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anniversary

Be Still

My dad was the person who taught me to be comfortable with silence. We could get in the car and drive for twenty minutes without a word being spoken. While his and my mother’s relationship ultimately cracked under the weight of that silence, for me, the daughter, his quiet felt benign, reassuring, a safe place to be.

Even more, when he did speak, his words carried weight. A handful of my strongest memories, in fact, center around moments when he engaged in verbal expression. One time, after I’d won a forensics tournament out of town, returning from the meet during the early hours of the morning, I left my trophy on the dining room table. By the time I woke up later that day, my dad had left a note, telling me he was so proud, pronouncing he was “busting his buttons.” Another time, after I’d behaved badly, he sat across from my hungover self and told me he was “deeply disappointed.” Many years later, during the night when a bat flew into my house, and I had a histrionic “I’m all alone, and the bat is trying to kill me” meltdown for three hours in my bathroom, I managed to grab my phone and call my parents, over a thousand miles away. When I sobbed and sobbed that a killer beast was out there, and all I had were tampons for friends and nail files for weapons, my dad, casting about, counseled, “What you need to do is reach way down inside yourself now and find something you don’t think you have. Dig deep, and you’ll find something you need.” He was right. We hung up, and I dug deep, finding inside myself the numbers 911, which I punched into the phone with great bravery.

Perhaps my fondest conversation with my dad occurred about a decade before his death. Chatting on the phone, we stumbled across the subject of my sister and me and our many differences. Trying to qualify the nature of the differences, my dad remarked that my sister took after his side of the family, where a certain dourness and pessimism sometimes manifested themselves. “She reminds me of myself,” he noted, continuing, “and you don’t. You’re more, well, effervescent.”

There it was: one of those moments we hope for with our parents, those moments when they give us a word, an adjective, a feeling of being seen, and it signifies everything: that they see us as separate, as differentiated beings; that they have thought about us; that they have taken stock of us; that we are far enough away from them for the space to have cleared everyone’s vision. Because such words, such adjectives, are born from the lifelong process of symbiosis to independence, they have power. Plus, anytime someone describes me to myself, I believe him.

It wasn’t even so much that I wanted to think of myself as “effervescent” – although it was a welcome label – but rather, it was more that I wanted to think of my dad thinking of me that way. Sometimes, from then on, I effervesced just for him.

It surprised me, then, to learn – repeatedly – that a pipping personality didn’t reap greater rewards, in the larger scope of the world. Certainly, I didn’t expect to be voted into office on the Effervescence Platform, nor did I expect the medical field to approach me, asking me to donate to the Effervescence Transfusion Bank. But I had expected being smiley and liking sunshine might have snagged me a boyfriend.

did date a man throughout my 20’s, and then I truly, madly, deeply dated another guy – one who left my two liters of effervescence out on the counter with the cap off and made all the bubbles go flat. He de-carbonated me in a way that no one ever had before, not even the boys on the high school bus who moo-ed at my sister and me.

He made my sizzle fizzle.

And then my grandma died, and the doctor found a lump in my breast.

I was thirty-one.

Thirty-one wasn’t my favorite year.

Fortunately, just when I was pacing the circle of my small kitchen for the 123rd time in an hour, gnawing on my cuticles, I still had girlfriends who called, opening with, “Oh, honey. I just heard. Talk to me.” Even when I would have to set down the phone to grab another handful of Kleenex, they would stay on the line, shouting things like, “From the amount of snot you’re emitting, you do seem well-hydrated. And that’s something, right?” Also, I had extended family who knew how to circle around sideways and never look me straight in my teary eyes. Instead, they gave me food and invited me to participate in the yearly butchering of the deer after the hunt in November. Gently, they wove easy affection around my heartache.

Eventually, the molasses movement of seconds turned into minutes finally adding up into hours and days, and then months went by. My grandma was buried; the lump was benign; the former boyfriend had a new girl.

Just after the new year, one of my hunting cousins sent me an email, asking if I’d like to drive north to come visit his family and, by the way, if I would be at all interested in letting him serve as my “agent in the field,” romantically.

Flattened, completely without zest or hope, my response was worthy of my father’s side of the family: “Go ahead, if you want to, but I won’t expect anything from it.”

As it turned out, my cousin already had someone in mind, a twenty-eight-year-old colleague he worked with in a very small town of about 300 people. One day, sitting in the office, looking across at this twenty-eight-year-old, my cousin started musing, “How’s Byron ever going to find someone in this bohunk town?” A moment later, he thought back to Thanksgiving, the deer butchering, and the conversations we’d had, which resulted in, “For that matter, how’s my poor cousin ever going to find someone in the bohunk town where she’s living?”

His head swiveled back and forth, and his thoughts rammed into each other. He approached his co-worker, Byron, who agreed, “Sure, you can be my agent in the field. But this cousin of yours, since she lives more than five hours away, she’d have to really knock my socks off for me to start seeing her.” Fair enough. Next, my cousin approached me.

It was agreed: I’d drive the five hours north and, while visiting my cousin’s family, meet Byron. In the past, imbued with effervescence, I’d greeted any opportunity to meet a potential partner with gusto and a knee-jerk, involuntary planning of our lives together. This time, I didn’t think much of the whole thing.

We’d see.

That February, over Presidents’ Day weekend, I visited. I got to hold my cousin’s baby and watch his four-year-old ice skate. One afternoon, we stopped by the campus where my cousin taught environmental education. As we drove away, he said, casually, “Oh, that man back there who was leaning down, talking to people through their car window? The one in the red hat? That was Byron.”

My cousin, perhaps, didn’t understand that such information would have been welcome, say, two minutes earlier.

That night, the guy in the red hat strolled into my cousin’s house, there for The Meeting, there for dinner. He carried a six-pack of homebrew.

I liked him already.

In short order, I learned that Byron not only wore a red hat and was quite tall. I also learned he really liked making bread, reading the Atlantic Monthly, and running on trails. I learned that he was an anthropology major who’d minored in environmental science. I learned that his Desert Island food would be cheese (dropped from a helicopter once a month, to supplement the fish and coconuts he would be living on otherwise); his Desert Island album would be Van Morrison’s Moondance; his Desert Island book would be some sort of reference volume, all the better if it contained maps.

I learned that, while the idea of him hadn’t infused me with bubbles, the reality of him was creating a few tiny pops.

Dinner lasted five hours. As soon as he left, my previously-cool cousin and his wife, who had discreetly retired to the kitchen eight feet away after dessert, were all nerves. They gave me thirty seconds after the door closed behind Byron before yelling, “SO? SO?????”

My response was positive, but guarded. He seemed nice. I would see more of him. If he wanted to.

Because all the little broken pieces inside of me weren’t quite realigned yet, I wasn’t going to put myself forward this time. I couldn’t take another dashing.

Fortunately, a few days later, Byron asked my cousin for my email address. The interest had been mutual. Apparently, his strongest first impression of me was that I had a lot of hair. He thought he could get lost in it.

What ensued was a modern epistolary courtship. For three weeks, we sent messages back and forth, discovering that writing is an excellent way to get to know someone: the small talk is non-existent; the conversations get to meaty matters right away; there is no body language to read or misread, no annoying laugh to cringe from.

After three weeks, Byron announced he was ready to “jump off the comfortable dock” and into the potentially-frigid waters of face-to-face. Thus, during my Spring Break in March, I headed north again, for our first real date.

As we sat in a dingy bar, having burgers and beers, conversation flowed. Snow fell.

14 inches of it.

When it came time to take Byron to his house before driving back to my cousin’s place, my car got stuck. In the snow. At Byron’s house. He didn’t seem to mind. His roommates were friendly. I stayed over.

I had no choice.

What I learned in those days of my Spring Break was that Byron liked to listen to me read aloud – and if that’s not an activity of the infatuated, I don’t know what is. He also proved that he’s very good at necking.

And, about three days in, after he’d had a bath one night, Byron came back into his bedroom, where I lounged. “Brrrrrr,” he exclaimed. “My feet are cold!”

“Why are they so cold? Was the bath water not warm enough?” I asked.

“No. They’re freezing because. you. knocked. my. socks. off.”

Suddenly, BAM: there it was. The effervescence was back, the flatness banished.

Everything was going to be all right.

Not too long afterward, as I stared very hard at the ceiling, I admitted I had fallen in love. He had the right answer.

By the end of my Spring Break week, five days after our first date, we had talked about what kind of wedding we wanted.

Four months later, one July morning, as I slept on a futon on the floor, he crawled in with a plate of pancakes and a Betsy Bowen woodcut entitled “Fox on a Journey.”

He asked me to marry him.

In quick order, we planned a wedding for the following May.

In even quicker order — that night — I got pregnant. Three months after that, I had a miscarriage. Four days after that, we found out I’d been carrying twins, and one was still hanging on.

We moved the wedding to November, not even nine months after we first played the Desert Island game over dinner. Byron became my groom right there at the environmental learning center where I’d first not-quite-spotted-him in his red hat. The bleeding from the miscarriage had stopped three days earlier. I sobbed through the vows.

Four months later, we two became we three.

All of that wonder unfolded in 1999. Not given to dreaming about the future before then, I have since been granted beauties I couldn’t possibly have imagined.

And, like my father, he is gentle. Like my father, he has a thousand-watt smile.

Like my father, he is given to quiet, most comfortable in stillness.

He likes it when I reach under his shirt and scratch his back.
He cooks dinner every night.
He was our stay-at-home parent for 14 years after that baby girl (and later her brother) was born.
He sits on the living room floor with me, straddling my leg, holding two lengths of kinesio tape as I shift my patella this way, then that. Expertly, teasing me about how I shredded my fingernails trying to remove the adhesive backing the first time we tackled “Care of Jocelyn’s Ailing Knee,” he applies the tape from calf to thigh, giving it a pat of hopeful optimism as he says, “I hope this keeps you spry for at least four days.”
He is unfazed by my random bursts of tears.
He is whimsical. He is dry. He is perceptive.
He sees that my ability to talk to people is as valuable as his ability to do everything else.
He cross-stitches abstracts of swirls in squash soup and burn marks left on the pan after vegetables have been roasted.
He knows how to give me directions that make sense, like “go straight until you see the big rock shaped like Richard Nixon’s head.”
He hears my ideas and helps me realize them.
He falls into 90-Day Fiance addiction so we can compare notes on which Russian brides are too smart for the Ohio doofuses they settle for.
He laughs at the suggestion we move our yoga mats so that their edges touch, noting it’s the space between that allows us to breathe.
And in the darkness of night, when I whimper in my sleep because I can’t save the babies from the soldiers, his touch on my back pulls me to safety.

Now, twenty years in to the marriage, there is nothing we love more than to sit and watch the world flit by

holding hands in companionable silence.

_________________________________________

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Bestill: 19

My dad was the person who taught me to be comfortable with silence. We could get in the car and drive for twenty minutes without a word being spoken. While his and my mother’s relationship ultimately cracked under the weight of that silence, for me, the daughter, his quiet felt benign, reassuring, a safe place to be.

Even more, when he did speak, his words carried weight. A handful of my strongest memories, in fact, center around moments when he engaged in verbal expression. One time, after I’d won a forensics tournament out of town, returning from the meet during the early hours of the morning, I left my trophy on the dining room table. By the time I woke up later that day, my dad had left a note, telling me he was so proud, pronouncing he was “busting his buttons.” Another time, after I’d behaved badly, he sat across from my hungover self and told me he was “deeply disappointed.” Many years later, during the night when a bat flew into my house, and I had a histrionic “I’m all alone, and the bat is trying to kill me” meltdown for three hours in my bathroom, I managed to grab my phone and call my parents, over a thousand miles away. When I sobbed and sobbed that a killer beast was out there, and all I had were tampons for friends and nail files for weapons, my dad, casting about, counseled, “What you need to do is reach way down inside yourself now and find something you don’t think you have. Dig deep, and you’ll find something you need.” He was right. We hung up, and I dug deep, finding inside myself the numbers 911, which I punched into the phone with great bravery.

Perhaps my fondest conversation with my dad occurred about a decade before his death. Chatting on the phone, we stumbled across the subject of my sister and me and our many differences. Trying to qualify the nature of the differences, my dad remarked that my sister took after his side of the family, where a certain dourness and pessimism sometimes manifested themselves. “She reminds me of myself,” he noted, continuing, “and you don’t. You’re more, well, effervescent.”

There it was: one of those moments we hope for with our parents, those moments when they give us a word, an adjective, a feeling of being seen, and it signifies everything: that they see us as separate, as differentiated beings; that they have thought about us; that they have taken stock of us; that we are far enough away from them for the space to have cleared everyone’s vision. Because such words, such adjectives, are born from the lifelong process of symbiosis to independence, they have power. Plus, anytime someone describes me to myself, I believe him.

It wasn’t even so much that I wanted to think of myself as “effervescent” – although it was a welcome label – but rather, it was more that I wanted to think of my dad thinking of me that way. Sometimes, from then on, I effervesced just for him.

It surprised me, then, to learn – repeatedly – that a pipping personality didn’t reap greater rewards, in the larger scope of the world. Certainly, I didn’t expect to be voted into office on the Effervescence Platform, nor did I expect the medical field to approach me, asking me to donate to the Effervescence Transfusion Bank. But I had expected being smiley and liking sunshine might have snagged me a boyfriend.

did date a man throughout my 20’s, and then I truly, madly, deeply dated another guy – one who left my two liters of effervescence out on the counter with the cap off and made all the bubbles go flat. He de-carbonated me in a way that no one ever had before, not even the boys on the high school bus who moo-ed at my sister and me.

He made my sizzle fizzle.

And then my grandma died, and the doctor found a lump in my breast.

I was thirty-one.

Thirty-one wasn’t my favorite year.

Fortunately, just when I was pacing the circle of my small kitchen for the 123rd time in an hour, gnawing on my cuticles, I still had girlfriends who called, opening with, “Oh, honey. I just heard. Talk to me.” Even when I would have to set down the phone to grab another handful of Kleenex, they would stay on the line, shouting things like, “From the amount of snot you’re emitting, you do seem well-hydrated. And that’s something, right?” Also, I had extended family who knew how to circle around sideways and never look me straight in my teary eyes. Instead, they gave me food and invited me to participate in the yearly butchering of the deer after the hunt in November. Gently, they wove easy affection around my heartache.

Eventually, the molasses movement of seconds turned into minutes finally adding up into hours and days, and then months went by. My grandma was buried; the lump was benign; the former boyfriend had a new girl.

Just after the new year, one of my hunting cousins sent me an email, asking if I’d like to drive north to come visit his family and, by the way, if I would be at all interested in letting him serve as my “agent in the field,” romantically.

Flattened, completely without zest or hope, my response was worthy of my father’s side of the family: “Go ahead, if you want to, but I won’t expect anything from it.”

As it turned out, my cousin already had someone in mind, a twenty-eight-year-old colleague he worked with in a very small town of about 300 people. One day, sitting in the office, looking across at this twenty-eight-year-old, my cousin started musing, “How’s Byron ever going to find someone in this bohunk town?” A moment later, he thought back to Thanksgiving, the deer butchering, and the conversations we’d had, which resulted in, “For that matter, how’s my poor cousin ever going to find someone in the bohunk town where she’s living?”

His head swiveled back and forth, and his thoughts rammed into each other. He approached his co-worker, Byron, who agreed, “Sure, you can be my agent in the field. But this cousin of yours, since she lives more than five hours away, she’d have to really knock my socks off for me to start seeing her.” Fair enough. Next, my cousin approached me.

It was agreed: I’d drive the five hours north and, while visiting my cousin’s family, meet Byron. In the past, imbued with effervescence, I’d greeted any opportunity to meet a potential partner with gusto and a knee-jerk, involuntary planning of our lives together. This time, I didn’t think much of the whole thing.

We’d see.

That February, over Presidents’ Day weekend, I visited. I got to hold my cousin’s baby and watch his four-year-old ice skate. One afternoon, we stopped by the campus where my cousin taught environmental education. As we drove away, he said, casually, “Oh, that man back there who was leaning down, talking to people through their car window? The one in the red hat? That was Byron.”

My cousin, perhaps, didn’t understand that such information would have been welcome, say, two minutes earlier.

That night, the guy in the red hat strolled into my cousin’s house, there for The Meeting, there for dinner. He carried a six-pack of homebrew.

I liked him already.

In short order, I learned that Byron not only wore a red hat and was quite tall. I also learned he really liked making bread, reading the Atlantic Monthly, and running on trails. I learned that he was an anthropology major who’d minored in environmental science. I learned that his Desert Island food would be cheese (dropped from a helicopter once a month, to supplement the fish and coconuts he would be living on otherwise); his Desert Island album would be Van Morrison’s Moondance; his Desert Island book would be some sort of reference volume, all the better if it contained maps.

I learned that, while the idea of him hadn’t infused me with bubbles, the reality of him was creating a few tiny pops.

Dinner lasted five hours. As soon as he left, my previously-cool cousin and his wife, who had discreetly retired to the kitchen eight feet away after dessert, were all nerves. They gave me thirty seconds after the door closed behind Byron before yelling, “SO? SO?????”

My response was positive, but guarded. He seemed nice. I would see more of him. If he wanted to.

Because all the little broken pieces inside of me weren’t quite realigned yet, I wasn’t going to put myself forward this time. I couldn’t take another dashing.

Fortunately, a few days later, Byron asked my cousin for my email address. The interest had been mutual. Apparently, his strongest first impression of me was that I had a lot of hair. He thought he could get lost in it.

What ensued was a modern epistolary courtship. For three weeks, we sent messages back and forth, discovering that writing is an excellent way to get to know someone: the small talk is non-existent; the conversations get to meaty matters right away; there is no body language to read or misread, no annoying laugh to cringe from.

After three weeks, Byron announced he was ready to “jump off the comfortable dock” and into the potentially-frigid waters of face-to-face. Thus, during my Spring Break in March, I headed north again, for our first real date.

As we sat in a dingy bar, having burgers and beers, conversation flowed. Snow fell.

14 inches of it.

When it came time to take Byron to his house before driving back to my cousin’s place, my car got stuck. In the snow. At Byron’s house. He didn’t seem to mind. His roommates were friendly. I stayed over.

I had no choice.

What I learned in those days of my Spring Break was that Byron liked to listen to me read aloud – and if that’s not an activity of the infatuated, I don’t know what is. He also proved that he’s very good at necking.

And, about three days in, after he’d had a bath one night, Byron came back into his bedroom, where I lounged. “Brrrrrr,” he exclaimed. “My feet are cold!”

“Why are they so cold? Was the bath water not warm enough?” I asked.

“No. They’re freezing because. you. knocked. my. socks. off.”

Suddenly, BAM: there it was. The effervescence was back, the flatness banished.

Everything was going to be all right.

Not too long afterward, as I stared very hard at the ceiling, I admitted I had fallen in love. He had the right answer.

By the end of my Spring Break week, five days after our first date, we had talked about what kind of wedding we wanted.

Four months later, one July morning, as I slept on a futon on the floor, he crawled in with a plate of pancakes and a Betsy Bowen woodcut entitled “Fox on a Journey.”

He asked me to marry him.

In quick order, we planned a wedding for the following May.

In even quicker order — that night — I got pregnant. Three months after that, I had a miscarriage. Four days after that, we found out I’d been carrying twins, and one was still hanging on.

We moved the wedding to November, not even nine months after we first played the Desert Island game over dinner. Byron became my groom right there at the environmental learning center where I’d first not-quite-spotted-him in his red hat. The bleeding from the miscarriage had stopped three days earlier. I sobbed through the vows.

Four months later, we two became we three.

All of that wonder unfolded in 1999. Not given to dreaming about the future before then, I have since been granted beauties I couldn’t possibly have imagined.

He likes it when I reach under his shirt and scratch his back.
He cooks dinner every night.
He was our stay-at-home parent for 14 years after that baby girl (and later her brother) was born.
At promptly 8:00 every night, he offers me a drink.
He is unfazed by my random bursts of tears.
He is whimsical. He is dry. He is perceptive.
He sees that my ability to talk to people is as valuable as his ability to do everything else.
He likes to play cribbage.
He knows how to give me directions that make sense, like “go straight until you see the big rock shaped like Richard Nixon’s head.”
He hears my ideas and helps me realize them.
He knows that helping me have an adventure far away from home is an important part of keeping me near.

 

And, like my father, he is gentle. Like my father, he has a thousand-watt smile.

Like my father, he is given to quiet, most comfortable in stillness.

Now, nineteen years in to the marriage, there is nothing we love more than to sit and watch the world flit by

holding hands in companionable silence.

_________________________________________

 

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Puzzled

I’m feeling desperate, like it’s never going to be right. No matter how hard I sit, think, mull, adjust, examine, and strategize, it’s all just OFF.

It shouldn’t be like this. I hate it. If I have taken care and been conscious and careful, it should be right. But it’s not. It’s all just fucking OFF.

Slumped on a piano bench, tucking my cold hands into the sleeves of my massive “house coat” of a sweater, I keep staring, fiddling, futzing, trying to fix the problem I’ve created. All the joins around the border look good, and trust me, I’ve put my eyeball close to each one, looking for subtle mismatches. Frustrated, I pull out a few pieces from the upper left and try them in a spot down lower. Nope. Eventually, I count the pieces along the top and bottom — 25 and 25, not that there should necessarily be an equal number, but an equal number there is. Then I count along the sides, 40 and 40. 

So what the holy 14-year-old mother of Jesus is going on with this stupid puzzle.

Wanting the universe to know how I really feel, I hiss “Fuck, fuck, fuck” a few more times. There. Now we have clarity. I am stymied and full of fucks.

***

As is always the case, this puzzle, an image of Kandinsky’s Points, is an object lesson. There is the patient sorting of the pieces after they’ve tumbled out of the bag; there is the methodical attack of assembling the border; there is the heady rush of pulling brightly colored pieces and easily finding their mates; and then, for a very long time, there is the slow drudgery of forty shades of yellow. Beyond that, there are the missteps, when two pieces are confidently snapped together, only to realize a week later that they have fooled with a false relationship, for they don’t belong together at all.

An English teacher, I have deep appreciation for the metaphor: every jigsaw puzzle tells a story, not just of the image but of life itself.

And with Kandinsky’s Points, life is a sucking bag of fucks.

The problem is this: once I had the bright colors worked out, the middle of the puzzle was a floating island of rainbow, and everything was grand. However, once I got in deeper and started adding some of the duller bits, the island reached a point where it could be moored to the border. The mooring was my undoing — because once I attached the island, the entire puzzle was thrown off, no longer true: the top left border jutted too high, the right hand straight bulged like an inguinal hernia.

It was at that point repeated sessions of staring, fiddling,and futzing began, all accompanied by a foul-mouthed soundtrack of frustration. 

***

After a couple days without resolution, I decided to follow the advice I give to students: “Use your resources.” Tugging at the shirt of my best resource, I dragged him to the puzzle, showed him the bulge and the offset, emitted a couple whiny swears, and asked if he could help decipher the problem. 

“Of course,” said Byron. “This is my kind of challenge. I’ll sit down and look at it sometime soon, when I’m not in the middle of making dinner.”

Drawing upon a patience learned from countless jigsaws, I nodded reluctantly and thanked him in advance for sanity restoration. 

A day went by, and he hadn’t looked at thing.

Then another day went by.

A third.

HOW MUCH PATIENCE COULD A PUZZLER BE EXPECTED TO HAVE, my haywire brain started wondering. 

***

Certainly, he had cause to leave me hanging. 

One evening, a day after I’d requested puzzle help, we were eating dinner in front of an episode of Orphan Black, laughing at Helena (“Sestra”), my all-time favorite television character, when the phone rang. As always, our immediate reaction was “Who the hell would dare to make a phone call?” Since it was fairly late, there was the possibility that this call mattered, so Byron hoisted his tired bones from the couch and answered it. 

It was for him.

Eavesdropping from my warm spot under a blanket, I heard “Oh, I’m sorry to hear it” followed by “I don’t feel comfortable with that.”

Well now. This sounded interesting. 

Two minutes later, he was back on the couch, explaining that the call had been from the woman who was to partner with him the next morning in a shift of newspaper reading on the radio for the blind. Turns out, she wasn’t feeling well. Turns out, she had an idea. Turns out, she has realized, during her 12 years as a reader on the radio for the blind, that if both readers don’t turn up for a shift, then the solution is easy: nothing happens. No one reads. No one is at fault. So she had called to propose to Byron, who’s been doing this volunteering gig without fail for 15 years, that they both not show up the next morning — which explained his “I don’t feel comfortable with that.”

Nah, Sis. You have sadly mistaken the character of your reading partner.

***

The next morning, my puzzle still tragically askew, Byron woke up early, as is his way, and got a crock pot dinner started by 6:40 a.m. Leaving half a French press of coffee on the kitchen counter for me to enjoy when I awoke much later, he hopped onto his massive cargo bike and pedaled an hour across town to the radio station. There, solo, he prepped the day’s newspaper articles before launching into almost two hours of reading the news to vision-impaired subscribers. By 11 a.m., just as I was stroking a sad finger, and surely fingers can be sad, across an off-center maroon circle in the Kandinsky, my dear husband was back on his bike, heading to work.

From noon to 8 p.m., he hoarse-throatedly assisted patrons at the library, attended meetings, and did his part to provide a safe haven for all kinds of Fortunates, from highly to less. Then, at 8 p.m., while my tragically slanted puzzle sat in a darkened room, questioning if anyone would ever find time to care, Byron biked to a local theater where a play about a farm transfer — Duluth rolls hardcore on the arts — was being performed. Enjoying a few moments of downtime in public, he waited in the lobby for the performance to end and chatted with an old friend. Eventually, the play over, Byron was able to meet up with two of its attendees, the farmers from whom we buy a pig every year. They live in Wisconsin but had come over for a night of theater, bringing with them our butchered pig, ready to hand off.  

And this. Was the point. Where Byron earned a new nickname.

I wish it were Pig Fucker.

Alas, it is merely Pig Biker.

Because, 15 hours into his day, that man I love — PIG BIKER — loaded 120 pounds of pork onto his cargo bike and pedaled it home, his tires cutting a trail through a skiff of new-fallen snow. At the house, he offloaded the meat onto the back porch and came inside, announcing, “It’ll be fine out there for the night. I am not dealing with getting it into the freezers right now.”

Happy to see Pappy, I poured him a beer, the kids swirled around with their updates and needs, and suddenly it was 10:15 p.m. before we were sitting down to dinner.

Much to my credit, I didn’t wave my soup spoon towards the catawampus puzzle while we ate.

*** 

Two days later, though, the puzzle’s unrelenting wrongness started impinging on my ability to carry on. I’d figured out enough of the center section that some pieces were starting to overlap. It was time to get serious with my resources.

Grabbing My Best Resource as soon as he got home from a run, tugging him to the table by his shirt hem once again, I reminded my groom of nearly 18 years that puzzles are metaphors for life, and the crapass fuck-upedness of my current puzzle was starting to make me think I needed to adopt a hunch and a cane.

“Oh, yeah. I do want to sit down and figure this out,” the sweaty guy recalled. “I’ll do it a bit later.”

As he spoke, I showed him this and this and this that weren’t right, and this and this and this that I had tried, with no success. Shortly, he was sitting on the piano bench, pulling small sections apart, arranging a few bits here and there. Leaning over him, I smiled. It had been hard to get him to the table, but once there, the addiction beckoned. 

“Ahhh, hey, look,” he said after a few minutes, pointing to one piece in the moored island of color. “That line goes through the middle, but it doesn’t match up with the one it’s hooked into.” His hands worked fast, pulling the offending piece, sliding such-and-so over a bit, this-and-that up a tidge.

***

Boom.

Just like that.

Just as he had when he was solidly 28, and I was flailingly 31 —

Just as he had when I despaired that there would never be anyone whose shape would dovetail perfectly with mine —

Just as he has, again and again over the years, with quick insight that changes my entire approach — 

Just as he has, every day from dark until dark, with logistical aplomb —

Just as he has for 18 years now, with no hint of resentment or annoyance, with genuine care for my inconsequentials —

Byron fixed what ailed me. 

***

My frame was askew, bulging wrongly here, shooting crazily there.

But then he came along and put his hands on it; tweaking, observing, joking, he righted the cockeyed complexity that I brought to the table.

Eighteen years ago, on an unseasonably warm and sun-lit November day, during a weekend where he consulted spreadsheets and I talked a lot, Byron and I publicly declared our commitment to each other.

And there hasn’t been a piece out of place since.


 

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