Remember that Christmas when we were really poor?
We lived in that tiny crappy apartment on the second floor. There was a tree out the balcony with a newspaper caught in its branches. It was there the day we moved in, Valentines Day.
One time Shauna and I threw shoes at it, trying to knock it out of the tree. We really wanted to know the date, how long it had been up there. We never did get it down.
Sometimes I wonder if the person living there now gazes off the balcony at a tree containing a newspaper and a shoe.
That Christmas we agreed not to buy each other anything. There was no money. On the night of the twenty-third I got stupid drunk with a couple friends. I distinctly remember because it was one of the few times that you didn’t drink. I also remember pouring the last bit of Sailor Jerry into a shot glass while sitting in the living room. Jon and I both looked down at the shot sitting on the rotted old coffee table and then back up at each other like a couple of addicts. I pulled two dollars out of my back pocket, slammed it down and slurred out, “You can have that shot or you can have two dollars.”
He took the two dollars like I knew he would.
He was poor as shit too.
A week earlier we’d gone by his apartment to discover a fridge that contained nothing but a giant tub of margarine, two loaves of white bread and three packages of American cheese, all generic store brand.
“I like grilled cheese” he said.
And frankly when you’re twenty and practically homeless this makes total sense. His girlfriend at the time was currently between jobs and didn’t have a driver’s license. She lamented to me that her days were spent sitting in the living room, trying to get reception on an old TV while smoking cigarettes and drinking tap water.
That night after the rum was gone I made us all two boxes of macaroni and cheese. They thanked us profusely and kept apologizing saying, “Are you guys sure this is ok? We don’t want to eat all of your food.”
I don’t remember how the night ended, but I do remember that I woke up the next morning with the most severe stomach pain I had ever experienced. I tried to wake you and told you it felt like I needed medical attention, or at the very least could you go to the store and get me some Pepto and Gatorade.
You slept another three hours.
I was sure I was dying. Eventually you went to the store. But I never ventured out of that apartment until Christmas Day.
Christmas morning, over coffee and raspberry Toaster Pastries (a splurge) you gave me a silver bracelet with tiny little chip diamonds and a heart on it. It had a locking clasp and was totally not my style. But it was so very sweet, so unlike you to be romantic. I felt horrible that I hadn’t gotten you anything.
Later we drove downtown to the little apartment my father and brother lived in at the time. If I remember correctly, he had cooked a nice roast. I could only stomach a few bites. I was still in quite of bit of pain.
I gave my brother a Beavis & Butthead DVD set I’d ordered off an infomercial. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. I thought he’d see it and be nostalgic, remembering all the times we watched it together. But in the moment of him unwrapping it I realized what a shitty gift it really was. No one in that room had much at the time. I sat there wishing I had given him something nice, something that would have brought him actual joy, something useful. I was left with a deep sadness that permeated everything about that particular Christmas. He gave us a set of kitchen knives and some floor mats for your ’92 Chevy Blazer, the one with the broken driver’s side door.
We were married ten months later.
That was a lifetime ago.
Yesterday our son found the bracelet and brought it to me saying, “Look Mama, it has a heart on it because I love you!” Later I made him a sandwich using those same kitchen knives.
The memories are vivid to me, tangible. There have been times when I couldn’t move past them. For you the past just vanishes. We have discussed this, your lack of long-term memory.
Everyday you awake like the Phoenix.
You rise from the ashes and look upon me with new eyes, upon yourself. How I wish I had that power, but this photographic memory is a curse.
My past always feels present.
The children have helped because I’m too busy to dwell. But in the tiny flickers of stillness it’s there. I am there, the old me. The old you. And then the babies are there too. Their cherub faces and suckling mouths, their balled up fists and breathy first sounds. It’s cruel how well I can still see them, smell them, hear them. The memories all blend together, the booze, the fights, then the calm, the joy, the babies. Those beautiful babies, how they’ve destroyed me.
They killed me.
I died and was born again, left with my heart beating outside of my chest.
It’s ok that you forget. It keeps you moving forward, always forward. That’s how this works. I remember for the both of us. Someone will ask you a question and you’ll turn to me and say, “When was that?” When I answer you don’t argue. You take it as the truth because you know it is. On the rare occasion that you say, “Wait, are you sure? Because I thought…” I’ll reply, “Do you really want to do this with me?”
You stop, you concede.
It’s a joke I often tell people. The way our marriage works is that you remember nothing, and I forgive everything. It’s a joke, but it’s true.
You awake everyday and see me anew. You give me a fresh start. I awake and I see every incarnation of you.
You asleep in my arms at sixteen with your perfect lips and long eyelashes.
You at twenty with the ponytail, combat boots and whiskey breath.
You at twenty-three headed off to work, early in the morning wearing a tie and khakis.
You at twenty-five making cold calls out of a phone book in the garage of our first house.
You at twenty-nine crying (finally) while you look upon the face of your newborn son.
You at thirty, on your knees for days installing the hardwood floors in our big new house.
You at thirty-three with those tired eyes, and the way you still look at me.
I remember them all. I love them all.