a gift. Kim and I certainly know this, intimately. We know there will be an end.
And we also know something that Jason and his wife Amanda (who sings with him on this song) don’t – we know exactly what it’s like to bury a spouse, to truly understand what “til death do us part” means. It’s not easy, Jason. You won’t be singing about it. In fact, it will rip your heart out and inflict a pain you can’t even imagine.
But Kim and I accepted the fact that we will probably have to go through this again, that one of us will probably “have to spend some days alone.” That was the first decision we had to make in our relationship. From the start, we agreed to be ok with an end, however it might be. We could not have chosen to love fully again if we didn’t choose this. Those are the inalienable conditions of choosing to love again, as anyone who has lived through death or divorce knows.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t both fully agree with Isbell’s most honest line in the song, “and hope it isn’t me who’s left behind.” It’s gonna suck, terribly, for whomever has to bury the other, for whomever has to grind out their own end, alone. We both reserve the right to regret our decision to love again at that time, if only because we already know the immense, irrecoverable hurt that will entail.
But to justify that inevitable pain, to make it more bearable – we will have to work a little bit now.
“I’ll work hard ’til the end of my shift.” That’s it, that’s the most important line in this song, the key, the timely reminder that I need, that Kim and I need, that we all need to hear. It’s the hammer that brings these lyrics home, that breaks through the daily grind to shatter our comfortable illusions of what marriage really is, and reminds us of what is really important in a relationship.
And that is the beauty of this song. I sometimes get lost, and I lose sight of what is important. This song reminds me of how special it is to hold Kim’s hand, and what a gift it is to just be around her, to share in her life, for as much time as we’re given.
Because you know what? We may not get forty years. In fact Kim and I probably won’t get 40 years together, we’re just too old already. And I’m not sure we would even want 40 years together if we don’t take time to care for and nurture the special gift we have been given.
So yes, Kim and I have moved into the work phase. We are not immune to the tediousness of work and career, of grocery shopping and saving for colleges, of kitchen repairs and trips to the dentist. But goddammit, we’ve recently done those things alone, too, and that really sucks. It’s so much better sharing everyday life with someone!
Last Saturday was spent on hands and knees, ripping out a kitchen filled with water and mold; it sucked. But I am lucky enough to have a partner, someone who helps when I need it, keeps me steady, and flashes that cute crooked little smile at just the right time to remind me that everything is ok. And late that night, when we were finally finished, sore and exhausted, our dirty fingers entwined, and I wrapped Kim in my arms. Aching muscles were soothed, and fears were vanquished when I found a hand that fits mine perfectly in the dark.
I am lucky enough to have found you, Kim – you make even ripping out a kitchen a romantic adventure! We are still connected, heart and soul, and our shared love will be the pinnacle of my human experiences, my greatest gift from this life. We probably will not have 40 years together, and we certainly know, to borrow another Jason Isbell line, that “no one dies with dignity.” But wow, I am so grateful to be traveling with you for now, for however long we choose, for however long life will have us.
So let’s get these kids off to college and this house back in shape, and let’s enjoy those things as they happen, together. And then let’s get busy sharing this song, and a dance, and the gift of our togetherness with family and friends, and create the best wedding ceremony we can. And then let’s build a marriage where we remember that we’re not vampires, that we won’t last forever, and that we are eternally lucky to have shared whatever time we have, hand in hand…
Love you with all my heart and soul, Kimberly Rose!