In the old southern farmhouse, the cistern once went bone-dry while I was in the shower with my head full of suds. I was mad. The dry cistern represented the heap of inconveniences I hated just like I hated his heap of dirty laundry on the floor. I despised setting mousetraps and killing spiders with my shoe. I loathed the tiny kitchen with no counter space to make a sandwich and hated the stove’s burners that quit in the middle of stirring the gravy, frying pork cutlets, boiling potatoes. I hated the stupid dead bush in the yard. I hated that he worked third shift and was never around to get rid of the stupid dead bush in the yard. You chose this, the dead bush mocked me. I chose this: marriage.
My mom tells the story of her first married Christmas with my dad. They lived in a tiny upstairs apartment. The Christmas tree toppled right on top of them on Christmas morning. Once, the grocery bags broke and tumbled down the three flights of stairs. My dad worked in a factory for nearly nothing. My mom worked in an office for even less. “We were poor. We had each other. We were happy as larks,” she says.
We had each other, too. Together, we hauled the water. And later, his arms encircled my waist while I washed the cups and scrubbed the frying pan. He turned me around, leaned me back for a kiss, got my shirt all wet with dishwater. I chose this. I chose it because it was worth the real passion, the country drives, the pink sunsets, the little sweet corn patch, the black-as-midnight Labrador I adored standing guard on the porch. We guarded marriage, would not let it topple-tumble-fall.
In this old northern brick house, his thumb strokes the length of my foot, sends a tingle down my spine. A stolen moment before bulletproof vest goes back on. He kisses me goodnight at two in the morning, stops in to say hello-goodbye to me while I’m at work at four in the afternoon. My heart still doesn’t know how to handle him in uniform—his shell I can’t quite get through. Handsome. Protective. Bravado. I chose this, though moving has changed me—made me, all at the same time, brittle, broken, hardened. I run errands solo, take walks by myself, attend a new church alone. I do not have a day-to-day companion. “I forgot to tell you,” We often share important bits of news three days late. No morning coffee, no evening programs, no nighttime prayers. Instead I’m carried through the day by faith knotted together by fidelity and a patient love, a love that cannot be self-serving.
“Don’t let the difficult circumstances dry up this marriage,” I pray. I kiss him hard, tell him to be safe. He is my one-person support system, and I have to share him because he protects the rest of the citizens, too. I wait for the sounds of Velcro, the sigh as he takes off his duty belt, and the click of the radio cradled back into the charger. Then I can breathe again.
It’s all worth the sweet stolen moments, the organic love, the take-your-breath away hills and canyons, breakfasts at our favorite café, the talks on the living room floor, the floppy-eared golden pup with paws too big for her body. Two Labradors now guard the yard while he’s at work. I watch the dogs from the window as I stand by the kitchen sink and stare at the faucet’s steady, gushing stream of living water.