my strongest instinct, one dwelling in the back of the mind for most of my life. a coward’s term for victory.
my confession: i have always been a runner. an active runner.
the boyfriend i have spent most of the last six years with, following, leading, loving, fighting, cheating, healing, mothering, pulls out a ring, an old one, a small diamond at the apex of two helixed gold bands, places it between us as we sit, 22 and 24, at dinner under dim lighting and square tables eating mid-priced italian. the air smells faintly of canned tomato sauce.
you gon marry me girl? he smirks in the way he has perfected. it used to be charming; he is handsome, precise goatee on skin the color of butter, perfect white teeth. this smirk repels me now.
my eyes narrow, try to decipher whether he is being serious or not. you can never tell with this one, the one who joked that our 3lb premature daughter currently lying in NICU on a respirator looks like a tiny cute alien, a deflated skin-colored football. the one who stupidly slapped my brother’s swollen, stitched knee two days after osteosarcoma-induced surgery replaced it with metal, laughed before he realized he’d hit the damaged knee, not the good one. wrong knee, fuck! my brother screamed, ordering him out of the room. i cringed into the ground.
why do you always have to play so much? grow up. i say, annoyed. our child is touch and go, each day i await the news that she is doing better, or worse.
i’m not playing. he says, scoots the ring box my way.
in this moment i see us, young and in such dysfunctional love, the kind that invites secret outside lovers inside ever so often, the kind that argues on busy main streets, the kind that involves police and threatened restraining orders and interventions by concerned parents.
no. i say, pile a heap of pasta onto my fork. our daughter doesn’t make it.
in the end, i cry rivers.
i am lying naked on the bed in the room we share watching the ceiling fan turn, a room directly across the hall from his mother’s. body freshly shea-buttered, skin soft, shiny and toned. my hair spreads behind me, fluffed and fro’d into a giant black halo. the photographer with the quiet demeanor and wavy hair stands at the edge of the bed with his Olympus clicking at me, commemorating the admittedly beautiful culmination of daily three mile runs and hair growth vitamins. i barely register this anymore. this is not a photo shoot, this is him doing what he always does: collecting photos of me living life. these photos, i secretly delete hours later. when he has taken what he deems to be enough he climbs onto the bed beside me, plays with the new belly ring sliding this way and that with the rise and fall of my breathing.
what would you say if i asked you to marry me? love, concern, uncertainty play on his features, invade his usually even voice. then he smiles, broadly, like getting it out was the hard part, and he has just decided it is a good thing. he means it.
i turn my head, look at him propped on one elbow beside me. i suddenly feel naked. i reach for the discarded towel at the edge of the bed.
i thought you never wanted to get married? i ask. he’s joking, surely.
we have spent hours debating the merits of marriage (me, purely to be contrary) in which he posits that traditional marriage is solely a financial decision, beneficial only for a woman. no matter the fact that we live in his childhood home, across the hall from his mother, to save money; the fact that he is quite literally a genius, but chooses a safe hourly job despite being 6 years my senior.
well, i want to marry you. he says.
i realize what it is, the smell permeating the air between us: fear. the fear of loss motivates men to throw hail marys, one last lob of desperation to anchor you to their future. this particular future includes moving to a home on the same block as his mom, five minutes from his grandmom, five minutes from another aunt. i see many cold michigan winters in this future, my dreams of california living, of london living, of exploring a jet setting writerly life, vanish. i wonder how he ever convinced me to move into this house.
no. i say.
i move out over the next two weekends, he helps me load the truck. i do not cry.
i call him superman. the man with the skin so soft it feels like the flesh of the avocados he eats daily. the brailled superhero abdomen chiseled from intense workouts. we volley looks of love and songs of praise between each other like we are starring in our own romantic comedy. i want to remain ensconced in this bubble, where we write poems to one another and he plays me songs on the piano. the security of now. i travel often, to wherever he is at the moment, wherever work has taken him, visit for a week at a time while i edit and write for various online entities.
i am calling it a break year to friends. the truth is, aside from this tall, muscled distraction, it is a broken year. school became too much; i walked away. home became too much; i flew away. blogging became too much; i abandoned it. food became too much; i stopped eating.
i am existing, happily, simply. i know life cannot persist like this, suspended in time, but i am trying to find my pen, write my way out of the calamity.
i do not mention any of this to him. it is embarrassing. the Muze with the “magic pen” is no longer writing. the lifelong healthy athlete is no longer eating. the girl addicted to learning has quit school.
of course we will get married. he says one day in a hotel room in a place with palm trees swaying outside the window. we have loved through many elements: snowstorms in upstate new york, desert land in texas, blankets of humidity in georgia. i don’t keep track of the wheres anymore.
i nod superficially, knowing it is only a suggestion, not a concrete, proposed plan. nothing to fret over. a week later, he repeats himself, louder, more urgently.
we can get married and you can move here.
he is states away, i am traveling wherever the wind takes me. my mind, my heart still slightly in the grip of someone else from whom i am currently running. the lies begin. when i must be hospitalized for the eating disorder that has taken over most of my life, i lie. blame it on an accident. the visits to his arms become further apart.
if you ended up pregnant, it’d be great. we’ll get married then.
this spirals me. i remember a tiny infant in NICU, the grief of burying the 3lb life after 45 days. i run then. do not return calls. when i travel to his state, i do not engage. i do not cry.
we are headed east for an epic two week Christmas vacation; his home to my home, traveling with our tiny dog. the brainiac whose bass deep voice still makes me swoon four years later suddenly drops to his knees amid the luggage surrounding us, pulls open a small black box containing a large black diamond. i don’t hear most of the spiel he has prepared. i am stunned.
again, my mind tells me this is a joke. despite, and maybe because of recent conversations (we need to break up or get engaged, something has to happen; we are stagnant), i was deeply convinced we would break up amicably, go about life. surely we would not end up married. relationships end, this is how it goes. three years, five years of fun until the ride ends and we both find something more exciting.
but no. this is real. he is proposing.
my mind prompts me to say yes, realizing i have no reason to say no. also realizing this is my fault, that he didn’t understand the breakup part of those conversations was much more real to me than the engagement. the huge rock slides on my finger. i smile, kiss the chiseled face i have grown accustomed to waking up to.
5am the next morning, full panic sets in. the flee in me kicks up so strong i cannot breathe. i flood the inboxes of my closest friends, fear bubbling over and spilling out as hatred for the giant black diamond i now have to wear around. my mom, in only the way a mom can, calms me, reminds me that this is a great thing, and my ring is beautiful.
when is the wedding? questions begin to populate my phone and conversations with friends over dinner. how is the planning going? they ask. just over a year later, the answer is still i don’t know. i fight the strong urge to run when these questions come, to go start anew in some other part of the state, country, world.
i know this is not healthy, this fear i have of having an anchor, of being rooted to one thing. so i put stays in place, people that tell me when i am being irrational, and when i am not. the people that advise no sudden moves, to just think, to breathe. i am grateful for those people, and for my own self-awareness. i’ve accepted that this is just me; and i must look for the signs of run.