What I want, no, need actually, is to remember the smells of youth. The images I can recall, but they are aged pictures, run repeatedly through the Photoshop of memory, and cannot be trusted only desired.
The old, half ready to fall oak, in the Salt Lake City park had a faint pungency that lingered even as I departed my body as the acid kicked in, and drew me back from the abyss hours later,
and my then wife, cradling our first born in the hospital bed, the scent of innocence and sterility that neither of us dared recognize as a foretelling of our denouement.
Those moments are lost in the sea of time, washed away from memory’s shore, but the smell of a summer oak still promises a gentle return to self.
I mean, seriously, did anyone really think that the Spratt marriage would ultimately last? Sure, the first couple of years were imagined bliss. And sure, their dietary desires did help them avoid almost all waste. But that big a difference, even if only seemingly in eating habits, foretells differences in other areas of life. He was a neatnik, she not so much. He didn’t mind, originally picking up after her, but after a dozen years, let’s face it, it got old. And she was tired of his comments about her diet. Sure, she had put on a few pounds of late, but that was part of aging. And really, she didn’t look that bad, not old and shrunken like he did. People in glass houses and all of that. And she was on the damned Keto diet, so at least she was trying. She knew it could not go on, so she reached out to an attorney. And it was the attorneys who picked their carcasses clean.
The Good news about rom-coms is that Hollywood (and occasionally Paris, Lisbon and Madrid, but never Berlin) crank them out endlessly, and each contains that grain or two of truth, like salt rubbed in the wound of a failed first marriage, and the balm of the discovery of true and abiding love. The small pail of rom-com truths is easily carried, sometimes off a too strong wind, but it is never enough to build a dune to hold back the waves of emotion that attend the most fragile and passionate of all human relationships. Yet we sit, smile, and watch hoping that this one’s grain is the one that tips the scale ever so slowly in our favor.
What I want to tell her is this: it’s fitting, perfectly, that you who so assiduously hid the past from me, your past and mine, now bars your entry, refusing you even the briefest glimpse. You want so to grab onto it to have it carry you to a place removed from here by time and distance, where it is warm and most of the time, cozy. It is also fitting that you call out his name, as though he was in the yard pruning a tree, delaying dinner, the same he you cursed glad to have him out of your life and out of your house, you wished him dead so that you might call yourself a widow and share condolences with the other black draped women. You never mentioned the six months of foster care or the little sister who came and went so quickly when he had the audacity to drop dead on you one morning. This is what I would say to her, this is the curse I would place upon her but she no longer recognizes me, I am no more than a well dressed orderly come to remove her lunch tray.
As a child I would often stare up into the night sky. The stars, the planets, at least the two I knew I could see. My parents didn’t think my behavior odd, they assumed I wanted to be a scientist and explore the universe. I let them believe this. It was far easier than explaining that the alternative was to sit in the living room with them and listen to them bicker about something so minor that happened that day, with no escape from their earthly prison.
He hangs on the guest room wall, simply framed in black, adjoining his more ornate, Cheshire- cat smiling sister. He isn’t brooding really, there is just a certain needful sadness, as he stares out, imagining how he pictured things would be, how they were supposed to be, realizing here, they never were, never will be, and although there is no failure, no blame, he wears it as his personal armor, still so easily pierced by dreams.
Tomorrow I will lie to him will tell him when he asks, at least the first ten times he he does, that she is doing fine, that she is a tough old bird, that she’ll outlive us all, that she’s a Taurus, the bull and he will remember the end of their marriage, the Battle Royal that was the war of divorce, and he will smile a bit, and say, “I miss her,” and I will agree with him. I do miss her a bit, but even two and a half years of death have not grown the size of my missing appreciably. We will move on to other topics, will circle back and rerun the tape for with him every day is a series of scenes from Groundhog Day, but in his world, it never snows.
She is sifting through photo albums deciding which pictures to keep, which to discard, questioning why she kept some in the first place, blurred, ill composed. She sets very high standards now wondering why some were taken, the sun she says, all wrong here, the background in that one just swallows the subjects. I left my photos behind when I moved out, so many of the woman I was leaving after finally admitting to myself that she said she had left me emotionally two years earlier. Now I sit here and sift through memories, deciding which to keep, which I wish I could discard, questioning why I remember certain things in the first place. She will have far fewer albums with only the best pictures when she’s done, I will carry a mind full of memories that absolutely refuse to be discarded.
You want to yell at him, tell him to stop, that it is too soon, that he is not ready, cannot be, won’t be for months to come, but you know he will not listen to you standing, gesticulating, imagining a stone in your hand, shattering the glass walls, the crackling gaining his full attention causing him to realize what is so very obvious to you. But you cannot do so, wishes aside, there are no stones to be found within the house in which you stand and if there were, there still are very clear rules against your throwing one.
I thought about sending you a postcard, one with the Riviera in the background or from Vieux Nice, with its teeming life, after all, we did have 30 years together. We never came here, I haven’t been back to the places we went together since they, like so much of what we shared, I left to you. I figured you needed that more than I did, that you said you felt nothing for me anymore I still felt much, good, bad, but never indifferent, so you got it all, though to you, I suspect, even the good turned sour with time. I couldn’t think of what to write on the postcard so to save us both time, and you the effort, I simply put a stamp on it and threw it in the trash container along the beach.