You are about 39 years old and are married to Merle. A man that at one time pushed blood so quickly to your girl parts that you ran from bars and restaurants in rain or snow or sleet to throw your body with his on beds unmade for hours. Only now you stare at him in silhouetted shadows late at night and turn over in the bed, back to him, like a sign that screams stop. There is something about him that signals to you like a beacon, something that whispers it is all too much work to bother.
The eighth step of your staircase squeaks and if you hear it after you have gone to bed you pretend that you are asleep. Merle sweats all over you and the sleep afterwards is nothing like it was long ago in the deep sex of the city tiny apartment. Long before the children came and when you still had promised stamped over your perfect body and mind. When you still dropped sentences of gold from a mouth that tasted life.
The young children are not so young that they cannot make themselves a bowl of cereal without help. They attend school. They need you less and less. They tell you that they hate you when you say no to the newest video game or plastic collecting card. They sass. They are greedy and you feel like giving up on them. You are disenchanted with mothering. It does not make you a bad person. It happens though. For some it only lasts fleeting moments in parking lots of hot asphalt in July. For others it lingers.
You were the darling of the department, a career maven all shiny and pretty and new. And then after all of the babies and the booties and the cake from local bakeries you left that path didn’t you? You left that path to carve another and it was frosty with the disillusionment of you. You knew in the pit of your stomach that it was a bad idea to just be a mother but you allowed others to robe you in their wisdom and jealousy. The whispered things like this is the best thing and if I could do this I would and you will have time later to go back. They all lie to you, like Jezebels in Starbucks on rainy days.
It is a Tuesday in a cold month. You put on your favorite red leather boots and walk the children to school. You do not kiss Merle goodbye as that gesture waned so long ago and with such sad gentleness that you cannot recall ever kissing him at the doorway. Like it never even happened one time. You walk to the duck pond where Harry’s ashes are scattered. You feel close to him there and sometimes you open your coat and then your shirt and expose your smooth white stomach and breasts to the water. You give Harry a slow show of your body in your mind. You wonder if three years has aged you or preserved you in grief. You sometimes smoke cigarettes there alone, inhaling and exhaling with still sadness. Merle would go ape shit if he knew you still stopped at the green corner shop once a month and bought a hard pack of Parliament Lights.
You are so healthy. You are so good now.
You are a woman with very slim ankles and red hair. You are busty without irony. You would like to wear gold lame and sing karaoke very well, like a tiny surprise. Like a non-descript person standing at a microphone and their lips bump metal mesh and make a noise and everyone laughs because they are uncomfortable-because that person is not beautiful enough to just get a silent smile. But the music starts and they open their mouth and it is like tiny angels dancing on your table and you melt and perhaps fall in love for ten seconds. You want to be that person. In gold lame. Before Harry died, when you had moved back home from the city, you would sometimes meet up for karaoke.
You would make sure the children were tucked in at your parent’s sweet cape cod and that Merle was playing cards with his brothers at the nearby lake house and you would go be with Harry. Harry would never sing, but after you had enough to drink you would stumble on stage and limp through some Talking Heads.
Home - is where I want to be
But I guess I'm already there
I come home - she lifted up her wings
Guess that this must be the place
I can't tell one from another
Did I find you, or you find me?
There was a time before we were born
if someone asks; this is where I'll be
Harry would clap wildly at you on the stage and shake his black thick curly hair as he jumped up and down. Harry would scream for you and the whole drinking section of your small town would stare like they do and shake their heads into their bourbons. Like they had never seen an affair before. It was right in front of their cow town eyes.
Sitting on your concrete stoop you rest your head against the black wrought iron rail and allow yourself to think back to the winter you told Harry you were going to marry Merle. It was the last time you were a perfect person. You were sitting with Harry in the park near the university bookstore on campus and he pushed you down and mouthed “bullshit” at you. He laughed and looked beautiful in the afternoon snowy daylight. Only you were not laughing with him. Your eyes were heavy and you were looking for the clue that meant everything was going to be OK. But there was no look and not enough snow and all you needed was to lie down in it and make angels to remember how young you were. To forget how much you both knew.
And Harry has always been in your life. Harry was like a birthmark or the smallpox immunization scar that your mother had on her arm that you would finger from time to time as a child. It was simply there. Harry was not questioned. Merle said nothing. It was talked about in chardonnay circles of friends and neighbors. Your best friends talked it about, but nothing can be helped when you give your heart away at such a young age. Harry was your best friend and you should have married him. But Merle was successful and pursued you with such fervor that you relented. He would give you the world and you would forget about Harry.
You were in love with them both for a time- unconventional and inconvenient, but true. Sadly by the time the children came. The children. They always come. And by that time, you were only in love with Harry. Harry the boy who knocked on your door the summer you were twelve and asked you to play. His mother has sent him, his pretty young mother that would die the summer you were fifteen. His mother sent him to welcome you to the neighborhood and invite you to play in his new tree house. The tree house built high in the sky that would be the landscape of your first sexual experience the summer you were sixteen. Harry would put old quilts under your hips and be so gentle and the music that played was Mike and the Mechanics and you made noises that frightened the blue jays away. Harry, sweet Harry-and it is all gone now. You wonder why a childhood story book was not written about you both. Where is the hardback edition of this love?
Your mother once told you after many vodka tonics at the Livingston Family Picnic that she loved Rich Martin. Rich Martin was the town architect. She told you it was possible to love two people at the same time. She said your father was a good man. She told you about how the buildings Rich built were modern and exposed things. She spoke like a poet for about thirty minutes and then she passed out in her webbed nylon chair. You knew she was telling you the truth as she held so tightly to her highball glass and her fingers lingered on her clavicle. Little sexy touches with her fingers. Like Rich Martin was in the air and she could feel him. You learn from the women before you. You listen and you learn.
You would be discreet over the years. It was easy, as Merle loved Harry like a cousin or a work mate or someone familiar and smiling. He loved him like college memories. Like college bars bond you for life. You were not destructive lovers. People whispered but there was no was no certainty. Sometimes in cozy bistros you looked like siblings. Sometimes you seemed like old friends. Heads back and smiling so hard corners may crack. Laughing people in happy tables. Only once after too much liquor did you touch faces in a deep wooden booth and push up against each other in parking lots lit by amber bulbs. Most of the time you just talked to each other. You talked to Harry and he talked to you in a hard way. A real way like no one else could talk to you now or will ever. Words that touched each other until great paragraphs of truths were born between your breaths and you shined like pistols in the sun. Dangerous times but no one could touch you. No one dared.
You met only when you needed each other and that started ten years ago after you married Merle and moved to the city. There was so much work and not much time together and it was just simple to meet Harry once a week and release. It was easy and the time slurred down to a stop when you held his body. When you held his body in his small bed on Chestnut Street you felt like you were home again until the street lamps flickered and motioned you back to the train. Back to the life you choose.
You know three years have passed because the calendar says it is so. Because your children grow like weeds in your tidy yard and your hands look more and more like your mother’s hands. Because you now wear reading glasses and Merle is a senior partner in his firm. You know it intellectually but the way your insides feel it is still Christmas three years ago backwards. Harry had left his latest girlfriend to be with you at the pub. You are drinking fruity drinks with tiny clichéd umbrellas when Dustin Emery, an old childhood friend, walks in the door in his law enforcement uniform and comes straight to you and tells you about the car accident. You lean into the mahogany bar and your weight forces the air from your lungs. You spill all of your drink and the long river of rum is nothing like the tears at your feet.
You decide that you are going to change your life on a cold Tuesday. There are only so many days that a person can be unfair to others without a deep hole forming in a heart. Each day you imagine filling up the hole with love for Merle or your children. You try and visualize the way it must feel for normal people to love. You tell Merle you don’t love him anymore over coffee and he reacts by not reacting. He was just waiting for you to not need him anymore. You don’t. You think about talking to him about the conversations you had with Harry about having two lives. If you had two lives you would spend one with him because you do love him, but not enough to fill it all up. And it doesn’t make sense anymore because now Harry is gone from you and you could have a life with Merle. You don’t know what you need.
You want your old life back and it’s gone. Your heart breaks into tiny diamonds and scatters across the table from Merle as he tells you in matter of fact language how he feels. In simple nouns and verbs he tells you he has always loved you and that you were his “Harry.” His elbows hold up his head as he asks you why don’t you love him now. He states the facts. The despair of truth. He was a pallbearer for Harry’s funeral. He wrote Harry’s will and typed the sentences that left you small tokens and a safety deposit box with a key you hid away. Merle looks like a child. Merle cries. He asks you again how you could not love him? The clock chimes and you fall to pieces across cool laminate.
You find yourself at the duck pond later and sit at the feet of the bronze statue of the town founder. You decide you will not die of this grief. You had not been sure until today. You listen to your ipod on the walk home and you sing the Rolling Stones song over and over- the one about “you can’t always get what you want” until you have a repeat button in your mind. A tiny lever you can access when you need a reminder. You are not listening to the ipod anymore as you are hearing scenes of a life in stereo. You are seeing Mick Jagger’s beautiful lips open and close and all the words from the song drop out and pool at your feet. You burst running from the pond.
You are wearing boots that hurt your feet but you run. You are finding it hard to not cry again. The heart will never let go. People tell you little lies when they say it will fade, when they say it will go. You run towards the person you used to be before. It is daylight but you can’t see. You have choices to make. There are at least five ways to get home. A blister is forming in your leather boot. The friction is starting. You have miles to go.