How to Love Your Husband

 

~For Jaylan

 

“Why do they call it growing pains?” he wonders. “It’s not as if my bones are expanding.” I heat a flat stone we collected from the Hoh River seven years ago, smooth oil over the heated stone and press it down his calves, into his feet. This reminds him of when he was young. When he was actually growing. His mother would rub his feet.

In the mirror, temporarily, I was pretty. Then: I could be (have been) a pretty mother. “It’s okay,” he says. I dab my eyes with a corner of dinner napkin. Sometimes pain occurs.

On the boat they hung their neoprene-sleeved coats out in the weather and caught a few hours’ sleep. The worst was putting on the cold coat at 3 am when the captain called time to pick. They braced their bodies against the waves and wind, pulled the salmon free of the net, slit their bellies, and threw them in the hold. I picture him: half asleep, wielding a knife, pitching back and forth, freezing. His wry smile. “It builds character,” (That’s what all the fathers say, I thought) “according to Calvin’s dad.” He’s referring to Calvin and Hobbes. This is what he knows of fathers.

There are different kinds of dirt, endless rocks. There’s topsoil, soft and peaty, fully of daddy longlegs; there’s borrow, cheaper, and full of boulders, D-1 crushed to spec, riprap. On the road to Alaska, my father explains what the earth is made of. He points to shining bands locked into dull stone in the buttes of the Peace River Valley, traces of a gold rush. Pyrite. Hematite. Something that means copper. Stone walls show their faces behind post-glacial lakes. They tell stories in geological scars: a world of ice scraped across us toward dissolution.

I master the art of the silent sob. He is collapsed into the couch, a pillow under his knees. I’ve turned off the lights. I’ve cleaned up dinner and heated a gel pack for his knees, brought him an aspirin. His calves are muscled like the bodies of men manage always to be. The edge of the couch leaves a grid pattern on my forehead. I allow sadness to shake me. Just my thoracic spine. Curved away, percussing air, in silence. Everything has a density, a fracture point.

A small window like a drive-thru opened in the doctor’s office and the embryologist showed me the two embryos that would be put back (in). A tiny vacuum attachment came into view, and I watched the embryos move together up the catheter and into my uterus. I didn’t feel it, life entering life.

“I’ve known I wanted to be a dad ever since I was twelve.”

He’s always used the wrong suffixes. “Jokeful.” What’s different is the tiredness. “I feel like I’m in a dream,” he says. I plunged my arm into a cold well and pulled back a white-lipped snail, colored like a licorice candy, anise and cream swirled. Anything was possible.

(What if I can’t?)

It is the moment of our marriage. He stands across from me holding a small book in which he has written his vows. He emphasizes the word STABILITY, telling me that I am it. He means that I keep him alive, that I am the reason his brain tumor is not worsening. He means I am his reason for living. He quotes Radiohead. “You are my center when I spin away.” He looks at me as though I am everything. “Because today has been the most perfect day I’ve ever seen.”

We will move to Manhattan. We will travel. We will do something really big. We will live out all the dreams.

A cat curls next to me on the couch in the dark. It is the end of my thirty-fifth year, our eighth together. Across the street, a neighbor is putting up Christmas lights three months before Christmas. By then everything could be different.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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