Me: Don’t put the lettuce on the top shelf, it will freeze.
Eric: Well, clean out the fridge. There’s no room anywhere else.
Me: You can move something else to the top, just don’t put the lettuce up there.
Eric: The fridge is too full, there’s no room.
Me: Stop arguing with me.
Eric: Well, then stop talking.
From the next room, I hear Eric whistling, packing for a hike. He stops to whisper something to one of the dogs, “when you were little, you were so little, you were tiny.” I remember how I made him laugh last night – he was getting ready for bed and wearing my headlamp (he sometimes uses it for a reading light). I said “Eric Salahub prepares for his ‘climb’ into bed.” It was dumb, but he laughed really hard, which made me laugh.
The other day, following a car with the license plate “MIDWIF,” he said “mid-whiff?” and I laughed. Encouraged, he read the license plate frame, which said “Honk if you are having a home birth” and said, in the goofiest voice, “I’m having one right now!” It didn’t really make any sense, but I laughed. We find each other funny, even though I suspect no one else would get most of our jokes. It doesn’t matter, as long as we are laughing.
One time, I stayed in bed and cried for almost three days. Nothing had happened, other than I realized we were never going back to Oregon. The only time I’ve ever seen him cry was because we were losing one of our dogs, the cancer incurable – which has happened twice.
“Tell me something good,” we say – even if it’s just “I love you,” even if it’s only that.
Getting in bed for the night, I notice the pattern my book light makes on the wall – broken, rippled and refracted light, as if reflecting off water. I told Eric once that it made me sad to get in to bed when the lights were all off, when it was so dark, that there was something depressing and lonely about it. Ever since, if he goes to bed before me he turns on my book light and leaves it on my pillow, even if it means he has to cover his head with the corner of a blanket to be able to sleep.
Eric is gone at a conference, and I am alone. I use it as an excuse to binge. After dinner the first night (two vegetarian corn dogs, organic tater tots, and loads of ketchup), I make four slices of toast using white English muffin bread. As I wait for the toaster to pop, I think “I don’t even really want this toast, don’t need it, am not hungry for it, what I’m really hungry for is my husband, I’m lonely not hungry” but some other deeper, older part of me growls, I want toast. I spread thick butter on all four pieces, strawberry jam on two, and sit down in front of the television to eat them. Our youngest dog Sam watches me eat, sitting in front of me, polite and intent and drooling, hoping I might share, or at least drop a piece. I think, as I often do, “nothing can happen to Eric, I cannot be alone, if he were gone even the dogs might not be enough,” a desperate wish, a prayer whispered into space.
On the morning of our 20th wedding anniversary, I am home sick and he emails to say he’s going to play poker on Friday. I’m missing him, feeling raw, even though when he left for work he’d told me he loved me and said “here’s to another 20 years,” and I respond to his email with questions, “You still love me, right? I’m still your favorite? You still like to be with me?” and he answers, “yes I do, yes you are and yes I do.”
He’s in the kitchen and I am at my writing desk in the back of the house, but I can still hear the radio. One dog is with him, the other sleeping at my feet.
The first time we talked, I was eating a candy bar from the vending machine, the caramel and chocolate melting sweet and thick in my mouth.
“You like Twix, too? They are my favorite.”
I swallowed. “Uh-huh.”
“I heard you’re engaged.”
I sighed and shook my head. “Yeah, that didn’t work out.”
“I know what that’s like.”
Shoulder against shoulder, my cheek resting in the curve of your collarbone, my forehead against the side of your neck, your cheek tucked against the top of my head, skin and bone and breath, quiet and warm, comfortable and safe. Still.
Then you move, and I return to my side of the bed.
“It’s more like a poem,” he said, when I told him how hard it was to fit 20 years into only 750 words.