If I could be someone else for five minutes, I'd be Van Morrison so I could sing "Someone Like You" to my wife.
I've been all around the world
Marching to the beat of a different drum
But just lately I have realized
The best is yet to come
Someone like you makes it all worthwhile
Someone like you keeps me satisfied
Someone exactly like you.
Alas, I can't sing. But I have imagination. So I arranged for a terrific young singer to come to our home and serenade Lydia on her 42nd birthday. The singer is 20-year-old Andrew King from Seattle. You haven't heard of him. But you probably will someday. He's about to release his first CD, a collection of 12 original songs he wrote and recorded.
I met King at Southern Virginia University, where I teach writing. King is a music major there and he's currently putting his British accent to work as Mr. Darcy in the university's production of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." But King's specialty is doing Beatles and Sinatra cover songs. When this kid sings "Yesterday," you get a glimpse of a young Paul McCartney.
He arrived at our home last Sunday evening with an acoustic guitar, a portable electric piano, an accompanist, and a list of songs I'd requested in advance. I also invited over my wife's favorite chef to prepare dinner for two.
Nathan Fountain, 39, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., in 1998. Today he is executive chef at Brix, a superb restaurant in Lexington, Va., that serves in-season foods, all hand-selected from local farms that use organic methods.
Besides great music, my wife has a passion for whole foods masterfully prepared. That's why I tapped Fountain.
"I like to challenge people's palate," he told me as he donned his white chef's coat, spread out his utensils on our countertop, and walked me through the menu he had put together for Lydia.
First course: Consommé (a rich broth of rabbit stock that is best sipped like a soup).
Second course: Local spinach with ginger vinaigrette.
Third course: Sweet potato medallions tossed with butter za'ater (a Middle Eastern spice blend of thyme, oregano, rosemary and sumac).
Fourth course: Szechuan style cauliflower sautéed in black garlic and mushroom soy.
Fifth course: Baked cobia served with a tamarind glaze over cilantro rice with pistachio and garlic.
Looking on as King warmed up on his acoustic guitar and Fountain filled our stove top with his personal skillets, my children ribbed me about "always spoiling mom." I see it differently. Isn't it natural to pay a lot of attention to the thing you treasure most?
Yet, in marriage, it's so easy to get distracted by other things. Perhaps Rosalind said it best in Shakespeare's "As You Like It": "Men are April when they woo, December when they wed."
Shakespeare, despite authoring some of the most vivid love poems in the English language, was a skeptic when it came to the long-term prospects for happiness in marriage. The neglected or abandoned spouse is a common theme in his plays. Some of his most powerful characters are those longing for spousal intimacy.
One of the many things that make his writing so powerful is its timelessness. In "Julius Caesar," Brutus shut his wife, Portia, out of his personal life, prompting her to ask: "Dwell I but in the suburbs of your good pleasure?"
My philosophy for avoiding the sand trap of lost spousal intimacy is simple: Spoiling a spouse preserves marriage.
Intimacy, of course, takes many forms. Communication, however, is probably the most essential one. And we say a lot to our spouse by our actions.
For instance, I spent last week locked away in my office writing one of the most interesting and compelling stories of my career. I was so caught up in it I couldn't stop writing, even at night. But before I could write the story, I had to spend a lot of time over previous weeks in Los Angeles researching. And hours after my staging an intimate birthday dinner for Lydia, I kissed her goodbye and left for two days in Arkansas, followed by two days in Seattle, followed by one day in Salt Lake City, followed by a travel day.
While away I lectured at three law schools, did a couple of book signings for "Poisoned," wrote a short story for Sports Illustrated and worked on developing some ideas for a TV segment.
It's impossible not to love a woman who encourages me to do what I love — write. It's easier to thrive professionally when thriving in love. Along the way, I selfishly want to collect as many moments as possible. Moments like sitting across from my wife in her brand-new red dress, slowly working through baked cobia, while a boy who looks like a Beatle sings:
Why she had to go I don't know, she wouldn't say.
I said, something wrong, now I long for yesterday.
Love was such an easy game to play,
Now I need a place to hide away,
Oh, I believe in yesterday.
I love that song. But it's a haunting reminder to not put off love until tomorrow.
Jeff Benedict is the author of "POISONED: The True Story of the Deadly E. Coli Outbreak That Changed the Way Americans Eat."