Nine years ago next month my wife’s grandmother died, and my wife and her younger sister and their father set off early the next morning on a twelve hour car ride to Kansas for the funeral. Lyndie was gone only a few days, but this was back when being parted for any time at all was like Lyra leaving Pantalaimon on the dock of the underworld. While she was gone I worked every day and wrote horrible poetry every night, and on the phone we professed awkward and undying love.
The night she was due back I carried an old wooden table my mom had refinished years before out to our landlord’s barn. I carried it past piles of motorcycle parts and old tires, the detritus of forgotten work that seems to prop up every old farm building I’ve ever been in. I set it down on the only space of open ground. The dirt floor was stained with oil. The mice scurried across the rafters far above and the moon shone through the cracks in the threadbare roof. An old grain truck, the only thing in the barn that still worked, made a wall beside the ten foot square of open earth in the center of the barn where the table now sat. On the next trip I carried oil lamps, and music. When Lyndie called and said she was home and was coming over, I started the tea and carried it out in the ceramic pot her sister had bought for us in San Francisco.
She showed up, spunky and tired from the day in the car, and we kissed and hugged and assured ourselves of permanence. I led her to the rickety door on the side of the barn by the field, away from the road. I left her for a moment while I lit the lamps and when I returned I made her close her eyes. I took her hand and made my way through the piles and beams of a life passed by, and emerged on the small circle of glowing light that surrounded the table and got lost in the rafters far above. In jeans and sweaters we sipped our tea beside the grain truck, and later we danced slow around the filthy floor, two months from getting married.
Last night we dropped Yosi off at church and set of on our weekly date. The sky that had been sunny and warm in the afternoon was now dark and cold, rain pouring down and dying leaves blowing from the trees like snow on fire. “Let’s just get our coffee and sit in the car this time,” she said. We parked in the empty playground parking lot and watched the rain on the windshield, dancing through the light of the street lamps while The Decemberists moaned through the car speakers about dead lovers. We spoke little, we touched even less, but we were one. Our windows fogged up as we breathed in the contentment of communion.
A little while later another car pulled in and parked on the other side of the lot, hiding from the town in the dark, shivering night. Their lights went out, and some minutes later Lyndie ventured they were probably making out. “Maybe they’re doing exactly what we’re doing,” I said. “No,” she said, “they’re totally making out.”
When the music stopped we pulled out the big umbrella and walked around the running track, alone in all the world but for the amorous pair in the parking lot. The tattered hem of my jeans dragged in the puddles and her feet were cold in their flip flops by the time we got back to the car. October brings with it every year a cold that forces us inside, closer to those we can drift from in the expansive warmth of the earlier months. If summer is the tide that pushes us high onto sand we’ve never known, fall is the ebb that pulls us back where we belong. We sat in the car and I was sure of God, as a few miles away my daughter learned things about Him it seems I can believe on any day but Sunday anymore.
Nine years ago we danced in the oil lambency of an ancient barn and an infant love, and the thousands of intervening days have seen things I never could have imagined. But in the passenger seat of our car, my hand in the rain and my wife leaning against her window postulating on the escapades of another couple, I find the same low ember glowing in the interstitial space between our hearts, and the rain and house moves and children and fights and loneliness that can haunt even the best of honest marriages has done nothing to smother it.
We are broken and alive, which is all I ever hope to be.