Last day of freshman year, mirror screwed crookedly into the back of my locked door. I see us, or rather you. Wetting my lips with your tongue. Pale back sprouted with curly, black hairs. My flowered sheets, stuffed animals, talismans of childhood; a homesickness I thought I’d outgrown. We were too young for blueprints. Then my hands slinking up, grasping, pulling you into me. A ritual. From the window, voices soaked in spring, a Frisbee tossed outside the dorm. Limbs, dreams, futures flailed about. A few wondered where I was. Then you. Maybe one or two wondered if we were together. Truth is, we’d been doing this for most of the year. Late at night, your roommate gone, or mine. For some reason, you wanted no one to know. To be secret is to be chosen, and to be chosen is to be loved. A week earlier, you’d taken another girl to your fraternity dance. I pretended not to care. And so laid out the path we would follow.
Honeymoon in Capri
Late to the hostel, grumpy, shoulders sunburned and notched from backpack straps, we were tired. Our hostess spoke only Italian, so we indicated hunger with empty fingers brought to our lips. The young woman, face brown, supple skin bathed in a barrel of oil and olives, motioned for us to follow. We did. I watched you watching her but that night, ring on your finger, you had to be mine. It was so dark. I put my hand on your arm, steadying myself as we traipsed down, down, down the dirt path until finally: a patio, twinkling lights, a long wooden table, the ripest tomatoes burst, salty sweet. A sharp intake of breath. “Look,” you said, “out there.” But as far as I could see only an expanse of inky black. Nothing but everything. For tomorrow, it would be the sea.
Once A Memory Seemed Like a Wish
At times we were happy, I swear it. Although it’s hard for me to remember fully now. Crisp white wine, Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent with soft, earmarked pages. Lazy days, sleeping in, mustard-yellow light creeping across our bodies. I’ll make you come again. Our future, a fortune we just had to crack open. Like that day at the beach, standing smug in the wide-open mouth of the world, so sure of our place in it all. Let’s make a baby. Even the ocean was dreaming.
Me, my mother, two kids, station wagon. To see our new town, we drove I-95 from Baltimore to the golden promise of Connecticut. A bleak migration. Idling at the lip of the Saugatuck River Bridge, we waited for a boat to pass, the troll to grant permission. American flags lined the rails, flapping, saluting like twenty-one shots, or did they mark a requiem? For there was a death to honor, or at least one coming. My mother’s bony hand on my knee, implying comfort, encouraging the wifely progression of responsibility. I thought of you at home, packing, tending the fester of your mind mood madness. The girls craned to look as we passed over water, and seeing my tears, my mother lifted her hand. Hovered, retreated. Motioned straight ahead as she said, “We all have to compromise sometime.”
Thunder in the Humid City
I’m beaming, revolving, the hotel door lands me on the street corner. Clouds so low I can touch myself. Panties in pocket, inside of my thighs gummy sweet. I’m steeped in love or something like it. Some of us wander by mistake, but that voice message I heard, emails I read: you strayed too. Fingers splayed, naked, I raise my hand as a cab pulls to the curb just as the rain breaks. Inside, scoot over to avoid the gash in the seat where once-white, now-soiled stuffing spills out. I think instead of my wedding ring at home, nestled in the top drawer. Muffled by the silky things I no longer wear for you.
Velocity in Perspective
Muted lamp, soft hiss from a white-noise machine in the waiting room. The three of us seated in chairs, positioned like the sharp points of a perfect triangle. The therapist asked, “Have you ever harmed your children?” I hoped I knew your answer. I may have missed the signs of your illness (fast talking, no sleeping, moods ever shifting), but I would know about our girls. You sat back, fingers weaved in a massive fist resting on your thighs and with calm precision relayed this one time where perhaps…out back with our younger daughter. A jump rope, purple with silver sparkles, her favorite. One end knotted around the slim trunk of a budding tree. The other coiled through your thick fingers. Fun at first, playing with Daddy, but then she couldn’t get it quite right, the timing of the rope, its speed (I see you now, whipping it faster faster faster). You’re pleased with the word you find: prostrate. Our daughter, tiny limbs splayed, facedown in the grass. All those tears. The therapist looked down, betraying nothing, as if to say, Who really knows?
Sometimes, after I’ve tucked the girls in, after I’ve gone through the house shutting windows and turning off lights, after I’ve climbed into the bed we bought with our first apartment a decade ago, I think of you. Forty-seven point six miles away in your townhouse, your new life. What’s it like in that alternate universe? It must be so still. Remember how we used to listen? Under the sheets, taking turns cupping ear to chest. The rhythmic pounding of the day, beating itself out. And then lying side by side, how we swore we could hear our girls, their heart muscles pumping in the room next to ours. Those tiny flesh miracles we’d created. And now? What do you hear on the other side of forsaken? I need to know. They say there is no sound in space.
From the sidewalk, I see a little girl. Four years old, jagged homemade haircut. She sits on the porch of my old house, plucked red berries pooled in her skirt. Popping them between her finger and thumb, even though they are “off-limits.” She is sticky with poison. What the boy did. It lives inside her. Makes it sting when she pees. I start up the path, walking on slate slabs stuck in the ground like toppled gravestones. “Can I sit?” She nods. I do, pull her close. She sighs, gives in easier than I expected. Her body so soft, how are there bones in there? “You’re going to make it through this and everything else to come.” She looks up at me, blue eyes spilling. Across the street our two daughters stand, futzing with the camera, arguing over who gets to take the photo.