My love is looking for a shade tree
a cool, dry place
to soothe the sweat
of open summer, half spent
before I grew to know his touch.
Each time, it's three kisses,
the last a tug on the fuller, lower lip
exhaling from him a sigh, and I could take him
right there, if it weren't for coffee and pancakes
reminding me of the kitchen, where we stand
the nights and mornings fold into each other,
end to end, like a new map
I trace the pale summit under blue lights
framing the dresser's bleak mirror,
its slack jaw drawers full of faded socks
this, the daily routine, is where my love lives
walking tight to me like the haze clinging to the outside mountains
I can't lie wrapped around you and behave myself.
Can't keep my hands off.
Can't sleep with your staring, or those long lashes in sleep
Any major change in life, whether voluntary or forced, starts with an idea of exchange. Each one of us asks what is it that I am giving up, and what to gain in the sacrifice. Usually, the question comes after the change has taken place and is usually a question of lamentation, a how did I get here? sort of shrug within ourselves. Even when change for one is the norm, one seldom has the forethought to ask this question beforehand. Even I, in all my elaborate planning, had no idea.
It’s like being applied to a witness protection program, only seamless and flawless. If you told me six months ago that I would trade a 15 minute drive to my job as a receptionist at a law firm every morning (from my home at the back of the French Quarter to a building across the street from the Superdome) for an hour commute to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to temp in a life insurance agency, it wouldn’t totally startle me.
Looking back on it now, it reminds me only of something long ago known: an hour commute every morning in high school to a private Christian school that my parents demanded I attend to keep me out of public school. If you told me that I would find myself painting black the tiny fingernails of a 6 year old girl on “color day,” or scooping out fistfuls of playground sand from the worn leather back seat of a family sedan, I would expect to. I had thought out many of the kind and unkind realities of being in the daily lives of two children who met me merely months ago, as is my nature, to attempt the unknown to quash my own fear of it. Even the largest fantasy (that of finding a man so perfectly matched to me in every way I could have conjured up, plus a few I wasn’t able to predict) I had to go on was merely that, a hope, wide angle and perfectly captured in a digitized spectrum of color and shadow. If you had told me all of these things and more, sitting across me at a nicely oiled oak table in some business office downtown as you slid across the clean manila folder containing the whereabouts and what for of my new life, I would likely have skimmed it, my brows raised in a half hearted contentment, the phrase sounds like a fair deal to me knitting and unknitting a shrug in my shoulders. But it still would only be an attempt at another life, a role I would have to learn to fit myself into, slipping up on my new name now and then, catching myself in an older and expired referral to a past identity.
No one could have told me that I would slip into this new life without so much as a backward glance and made it believable, especially because it not so much unlikely as seemingly impossible to hope for, to believe could happen.
As my birthday approaches, and the closing of an off-center fiscal year (both for America as a country and me as one of its reluctant citizens), I like many people catch myself looking back upon these last 12 months with more longing and heavy sighs than I should. There is an air of helplessness in everything I touch.
I can't say how well I know him; I can only say what I know, what I've seen. One morning, I came into the bathroom and he was brushing his teeth. In the unused earring hole in the lobe of his right ear, he was wearing one of my silver hoops. I asked him why he was wearing it and he said, "Well I found it in my underwear, so I thought I'd wear it." The statement didn't make sense, and it wasn't supposed to. What it meant was that the earring I had lost somewhere between sleeping and waking had made a small journey from the bed to the floor. He corrected me at this point in my thoughts to point out it was a pair of clean underwear, not ones near the hamper, where he found the earring.
I know he is slightly discouraged about not being able to grow sideburns, but at the same time has no qualms about having virtually no hair on his chest (though to his credit, he is pleasantly pelted everywhere else that a man should be).
“I don’t like leading,” he says when I pass him on our way back to the house. We rode out on our bikes as soon as we got home from work. “I don’t like looking back and seeing you so far away. I want to do this together.”
Under my breath or in the back of my mind I’m thinking how small this statement makes me feel, how every time he looks back to make sure I’m doing ok or how far back I’ve lagged reminds me how weak I feel. I should have never told him about my heart murmur, but there’s no way I could have hidden if from him. Once since I’ve been here, I had a palpitation during sex and the pain crept across my abdomen and I scared us both, I suppose, because I didn’t want to stop. But then, I think about the second half of what he said and it softens me: I want to do this together.
There’s all these things that neither of us are used to but are finding from each other that they were things we’ve always wanted. Every guy I end up with seems to have some long-winded solitary activity that takes place in the house but doesn’t engage me. Even though I have no interest in drawing outside of offering my opinion’s on his work, I like that Jake seems to want me wherever he is, even if it’s just in the next room.
We keep skirting the word forever like it’s a cold we’ll catch if we get too close, as though either were even able to promise such a thing, and that if we would, would we be so afraid? When I look at his profile when he’s driving, I see how forever can be such an easy word to come to. It doesn’t take much; just make a good feeling last long enough and the promises rise to the back of your throat like bile, like something you’re afraid will stink up the place but you know it has to come out.
What can I tell you? What are the facts? I once had it in my head that I wanted to dance in the kitchen to the song Chances Are, and when we got home, Jake complied. We laugh in bed. I mean full throated, gut laughs, laughs that make you laugh at how silly the laugh sounds. I unwrap his gum when he’s driving and he thinks it’s the sweetest thing and how I spoil him more than his mother and isn’t that how things should be, when it’s what I want?
“I thought about it on the way home, how so many of the decisions I make are split second. Even this. I never would have thought, 12 months ago, that I’d be where I am, that I’d be this happy.”
“I think we’re going to be the inseparable couple, always doing everything together. Like band practice on Thursday. It was weird not having you there. Every time something I played went right, I looked around for you because I wanted to share it with you.”
Yes, there are men who say these things and you will eventually break down and realize that you’re not making this up, and that it’s real.
It’s hard to think about writing now, for now I’m not smoking and I can’t seem to dig up a shred of anything that isn’t childish amazement. A few weeks ago, I was making chili and Henry (who is 3) wanted to watch me cook everything together. I would hold up bowls of cumin and onion to his nose and watch him make different faces. I wished we had a tall stool so he could sit up close and yet out of harm’s way, not thinking at that moment how dangerous a tall stool would be in every other situation. From children, and only if we are adults, do we re-learn the duality of things, the fun and danger in all things.
I watch Zoe (who is only 6 but when she lays her legs out, they’re almost as long as mine) dance to the Spirit movie soundtrack. If she’s not dancing, she is Spirit the Horse, riding around the small corral of the living room until she’s tired and longing for a piece of rubber seagull, a random toy that her spirit animal decides is food. She doesn’t dance like a typical little kid. She closes her eyes and spins around, moving her arms to an interpretive rhythm. She looks like she’s really letting the music wash over her, and that she doesn’t care who’s watching, because, honestly, I don’t think she does.
I make Jake uncomfortable sometimes because I stare at him; I look at him too much. All the things I like about him and some of the things I point out are lost on him. Maybe it’s better that way, never fully knowing what it is about you that enabled you to be picked out of a line up.
“Of all the places I’ve been in the world so far, the place that feels most like home is in your arms.”
The couch is actually a love seat and so small that neither of us could make it a bed but both of us have had to do so, each at different times. I sit on the end closest to the TV and his long legs press out the width of the coffee table. I think he has the nicest looking feet of any man I’ve met (whose bare feet I’d gotten to see), and I figure it mostly for their high arches. He also has long monkey toes, like mine, and I’ve always thought I had nice feet, but nice for what, I’ve never been sure. He is long and wide, and all around me, like a cloak in the blue light of other people’s stories.
“That’s not really a place, though, my arms. It’s more, like, a condition, like when your mom’s legs and stomach form a lap when she sits down, then goes away when she gets up.”
In order to rest my head on his chest in this position, I have to face away from the screen. Sometimes I don’t want to see anything, or think anything, or analyze my state. I just want to feel his heartbeat. I question every time I speak, and every time I hold back my manic thoughts from him.
“Perhaps. I think I say it because of what it implies.”
“Being in your arms.”
“What does that imply?”
“That you love me, or care about me, that I am not alone in the world. “
I do love you. You know that.
You were never alone in the world.
It’s official. According to the standard levels that humans use from time to time to gauge age (sadly, being trends, markets, or the media), I am old, a has been, one passed over. One word:
I never thought of it before (but I also had not set foot inside one of their stores before), but Target is a great idea for the name of a store whose reputation has always been “like K-Mart, only cooler.” Inside, I see they keep true to this premise, for everything in the place is targeted to certain age and economic bracket, down to the modern plastic pen cup with built-in bud vase (apparently, kids these days keep a flower in a bud vase somewhere in their life). I went in with the intention of buying some cheap short sleeved shirts that were dress-casual enough for work, and I guess I was expecting it to be like Wal-Mart, with a decent variety for the low prices enough so that I could find something that fit well. Sad to say even though I don’t shop in the Women’s section, there was none to be found. For those that don’t know, the Women’s department is the largest sized clothing for women you will find in a Wal-Mart type store (other than Maternity, of course), and it’s ironic and unobtrusive title for, you know, women’s clothes. But women don’t buy clothes in the Women’s department, fat ladies do. Women, you see, shop in the Misses or Junior departments. Women like me. Right.
Faulting lack of many options for color and size that are usually atypical for places I manage to buy clothes, I was chagrined to find that the rugby striped collared shirt is a again in fashion, having been pulled from the trunk of clothes in my mother attic that the boys in my 3rd grade class were so fond of, sans the uppity Izod alligator, of course. I saw this again as I left with my whopping 3 purchases and passed the window of an Old Navy with a parody poster of gleaming white smiles in boxes called The Rugby Bunch.
I am not saying that merely regurgitating icons from my childhood is a crime against my own claims of being young (and need I not repeat that these icons are never the ones I thought were cool even back in the day), providing soon-to-be-college-freshman with the decorating capacity that once could only be found at the shitty, overpriced college bookstores (Christmas lights, tapestries and the like). It was more my own expired sense of self being reflected back at me from every headless cardboard stiff in the Junior department. I suddenly felt dirty in my scuffed black low top Chucks and second hand cuffed jeans. All around me women were squeaking around on foam wedgies, looking like 3-D versions of the ensembles on the hangers, and all at once I felt horribly left out of a really good joke.
We shrug around the smallness of the children’s clothes.
Or should I say, I do, because he never shrugs. Sometimes I want to kill him for that.
We avoid the implications of size, and how different we are when we were other people.
How much time do we spend assuring ourselves that we don’t really need each other and how much can we spend expressing how much we don’t want to ever leave?
I am learning that a kiss as I walk by is not for insurance of indoor upstairs sports, but simply because it was in his whim to show me, when I wasn’t looking, what he decided about me.
Update: 10/13/07: There is a lot to say, but the one thing to say is that the ice cubes have melted, become a puddle, and dissolved. And we are both going to be ok. So don't worry.
Update: 10/09/10: Whatevah. It all worked out. We're back to being cubes again.