“Love me,” Jon says sometimes, often. It’s a command, a plea. A question. He says it at the end of bad days and long nights, when the line between us feels taut.
“Love me,” he said once, after we argued over sushi about whether or not American television was the new cultural high form; “Love me,” he’ll say, if he’s late for dinner; “Love me,” he’ll say, if vodka has stolen the night.
I never used to know what to say to such a terribly simple request. “But sometimes it’s so hard,” I told him once, and snapped off the light.
This, of course, is never true. Is that the strange nature of love? I would give Jon my blood if he needed it, but biting my tongue, keeping that last snide comment to myself, offering a simple act of forgiveness for common misdeeds, that can be so difficult. Affection is in the smallest gestures, not the grand ones. Jon teaches me that every day.
“Boyfriend, boyfriend, boyfriend,” a former colleague once said about a former boyfriend of mine. “Rose, you wear that boyfriend like you wear a t-shirt.”
I never quite understood what he meant by that, but I woke up at three in the morning with his voice clanging in my head like a dinner bell. He must have been right, on some level, because less than a month later I took the t-shirt off. Chose Jon, instead.
“I choose you,” I told Jon, a year ago, when all of life teetered on the brink of falling in one direction or another.
Chose him and it swallowed my whole life.
Except, here I am, a year later. What comes after the happy ending, after you get what you always wanted? Like James Baldwin said, “Be careful what you set your heart upon, for it will surely be yours.” Sometimes I walk around wondering, Is this happiness? Transferring wet clothes into the dryer — is this happiness? Watering the elephant ear in the pot outside — is this happiness?
And then there are moments when I know with certainty what happiness is, what I left the t-shirt for, what I changed my life for. Moments when I wake up smiling, or with so much vague lightness in my heart that I float through the day. Two or three days ago, Jon left a voice message to apologize for forgetting to kiss me goodbye that morning, to say, “Have a nice day.”
But there’s also everything that falls everywhere else, all the ugly, pain in the ass work of intimacy.
“Sometimes we argue,” I admitted to a friend. “Sometimes it doesn’t feel like happiness at all.”
She was quiet for a long time before she finally said, “I’m so glad you said that. It’s nice to know you guys are normal.”
“Yes. Because you two are actually, mostly insanely happy.”
Who is this man I chose? I’ll wonder, sometimes, when I stand in the kitchen and watch the back of his head and listen to him holler at the television.
A few months ago, I came home and found a copy of Mother Earth News sitting on the bottom step of our house. In half-disbelief, I wrote a sticky note — FOR ME??? — and left it out for Jon to see, then, hours later, greeted him with kisses for the small thought. It wasn’t unlike the morning I came out to find the brand new rake he’d left in the bed of my truck for the garden, or the expensive pepper-grinder he thought to buy for my cooking habits.
But, then, maybe three weeks later, a friend of his came over and asked, “Hey Rosie, did you get that magazine I left for you? Saw it in the store and thought you’d like it.”
Caught. He was caught. It didn’t cause an argument. We laughed about it. But late into that night, and even now, weeks later, I find myself wondering, Who is this man? This man who would lie about a magazine purchase and reap the benefit? Who did you choose?
But then, he comes into the living room at 4:30 in the morning to collapse next to you on the couch next while you secretly write about him on the Internet and he asks, “What are you doing?”
And when you tell him that you can’t sleep and don’t want to bother him with the tossing and turning of sleeplessness, he says, “But I can’t sleep if you’re not there next to me,” and leans in toward you, reaches to shut the laptop, to take you back to bed.