Old property maps of our farm reveal boundary lines that no longer exist. The trails we hike or four-wheel used to be main roads, or as close to main roads as people had 100 years ago. The driveway that leads from the current highway to our house used to be a main county road. It’s mesmerizing to follow through the property because you can see, by its odd turns, how it must have weaved around farm edges and houses.
This isn’t just some elaborate fiction constructed in my imagination. The homes were really here but now are gone. They were bulldozed during WWII, when the local college purchased this whole property intending to use it for military training. They’ve vanished except for right now, when their invisible walls and walkways reappear thanks to the daffodils.
All across the property, sometimes in the shadows of our modern barn or deep among wooded ridges, daffodils have burst out of the ground in neat rows and angles. These flowers are not native to North America. They only appear where they’ve been placed intentionally. Whenever I see them, I think about the women (of course women, always women) who must have planted them. What were their stories? Was this landscape as strange to them as it has been to me? Did they, too, learn to love it? And where did they get the bulbs? From church sales? From friends?
To see them now, standing unsupported by the original architecture they surrounded, they make me feel sad.
Our lives are so beautiful but also so fleeting and impermanent.
One of my favorite spots on the farm is on a low ridge that extends out into a field near the creek. Daffodils mark the house that once stood there. When Jon was first considering the property, the realtor warned him that the couple who’d lived on that particular site at the turn of the century had gotten into a terrible argument. The husband chased his wife out of the house and into the field and killed her with an axe.
The story fascinates me. Time and time again I come to this spot and think about those people. It seems like that kind of rage would somehow resonate through the landscape, but it doesn’t. The land feels strangely peaceful, as though all is forgiven.
But this can’t possible, right?
Silly, I know.
In a way, I get it. There is so much rage in marriage, in love. I’ve learned that the hard way, the unexpected way. I won’t reduce it by saying that one can’t come without the other, but my experience in this great love of mine–and it is tremendous, enormous, this love that swallowed my life–is that rage nips constantly at our heels. I don’t mind anymore. It doesn’t bother me like it used to. As Jon would say, “It’s just part of living.”
His mom once told me that her husband, Jon’s dad, Bill, was very patient with her when they first married. She was 21. He was 39. Everyone said it would never work. Everyone was wrong, of course.
“Bill was very patient with me.”
She said it with a gentle laugh, looking into some space over my shoulder.
In some of the same ways, Jon has been very patient with me, too. I entered this relationship thinking (so stupidly!) that I was somehow the one bearing grace, that I was the more patient and rational creature that naturally seemed to tame this wild Indian of a man. That’s been true but it’s also been false.
I’ve learned to ignore the well-meaning advice of my single and fiercely independent girlfriends, the ones who tell me not to put up with the occasional mound of bullshit and slights that are part of everyday life. All of my married friends tell me that the first few years are always hard. They told me this while Jon and I were navigating through our own hard years. Somehow, without quite knowing how, we’ve come over the ridge, moved into some territory with a lot less rage and a lot more forgiveness. The threat of the axe has all but disappeared into true patience, into something that I suspect is the slow start of unconditional love, and what is most importantly a deep friendship.
We still argue. But it’s not with the same ferocious explosiveness, and there’s never the sinking fear that we’ve chased each other away for good. Just this morning, I told Jon that I needed to go to the hardware store to pick up an instant timer for our fish aquarium light so that our goddamned fish didn’t die. (I’d been asking him to pick up a light timer for days because we’re flying out West soon.) “And what are you doing?” I said pointedly.
“Tracking the aviation weather so that we don’t die!” he snapped.
I left for the hardware store without saying goodbye, slammed the door, and bought the dumb light in a fog of hot irritation that even my dog could feel; she sat next to me in the car staring out the window, sighing.
When I got back home, I flung the aquarium timer into his lap.
“Why are you giving it to me?” he snapped.
“Because I don’t know how to do it!”
“Ah! See? You do need me!” and then he stood up and flung his arms around me and shook me, hard, and then kissed me, hard. “You don’t say goodbye without a kiss. We don’t do that. What something terrible had happened?”
When Jon’s parents were first married, they walked out into their own hayfield and planted daffodil bulbs in the shape of a ‘W’ for their shared last name. It came back year after year, long after his death, long after Jon’s mother sold the farm. It still grows today, a yellow announcement to the world: We were here. We remain.
Jon and I talk about planting daffodils and making our own mark on the world, but we can’t quite agree on whose last name to honor just yet. We’re closer than we were. We’ll get there eventually. I have faith.
See? Love is worth it. It’s always worth the wait.