It’s been a long, long time
Since I’ve memorized your face
It’s been four hours now
Since I’ve wandered through your place
And when I sleep on your couch
I feel very safe
And when you bring the blankets
I cover up my face
The futon is broken. A week before you came, I plopped down on it, with our daughter in my arms, and with resignation, a circuit of metal springs slumped under us. If you bend down, you can see the most fed up of the few; it’s jutting near the ground, a smattering of foam entrails circling it.
I apologize for this before you arrive, though I know this is not the most uncomfortable you will have ever been. It is not the most uncomfortable that you will ever be. But I still offer this explanation, with no small amount of chagrin.
I am amazed that I’ve retained, after everything, the habit of treating your every visit like an audition. The role is constantly being rewritten, but my performance is invariable. I am dutiful, accommodating. I anticipate need. If there is any difference at all, it is that I no longer tip my emotional hand. I play every feeling close to the vest.
You assure me that the concave cushioning won’t be a problem; you are too excited to spend time with our ten-month-old. You haven’t seen her since the winter holidays, and though I email photographs near-daily and though you ask to speak to her by phone three times a week, you will be surprised at the unusual length of her legs–on an infant growth chart, her length is in the 90th percentile–and the ease with which she unfolds them when pulling herself up to stand. She was not so autonomous at Christmas, wasn’t looking at us and saying “ma ma” and “da da” with intent. Her hair hadn’t gotten so long that the ends of the plaits in the back grazed her lower neck. You have never experienced the unsettling joy of watching her thoughts progress on her face, each eye its own sprocket, each impish smirk a cog. You have not seen her, with five teeth.
I listen to you speak of her, listen to the softening of your timbre, the smile that creeps into your every utterance of her name. You sound, finally, like a father. In exchange for this yielding, this acquiescence to what has been reality for me since two Novembers past, I am expected to pretend that you have always sounded this way, that there has never been a lapse, a hardness, a turning. But this part of the role I cannot play convincingly. Try as I might, I cannot forget the Twilight Zone in which we dwell, where you are no longer a man possessed—wild-eyed, wounded, pulling away from a situation you’ve convinced yourself is a trap—and are instead kindly, ingratiating, and generous.
For you, this visit is a five-day furlough from your life out West, a time-pocket wherein our child is tangible, rather than an apparition whose absence haunts you. For you, this is an act of proof that you are “trying,” that you are willing.
For me, it is five days.
It is the welcome sharing of weight, both literal–she is now twenty pounds–and figurative. It is a nice respite, this ability to wake you when she rouses herself at 4am and again, for the day, at 6:30 and hand her off to you just long enough to make a bottle, think, brush my teeth, pee. It is nice not having to negotiate these things, to assess whether it’s worth it to leave her in her crib in my room, if the whole time I’m gone, she’ll be racked with dramatic and furious sobs.
I appreciate the sudden parity and the absolute lack of complaint. You are so kind to me now, so readily deferring certain parenting decisions to me, your tongue ever poised to prepare an apology–even if the infraction is minute or imagined. This is an interesting turn. This is a return.
But this is not our lives.
There is something false between us now, something stilted in our interaction, a barely discernible counterfeiting. It is so imperceptible that it often seems imagined.
But I know the things I haven’t said.
I am not okay.
I love you, which no longer computes. I shouldn’t, it would seem, considering. But I do—for there was always this underpinning, beneath either romance or rejection, apart from togetherness or separation, that bound me to you. Something that existed before intimacy and long after it, too foreign a sentiment and to odd an admission to make, aloud. But here it is, after all of it, just lingering.
You are my Laurie. You are more my Laurie than the lover that I made you. We were made for the baring of our deepest secrets, for adventuring in attics and abroad. We used to share journals, writing reams of minutia and epiphanies then mailing them or passing them hand-to-hand in a ceremony of secret exchange. And I wouldn’t seem surprised if, in some fugue state long past, we spit in our palms and pressed them together or sliced crimson slits into index fingers, mingling blood.
You will always be here. We are brothers. And this is why it all backfires.
And I would say I love you
But saying it out loud is hard
So I won’t say it at all
And I won’t stay very long
But you are life I needed all along
I think of you as my brother
Although that sounds dumb
And words are futile devices