I was never married, though it was something like marriage.
Perhaps I should say that I was married, and he was not. We had documents of our joining and a wedding – it was a joyful one – and I thought it was a good sign. I remember the way that he looked at me: his grin was wide and his eyes were not veiled that evening; the emotion was genuine. But I was a possession, an expedited means to an end which doesn’t preclude the existence of love, or something like love.
Two clergymen from two different faiths presided; they placed my hand in his, blessed the rings on our fingers, gave him permission to take and me, to give. We became a unit: the present sweetened, the future unknown. And we became something I needed, or so I thought. A place of safety.
After the ceremony he flitted from friend to friend and I recall feeling alone and the feeling stabbed at me. But I told myself he’s happy, he’s sociable, so smile – everything is alright.
Then there was a honeymoon in the Aegean and even there I sensed it and set it aside. There was sun and wind and quiet time after the chaos of a wedding, yet it wasn’t what I envisioned. We were together, but already separate. He read, while I walked by myself along sandy beaches, noticing couples braving the hours of heat and wind, chatting and cooing in the autumn air approaching. And we would sit together on our little terrace, and there was making love efficiently enough, and nightly.
Yet that too had changed, and I set it aside.
I focused on other pleasures, memorizing his cheeks as he slept, the symmetrical dipping downward of his brows, the full lips that resembled his mother’s. I was overcome with the beauty of him and told myself everything is alright.
There was silence, an overly generous silence, punctuated with his stories and our laughter. And there was an impenetrable wall and I had no knowledge then of walls except my own, unable to scale my own, unaware of the work required to disassemble them. What I perceived as patience and time to know each other differently was, I realized later, indifference.
Waters churn and waters flatten
I am not made to live at the unruffled surface of calm waters. I am made for the depths and their discoveries, for swimming through reefs and caves, kelp and coral, for the buoyancy of floating and staring up at the blue of the sky, guessing at the forms of each cloud like a child, reaching outward – for a hand. For a beloved.
I am not made for the glassy surface.
I fell in love in the wake of my father’s sudden death, in the storm of it, in the deep pit of a lost self and disconnection, orphaned from any chance at stability, thrust into an empty room where I became the three-legged chair and teetered while the monster’s voice remained: no one will love you, no one will love you, no one will love you.
In the rage of the monster and the god of the monster the child absorbs any prophesy; monsters swallow the air and plunder, and here is my monster’s proof: no one will love you. In the fury of the monster, in the wake of death, you cling to anything like love.
And then there was something like marriage.
Once upon a time
I must have been the woman he wanted once; he likes surface and intelligence, which is an odd combination but he must feel safe there, and in control, and he is all about control. So I bubbled along the surface and at the time was content to remain there, happy to remain there, weary of the depths, of grief and blindness.
So perhaps he fell in love with a woman he thought would live at the surface, and so I take my blame as I feel I should; I must have been the woman he wanted once.
But he is a man who lives at the surface and I was only floating there to heal; he is a man who will not dive or explore; he is a man who perceives friend or enemy and once you cross an unseen line you are the enemy. To the man I loved, I became the enemy, and I couldn’t know that then, on that stark, beautiful, lonely island in a lapis sea. We did what we were supposed to do. We undertook the motions of a marriage.
And I told myself everything is alright.
With the gift of this thing that was something like a marriage came a family, his family, and I adored them. They were everything I no longer had, spilling over with ebullient tales and heated discussions, hours at the long table in a spacious room, in a home simmering with ideas and language, with teasing and parables, with food and drink and laughter and so I concluded: yes, this will work. We will work. Though I glimpsed problems I told myself there will always be problems and as weddings and gatherings and years turned into something like a marriage I pushed away the facts and falsity and after all, the deed was done; there were babies and family events and I said to myself there will always be problems, but everything is alright.
In the morning there should be music
This morning I listened to a half-drunk love song and I realized we had no song; we had moments of song, very early and too few, but I am not sure if they were real or imagined because I needed to imagine they were real.
But I was the only one in a marriage. I was married and he was not, and while I had an experience of marriage it was more like living the framework of a polished thing viewed from the outside or through the fog of my sleeplessness. It was a structure that could not support weight, with no brick and mortar to endure time, and yet we endured, politely, for many years, perhaps because he traveled more and more and was not there and when he was, he was not there for me, though perhaps he would say the same – that I was not there for him.
I wonder now if I was there at all, in my pain and sleeplessness that he dismissed which made the gulf between us grow and the acceptance of distance inevitable. I wonder if I was there at all in the woman he must have seen when he came home, the woman who did not laugh, the woman who did not live on the surface like the one he fell in love with if indeed he ever fell in love, or something like love.
Yet we offered a pretty structure of rooms and the appearance of being furnished, though only the boys’ rooms were filled with sufficiency and it was I who furnished them and of that I am certain.
When they were babies, he would hold them and sleep. I’d pass a bottle, exhausted, but he would sleep. I’d place a son on his chest, his body would settle in around the infant and cradle him in what I know was love, and yet he would sleep. And I, sleepless, would dream of sleep, dream of something more than the perpetual haze.
When they were no longer babies he was already gone – he traveled and was gone, he was in town and was gone, he puttered around the house and always in another room and was gone. He was in the back yard, tinkering or building or clearing part of the woods, and he was there but he was gone. The boys would chase around nearby and delight in him – so big – and he carried them on his shoulders, and he must have been for them – for a time – a sort of god.
And I loved him still, and told myself it is enough.
But in the morning, there should be music.
Everything is not alright
Everything emptied. And there was little and there was much to empty. Every history is full, swelling to capacity. Perhaps it is the vessel that is too small.
For my sons, there were images I captured in photograph, placing them tenderly in albums so I could tend to my illusions and make them stick: the big man with children on his shoulders, the big man building swings, the big man at the kitchen table, though once the little boys were tucked in bed there was silence and the big man was gone. And everything emptied. I told myself, in a slow awakening: everything is not alright.
He was good-natured unless you crossed him, so I didn’t cross him.
He was thoughtless, but I excused it as absent-mindedness.
He wasn’t there unless he was, but still he was not.
When he came home to the white kitchen and the boys eating at the table, messy and busy, it felt like a life even as I listened to him describe his trips and his accomplishments and I was grateful for his smile and the way he made the boys laugh on those occasions. Often, I was angry; he would try to discipline them in ways so different from mine and after all, he wasn’t there and I was, and he simply said You must support me and I was at a loss, unaware that the warfare had already begun. And he talked of warfare even then – how methodically he could take down those at work who were in his way. I was appalled, and yet I marveled; my corporate life was nothing like that and I was bewildered that tasks in a job for him were maneuvers in battle. He was about winning and at times, destroying. And still I loved him, and I told myself – I am wrong, we have these beautiful children, everything is alright.
I know the silence of the bed, the vast ocean of the bed, the separate continents of his side and my side, of his sleep and my wakefulness, wandering the house and wondering what I could do differently. And yet when he was there, I could not reach across the cold between us, and I blamed myself.
There was the spark of a new life as we were coming to our final close, the third son who visited my dreams and never had his chance at breath perhaps because I was alone in hearing his voice beyond the breakers. And I was alone in my grieving.
It is a simple thing, if a puzzle. So I float in the dark and remember his sleeping and my sleeplessness, something like marriage and something like love. It must have been love at least for a time; our sons are magnificent so surely they were conceived of it, and I tell myself: everything is alright.