You know, I’ve never felt very certain of anything. The dogma of my life so far has been to retire—in the British sense, I mean. Let the men have the opinions. Not because they deserve them more, but because it seems to give them such legs and boots and toes to stand on. Where I’m crouched is somewhere full of vacillation, aqueous and flummoxed. Ask me what I want and I cannot answer; ask me what I want and I only hesitate at the lip of the void. But what do you want? A parrot is all I know how to be.
I almost wanted to cry, then, when I did feel a certainty, for once, about something. It told me, in no uncertain terms, that my current lover was wrong for me, could never be a husband to myself, let alone anyone, and that he’d be a shitty, narcissistic father.
I mean, it was a lot of certainty to take in. I didn’t know how to act on it, exactly.
I think the double certainty that I in fact wanted a husband and a baby was even harder to act on. Leave the lover, okay. That could be undertaken. The rest couldn’t. The charmed waiting of youth was over. Time unfurled nastily with the current waiting. Time was stamped with efficacious words now like “viable” and “more flattering.”
Where once one could sit on a rock and lazily purl the promise of the world into something glittering fine and web-like over limitless water, now one felt that everything diminished; tides encroached; legs submerged collected the nibbles of curious fish while barnacles—like medieval wax seals—set themselves upon once silken skin.
But come on now; I wasn’t that old. I also wasn’t sure why I always thought of the ocean when I thought of motherhood. Perhaps because my landscape was decidedly un-mothering and full of folds of rock that laughed about any idea of linear time. This landscape only existed between cataclysms—an accurate way to look at a heart, maybe, but not a healthy one.
So, if I thought seriously about the Husband, I realized he couldn’t be a copy of heedless, careening me. Above all, he couldn’t be boring. And also, he would need to be kind.
(Exeunt: original lover).
More pressing, he would have to want a Wife. One rather like myself. And, after wiving (husbanding?), he, too, must share the desire to cast out into eternity with his own stubborn genes (I had no doubt he’d share my nearsightedness) and make that most ancient joke against a world that really did live on the verge of a cataclysm.
My dreams proved unfruitful on the subject of the Husband. He impersonated a bear in disguise, or was impersonated by a mute bear with livid eyes. He danced me into corners that seemed unpromising; there was always a performance happening in a wet gymnasium somewhere where I’d forgotten my lines.
In the daytime, I inventoried my past until I seized with a kind of violent vertigo. You can live then or now, I knew, but you can’t live in both. A Robinson line stirred around the corner of my thoughts, kind of like the needle on a record that’s playing a song you didn’t necessarily plan to play. She urged that to want something was to already conjure it. I put my attention towards wanting.
You know how much you could do with your life if you didn’t think about this stuff?
The intrusion was rude, waking me up from my dream of womanliness. These were productive—or at least well trod—channels. The older I grew, the more I grew mentally baggy. Rather than focus on any one thing, I let the world slide back and forth across my nerves like the bow of a violin just because I liked the jangle of the music. (Needle, bow: all our instruments serve many purposes).
I picked up a pebble on a beach somewhere in Alaska and watched a bird dying and within an hour I was drinking a beer and the bird wasn’t lodged anywhere. I tried to press the way the light tinseled on the ocean into some sort of talisman I could carry always in my chest, or the unending misty forests into a future balm that had something to say about my ultimate smallness and the ultimate smallness of my ambition (to wive! to give birth!) but even that got lost though I cried genuine tears about it at the time.
So, oh yeah, within this pondering I had done some traveling.
Here’s what I was learning about finding true love, and about being thirty-two:
Everything was less memorable; everything hurt just the same; this too shall pass meant nothing until it was already past.
You could be so much greater than this.
So the inner voice urged, but I was at a loss. I guess maybe things always feel like an antechamber where you’re just waiting around.
Literally the only things I could adequately prioritize were roses, which I always stopped to smell, and dogs, which I always stopped to talk to.
Two weeks later (I mean, that is if we’re subscribing to linear time again), I had collected a raft of kisses, mostly blurred by the lateness of the hour, but had come no closer to the vaunted kingdom of the Husband.
It made sense that in most tales one must hack through thorns, bribe various spirits, and take up some pretty outlandish hairdos to find him. Or were the Husbands doing all the hacking? If, even now, Husband were hacking my way with a machete, I hoped he’d also be very literate and want to sing songs with me in the car.
Not to mention bounce the baby.
The odds of him being on a hacking trajectory right this second seemed about .2% likely.
However, at a remove of days, and despite lacking a fixed address, a representative for the Husband was able to track me down.
Could I request an audience with you at a time amenable to us both? Some claim we have already met; I myself feel troubled by this assumption.
Nevertheless, we have much to discuss. Forgive my antiquated diction; I know this is an email.
The Husband addressed me in tones that felt familiar, and despite this being an email ([email protected]), his decorum impressed. One could almost imagine this as a missive or short note stuffed into the doorframe; I pictured it crisply pressed onto a plate of calling cards.
Your Husband requests an audience with you.
Aren’t I, even sans official contract, contractually obligated—nay excited—nay thrilled—nay ecstatic to oblige?
I thought it paltry to attend my reply with any kind of deliberation. This volley was sure to hit; some say this volley was guaranteed to hit from birth.
I would be amenable.
Now, I wasn’t nervous, precisely, to meet the Husband. A million lyres over a thousand years had played me one tune, and its tune was this: you and him are meant to be, a hey oh.
It was a very catchy song—this omnipresent jingle—and I had been humming it or even just absorbing it unintentionally like a carcinogen for years now.
A hey oh. And it’s time to wife. A hey oh. Enter: life.
(This soap bubble of bright, hopeful music had been troubled by many a knitting needle, however. Simone de Beauvoir had popped it almost without preamble. Arching her eyebrow from beneath the brim of a jaunty hat, she had been unscrolling the ribbon of our fairy dreams for so long she became quite tired and passed away).
In the throes of my nostalgia, I had wrestled myself—which takes some skill, though I am getting better—and asked the questions that feel like they rattle the universe, when in reality they are only marbles rolling into the gutter, one after the other, identical.
Did I make the wrong choices? Had fate cast me off as distaff?
Could it be that maybe I just wanted to fuck around?
This, I think, is closer to what Simone would have said. And the voice replied:
You are already alive, and always have been. The sheer gift of it!
She had a point. My life had been less pastoral harp played over scenes of beneficence and more a landscape stripped of all sound, light draining into inscrutability. All I could discern was our movement, and I clung on as life showed me such marvelous things, and things of such terror.
Ahem. But in all this perambulation, the Husband remained waiting.
I am always running late, but surely not for this.
Studious, in the mood to impress, I assembled my files.
Postcards from Formative Experiences When You Were Not Present
Alaska, Lynn Canal
How can I describe it? I sat on the deck of a wind-whipped ferry for hours and the water and light did not end, only mutated as fingers of cloud frothed, wreathing every canyon and river of blue ice. The ice was cracking. The earth was waking up from a sleep it had always been waking from, and I was in the middle, so utterly alone and enraptured.
Muir wrote that the Alaskan air has a violet density, capable of thickening its color, becoming almost embodied in its thickening.
It was like that.
You see—I’ve crossed this many permeable bodies to come to you.
Wyoming, Hoback Canyon
Scrutinizing my own night-darkened reflection in an elk’s dead eye along the road side; her last breath lingered, tangibly, in the air nearby. The cold stars felt animate and sorry.
I didn’t know death would look so much like a funnel, myself a glimmering pin in its center.
Washington, Cape Flattery
I made many jokes about how flattered I was as the sunset toasted my skin and the ocean, in percussive heaves, ate ceaselessly from the ground beneath our feet. Time without end; I was at the end of the earth and yet felt no ending.
If I am truthful, I did not want you there. My will to conjugate you as some supple verb was at nil. You were not an unsensed blessing; you were a no-person, a person of antimatter sucking the world towards you in one long greedy slurp. If I thought of you at all, you’d do nothing but pull me in.
Our Sacred Vows: Some Suggestions
I know you, and I know that you’ll agree to leave out anything about God or obedience.
Can we address the notion of fidelity? How do you define this, vis-à-vis me?
(I ask because experience dictates that this term can be viewed loosely.)
((The term is made faithful in actions. But you knew that.))
Is there a clause that states that neither boredom nor a creeping sense of disappointment nor a slithering sense that is this what is this it is this is this can drive us asunder?
Is there a clause that nullifies the prior clause?
Please don’t be offended if I bring up modes of escape. It comes by habit, and given that you remain uncaught at this point at time, can I assume it does to you, too?
(Please, call me on my caught/uncaught metaphors. It’s of paramount importance that you find me original.)
Write me into your will as a constant, as the woman you’ll be knocking boots with into eternity (or at least tapping on the edge of the coffin).
Oh, dear, I know. I’ve ruined it.
Things Which I Refuse to Relinquish
My name. I mean, I make this rue the day joke for a reason.
Men Who Were Not the Husband
The only thing they shared in common, really, was their not-Husbandness, I suppose.
Actually, two of them could have been you. But here you are, in another form.
I listened to Beach House, closed my eyes with the decadent weariness of the Weimar cabaret; I sent away another lover.
Oh, profound ambivalence, I shall miss you most of all.
Things I Am Stopping Myself from Thinking, Having This Conversation with You
Why can’t you stop thinking about this?
Why can’t you be a motherfucking success?
A pure artist would live only for her art.
It’s a cosmic joke that I picked men out of this lottery. As a gender, I mean.
Why can’t you stop thinking about this?
This goal is lessening you.
You know this has been written before.
Say it new.
Fears I Have
That you will insist on a wedding hashtag.
Please, I wrote the husband, provide me with files of the same.
There was a sense of occasion in my two-step towards The Audience. It felt like other such transformative walks I had taken—graduation ambles, the pomp of the wedding march (me alighting as some fable-ish good fairy of neutered delight). At the same time, it’s not like any of those prior transformative walks had proved, well, transformative.
I’ve become convinced that all the troubling we do is with our minds.
I had to admit that we paired nicely. When you came into view, you were like a figure remembered in a dream. Even now, I cannot remember you. Your face was parsed of a smear of legendary heroes, people I had loved unsuccessfully, various pockets of fantasy, and yet you were there—yourself—less amalgamation than pointillist clarity.
“Stop shifting,” I said, meaning, I think, your face.
“That’s the first thing you say?” you asked me.
“No, I think—I think it was that in cities it’s so much easier to be alone and unencumbered.”
He blinked at me, the Husband; it was a gorgeous blink for all its inscrutableness (and here I thought wiving was about finally having someone—some finite, “one’s”—codex!); it was a blink that was one part mystery and one part disbelief, with just a dash of ribaldry.
This blink really did have everything. It made me want to start again.
And so I did.
The Audience: Two
This time, I kept to the script.
We sat across from each other like complainants in the same lawsuit: he perhaps convincing me to take part in something class action, me hemming and hawing but otherwise convinced.
Neither of us could stop our hands from shaking, even as we signed sheaf after sheaf of paper and pushed our files—homely things, really—across the table at one another.
I asked him, “Do you ever think that trying to find love stops you from being brave?”
He asked me to elaborate, and I said, “In all of this, I have not struck out and done a single original thing. All of my focus and my beauty and my observation has been calibrated in context to this.”
“This this,” he said. To which I nodded
“No one expected you to be more beautiful than this,” he said in reply, perhaps intending amelioration.
And yet this is what hurt most of all. That I could be almost done and yet feel so unfinished.
I hadn’t anticipated a hurt. I had only imagined walking like Edna Pontellier into the salty warm and sure embrace of the sea. I had been longing for a kind of luxurious dissolve. (Anyway, my grandmother’s name was Edna, which may predispose me to a fondness for the ocean-woman metaphor that I have been intermittently relying on.)
Sensing the sting, he added, “I mean, we are in this narrative, you and I.”
“It’s what has always been impossible between us,” I agreed.
And yet—this part I struggled to say—often when I drove across the West and its small, claptrap towns, I felt something. It was like a nostalgia for long childhood drives when I imagined that cliff formations might represent unheralded kingdoms and was intoxicated by the idea of other lives unwrapped in homes and barns and fields, underneath homely grave markers, forgotten in high peaks silhouetted, but not forgotten by me. This nostalgia went both backwards and forwards, and I intimated that there could be someone with me. There could be. Oddly, the déjà vu seemed to conjure some future person to share the driving.
I felt this premonition of you.
“And are you feeling it now?” the Husband asked. His shifty face consolidated, momentarily, into all that was handsome and graven and clear-eyed.
I was startled, unaware that I had even spoken this aloud. Yet, the premonition, the soulmate—it stood to reason that this, exactly, is where he would excel. Was he not drawn in outline to be a mind reader and a willing diviner of even my most inconsequential flickers and twitches?
“Well, we would have to drive, wouldn’t we?” I replied. I didn’t offer my car; the Husband’s construct-ness in this case, concerned me. Could he exist here, now, and then exist later on, driving into an undisclosed future? It seemed altogether safer to preserve the sanctity of what he was now—this vision—and not risk dissolutions of any sort.
It was all getting too existential for me and I had to put my head down, just for a moment, on the table between us. It was solid enough, and so was the Husband’s hand as he patted my arm with the benevolence of a saint dispensing comfort.
This is what I liked least about my soulmate: he made conversations just one long ping-pong with myself. I pictured adding this to an article about Making Marriages Work:
1. Accept that your soulmate will always volley. You’ve committed to be locked in love-love limbo.
It wouldn’t do, would it?
“Husband, er, Mr. Husband,” I said. “Would you feel comfortable if I addressed you directly?”
“Lay it on me.”
He was flickering a little, just around the edges. But, I have dated guys with more issues being present than just hologram-ness, so I didn’t necessarily hold it against him.
“I would like to know, why now?”
“Well, for one thing, I just got your address.” He had the most adorable shrug.
I squared the Husband a little bit; putting one hand on each of his shoulders like a caliper about to shock inorganic matter into life. He was real; he was not not real.
“It is all well and good to be clever,” I said, “but here’s the real thing. Here’s the certainty that is the bare kernel. Here is the heart of the heart, the stone in the well, and anything you’ve ever thrown off the side of a mountain (I gave the Husband a warning look, as I do not condone throwing things off mountainsides). Here is what is plummeting to the bottom, but is above and below and everywhere around. Here:
This is how it is. Three months ago, I drove with my mother to visit a dying woman. We drove across Wyoming. Have you ever driven across it? (I did not wait for the Husband to reply.) When I say it is arid, I mean it is lunar. When I travel there, it feels endless and ugly like anything that if you only understood, would in actuality be too beautiful to bear. The Wyoming prairie sky has no sense of proportion—it owns everything around, including us, crawling like nits through its hair. Against this theater, light makes colors through the low grass and the sage. On this day, it glistered; the sky indigo, streaked with leonine clouds.
We went and sat with the dying woman; I entered the doorway, bowing my head as if in a church. In this sick house, my mother began ministering. Her hands went open like two doves. The dying woman was someone we loved. She was someone who should be staying right here, in life. She had a husband and sons. This whole time I was fascinated by my mother and how there seemed to be some sense spring-loaded into her being that told her what the right thing was to do. We even laughed—all of us—and it was cozier than I expected. When we left and drove back the sky was the same endless endless blue. Grief, amorphous, rode along, unacknowledged and tear stained, a letter you saved and wished you hadn’t. I told our friend that I loved her; I felt like there was nothing else to do. But my mother had done something more. On this drive, I understood it for the first time. She had been love. In that house, she had burned with the fierceness of an element. A comet, she had mustered all the brightness that she could. I understood it. To ask for a truly great love is to ask for death at the same time. Only love can stand next to it and not despair. Only love, that most beautiful and terrible thing. To love someone is to stand stalwart and not to shrink but to ignite entirely and carry precious succor—burning you and excoriating you—in your palms. I understood that I was ready to stand there, right there with you, Husband. I inventoried, already, the people—the many people—I stood beside. I felt myself pinned and breathless, pinned already to so many people in love. I felt it like I could feel their hands: my mother and father and sister and brother and every single friend and aunt and uncle. I felt even the hands of people I loved beyond death. My certainty was that you could be nothing less than this. I could not fall in love with you—that implied a precipice; we begin free falling as soon as we draw breath; I can only cling to you in the fall, neither of us knowing what the bottom is.
Husband, that was the sum.
(Simultaneously, our conjured child drew breath. She was so much more than a wish.)
The Husband said, “One certainty I have is this: Only simple lines can cross the distance between two discrete points.”
I thought just ever so briefly about how that could be worked into a toast.
You know what, I mentally told my rhetorical questions, a question never answered anything anyway. The heart wants what it’s trained to want.
Talk to me directly.
I’m talking right to you.
Don’t fucking mediate this experience with me. Don’t you dare.
You started it.
Okay. I turned right to you.
Husband, do you want to break open this big messy melon together and put our fingers in right where we can’t even tell what kind of matter it is we’re touching? I want to slobber all over this life with you, Husband. Let’s wield it together—this un-worlding hammer. Let’s pair our lawn chairs for eternity and not snipe more than necessary.
Reach out your hand in the dark. I’ll reach out mine.
Image of hand courtesy of Carly Mitchell. All other photographs courtesy of author.