Yesterday on my way home, I spotted my ex-husband in the car beside me, chatting on his Bluetooth, wearing his usual animated smile.
I felt like I’d seen a ghost.
Six years ago, I would have been the person on the other end of the line. Fast-forward, and here I was, happily carrying home creamy lobster pasta to my second husband and three-year-old son. The meal was left over from my going-away lunch at work, a celebration of moving on after pretty much having the same job since 2005.
In the back of my station wagon was something else: a giant Seiko-Swarovski crystal wall clock that plays music on the hour, when the face divides into sections that spin around and come back together at the end of the song. My boss chose this generous gift for me herself, and I was stunned. It is more expensive than anything else I own, considering my MacBook’s depreciation since 2006.
So, yesterday, in rush hour, the extended metaphor was almost laughable. If I had seen this scenario in a short story—a gal seeing an ex-husband the day before Valentine’s Day, anxious to get home and feed the family with a meal resulting from an anticipatory goodbye, carting around a giant timepiece that celebrates life changes by the hour—I would have winced, and if the story had been in the Atticus Review queue, I would have politely declined to publish it.
But here’s the cool thing (which would have totally been the icing on the rejected story): I did not collapse in tears, or desperately pine for love lost, or even relive pangs of rejection. I drove on. (Hauling the timepiece literally behind me…get it? get it?…leaving the past in the past?!). I felt…happy. Happy that he was happy; happy that I was happy. I smiled because his smile is infectious, and that is one of the best things about him. I felt the essence of him. I took the best and tossed the rest.
Don’t go patting me on the back, though: getting to that place took me five years. Not just any five years, either. Five years of pain, hurt, desperation, and, yes, even hate. Five years of trying to make sense of senseless actions. Five years of life on fast-forward: a marriage, a pregnancy, a son, a master’s degree, a new career, life-shaking challenges along the way.
My heart is freaking resilient.
I’ve been fascinated with hearts for a long time. I can’t fathom how they just keep going. They have a crazy amount of responsibility: if they stop, the show can’t go on. Physically, hearts don’t seem to tire. Other muscles are total pansies when compared to the heart. The heart kicks ass.
There have been times when I could feel mine stopping, when I have been so sad and so still that I was sure my body was shutting down. Days of no food and too much wine, maybe some Valium thrown in, and lots of crying—times like these are certainly not good for the heart. And yet, after some murmuring and erratic pumping, some sputtering and hiccupping, it picks up right where it left off. Damn.
Now I feel like my heart is getting quicker at bouncing back. There are little heartaches that happen in any relationship, and they take time to get over. Take last night, for example.
So I came home with this fancy lobster pasta. I popped it in the oven, made a joke about how rarely we get to eat twenty-three-dollar entrees. It filled the house with the smell of its yummy creaminess, and I was starving. We buttered the bread that came with it, and ate it all with beer and wine. My son was playing with the new clock, pressing the music button so he could hear the chime version of “Ain’t Nothin’ Like the Real Thing,” then “Touch Me In the Morning,” followed by “Weekend In New England.” And you know what? Something in me felt proud to feed my family from a meal that came from my hard work, like I was sharing it with the people who helped make my new success possible.
And then it happened. As my husband dished it up, he wrinkled his nose and flailed his hands, as Italians are wont to do. “It has bacon it!”
My husband doesn’t eat mammals. And I forgot it had bacon in it because I had picked it out when I ate my portion at lunch, so I didn’t think about it. I had meant to do something nice, something fun, but screwed it up. I said I was sorry. “Can’t you pick it out?” I asked, which only made him madder.
At a guest’s house, he would eat whatever a host served, not wanting to offend them. I reminded him of this. “But you should know better,” he said. He crossed his arms and sat down with no food in front of him.
I felt like a little kid getting scolded. I felt blamed for something I didn’t do intentionally. I no longer had an appetite. I cried—a lot. Later, he apologized, but I still cried—a lot. I felt like a crummy wife; I felt worthless, incapable, stupid, disrespected, unappreciated—a lot.
But this morning, after he woke me up with lots of kisses, after I poured the coffee he makes for me—without fail—every single morning, after he held my chunky pug to my face so I could kiss him before he put him outside, after he slipped a pug Valentine card into my purse to surprise me—after some layers of ice had melted away from my heart with an elephant’s memory—I am bouncing back. Some hearts would have boomeranged before falling asleep, but accepting an apology before I’m fully ready doesn’t feel genuine, and I’d much rather accept genuinely than quickly.
Humans do silly things. Humans do crummy things. Humans do human things. But dang if that awful Celine Dion song isn’t right: the heart will go on. It just keeps going and going and going, controlled or uncontrolled, tamed or wild, sad or happy, forgiving or angry.
At thirty-five, I’m just now learning how to work the rudders on mine. It’s getting easier to pull it out of a dive before it crashes.
Sorry, Celine, but I just could not put you on the playlist this week. Why? Because you are not in my iTunes library—that’s why. And also because you don’t really belong with the like of Marty Balin and Janis Joplin. The universe has got to have some sort of order to it.
Ah, the things we try to preserve. In “The Preservationist,” Mary Ellen Lives calls into question the permanence of people and places, the effort it takes to maintain a few elements of certainty when unpredictable variables render a life unrecognizable. What does it take for love to survive not only time, but the effects of time, illness, unexpected change? How predictable should love be?
The two amusing travelers in Douglas Milliken’s “Thieving In Foreign Countries” may not be lovers, but they are a couple, and there is visceral power in surviving something together. The nature of this flash is the question it brings up: how long can this sort of adventure last? The uncertainly is what makes this flash thrilling.
There are parts of Nels Hanson’s “Visitor” when I don’t know what the hell is going on, but I don’t care—much like falling in love. Hanson has control of this ride, so I trust him. When the speaker sees a vision, I see it too; when a telepathic doe lets loose inside a house, I’m not afraid. Dreaming love is powerful, and I’ve rarely seen it confronted with this much heart.