It wasn’t anything ceremonious, and it was hardly graceful. Just a day, one day, like any other, a good day in the grand scheme of things; he wasn’t drinking yet and that was a start. They went for a drive. Along the road, she spotted a small stone church with a stream around the side and wooden bridge that looked like it had grown there and just bent serendipitously with the wind. She was enchanted and begged him to stop, thinking he wouldn’t, but he did. He didn’t know her at all, she’d known this for a while, but sometimes he understood the things that were truly important to her, not just the little flights of fancy. Those she would pout over, but still kiss him on the cheek whenever she passed where he sat.
She had fallen in love with him so easily that it had taken a while to notice that he didn’t know her. They had gone so far in so short a time that it seemed to her they were impenetrable. It came on slowly, and at first she didn’t know what it was, something pressing down hard on her mind, like a dream you struggle to remember. And then it hit her. One of those many nights when she wondered if he would come home before light and the unnamable, inescapable grief weighed her down, she knew. She threw the phone against a wall. But knowing isn’t enough to save a person from drowning if she’s determined, so every day she added another stone or two to her pockets and went along.
On the way there that day they had argued just a little, which was good, or better anyway. She was staring out the window at the blur of trees.
“How about this one?” he asked.
She looked over.
“You know I don’t like them, they’re too loud.”
“You liked them when we saw them at that festival.”
“Well, I had a head full of drugs then, and even then I thought they were too loud, how about this one?”
“They suck, they sound hollow.”
“Turn on the radio then.”
“There won’t be any reception up here.”
She put on the Grateful Dead and looked back out the window. It was the only thing they agreed on anymore.
“We just have so much in common, you know?” She said to her friend after they first met, “I just feel so comfortable.” Later, after everything, that same friend would tell her that she’d never trusted the guy, never liked him, a fact that would eat at her.
At some point she asked him how muscles formed, not really expecting an answer, but he knew. She should have known he’d know. He knew everything then.
“The muscle tears,” he told her “when you work out, lift weights, and then it heals and forms scar tissue.”
“So, a muscle is just a mound of scar tissue under the skin?”
“Sure,” he said.
Now she wondered if it was the same with a heart, which is just a muscle, and nothing more glorious after all. Maybe it tears a little with every disappointment and betrayal, every expectation and small thoughtlessness, and heals over and then it’s just a lump of scar tissue. Proof of purchase.
They walked across the bridge that day and she reached for his hand somewhere near the middle. He flinched, and then squeezed her hand in his, but she saw it in his face, a flicker, a moment, fatigue and impatience.
A month or so in, she woke up one morning with a Joni Mitchell song stuck in her head, it wouldn’t leave. No matter how many times she listened to it or sang it, it persisted, “Just before our love got lost you said / I am as constant as the northern star / and I said, constantly in the darkness / where’s that at? / If you want me I’ll be in the bar” Joni sang it over and over, and she sang along and she meant it, but she didn’t know why. Then it went just as quickly as it came and she dismissed it, like a scab that finally dried up and fell away.
In the beginning it was all sweetness and surprises and she knew, just knew that this was it, it had to be. One night they went bowling and laughed the whole way through. They used to laugh so much that her face hurt, and when he’d dropped her off at home she felt like when she was a kid, and she’d spend all day, just every minute of a summer vacation day in the pool, splashing, and crossing her feet to make a mermaid’s tail, and watching her hair float around her face as she counted how long she could hold her breath. By the time she’d get out, pruney and starving, she’d lie down on the itchy carpet, too tired and dizzy to care, and watch cartoons with her sister and giggle with the childhood knowledge that no day could ever be anything but this. On that night, the bowling night, as they were leaving she ducked into the bathroom. When she came out, scanning the crowd for him, he grabbed her and spun her around and kissed her, right there, for god and the bowling leagues to see, kissed her breathless. And she knew.
As they walked silently through the small stone church, she started to cry looking at the stained glass. If he noticed he said nothing, but that was habit. She cried a lot lately. When they got back in the car she said the only thing she’d thought all day.
“I get the TV,” he said
“Of course, it was yours to begin with.”
“And the dog.”
“She was yours to begin with too.”
“You can have Emily.”
“She was your friend first.”
“She likes you more, she’d pick you anyway.”
“Maybe I’ll stay with her for a while.”
They were silent. He dropped her off at what used to be their home and went to play poker at his dealer’s apartment.
When they first met, and she first fell asleep in his arms, she dreamed of bell shaped flowers and the sound of water tumbling over rocks, and when she awoke she could have sworn that her hair smelled fresh and clean and bright, like the sun reflecting off a lake on a crisp, clear day.