The plaster on the apartment wall has been chipped away, repaired, and painted over an infinite number of times. Likely once between every tenant who’s occupied the 118-year-old building. Next to the bed, the divots stand out and are set back in such nonsense patterns that it is difficult to resist running a finger over them. When we lie down, my back towards him, I hypnotize myself to sleep with the shapes. Elsewhere in the apartment is the stack of books that I have moved across the country and back again. Their sole purpose is to be cut to bits. How Things Work and A Visual History of the World, both missing half pages and odd chunks where an illustration of Stonehenge or a diagram of a camera lens once were. He knows as well as I do that the books are not the reading kind. For the past year he’s received collaged birthday cards and love notes composed of their butchered pages.
I am drowsily cloud gazing into the goopy paint. I must also be squirming ever so slightly. He is annoyed by this and asks me, accusatorially, what I’m up to. I explain to him the goops. How I’ve been imagining a landscape on our wall for weeks. I point out to him, that if you read this wall like a topographical map, we are laying in a lake. He had not slept for some days which had led to fighting, but this observation delights him. I recognize this brand of compulsion. He can be momentarily harnessed. We can both pretend that I have made a brilliant observation - because I am obviously brilliant, and therefore worthy of him. It is a reprieve that I must not fumble. Within moments we become scissors in hand, surrounded by books in the bed. While I snip at forest scenes, he narrates what he thinks we ought to capture. Some space-time that is pre-cowboys in a western expanse but post-colonial. As I glue Lewis and Clark into their canoe near the pillows, he rummages for a pencil to write in for them some dialogue: “Onward, lest we perish in this funky loch.”
When we first became a couple I was brilliant more often and for longer. “Okay, Joogle,” he would address me from the passenger seat, “What famous authors once lived in New Orleans?” I still mistook the pressure to get it right as my own ignorance or insecurity. “Well, Tennessee Williams for sure,” I would respond. “but you know, we could actually Google it.” “No no no,” he’d insist, “You know everything. But please . . . tell me who else?”
Because we had started as friends, we had plenty of people in common. For a decade now the loose assortment of drifters, idealists, and barflies in our orbit had propped each other up as we all survived our mutual youths. We penned socialist poems and made drawings from porno films to send each other via snail mail. We slipped in and out of romantic affairs of convenience. Except for me. Despite having a bad reputation as the biggest flirt, I never actually slept around much. Likely, this is what made me most brilliant of all. The way he pursued me, once he eventually turned his sights toward me, was intoxicating. Having crossed the country to appear in my doorway in the middle of the night he asserted: “Sometimes it is as simple as falling in love with the girl next door.” A gesture so grand that it eclipsed the past, a time when he’d loved on everyone else we mutually knew and the present when those very same familiars had grown up and paired off. A few weeks later when we loaded my things into my battered old truck, we held hands over the stick shift and acknowledged nothing outside of going, together down this road.
Smithsonian’s Natural History is a reading kind of book but we need the trees to keep our momentum. And since it’s being mutilated anyways, we may as well find a bear. He loves animals and is particularly soothed by dogs. Our activities center around and stop for them often. On our first day in Florida, he awakened me pre-dawn, packed us bagels and coffee, and showed me the path for bicycling to the beach. After watching the sun rise, we worked together to sketch a custom coloring book for the new children our old friends were now having. The main character, little lamb had fallen ill. Her best friends – horse and chicken – delivered her to the doctor where she was made well by prescription convertible rides and ice cream. We were always better with a project.
Within six months of being together, I had learned to passably play multiple instruments with which to accompany him on guitar, had filled entire notebooks with writing exercises scribbled back and forth in tandem, and ridden hundreds of miles along the sea. Everything he pushed me to try, was something I’d always wanted to do. The family band, the books we co-read and co-wrote, the busyness of building a singular world, it was all fueled by the intense agitation of new love.
Every memory of our life alone along the Gulf is washed and paled by an exaggerated sunlight. So that I can’t exactly say when it was that his moods began to darken. It was likely after we’d been fired as the house band at Big Papa’s bar. Perhaps coinciding with when we started to need grocery lists and a routine for the laundry. Simultaneous, definitely, to when I finally made some local girlfriends of my own. This is when I started perfecting the redirection. All women understand redirection. We employ it to raise children. We rely on it to safely hold our boundaries. I mastered it to make our love stay. I learned it, and him, so expertly that I could conjure just the right song or illicit the exact daydream needed to lead us back into the light. Once we were giggling at the absurdity of taking a sun shower in the middle of a tropical rainstorm, I became again the infallible object of his total attention.
It’s become harder though, after all this time, to disguise some inevitable realities. Instruments need restrung like bodies do need rest. Someone has to work. Setting on my thigh I have two cypress trees and an egret. This is not my ideal form of bedroom decor, but the calm is a comfort. I let the thought pass, aloud, how difficult it might be to remove our topographical mural for the sake of our security deposit. A glue stick sails past my ponytail and into the wall. “We’re finally having some fun, and you want to worry about money!” Books crash to the floor. The light is shut off and I am instructed to stay still this time so he can actually rest.
I press my forehead into the cold of the lake and wait. Anymore, my mind is too numb to come up with much when we are in the dark. What has just happened? The same old thing. How though? Likely because of me. I stay perfectly still for what feels like hours until he finally seems to sleep. Without moving my shoulders, I explore our new territory with my fingertips. I run them along the shoreline, the alligator we’ve glued in next to a school of mismatched fish. Something though has shifted. How long has it been since this wasn’t followed by the attention, since it didn’t leave me endeared? I discreetly grope for the answer. A honeysuckle shrub, the bear’s back legs, a century of beige grime, glossed over. A very, very long time.
It occurs to me that there is no one else left in his life. I’ve become lover, healer, and complete keeper. There is no one to corroborate with. Not one witness. With my money, my meekness, and my boundless forgiveness I keep us alive. Morning slowly enters the room making his blocky handwriting once again legible. “Lest we perish . . .”
With my stillness and my smallness, I am keeping myself alive.
Sara has been sober for 53 days. Matt & Jenna have date night
I’m on the farm
Playing records, wishing I wasn't on the farm
This song is about how simple it is to fall in love
Everyone has turned so adult. So I started exercising
Only it leaves me exhilarated. Which makes me crave tequila
Beck’s in bed already. Curt's got the kiddo this week
Maggie would but she’s awfully far away
I’ve got a new book of low cal recipes
and time enough to dissect the logic of the one black in the white beans
on the counter
I play with the dogs. Smoke dope in the tub.
The chorus: It never takes;
It never took
Do you gals want to get together two weeks from Wednesday?
After yoga, but before the girls go down
I can’t wait to see you
I Want to Talk About Womanhood
I wanna hash out this part that wasn’t taught in school. Because even in the world of studying gender we talk about women's roles in terms of child bearing & rearing. In the nurturing of aging parents. With a focus on invisible domestic and emotional labor. By linear milestones that still fit a feminized norm. But this wasn't covered.
This, the other way that is normal for me everyday. I'm 30, childless and single in the Midwest. I've missed some milestones. But I'm no career driven ice queen archetype either. Meaning, it seems, that I've also missed the mark of the scholarly 3rd wave.
There are very few people to tell you what this will be like.
I followed my head and did half of the things. I've disturbed the waters of each "pink collar" job I've had. I dumped the man who wouldn't do half the dishes. I remain vocal about my commitment to take very little shit.
I followed my heart and some came out wrong. I never placed more worth on success than on loving others well. I got involved with a bad man and let big, bad shit happen and realized that the rest of the single scene....with it's endless partying and flippancy and levity …. didn't serve me so well. So I drew the wagons tighter, told myself I was creating a family in my own way, took up with stronger more genuine women. Women with focus and stability and husbands and babies and resources and easy love that they were willing to share.
But I will tell you what it is like.
Time passes just fine this way. Years go by and you try new things on for size -mates, pets, apartments, friendships, careers. And all the while you show up. For superhero themed birthdays and first days of first grades, for couples dinners bc you genuinely love them both anyways, for movie nights on the couch because of course they are tired. And you don't mind, it's easier for you to come to them. You are just one person.
It is a blissfully ignorant state of waiting.
This singlehood, sister-mamas, is not the same kind we performed together before. This is not kissing evvverrry boy because it's fun. This is also the intentional building of a life. It's of a different varietal, but this grass is every bit as blue and then as green and then as blue but mostly green as it is on your side. You have more life, in quantity. Which is easy to honor because we studied it that way. It's political. It's not divided fairly for you by design.
I do not have less life, in legitimacy because it is unexplored. I have the messier pieces. The sideways stares of women I'd love to love but by default I can't be trusted. The delicate guardianship of other people's children, the controversial dusting off of second hand husbands. Things you see as burdensomely personal because you're too busy to widen the lens.
It expires when it becomes apparent that I’m different.
It helped to picture herself on a dirt road.
An incline, where the precipice was always just beyond "those" trees. This road had tire grooves on either side to assure her that she was not the first, and on it she could just goddamned walk. Her slick double French braids could be stagnant in the breeze-less atmosphere. She was in no danger of any loco weeds noticing her as shapely or different. Which was, decidedly, too uncomfortable anymore.
On the road the edges were finite. This divot was where she could be human and fallible and that patch of grass was where married men went home to their wives. The two were always mutually exclusive at best. In this way it was never daunting. If rest was called for, she could lay in a 'x' shape, and touch it all. Digging her toes into a patch of mud, she could feel every strand of words, which she had ever heard formed, disconnect until they were all just tiny, manageable bits. Not that she had any desire to administer a thing. She only aimed to goddamn walk and walk.