At home, George and I are a sickeningly affectionate couple. We hug, kiss, and call each other pet names like Honey-Bunny and Sweetie-Woogums. I rub his cute bald head, and he massages my shoulders. I know, I know. It’s disgusting, but I’m convinced that this is one secret to the longevity of our marriage. That, and we’re both too stubborn to quit.
Despite this lovey-dovey life in the privacy of our own home, George’s twenty years of service in the United States Air Force eliminated virtually all public display of affection (or PDA) from our relationship beginning with Navigator Training in 1988. Suddenly, he wouldn’t even hold hands with me in public while in uniform. In civvies, he would only hold hands.
Early on, I tested this restriction to amuse myself. While in public, I would reach out to hug him or throw an arm over his shoulder. He’d dance fearfully away from me while whispering "No PDA!" and then he'd glance around to see if anyone witnessed this egregious violation of military discipline. Eventually, I got bored and acquiesced to the military code of “No Touchy!”
A few times in his career, however, our private affection leaked out in public. Just a week or so after my c-section in August, 2002, George and I were invited to attend a 34th Bomb Squadron dinner party for two of the Doolittle Raiders: Richard Cole and Thomas Griffin. No way would a little ten-inch abdominal incision and massive doses of Percocet keep me from meeting two genuine American war heroes.
During dinner, George was extraordinarily attentive to my comfort. At one point, he asked me quietly, “Are you doing okay, sweetie?”
Across the table sat the flight surgeon and his wife, who overheard George’s question. Astonished, she asked me, “Did he just call you ‘sweetie’?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Wow!” she said. Then, after a sideways glance at her husband, she added, “You are so lucky.”
Why, yes. Yes, I am.
But the injunction against PDA is so deeply ingrained in me, despite George’s retirement from the Air Force almost two years ago, that I simply don’t touch him in public other than to hold hands if we happen to be side by side.
Last weekend, I took Hoover for a walk, and as I turned up our cul-de-sac to return home, I saw George and the boys in swimsuits heading toward me. When George and I met up, he said, “We’re meeting Debra and Parker at the pool. They invited Nick, but Debra has to work and can’t watch Jack, and I thought it would be mean to not let him go, too. Are you going to join us?”
“Sure. Let me take Hoover home and grab a magazine. Do you have the house key?”
“I left it unlocked.”
“Okay, see you in a bit.”
Nick, accustomed to seeing his parents’ daily private displays of affection, was disconcerted after witnessing our brief and oh-so-polite public encounter. He confronted George:
“How come you guys didn’t hug? I was expecting something more loving than just…chit chat.”
Sorry to disappoint you, Nick. For future reference, never underestimate the value of chit chat. You can be happily married without PDA, but you can’t be married at all without chit chat.