by Jay Mangano
We’re a well-worn couple. We know each other’s quirks and apprehensions: When the other is sad or drunk or tired and won’t admit it. What we mean when we can’t say. We’ve outlasted most marriages, and yet for years lived as transients. Shuffling about night to night like well-heeled hobos in a climate controlled freight car.
All of this is my fault, I have a severe allergy to change. Never mind that my life was and remains tiny and uninspired. My space had become sanctuary, the one thing I could control. But I knew this time was different. It wasn’t that I wanted the change of scenery, but that I had to have it.
In a stunning shift of tactics, she just went and bought a house. No prior mention, no open dialogue to be hijacked, twisted into useless navel gazing about the meaning of home, and the nature of cohabitation in a postmodern context. This time she’d have none of it. She just went and bought a house. I knew I’d been outflanked and started to pack. She also said the dog was going with her, and I really like him.
I’ve always been a summer kind of guy. So when Autumn brings with it the abrupt loss of sunshine earlier and earlier each day, I’m the first to shake my fist in anger and lament the cruelty of the solar orbit. But recently, I’ve come to treasure the early darkness.
Settling into a new home is overwhelming, it begs to be avoided. The tiniest pursuits can be amplified into a day long affair. Sure I’ll go to Lowe’s for some duct tape. Then I’ll go to Home Depot for some more. Then Macy’s for a sweater, Petco for some fish food. We don’t have fish? Who cares. Then Chipotle. So when night closes in you have one less excuse, one less opportunity to escape. It forces you to confront the life boxed and piled around you.
Fearful as I was, the process of settling in proved redemptive. The shadows cast by time and stagnation lifted, and bad habits, old t-shirts, and other psychic albatrosses were easily dismissed. Favorite possessions, long given short shrift, regained their prominence. I savored every photo on the wall, some for the first time. I rediscovered a favorite song and set it to repeat until I was threatened with eviction. So I turned it off, because I’d really miss the dog. My life was distilled to it’s best and most useful parts and offered up to be combined with the best and most useful parts of another. Our relationship has been refreshed and reconceived in only the strongest and happiest incarnations of us both. Rituals and methods are new and exciting, not yet tarnished by complacency and repetition. I realize all at once the power of a place. How you shape it and it shapes you.
My new favorite part of the day is when they both go off to sleep. I go back downstairs, because I’m up all night, and tend to the day’s mess. Chew toys are returned to the box in the corner. A half empty glass of cabernet drained in the most productive way. The stage reset for their grand dramas to resume. I’ve become the stage manager of the lives that swirl around me. It is a role that I embrace, a role I take seriously. They are such vibrant, buoyant, whirlwinds, in constant motion. Creating and living in full scale. I offer constancy, the promise of sameness. The toy box will always be full, the glass always clean and ready for her. That is my duty to them. My nightly ritual while they sleep a sacrament to stability. It’s also when I feel most like a man. Because even though I’ve failed at manhood by almost every other traditional metric, I know I am their rock. I know I am their keeper and protector. And I know now, finally, that I always will be. At that I have succeeded.
Our first holiday in the house will be Halloween. That feels appropriate since it’s history lies in harvest festivals. People celebrated their bounty, discarded the unnecessary and prepared each other for the arduous winter ahead. It’s ironic too because all the gleeful little monsters arrive in costume, and yet as we pass out dog treats because I ate all the candy, we’ll be seeing each other unmasked for the first time.