Once upon 2004, a woman and a man were married in a backyard ceremony on a glorious September Saturday on the west side of Chicago, handmade streamers in the trees, friends and family present to bear witness. They were happy and in love and people knew they were happy and in love. If anyone thought, Oh this is a terrible idea, they forever held their peace. Many of them spoke as the spirit moved them to share why they celebrated this love, and the celebration seemed genuine, and the couple was like, these people all get it, cool, we knew it, this marriage really is a good idea. But who knows, maybe someone did hold their peace. Maybe they could ask. They would have to ask everyone. They’ve lost touch with some of them. Sometimes on purpose. Which is not a thing you want to have to say about people who were at your wedding. Or in it. Especially if one of them was the bride or the groom. What if someone held their peace and then they died? What if they got in touch with everyone who had been in attendance and every one of them said, No we didn’t hold our peace, we were psyched for you, but it was one or all of the people who died or lost touch with who had held their peace? This wedding was fifteen years ago. Several people in attendance had died. Her dad died. The woman was so sure her dad loved her husband too. But what if he was just happy that she was happy, and just crossed his fingers and hoped for the best? Or what if people lied about holding their peace, and said to their faces, We were not holding our peaces, and/or what if everyone was just going along with this obviously doomed union, because let’s face it, love isn’t always enough, and maybe more than one person who died had extensive notes on why they thought this marriage was doomed, but held their peace, because they knew people did what they wanted, but then everyone died always having held their peace, leaving the couple to never know what they really thought and/or, moreover, maybe possibly in some universe, changing the course of the couple’s history, you know, like if they’d listened, and they were like You’re right, love isn’t enough, and they went their separate ways and had lives that were better in ways they couldn’t have imagined then, since everything seemed so great at the time, but instead they went ahead and got married, because they didn’t know there were all these unspoken predictors of doom. If everyone held their peace, and then they died with all their peaces, how would the couple ever know? We were there. We doubt either of them would have listened. But what if they did?
Answers to the Question What Are You Thinking About
She always feels relieved that these are his answers, because the answer is never Someone else or I’m not happy until it is.
They Got A Dog
Once they brought the dog home, sometimes it seemed to the wife like the distribution of affection got proportioned out in such a way that the dog actually got some of what each partner had previously allotted to the other. Versus there’s enough love to go around. There’s enough love to go around, isn’t there?
They Got A King Size Bed
Was this it? Was this it, the beginning of the end? They were living in Texas and they needed a new mattress and the idea was that the queen had been a bit crowded with her, him (he’s tall), and sometimes their eighty-pound dog. So they got a king, but the dog still found ways to make it crowded, and her husband was now literally farther away.
They Got An L-Shaped Sofa
Maybe it was this, was it this? They got an L-shaped sofa and they sat on different sides of it. He stretched out on the side that you’re supposed to stretch out on and she stretched out on the other side. Her husband was now literally farther away in two rooms of the house.
They Watched A Show Called Divorce on the L-Shaped Sofa
She had to remind herself that she wasn’t superstitious. At some juncture of stepping over cracks and not opening umbrellas indoors, she stopped to realize she had never actually believed in superstitions. Her mother’s back did not break. She died of cancer, but she was pretty sure there was no corresponding superstition for that. She did, however, carry on some ill-considered ideas about the power of her thoughts to create realities that were pretty obviously not possible, such as not killing fictional characters based on living people. That dad thing we mentioned earlier fucked her up a bit. For the duration of her marriage, she avoided singing heartbreak songs too, as though this would somehow manifest actual heartbreak. Anyway, they went ahead and watched a show called Divorce on their L-shaped sofa and she thinks now maybe that was all too much.
Should They Just Have Gone Ahead and Gotten One of Those Long-Ass Dining Room Tables Too?
And sat at opposite ends like elderly married royals in a movie who quietly loathe one another and be done with it?
She loved Chicago more than she ever loved anything, or at least as much as she’d loved anything. She loved it in her body. She loved it in a romantic way. She loved it in that romantic way where you can list a million details about why you love a person, but in the end it’s not something there are exact right words for.
Leaving Chicago felt like a breakup. A bad breakup, one where you second guess, where you only remember the good, a breakup where you always wonder a little if you should get back together. She thought she was ready. It wasn’t a hard decision. Her husband had gotten a grad school fellowship in another city. It was a practical decision. It was her choice, one she made with her partner. Chicago didn’t break up with her. She broke up with it. How she knew she loved her husband more than she loved Chicago is that she left Chicago for him. With him.
A Different Book
There could be a whole different book about her relationship to New York City, maybe one day she’ll figure out how to write it, maybe she won’t, maybe the world does not need another book set in/about growing up in/is a gritty portrait of/is a love letter to New York City. Probably not the latter. Maybe a reconciliation with. Anyway it’s a different book. Maybe we can boil it down to its essence here so we can all get on with it. She thinks of New York as one more of her many complicated parents who maybe could have done a better job, but in the end all made her who she is, for better or worse.
I’m leaving! You didn’t pay attention to me.
Eight million people live here, sorry not sorry.
I was a little kid. You could have at least hidden a few more exposed dicks.
We had bigger problems back then. You should be grateful. Didn’t you always have a roof over your head? Did we not give you a shit ton of art and culture? Did you not go to musicals and concerts and Macy’s Day parades and all the museums, did you not go on class trips on the Circle Line, did you not go ice skating in Central Park, did you not see the Rockettes at Radio City and the Nutckracker at Lincoln Center, did you not fucking stand on a stage at Lincoln Center when you were eight years old and sing in the goddamned opera?
Ok but whatever I can’t afford you!
Not my problem.
But you give other people rent-controlled apartments that fall from the sky! You like them better!
That’s not true. I love all my eight million children equally.
Hey, I did the best I could. You’re a grownup now. Figure your shit out.
Everything We Need
She’d fallen in love with Chicago the way some people fall in love with New York, and she never looked back until she and the husband left that beloved city for Texas, and from Texas, New York began to look pretty good. Brooklyn looked even better. She and the husband moved back to New York, found a cute little apartment in Brooklyn. Brooklyn she could get romantic about, it was a good fit for her, but soon they found a whole entire house upstate they could actually afford to buy. This was supposed to be the end of the relocation story, but it wasn’t. Jump a couple years ahead and she’s ninety minutes away from her friends alone in a house she’d been sharing with the person she thought she’d be with forever. So a few months after the husband moves out, when a friend offers her a place to stay in the East Village, she’s down there with the dog and a suitcase the next day. It is understood that this place to stay isn’t forever, but it’s also understood now that nothing is.
And then here comes her old friend (it’s now been requested that we call him the handsome friend; we’re still considering the change) who has moved back to New York right at this same time after twenty years away, and he crashes in the East Village apartment with her and ends up staying and this guy is from Ohio, right, this guy is fully in love with New York, and it’s a bit contagious; part of her is like Ok but look at all the trash/it’s so crowded/you don’t understand, it’s where I’m from, think of it as Ohio, and he’s like Nobody stays in Ohio who has any sense, she’s like I’m just saying I had to leave, sometimes you have to leave where you’re from, and he’s like Ok, so, you left, and now you’re back, and she’s like But I can’t afford it, and he’s like But you are affording it. Look at us. We live in the East Village and we have our bagel shop a block away and we have our deli down the block and we have a movie theater down the block, we have a meeting house two blocks away, our friends are here, we have CENTRAL PARK uptown, we have everything we need.
When she was growing up, Central Park was not her favorite place. Central Park was about muggings and drug dealers and preppy killers and guys masturbating under trees. She tended to avoid it. She lived closer to Riverside Park, and it wasn’t like they didn’t have all those same things over there too, but that’s where she went sledding and played with her friends and ran away to, with nothing but a Partridge Family lunchbox that one afternoon in third grade because she was a lonely latchkey kid and no one understood her (she went home and no one was the wiser and having a roof seemed like a good swap out for being understood). Now her old friend says, Let’s get coffee and walk through Central Park with my kid today, let’s walk through Central Park with our friends today, and they walk through Central Park with the kid or their friends and they stop to watch performers, or they sit by the fountain, or they go down Poet’s Walk, or they complain about the stupid new skinny buildings casting stupid shadows on Sheep Meadow but see that it’s still so beautiful, and she sees it through different eyes, a little. A little. A little.
Trees Are Down
A tornado hits their town. Trees are down all over town, roofs are blown off historic buildings on their main street, small businesses destroyed, two lives taken. Her husband is extremely upset about the trees. He was already upset about the trees around town, the way they get trimmed into un-tree like shapes to accommodate electrical wires, or cut down entirely to accommodate one thing or another that isn’t a tree. Some of them were pulled right out by the roots. Some of the trees have been split open by the force of the winds, to reveal that they were rotten inside, he says. It seems like a metaphor.
You think? she says. She does not think. Which kind are we, are we a rotten tree? You wanna do this game? I’m a fucking writer. Maybe your tree is rotten inside but your roots are tangled up in mine. My tree is a goddamn Redwood. My tree is a motherfucking Sequoia all the way through. A tree falls on his client’s car. He moves out the day before her birthday.
I watch a shit ton of TV, especially late at night when I can’t sleep, I watch horror movies and housewife shows and peak TV shows and news shows but not the fake ones. I listen to whatever music I like. Some of it is not considered cool. Fuck you. I write a lot of books. I read a lot of books. I was married for fifteen years. We separated a year ago. I cry all the time still, I can’t think about much of anything else. I hope you find that sexy. I don’t go to the gym. Fuck the gym. I like flat hikes. I like bike riding where there are no streets. Do not ask me to bike ride in the city, I didn’t do it for my husband and I won’t do it for you. I eat whatever food I like, but I don’t cook and I don’t drink. I have no time for your angsty middle-aged bullshit. Grow up. I’m really much nicer than this.
The Color You’re In
She has this thing about lifetimes, like how many of them she’s had. The borders of the lifetimes are fuzzy, but she has a visual in her head, a timeline of colors, birth-age six (she doesn’t remember this lifetime and these colors are not the colors represented in photographs so all we can say about this time is that we don’t know what color it is), first grade through fifth which is a bright white, sixth grade through high school is yellow, college is all primary colors, her twenties are blue, her early thirties in New York are purple, her late thirties in Chicago are like an orange and pink and purple sunset, her early forties, her early years with her husband, are a bright grass green, the last few years are muted shades of teal and taupe. She has long had the feeling that she’s just getting started, though she begins to have a feeling of being settled after they buy the house. You can’t see the color of now. It might be red. But you can’t really see the color you’re in until you’re in the next color.
While We’re Here: Ten Scenarios That Might Have Been Preferable (this bit is dedicated to her dad, who kept a list of top ten ways he was going to die)
- The wife is stricken with a terrible, fatal illness while they’re still in couples therapy. He stays with her out of guilt and she’s fine with that. Eventually he realizes what a heinous mistake he was about to make and spends the rest of her living days atoning by reading to her, washing her hair, and bearing gifts of fine jewelry.
- The husband falls from a second floor window at the client’s house while he’s still in couples therapy with the wife. She outfits the home with a ramp and one of those chairlifts that runs up the stairs and when he returns home from the hospital she cares for him for the rest of his living days. He realizes how lucky he was to have her all those years and spends the rest of his living days expressing his gratitude.
- The wife, still conscious on her deathbed after falling down in front of a car years before the horrible client comes into the picture, years before they ever go to couples therapy, tells her husband not to cry, that even though she had a short life, she had everything she ever wanted, and she coughs an operatic cough and dabs her head with a lacy handkerchief and expires.
- Returning from couples therapy round three, where they’ve finally made a breakthrough, pledging their renewed love, they both die in a car accident because the husband is tailgating and there’s a tailgater behind them and the car in front of them slows down and there’s a pileup. The client shows up at the funeral and the wife’s friends stop her at the door and say Yeah, no, bye and then everyone says nice things about how much they loved both of them and how right they were for each other even though the husband went on a stupid walkabout.
- A year after separating, the wife slips into some morbid reflection and writes it down and then one of these grim scenarios actually happens because that’s the superpower she’s burdened with, and she has to live with it, on earth or in eternity, depending on which way it goes.
- Decades after separating and never getting divorced, the husband and wife tentatively and tenderly reunite, only to learn that the husband has a horrible and deadly pulmonary disease from years working around chemicals and shit. Everything good in my life was because of you, he says. I’m glad you know that now, she says.
- Decades after separating and never getting divorced, the husband and wife die separately but meet up in eternity. The husband spends a few eternities trying to make amends, and a few eternities after that, the wife finds forgiveness and they spend all the eternities together after that.
- Decades after separating and never getting divorced, the husband and wife die separately but meet up in eternity, and in eternity there is no language and no form, only blissful, wordless understanding and love of the human condition. There’s no such thing as sorry in eternity, there are no mistakes or regrets in eternity, absolutely zero self-loathing or grief; there’s only what is, and what is is good and right and perfect, which means there are infinite puppies.
- The client was never born, no one else was ever born who either of them found attractive during their fifty years of marriage, and they die peacefully in their sleep holding hands.
- The husband and wife were never born, and no one’s heart ever hurt.