He kissed me the first time one night in front of the Francis Furniture store. The moon was high and, for the fifth or sixth night in a row, he ignored his aunt’s curfew and her pleas not to hang out with “that girl”.
It was a bit of a hurried, kind of awkward affair conducted over the handlebars of our bikes. And it didn’t seem quite like anything I’d seen in the movies. What I remember about it is the feeling of just wanting to preserve that moment – this slice of time when the night was cool and bright with reflected moonlight and the possibility of a kiss hung between us.
Afterwards, he rested is forehead on mine. I think we were mostly too shy to look at one another. His chest rose and fell as he drew in a ragged breath.
“I’m sorry, I have to go, “he said, with that crooked smile. He squeezed my hand. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?
I couldn’t have imagined then, or all of the nearly 30 years after that night, that it would be me who would have to walk away from him in the end. I couldn’t have imagined then that one night, after almost 21 years of marriage, I’d lie in bed next to him suffocating; trapped by the weight of all of the things I couldn’t say.
That my head would be screaming: “I don’t know how people do this. Two fucking words and I’m not the same person anymore.” That one day, the love that had filled me up all those years – with some kind of twisted irony – would be the same love it would take to let go.
It’s funny how close the past is sometimes, like you can just reach out and touch it. You always seem to remember it like it was full of only the best damn things in the world, too. It’s not peppered by memories of the days when you were steering a course around pain. Or the times you laid there on the proverbial closet floor and hugged your knees tight to your chest while a deep loneliness you swear no one else in the world could understand, swallowed you whole.
Years later we’d be messing around with tarot cards in the basement of our first house and he’d draw the three of swords from the Ryder-Waite deck. A heart with three swords through it.
Without missing a beat, he said: “This probably means we’re getting divorced, right?”
I thought about the kids, asleep upstairs, one of them miserable from the chicken pox. I thought, but didn’t say, that he didn’t understand. No, even more than that – that he couldn’t possibly fathom what I would do to hold those kids up above the swirling chaos of our adult waters if it ever came to that.
I didn’t know then that some years down the road, I would try so desperately to do it and the waters would win. And almost swallow me in the process.
“No that’s not at all what it means. Don’t read too much into it,” I said.
“It probably does. Look at it. It’s a heart with three swords in it. It looks like love dies here,” he said.
For the record, we were both half-right that January night. We did get divorced. But he was wrong about the love part.
Life doesn’t always deliver the endings you would expect.
This memory was originally part of a much longer piece I wrote this week about the summer of 1984. I feel like that might become part of something bigger one day though, so I didn’t share it. You can hear more about how this story eventually turned out though.
Check out MeaningMaker Podcast on your favourite streaming platform.