December 2, 2012 Sunday
“What is a book?” was the obnoxious question I posed to May this morning, mimicking to the tag-team mockery of her Thursday dissertation defense ordeal.
I could as easily ask “What is history?” There are many kinds, infinite even, and not all concerning American commander-in-chiefs. Just a clock hand ticks out varying measurements—seconds, minutes, and hours—history can attempt to define incomprehensibly massive eras, or track the lifespan of the common fruit fly.
Today Bashar al-Assad of Syria is defending his home base of Damascus from his armed people, Egypt’s Supreme Court is going on strike, the United States must defuse an economic weapon of its own making because it did not reach an agreement in 2011. Even old Roger Williams is in the news, the code of his seventeenth-century “Mystery Book” finally cracked.
The history I made today will not be remembered by anyone else in the world than perhaps the single person who was its co-star and witness. Within the walls of a modest, inconspicuous St.Louis house, easily lost amid rows of similar structures, I lived a day that was neither earth-shattering nor cable news worthy. Yet it meant something to me.
The previous evening I had made an early exit from Shakespeare in Love, feeling ill, and so missing out on May foisting, with all her strength, our Grand fir tree into its stand and other various holiday clatter. While May slept past 7:30 in the morning, I wrote the story of our recent Thanksgiving misadventures. “I like this scene very much” she murmured at one point, seeing me type away next to her in bed.
Like millions of others on the planet we went to Starbucks. We set apart from the others at tables, also enjoying the low-70s warmth. This is also when I posed my book question, prompted by May’s professor who was “out to get [stump] her,” and had failed.
Recently we have often turned to looks for discussion, whether May’s ever-lengthening hair or my beard hypothesis. “When were you the gawkiest, and when have you considered yourself most attractive?” I asked. Both late bloomers by admission, we shuddered at our high school selves, while being happy with our current looks. While no longer “boyish,” as in recently unearthed Facebook images, I have at least one vote for having reached male maturity.
May is astoundingly reverent of the Chicago Bears Rule, and made sure we were back before noon. For the next three hours, radio waves from Anchorage described the clash between the Seattle Seahawks and at-home Bears. With minutes remaining rookie quarterback Russell Wilson sliced the Chicago defense to go ahead 17-14. With 0:24 seconds remaining May was in full acceptance of the looming loss. Suddenly, a 56-yard bomb to Brandon Marshall swung my emotions back to jubilant. With a Gould kick it was 17-17. Overtime. Tragically, the Bears never went on offense after the coin flip, succumbing via touchdown. Yet May was there, ready to sooth my tension away from a massage, to sooth away my gridiron gripes.
Decorating the broad behemouth of tree was an all-afternoon affair, requiring extra lights. We hung them in serenity, and with what remained of our coffe supply. The lights now aglow, red and gold bulbs were broken out, the event was toasted with eggnog.
All that was missing was carols, soon remedied by May’s spare Itunes mix. “Time for you to sing,” the songstress said to the screecher. Into my head popped a song I was listening to ten years ago at this exact time. The melancholy of Carol King’s Tapestry had made a fitting piece of the soundtrack to the Navy’s nuke school at the time. Having passed ‘A’ school just as Christmas approached, I was proud to be returning home six months later a Petty Officer. As I waited on a picnic table to be driven to the airport early in the morning, I listened to “Home Again.” So this is what I gently sang to May as I hung bulbs, my history finally coming full circle, the song taking on a brighter new meaning.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m ever going to make it home again
It’s so far and out of sight
I really need someone to talk to
And nobody else knows how to comfort me tonight
Snow is cold, rain is wet
Chills my soul right to the marrow
I won’t be happy ‘til I see you alone again
‘Til I’m home again and feeling right
“What Really Happened,” with May
Getting back into the car after a second trip into Target for a Christmas tree stand (the item they had originally come for) she looked at him for what was intended to be only an instant. But sometimes, it is these instants in which she cannot help but dwell on his face slightly longer than planned. “God, you have such beautiful eyes,” she said, not being able to relegate her thoughts to silence as she so often did. He looked down modestly and she apologized. She wasn’t sorry.
The next morning, over holiday coffee sipped outside in 70 degree weather, she looked at his face again, this time in the full light of the late morning sun. How different the person she saw in front of her appeared to be from the person in photographs taken approximately 6 or 7 years earlier. He asked if she thought he looked more “at peace” now, and she agreed that was probably true, unable to articulate her impressions any further in the moment. What she thought later, with greater clarity, was that he smiled with his whole face now. He appeared, somehow, only to smile with his mouth in those pictures. She was hesitant to assign meaning to this fact, simply satisfied that she had stumbled upon the nature of the difference she tried to explain to him that morning. The character of his past smiles was likely symptomatic of the stresses the camera puts upon us, and nothing more, she decided. To pose in any way is to render us other than we are.
They spent the day that followed together, of course. She pieced together a meal from items already in her house, hoping he would enjoy what she made. She derived great joy from these simple domestic tasks that an academic woman like her is supposed to eschew in favor of feminist theory, much as she is supposed to eschew lingerie in favor of black turtlenecks.
They had planned to part ways at some point during the afternoon, but that wasn’t to be. A late afternoon of passion was followed by hours of trimming the Christmas tree and playing songs for each other. She asked him to sing to her, promising—so sincerely—to cherish whatever he chose to perform. He sang a Carol King song that was dear to him long before they had ever met—one that delved into the meaning of home. His delicately imperfect but warm singing voice conveyed a sentiment so important to her that her only reaction was to smile and avoid his glance. She always did that, it seemed.
The song she had to offer to him was Paul McCartney’s “My Love,”—an admittedly obscure and shallow piece of work from what he remarked was a “bad period of time for McCartney.” Upon listening to it in the form that was her adult self, she wondered why she felt it so strongly as a girl entering her awkward teenage years. That part of her though, that thought it so romantic around the 1997-1998 era, was hardly out of reach as she sat in his lap in the pleasant shadow of the glittering Christmas tree. She sang the words softly, “My love does it good to me.”
The next day she saw him was two days later. The Monday they spent apart hardly seemed a separation considering how often she thought of him—of what he might say about the various parts of her day, both profound and insignificant. He was so present for her, she never felt that they were quite without each other, and missing him was its own peculiar art