Charles has been living with me 6 weeks. Each day domesticity settles over me more fully. I like to take care of a man (though he’s been taking care of me lately). I like the little day-to-day things, the storehouse of memory. We’ve been married 35 years.
When I was not yet eighteen, a college freshman living in the upstairs apartment he rented to my roommate and I after his first wife left him, and we’d been lovers for a couple of weeks, I took him to dinner at my mother’s house. She’d met him when I looked at the apartment and already approved of this March-June romance. He was 30, with four kids aged two to six.
I showed him my bedroom, which was on the second floor. I had a collection of rocks on my bureau that I’d found here and there over several years and had decided were magical. He picked one up and I said, “No! You can’t touch those; nobody can touch those but me!”
You have to understand, I was raised by a mother who told me I couldn’t touch her pack of Tarot cards because it would damage her ability to read them. And magic wasn’t Disney; it was The Brothers Grimm, Yeats and the Hermetic tradition, Isaac Newton, Aleister Crowley, Robert Graves’ The White Goddess (which I hadn’t yet read but had carved in my bones).
After issuing my prohibition, I went into my ensuite bathroom to brush my hair. When I came out, he was gone. The bathroom was next to the only door out of the room and I had left the bathroom door open so I knew he hadn’t left. Had I disappeared him? Was he swallowed by the rock? I’d had quite a few spooky experiences in my life but nothing so drastic. After a brief confusion, logic intervened and I crossed the room to the open window. He was on the ground below. I screamed. He got up and said he was fine. “But why did you do that! You could have broken a leg!”
“I couldn’t stand it when you told me not to touch. I felt like such an outsider.”
He was an outsider. The rocks had been with me longer. But he was my first serious lover, and I didn’t want him jumping out of windows. “But…I didn’t mean…sweetie…Okay, you can touch the fucking rocks.”
No, that wasn’t the real dialogue. I don’t remember the real dialogue. But what I learned at that moment is that men are far stranger than magic.
Fast forward, 2012, living together after 10 years apart. We’re both nervous. It’s not the old marriage. I keep asking, “What if my depression doesn’t go away?” and he says, “Just give it a try.” The autonomy Charles grants me is a rarity in the universe. The flip side is I don’t feel challenged to be better. That was a big drawback in my youth; now, not so much.
He brought his cat Lola and at first my two were excited to meet the newcomer. Charles held her in his arms for the introductions. Mouchette stood up on her hind legs with a look on her face of delighted surprise. The Cowardly Lion hid in the Taliban cave, then crept out to reconnoiter. Neither one hissed or said anything the least bit unkind. Lola yowled, wailed and flashed fang.
After two weeks, my gentle Mouchette abandoned courtesy. Now she patrols the bedroom, never letting that Florida bitch in to where the big prize writes on her weird machine. Lola owns the living room couch, where my cats used to sleep all afternoon. I miss seeing them sprawled out there, like thieves on the Riviera after a big heist. But Lola makes a silky little bundle, black and gray and copper, with emerald eyes. She has a nervous habit of biting her fur off, so her pale skin shows through and from behind—buzzed butt and stringy tail—she looks like a rat. But when she’s curled up, she’s all feline. I pat her head and she cringes. She used to like me, when I’d visit Charles, but not being allowed on my bed has made things fraught.
Fitzroy and Lola are fight buddies—she likes to kiss him briefly at the dinner hour then smack him around later. He’s bigger and doesn’t care about the violence, though I think he’d enjoy longer kisses. After taking his frustrations out on Mouchette—attacking and biting until she squeals, and trying far more often than previously to have sex (which the Princess endures enigmatically)—he goes back for more of Lola’s older woman bitch-love.
He’s the only one who’s better off. He gallops around, looks anxious, gets smacked, but no longer spends hours staring at me, communicating all too well how boring, how unbearably boring his life is. Lola’s angry and scared. She misses being an only cat. She misses catching geckos. And Mouchette, disappointed in her hope for a girlfriend, spends far too much time under my bed.
Charles spends too much time playing cat counselor, and feeding them wherever they feel safe, which means I’m stepping in plates of catfood all the time. He’s more patient and indulgent than he was with his children. For me, it seems much the same: noise and wild chases in the house, dishes broken, dinner spurned—love but no respect. But the kids turned out OK (even respectful!). The cats, I think, are a lost cause.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond’s edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.