My smile blossomed at ten after four, when he walked in the door, unexpected, early. I had commented to Adam online a bit earlier that there was something calm and perfect about the afternoon: the raging storm; the slanted lamplight across my laptop; the soft sound of snoring, geriatric cats. Suddenly, it was better.
Jeff smiled as he put his bag down and said, “Stacy sent us all home.” He put down his string bag of water bottle, lunch remnants, and snacks; he took his place on the other couch and I paused from debugging.
“I don’t know what it is I want tonight,” I said, “but I want to do something a little different. I just don’t know what.”
“Why don’t we go out to dinner?”
I nodded assent, and agreed to try to think of a place. That’s the down side of Huntsville. It’s difficult to find a restaurant that isn’t part of a nationwide chain. It is not a matter of adventuring out and finding something new. There’s no such thing here.
We scaled our plans down as the rain fell, realizing we wanted a slight deviation from our usual, not a radical revision. He smiled when he had it: “Let’s not cook, and get a Brooklyn-style pizza instead. Then we’ll stop off, get coffee for you, and come back to the house. I’m guessing we can find something sappy and comforting to entertain us.”
We came back an hour later with pizza and latté in tow, wet feet, and no idea what to watch. On impulse I checked the latest Netflix offerings to arrive in our mailbox. The first red envelope held a movie that was clearly wrong, but the second one held the answer to a question I hadn’t even even thought to ask for tonight.
We watched the first DVD of This American Life. For those unfamiliar, This American Life is as easy to love as it is completely difficult to describe. It’s the story of the American story: the weird, the poignant, the odd. It is not a show that makes you laugh. It is not a show that will tear you up. It is a show that makes you realize every neighbor, every co-worker, leads a technicolor internal life, despite the fact you may never see it for yourself.
This is ours.
* * * * *
He sleeps, even though it is just after eight. I know from my own fitful sleep last night that he was up until at least three this morning, and his tiredness did not surprise me at all. I had plenty of debugging I could tackle, so there’s plenty of work on and music to listen to while he sleeps.
I am the solitary sort. Even Jeff, who is sometimes maddeningly difficult to know, will tell you that I am not the easiest person to live with, or love. My need for solitude is a near-tangible thing. I need the peace of a wall in the way, because the knots that come from interpersonal interactions only relax when I am alone. I will often take my laptop or my book into a bedroom to read on the bed, where the walls around me give me comfort…but the door is open, and I am soothed by the sounds. Tapping means he’s working on his laptop; paper rustling means he is reading; laughter means he is watching television. Any of the three indicates all is right with my world.
I am the solitary sort, but I am not good at being alone. Never be fooled: it is often the most solitary of people who have the greatest need of others. I joke that Jeff and I are a matched set, but there is a deeper, more resonant truth to those words than I generally acknowledge: I would be lost without him, lost and bewildered in a way that I rarely allow myself to think about for the black, blank panic it inspires.
We have been a matched set since we were teenagers when, in a moment of bravery that steals my breath even now, we bet everything we had on each other. Everything. We worked the last two years of our collegiate tenure toward the day that we would marry, and in essence, we put everything we had in a couple of trucks and moved to a city where we only knew each other.
It was the kind of mad, brave, utterly trusting thing that only the young and innocent can do without irony.
The current instance of the end result is a matter of cliché: we grew together, tree trunks in close proximity, curling round and round each other by invisible inches over a period of years. Our thirtysomething selves are capable of standing alone, but untangling one from the other would reveal exactly how much we have grown to depend on each other over those years.
I can’t read music. He can’t dissect a chicken. He jokes that the bills just magically seem to get paid every month, and I probably couldn’t figure out how to start the lawnmower if you paid me. I impulse-buy him cut-up melons at the grocery store, and he brings me Chicken and Stars when I’m sick.
This thing, this ‘us’ … it just is, in all its knobby-kneed unlikeliness. He had the kind of love for an elegant engineering schematic that I had for carefully wrought phrasing, but he learned to love Jane Austen, and I learned to love databases.
We don’t do a lot for Christmas. Neither of us had the patience to wait for Christmas, so he got his music theory books as they arrived in the mail and he gave me my new electric kettle during the cold snap in mid-December. Our social energies go into PHE, the Pan-Holiday Extravaganza, that all of our friends attend in mid-January.
Tomorrow, as America convulses over Christmas Day, it will be just us, and in this story of our American life, that is enough.