i dance with words.
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We lie in bed, spooning, his arm wrapped around my waist. His face is buried in my neck, and every now and then, he’ll wake up and kiss the spot where his lips rest. His nose is buried in my dark, wild, wet hair, smelling the moisture of the conditioner I’ve just rinsed . All I can think about is August, how rhythmic his snoring used to be in my ear, how I counted his breaths when I could not sleep, how I loved the tremors of his chest against my back. Now, it is quiet. We are naked and I flip over onto my stomach so that his arm falls against my back. I close my eyes and think about how deeply I slept when August first left; not soundly, but deeply, as if my body was slurping up slumber it had missed in his arms. Every morning I woke up sore and aching and sat and smoked cigarettes in my window.
Even though I smoked through college, I quit almost as soon as I met August. Aside from the fact that he despised it, being with him somehow replaced cravings; never once did I desire a cigarette when we were together. I was consumed with him. But when he was gone, I needed something tangible to replace him. First, it was cigarettes. Now, it is cigarettes and Michael. He is good and solid and kisses me in his sleep, tells me everything is perfect all the time. He’s tender in a predictable way, touches me incessantly no matter where we are, yet holds me at night like he could live without me. I’ve crawled into his banality and let it swathe away what’s left of my romantic notions. “Maybe I’m in love with the idea of you,” he mused recently in the middle of a breakfast he made. I remained silent, counting chews until he said something else. I am not even a little in love with him or an idea of him and cannot imagine a time where I might be.
I pull away and look at him, soundly asleep. I know that my hair will be frighteningly undone in the morning and I will have to brush it back for work. I fleetingly consider getting up to pull it back, but decide I am too tired. Besides, my movement will only wake him and he will think I am feeling amorous. I am not. I don’t want him to touch me at all; I just want to lie here quietly and imagine he is August. But I know that is an impossible pretension. I will not wake in the morning before him to scuff on mascara. I will not dream that he has left me and startle myself awake to make sure he’s there. The morning will not bring that fear, that ‘today will be the day he leaves’ fear; I will not be paralyzed every time the phone rings, worried that it’s him saying he’s thought it over and never wants to see me again. I will not hurry home and wait anxiously, hoping I’ve got one more dinner, one more night.
I turn away from him and close my eyes. I cannot think of a time I’ve felt more alone.
And yet, I feel safe.
Excerpt "Splitting Hairs" © AMB 2014
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Rachel and Jacob Jackson were people who had every tangible thing a young couple could ever want—looks, great careers, loving families, a beautiful home, and a comfortable life. They were also, unlike so many other couples in their position, deeply in love. They’d married shortly after business school and both ran successful enterprises of their own: Rachel, a fledgling internet company and Jacob was a partner in a hedgefund. They were the picture of health and vitality, swimming in their ocean view infinity pool, hiking in the canyons surrounding their home, cycling on the beach on pretty days. For the first five years they were married they worked 55-65 hour weeks, yet spent Saturdays mornings in bed when they could, and on Sundays always drove out to services at the huge, old church Rachel’s father pastored in her Central California hometown before enjoying the old-fashioned spread her mother always started the evening before. It was idyllic, looking in.
Rachel specifically, a statuesque beauty with taut shortbread-colored skin and naturally perfect teeth, did not look like the type of woman who could not have children, which was exactly what she told her husband as they walked hand-in-hand into the insemination.
“I do not look like the type of woman who can’t have children,” she said sharply, running a carefully manicured finger underneath her bottom lip to clear any smudges. She examined her profile in the glass of the building they were about to enter. “I do not look like the type of woman who doesn’t have a uterus.”
Jacob smiled a weary smile at her typically wry humor. “Baby, you look like a million bucks.”
“Not a day over 25.”
“I need 22 today,” she said, stepping back to let her husband open the final door before there was no turning back. “Today is a big day.”
Jacob reviewed her glowing skin, shiny hair, and fleshy curves, nodding in agreement. She was the picture of health, but only those close to her knew that her shell belied her insides. Rachel had lost her first ovary at 23, and had long before begun the process of enduring nearly every reproductive affliction possible. She had suffered since puberty from tortuous menstrual cycles and ovarian cysts and had grown up to find no relief in a medical file full of fibroid tumors, ectopic pregnancies, and miscarriages. Finally, in her seventh year of marriage, a last-ditch effort to save her life during a risky corrective surgery resulted in an emergency hysterectomy.
Afterward, Jacob had waited in the armchair next to her hospital bed for the anesthesia to wear off so that he could tell her what happened, but she woke up crying because she already knew from the searing pain. She told her husband then it was God’s infinite wisdom and perfect will, but she stopped going to church.
Excerpt - "Deliverance" © AMB 2015