I’m a dog to your bell you said with a grin. Maybe it was a different expression. But that’s how I remember it. We were new back then, still uncertain but answering the call.
We lived in a world of temporary arrangements. We walked into the woods flinching with every shotgun blast. It was late fall, hunting season. What remained on the trees was torn away by wind and flurries. The ground a mix of mulch and crusty mud under a skiff of snow crunched beneath our feet.
Hunched against the cold in winter jackets, capped heads and gloved hands. It wasn’t the best day to wander off road with no orange vests to protect us from a tragic mistake. If we could have read the leaves we might have recognized that our timing would be off. Maybe.
The owl surprised us when it lifted off of a power line and flew into the pines. We understood that we had witnessed something sacred. The smell of winter approaching and your skin caused me to catch my breath. Turning back, I was sure that you were going to say something else. I pushed my hands into my pockets, tightened my shoulders and braced for it. You looped your arm through mine and pulled me towards you.
It went like that. We misread each other. But we kept at it. Maybe it was stubbornness or dogged loyalty. Weariness. Resignation. Hope?
We never imagined a wedding day. Not in our lifetime. Didn’t dare to. It’s staggering what we get used to. A lack of expectation and acceptance is routine.
When we decided to do it, it was no big deal. Really. It just made sense to let our wishes be known. It was merely an opportunity to clarify. A practicality. Protection if something happened.
We’d seen aftermath. Parents and siblings swoop in like a murder of crows. Leaving only the bones of a life spent together for the surviving partner.
We traveled back to the state where it all began. It meant something. Love was legal there. The Supreme ruling would validate us later that year. Nervous and sweaty-palmed we stepped up to the window, applied for the license and chose our Justice carefully.
The surprise came in the emotion. A ceremony shared with a handful of loved ones. The laughter. The tears. The kiss. It was beautiful. We felt solid. Real.
It’s not hard to recall the moment I first saw you. Ahead of me in the checkout line, the junk food I tossed on the belt and the sun, spotlighting you through the window.
Jumping in my truck, the cassette deck whirring into an old song. I drove up and down the streets trying to find you, the scent of spilled coffee and dirt road dust wafting through the vents. That day changed my life. You never remembered it. That’s not how it happened for you.
On our wedding day, I fell again. I was yours. You were mine. After twenty odd years and averted disasters, I finally believed that we would last forever. We had earned it. Endured.
It went like that. Until it didn’t. Irritation replaced compassion.
“I know. I know. Please don’t say it again.”
“Maybe you could vacuum once in a while, make the bed, scrub the toilet—take your muddy shoes off.”
Plates that had stabilized rumbled. Shifted. Support we had taken for granted slipped. Shook. Pictures tilted on walls. Chairs slid across the floor. Bedrock gave way. Desperate to save ourselves, breathe on our own, we abandoned each other. We struggled for air, gasped, and choked, stopped compressions.
Death did us part. What did it mean? Was the collapse bigger than us? Did it signify a larger failure? Prove that we weren’t worthy of matrimony? Had we let down our tribe?
The final decision was relatively easy. Your need to unburden and my desire to take root left me with the house and the dog. From the front door, we watched you back out. Your car packed with only the essentials, running shoes and an atlas.
Maybe it was as simple as the numbers. Maybe we were nothing special at all.
Erin L. Cork lives in Missoula, Montana where she can be found writing and hiking in the mornings. She works the swing shift as a train dispatcher. She is addicted to music, coffee and trucker hats. She is currently editing her first novel. Her work can be found in X-R-A-Y Lit, Hypnopomp, Image OutWrite, Memoir MixTapes and forthcoming in others.