I want to look at the photo albums from when we were young, from when we were first in love, from when the children were babies. I want him to say, "These photographs fill my heart with a thousand white and flying doves of nostalgia." And he does, in a way, but the words are about a lamp we once had or a canyon we camped near or the grunting baritone goose impersonation I did while I labored with our firstborn. He does not talk much about his mother's catastrophically short life, but he might remember suddenly the way she cooked zucchini. He is no fountain spraying silver arcs of feelings into the air, but he's a cupful of snow, and if I'm thirsty, I'd do better to thaw it with my breath than continue to curse the cold.
But sometimes I rail against his otherness as if it were a cage or the tiger in it or one of those wedding sheets with a hole sliced into it for intercourse. When really what I know is this: To chip away at difference is to make the mistake of a lifetime. You think you want him to serenade you with all your favorite songs—and you do, of course—but what you really want is to lie in bed and listen to the love of your life strumming the guitar, singing softly to himself when he thinks everybody's asleep. You think you want the topiary trimmed neatly into the shape of a husband, when what you really want is that wild and sheltering maple, all dappled starlight, its helicopter-seedpods fluttering down in the breeze.
Two identical flints lying side by side in the dark are not exactly going to make a spark now, are they?
For some reason, I am best able to value this—the difference and distance between two minds—when the person I'm talking to is a child. In the car, with K.D. Lang on, for example, I say aloud, "Her voice always sounds like something liquid and smooth—it makes me picture a river of heavy cream rippling down a mountain," and my son says, "I know exactly what you mean. Whenever you talk about time? About this o'clock or that o'clock? I think about lemons." I turn my face to look at him, and he smiles, all mystery and light. Who knew? Another person is like a geode lined with hidden glittering. On a clear day, I understand this: The crystals wink out at me here and there, and I am filled with gratitude for the unseen. On a foggy day, I wonder about taking a hammer to it, cracking it into a million pieces to get a better look.
Come New Year's Eve, I lie with an ear to his bare chest, talking. I'm talking about my resolution to talk less. I want to listen, accept, and cherish. I'm not a child on the beach, as sweet and sparkling with sand as a sugared pastry, but I'm thinking about the kids with their snail and I'm vowing patience. "What about you?" I say, when I am nearly done talking, "What's your resolution?" There's a moment of silence, his strong arms around my back, before he says, "You know when you tear off a piece of floss that's really too short to use but you don't want to waste it so you use it anyways? I'm just going to throw it away and start with a fresh piece. I'm not even going to struggle with it." I lift my face to look at him, and he smiles and winks. Then he ducks his inscrutable head to kiss me on the mouth.
We Hear You!