The last time you were here, you left an open pack of tube socks in the trunk of my car. It’s still there, two weeks later. It will stay there until you return.
I often feel responsible for the things that remain when you leave. There are imprints of you where I do not want them and one beaming emblem of you I could not live well without. I am accustomed to keeping things safe till you reclaim them. I suppose I will continue to; it does not seem to do me much harm.
I can say this without animus now, but it is not always as easy as I lead everyone — including myself — to believe.
Loving anyone other than you had long been an alien concept. Twelve years long, if we’re honest. We were only together for eight (nearly nine) but even when it ended — even during the pregnancy, when I hoped and I prayed that alone or reconciled to you would not be my only options — I did not truly believe I’d fall in love again. I would not let myself, not if this was how I’d feel at love’s departure.
But what could I tell my daughter of love if I could not remember its shiver? How would I hear her fawning first brush with a tremulous hand if my own palms knew only a craven kind of emptiness? How could we parse her first heartbreak if I never let go of mine?
This is the supernova, the white burst, the back-pressed-to-wall, the unending kiss, the lips that won’t leave yours even to whisper, the words you get to roll on your tongue and relish the fact that they were once, just moments before, not your own.
You are holding them now. You are holding him now. And being held and being held and — Father in heaven — being held.
It hardly seems sane, for your arms to know an embrace other than your wriggling toddler’s, to know kisses other than the ones she sees fit to bestow, in boredom, in blessing, at bedtime.
And it isn’t sane, really, or sustainable. It peters as quickly as it popped, a fire in a lidded jar now. And this great, ghastly, heart-pounding, promise-eating love is swallowed up in air, in sky.
Weeks ago, Father John, the eldest priest in our small parish, preached of love.
I wanted him to say something sense-making about women like me, alternately afraid and excessive, who understand love simply as being someone’s priority. I wanted him to tell me how such a low bar could be so difficult for some men to clear.
But I wasn’t entirely listening. I was thinking of all the things and people to whom I’d come second and third and sixth. I was wondering whether or not I was worthy of preference, whether it was fair or childish to expect to be preferred.
“You know that passage, that 1 Corinthians 13 that people like to read at weddings? That’s God’s love. Agape,” he said with a wave of his massive hand. I watched him shake his head, as if all we romantics were a bit misguided.
Father John moved on quickly; for him, this was just an aside.
For me, it was a lifeboat.
Someone else would find this alienating, this idea that we should not use agape love as a matrimonial blueprint because we could not possibly erect it properly and would feel as if we were failing whenever a window shattered. Someone else might scoff at the notion that we shouldn’t strive toward a perfect, selfless care for our fellow man.
But all I could do was think of my own loves: often impatient, sometimes insecure, disinclined to hope or believe all things, occasionally self-seeking, and certainly — if nothing else — susceptible to failure.
I leaned back in my seat, and I sighed relief.
How do we do this? How does anyone do this?
I used to believe I would never be rid of you because you were my predestination. Then I thought I could never be rid of you because of our girl, who looks back and forth between us, whenever we’re together, with calculating eyes.
You make moving on difficult, because you are a kind amnesiac: giving and grinning and hoping to catch us, even as we flutter on, mostly without you. For all your texts, your calls, your checking in, you do not remember — and sometimes do not even accept — what you are not here to witness. You will always believe that I am the keeper of things you happen to leave behind.
I am your safe deposit box. I am your cage.
The other one was elegant, an autodidact, confident in ways I couldn’t imagine, calm in a manner that requires discipline not artifice. He was meant for a family — but he was not meant for mine.
Of all the things that are difficult to accept, this is perhaps the hardest.
He, himself a cage, a keeper of things left behind, always treated me like a bird who’d forgotten the grace of flight.
We who understand what it is to be a series of gilded, bloodied bars want nothing more than to bend them for others. We are the freers, even at our own expense.
I used to be a woman of many compartments. But motherhood makes you an open space. Anyone you love must stand on your floor and face the things and the people you once had an inclination to hide.
There are no fallout shelters. There is no time to assuage hurts, massage egos. No strength for mediating others’ aughts, for carrying burdens larger than those upon which we’d already agreed.
Everyone’s interests must dovetail. Or else, the only door stands open. All are free to exit at will.