If I were gone, how would your life change? I ask a few days after our sixth anniversary. Each night you sleep with your hand on my hip, you say I love you as easily as a creek eases its way over basalt. I soften, sometimes, when I am with you. The waitress brings us our drinks; the floor is sticky, the window fogged with our breath.
What I am afraid of is that you will say it won’t. Instead, you put your hand over mine.
When we were first married, we took our boys to the woods. They were eight and had their struggles. You taught them each to throw a leaf off a bridge and let them race with the current, a slow meander. Sometimes the leaves would get stuck in an eddy, sometimes they would float away toward the sea. The boys’ faces were pink with cold.
When I first came to visit you, we woke late in the morning. Two crows perched on the neighbor’s roof and looked at us through the open window. One for sorrow, two for joy.
Often, I ask you if you still love me. You are constant, unable to lie. I do not always understand this, how you can be rooted so true to your self. Please come back, I miss you you tell me one night in our first summer, when I have disappeared into myself. I had sent my son 1,800 miles away with his father for two months, and my heart was broken. I replay this, a loop. Come back, I love you. There is such gentleness. When my son comes home, you hug both our boys with ease.
By the time of our seventh anniversary, we have been quarantined for six months. I have stopped wearing makeup, your hair froths about your head in a silver cloud. The boys are almost as tall as you, can rest their chins on the top of my head.
Early in the pandemic, the power went out and we sat at the dining room table and played board games with the boys. Later, you showed them how to string a guitar. Later, I gathered the chickens off the fence and shut them in the coop. The air was warm even after the sun went down. We sat on the porch drinking whiskey.
Later, you made us dinner and we told each of our sons I love you and sent them upstairs for bed.
When I was twenty-eight, a man held me down by my throat and told me only he could love me. Our baby screamed in his bassinet by the bed.
When we are in bed, you curl around me, and the cats curl at our feet.
I understand only how to practice for catastrophe.
It is easier to imagine what can go wrong than what can bloom. What I have learned is: don’t get your hopes up. What you have learned is: hope is necessary.
Once, I lay on the polished wood floor of my apartment afraid that anything I loved would be taken away from me. I did not understand the nature of abundance.
Once, when we first started dating, I sprawled naked across the couch, looked right at the camera. When you woke, 1,800 miles away and four hours later, there I was, naked on your screen.
Once, we married each other beneath a weeping linden tree.
Once I believed I would never be safe.
Once, my grandmother broke open a sand dollar she’d brought back from Florida to show me
how God was in all things: look, she said, see how inside there are doves, the holy spirit,
and shook into my hand five bone birds. In me, the holy spirit burned a blue flame.
Photography by: Kerensa Pickett