In America 12/16: Lovers’ Walk

Part of the problem, you think, was that he just wouldn’t leave you alone.

You’re not entirely sure it wasn’t about adrenaline and alcohol in the beginning, about the fact that he worked down the hall and you’d already spent half a semester listening to him yell, so what’s the rest of your life compared to that, really.

But he used to come into your office, come in and sit and yak and yak away, asking you for advice, which nobody really did at that point, talking about his life, he just wouldn’t shut up and that was the first part of the problem. He showed up one night outside your dorm room with a stack of CDs he wanted you to hear; he printed an invitation to dinner in calligraphy on paper; that you had a boyfriend at the time, a rich stuck-up asshole, didn’t seem to matter.

And when he showed up with flowers during the awards ceremony (you forget what the award was called but you remember the flowers), your friend Jim looked at you like he knew where this was going, but you were blissfully clueless, amused at the gesture, and your friends started to talk about him as an inevitability.

Thing is, you never really looked at it that way. He was around, was on your periphery, gabbing, bringing you books he thought you’d like. And when he asked you out, you turned him down. Spoil the friendship blah blah blah, but really it was about that you didn’t know how to do anything anymore that wasn’t, on some level, about work. And this seemed so fragile, you didn’t want to break it.

He took it so well that you changed your mind, held his hand for two weeks before you’d let him kiss you and then you treated it like he’d asked for your first-born, ignored the twist in your stomach at his voice on the phone.

You didn’t date, you just worked together. Three years in a windowless basement trying to teach kids not to screw up, yelling at one another over typefaces, going on 3 a.m. ice cream runs. Sometimes he got home at 7 a.m. and he-and-you-also slept for an hour on the sofa bed before you had to get back up and go to class. The fights you have today pale in comparison to the epic battles you got into then; sometimes you think, uncharitably, that this is why it worked, that your wedding was not the first test of your love, that your love was tested every day by the fact that he thought more highly of Franklin Gothic Condensed than Myriad and you simply couldn’t understand that.

You went to the altar at 22, ate cheesecake at your reception, danced to “Fly Me To The Moon.” He whispered in your ear, “Look at all the people. Look what we did.”

His marriage proposal was a typical comedy of errors; he was late for your date and you were angry, snapping at him. He asked you had you been happy, you said Yes, impatient, and then, underneath the courtyard trees, pulled out his hand and in it was a small gray velvet box. When you called your mother, she already knew. He’d called them to ask permission. You fancied yourself worldly, citified, but he did the small-town things that smoothed the road ahead. You spent your early twenties railing against the princess stereotype; you savored the memory of his request.

And so you married into his family of rambunctious union Democrats who argued with you at the dinner table, stubbornly overcame your German reticence with their Irish-Italian insistence that you talk and eat and talk and eat some more, who touched you until hugging came as naturally as speaking did, who wouldn’t leave you in your shell.

You could list his attributes: kind, first last always, kind. And this: his refusal to give up on the idea of you as a couple gave you hope, that it wouldn’t have to be perfect, that it would just have to go on being complicated and joyous and you’d work it out along the way. You had no models, really, fought a lot, drank scotch, talked until dawn. He points out plaques you deliberately hung in the darkest corners of the hallways, see, look. You want to be worthy of that kind of pride, worry that you aren’t, tell him that, and are mocked for being silly.

He pesters you until you see an opthamologist, convinced your headaches are the result of poor eyesight. As you sit in the dark, reading, he turns up the lamp, and brings you your glasses.