He calls back late last night, finds you hiding from the cold under ten pounds of blankets. Still awake. He feeds you lines from the old “30 Rock” episodes you sent him in a brief non-sequitor and makes you laugh harder than anyone which makes him laugh harder and you like the surprise, the pleasure in that laugh. He calls to apologize if he handled your comments too lightly earlier. He knows this time of year is weird, is made of minefields and mud pits. His brother says it’s a pressure cooker of everything we were, everything we feel we should be, all our memories and issues crammed into a few holi-days. And we should damn well know this enough to cut each other a little slack. But of course, we don’t. I think his brother is right. Picking the conversation back up, he tells me to think of everyone at that family gathering, at that work party and know that they envy my freedom. That they know I can take off for Nigeria tomorrow - untethered, unresponsible - and for all their domestic contentedness, their very bones are jealous of that. (His picking Nigeria makes me smile; He understands my language, what appeals.) I say “maybe” in the smallest, thickest voice I own and I know he knows this dam is perilously close to overflow.
He changes tactics. What is really to admire in this coupling? He says, you sanctify Fidelity and Partnership and Loyalty and Love, which I understand – but why do you have to believe it exists only in this one marital or romantic arrangement? These arrangements that fail us so often. And I don’t know the words to answer. Don’t know if I have an answer in this bucket of a hundred questions.
It would be easy, from any distance, to misunderstand. It is not some simple marriage and joint Christmas card and set of children I want so much. Fuck. I’m not even sure I want that at all. But it is this: I want to believe I am capable. I want to understand that it is possible, for someone like me. That, I think, is what I’m mourning preemptively. What if you and I are not made for such business? (And I can barely write that sentence. It costs that much to admit.)
When this sage adviser left once, years ago, I sent him with a compass and its own etched wisdom: “One cannot discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” Looking down on the late night snow removal man in frozen Bryant park, I am beginning to wonder if my whole life is not a deal that has been made with the same trade-off. Last night he says “You never struck me as someone who would want to have another body in your bed or your home for very long.” And I wonder if I am still that girl. Yes, I stayed for three years with someone, but I’ll tell just you it was amidst an unrelenting drumbeat of demands that he better know and accommodate me, that he learn my language, that he mine for his own new depths. I stayed over an undercurrent of wanderlust and dissatisfaction that he could not miss. Even I know those aren’t the ingredients for Forever. Even I know how this exhausts and erodes.
So I consider this man who is too much like me and think – if anyone would recognize this inability to fuse it is him. I hold up everyone’s breadth of advice like film in this winter’s dark lab and squint closely to determine which is True, which is Irrelevant. One of the smartest men I know once told me that you stay alone until you can’t not be with a specific someone. You stay alone until you can’t. He isn’t alone anymore and I see that he did it right. But I also see he won the gamble. What if I never learn how to win, when to bet? I have no interest in your dates and small talk, in your frivolous compatibility tests. I care only for things that Matter and Last and yet have no experience in construction. Worse, seem inordinately blessed at demolition. And last night, he was right – I really do love this ability to leave and choose and write without censoring and read without the noise of your television screaming. But what if that deal is forever. In the back of my head, maybe I always assumed the right shore would appear in time and thus remained unconcerned. What if now, I am finally learning these legs are no longer made for land?
What if this is our chemical make-up: Best, most active at the temperature of Just Me with interspersions of the occasional You?