Wondering Where

The memory is vivid when Kelcey calls it up.  He had not been able to remember where he had left his daughter.  It had been near time to pick her up, but he had not been able to remember where he had taken her earlier that afternoon.  He had tried to reconstruct the sequence in his head, knowing it had been just a few hours.  It had been after school, after he had done some grocery shopping, after he had stopped at the liquor store, which was before he had picked her up….with one of her classmates. Then he had dropped that friend off at her house. His memory had stopped there.  He had struggled to think – if he could just picture where they went next, but his brain had not been able to pick up the trail.  Was it her drumming lesson?  Was it another friend’s house? Was it baseball practice, and if so, which field?  It had gotten dark.  He remembers driving around in a state of confusion and dull anxiety, his head aching.

Kelcey had thought about that day many times before, but now, with Nali, who had been asking questions about his drinking life for months, no, several years, even before they were married, perhaps telling her about this would give her some information helpful to her understanding; helpful for his own understanding, or at least for his effort to make another adjustment to his self-regard.  He wanted to be helpful. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with Nali. He wanted to nurture, not hinder, the love between them.

He pulled into the driveway and silenced the engine, sitting for a moment instead of opening the car door, pausing to look at their young peach tree he had pruned last week.  He noticed how much it had grown since the twiggy thing it had been just four years ago.

He had considered for some time telling Nali about that night when panic had seeped in. Even dulled with intoxication, panic didn’t feel good. There were other times he could talk about, if he thought it would matter.  And then he suspects there are episodes that he cannot remember.  How could he be expected to remember?  He believes he remembers the important ones, and it is of those that he was thinking when he told Nali there had been a few times when he had scared himself. Not scared enough each time to stop drinking, but in their accrual they have made him consider that maybe he had just been lucky those few times, and his luck could one day run out, which state of mind has not moved him yet to stop drinking, but has caused him to say to Nali, when she asked him to name his flaws, that he drank too much, and which state of mind has placed a new agenda item in the back of his mind to one day stop altogether, once and for all.

Kelcey guessed everyone is dealt a finite amount of luck, but not everyone gets the same amount.  We don’t know how much we have to begin with until it runs out, and the scary thing is not knowing what kind of disaster could befall you just after it does run out.  Kelcey has calculated a guess that his drinking hasn’t gotten him into any serious trouble yet because he got dealt a larger than average bucket of luck, which he figures he had been drawing on since he was about fifteen.  He thinks stopping would be easy.  He has done it before, twice.  Each time fed his confidence. But then each time some situation had presented itself – a reason to celebrate feeling good or a need to make himself feel less badly.

Kelcey got annoyed with himself when he couldn’t remember where he put his keys, or when he couldn’t remember the chords to a standard, but he didn’t spend much time worrying if he couldn’t remember something he said or did with someone.  In the category of personal relationships he remembers what he remembers, and sometimes only what he wants to remember.  Isn’t he like everyone else?

One time he had explained to Nali about cadence and musical phrases that resolve or don’t resolve.  You can set the listener up to expect something, and then either give them what they’ve been led to expect, or give them something contrary to that expectation.  You can resolve dissonance to consonance, or resolve a hanging phrase to a more stable phrase, or just end it there, unresolved.  He remembers Nali saying that such a compositional device assumes the ability on the part of the listener to remember musical sound – to store the earlier part of the phrase in their brain, making the building of expectation possible, and then to hear the whole phrase once it’s done – not just one note after one note, each isolated from every other note before it or after it.

On several occasions Nali has described something that Kelcey had said or done the night before of which he had no memory.  He knew there had been a night’s event with friends, fragments of conversations, and good food and drinking, but he couldn’t construct a sequence.   He only had some isolated images surrounded by the vague tonal quality of the night.  How could he know about yesterday what he can’t remember?

But Nali wouldn’t let it go at that.  She wanted to know what exactly did he remember in order to know what he did not remember, as though she had the whole list and he had some fraction of it depending on how much he had drunk.  She would say something about shared experience and the collection of memories making up a shared life, and she got very frustrated when she’d want to talk about something that was done or said, and if he had no memory of it they couldn’t very well talk about it.  He understood her point.

He could even see that she was frustrated, but couldn’t move his imagination to feel frustration himself, because he didn’t have a notion of what he would be trying to remember just beyond reach.  It was true that sometimes he sensed something, akin to the ghost images left on a page by an erasure, but mostly there just wasn’t anything beyond reach at all.  And why not just deal with the next day? But then she’d go on about how a memory of yesterday is a part of today, and furthermore, how he couldn’t take responsibility for his actions or even reflect on them if he had no memory of them, and how convenient is that? At this point a door to a room in the warehouse of his psyche cracked open and let a draft in.

The scrap of paper taped on the door to that room said “Kelcey and Darrin”.  Most of the time Kelcey kept that door closed.  In recent years – he’d have to say since meeting Nali, whose being in his life had stretched and pried open the ends of his emotional spectrum and filled him with a mix of fear, rage, sorrow, yearning, and love – he had gone into that room more often, sometimes on his own curiosity, but other times because he had to retrieve some prop to respond to one of Nali’s questions.  It was those questions that drew Kelcey to Nali since the first conversations they had ever had. He had wondered if there had ever been a time he felt someone so keenly interested in what he was about, in what he held back, in what he held under, in what he didn’t know?  When was the last time such interest sustained?  There was sustain in music- it connected phrases, ideas, feelings.

Nali asked questions right out of the gate.  Most people stopped at two or three.  Nali was still going after six.  As their conversations turned into years together, she kept rummaging.  A minimal declarative statement could lead to two hours of talking.  He thought he was just telling her something about his day, as in, “Dolores sent a note to all the part time employees today,” or, “I got a letter from my mother.”  Kelcey was fleetingly aware that he was asking for something, but not being sure what it was, he opened with something simple he was sure of – a fact, an observable event worth telling at the end of a day.  Nali reliably, always, followed with a string of queries, one leading to the next one, leading to another.  He had come alternately to count on it and dread it, depending on his needs.  With only the slightest prompt, Nali would begin foraging through that psychic warehouse, a warren of rooms, some piled high with unlabelled boxes and bags in no particular order other than the inevitable arrangement that grew out of lack of intervention.  Thus some containers were kept in the back and at the bottom, never opened, because it was too much trouble to get to them.  They had been filled and put there so long ago, in fact when he was a little kid.

The “Kelcey and Darrin” room was one of the larger ones. That strange uncomfortable mixture of love and fear accompanied him when he entered.  The room could have been a large booth in a flea market with its casual arrangement of objects that carried signs of wear and history and past intimacy with some person, some family – things set out as though recently used and other things jumbled into piles on the floor.  Loose categories of items from various stages of childhood had settled in open tins, baskets, bins, or boxes, or merely leaning against the wall collecting dust and neglect.  There was furniture:  two identical twin beds – Kelcey’s and Darrin’s – set close together and made.  Underneath there were unmatched suitcases and knapsacks.  Nearby, several tables; a couch; a dining table with seven or eight chairs.  A few feet from the couch, an upright piano.  On one table an old film projector stood open, its heavy metal cover stored on the floor next to a reel-to-reel tape recorder, also open.  A second table supported a slide projector surrounded by slide boxes and carousels.  Everything on this table had been carefully labeled by their father, Calvin, who had spent much of his adult life in activities that benefited from careful labeling, once he realized he was not going to be an astronaut. Those tables really belonged in another room of their own, perhaps a “Calvin and Marjorie” room, but organizing always came after the fact, if ever.

Calvin’s pull-up screen stood ready to serve.  A jigsaw puzzle was spread out on a third table – hundreds of pieces nearly completing a scene of a father and son casting fishing rods off a small motorboat in a tree-lined river.  Other objects lay about – a bushel basket of crisp leaves, baseball bats and mitts, drum sets and musical instruments of all sorts, two stacks of shelves half filled with books, an old telephone, watches and souvenirs, and picture albums. A pair of diminutive leg braces leaned against the side of a bookshelf, the metal rusting.  Shoved in a corner stood a steamer trunk leaking band uniforms, its lid weighted by a grey and red vinyl golf bag stuffed with clubs.  Stacks of boxes and milk crates held record albums by the hundreds, and on a dining room cabinet sat a record player, its lid propped open, a single black album on the turntable.

Often these days Kelcey came into this room unprompted and sat on the piano bench, laying his hands silently on the keyboard and remembering.

~

Darrin stopped his doodling around at the piano and said, “So guess this interval, Kelcey.”  Darrin played two notes.

“I don’t know,” Kelcey said flatly, stretching his legs further to the end of the couch and studying a Duke Ellington album cover.  He was trying to figure out who the other players were in the photo before flipping the cover over.  Maybe he would go to the record store later and find a new Mingus album.  Use some of his wages from the gas station.  His brother’s voice broke Kelcey’s brief reverie.

“Want a hint?”

“No.”

“Major seventh.  Okay, try this one.” Darrin played another one, twice.

Kelcey wondered what the first Duke Ellington album was that Mingus had bought.  If it stopped raining soon he could go to the record store and then walk over to Toby’s house.

“Kelcey, are you listening??”

“Huh?”

“Come on, let’s do interval practice.”

Kelcey didn’t feel like doing this.  Interval practice was always actually interval quiz – Darrin the teacher and Kelcey the student.

Darrin struck another pair of notes and held them down. “What’s this?”

Kelcey sighed, “Major fifth. “

“Right!  Ok, how about this one?”

“Probably perfect fourth.”

“Probably? You gotta be sure! Yes, perfect fourth!”  Darrin played another.

“Minor seventh.”

“Nope. Major seventh!  Close. Here’s another…what’s this?”

Kelcey had to lasso his mind from elsewhere. “I don’t know.”

Darrin played it again, several times, flipping the notes. “Come on, you know this.”

“Maybe I don’t.” Can’t Darrin see that Kelcey didn’t want to do this?  Kelcey’s mind went back to Mingus.  He looked out their den window to see if it was still raining.

“Come ON.  Think, Kelcey,” insisted Darrin.

“I AM thinking!”  Kelcey was just thinking about something else. When Darrin got like this Kelcey wanted to be by himself. Maybe he should go practice so he’d be prepared for his lesson tomorrow.  Practice, then the record store, then Toby’s.  If it didn’t stop raining he’d go anyway – he’d like to get out of the house.

“You’re not thinking.  Minor sixth.  Listen, Kelcey, try this one.”

“Perfect fifth.”

“You’re still not thinking.”

Now Kelcey was annoyed. “I’m THINKING, Dado!”

“Well, think harder!  It’s a diminished fifth!  Try this one!”  Darrin moved down the keyboard and played another, looking at Kelcey to see if he was paying attention.

“I don’t know!”  But it came out like a growl between his teeth.  When Darrin demanded and pressed like this, all the muscles behind Kelcey’s face and down into his chest contracted into a twist like a wrung-out washcloth.

“Yes, you do.  You’re just not trying. Listen harder! Minor fifth.”  Darrin wouldn’t let up.

“Okay, MINOR FIFTH!  So what!  I’m going to practice.” Finally motivated by frustration, Kelcey hauled himself off the couch.

“What do you mean, ‘So What’?  It’s important stuff, Kelcey, if you’re going to be good!”

But Kelcey was already loping up the stairs to his room. Uckh, why did Darrin always have to turn conversation into a test?  Why did Kelcey always feel tested?  Why couldn’t he get his brother to stop doing that?

~

Even now, so many years later, Kelcey felt like his windpipe grew shorter whenever he remembered not having the answer Darrin was testing for, whether it was music theory, baseball plays, or calculating the best way to get to New York.  In these moments he imagined himself alone in the “Kelcey and Darrin” room, looking over at the couch, and feeling the urge to leave the room and close the door.  Some days he did just that.  Other days he would linger and perhaps, like Goldilocks, move to the couch, then his old bed, and then a dining room chair, trying to get comfortable, doing the same thing with his eyes, moving from one object to another, pausing in random order.  He could make his heart rate change by shifting the object of his gaze, and thus shift the memory, like flipping through one of those photo albums that lay on the bookshelf:  the basket of leaves from his walks through the woods when he was eight, every day fearful of the bullies who might appear so they could push him against a tree and threaten to light a fire at his feet; the bed where he would calm himself by aligning his straight body perfectly in the center, his arms out like wings, measuring the exact equal distance on either side.  On that same bed his heart quickened remembering the little braces that held his two legs rigid and separated with a metal bar at the knees.  He’d move his eyes to the miniature canoe he got on a trip west, and his heart would calm down.  The tiny boat made him think of fishing, and his heart would calm down further.

On his way out he might catch a glimpse of the dining room chair that had to be glued back together after Darrin had thrown it across the room when he was in high school, or a particular title on the edge of a record album more worn than others.  However long he stayed in the “Kelcey and Darrin” room, he learned to make sure that on his way out he would look last at something that made his breathing slow down, and then he would walk out and pull the door shut.

It was almost 5:00.  Kelcey carried the grocery bags past the peach tree to the back door, stepping on the threshold he’d been meaning to paint, and set the bags down on the kitchen counter.  He rummaged in his coat pocket for the little empty bottle, threw it in the recycle bin, and twisted open another.  It was good to be home. He had looked forward to this moment all day.  Perusing the spines of their cookbooks, he pulled out the steak book that had the recipe for special salt. He started unpacking the groceries.

Maybe one day he’d also tell Nali about glancing off a car some years back; it had been near midnight, and he was coming home from a rare gig where the band was given access to the bar afterward.  It was just a parked car, and no one was around.  He had kept going.  He had never told anyone about that.

There were other events in the category of Things Never Told that resided in seclusion, in his inner sanctuary.  Kelcey imagined everyone had a collection, some more ornate than others.  He had known characters who liked to show off their collection, but he liked to distinguish himself from such advertisements of outlaw behavior.  He had always thought there was something shrewd in the way Bill Evans would go about in trim jacket, pressed shirts, and conservative ties, studious eye glasses on his nose, all the better to disguise his heroin habit.

He remembered in one of his joint therapy sessions with Nali he had said something to the therapist about the concept of his “coming clean”.  Of course Nali had asked him about that afterward: “Saying coming clean implies you have something to come clean about, doesn’t it?  What does that mean?”  God, she never just asked one question. Couldn’t he just say things and not know exactly what he meant?  And doesn’t everybody have some sense of how much is in their warehouse but not exactly what’s in every box, every room?  Sure, he must have meant there were things he has yet to tell, but doesn’t everybody die with secrets?  And can’t there be some spaces he doesn’t care to re-enter?  Wasn’t the right to privacy law applicable here?

When he dug out the old yews in back he would think he had the last piece of root after pulling out dozens of pieces as thick as his wrists, and then he’d find another, and then another, and another, each time thinking okay, he could stop now, he got the whole thing.  And then his eyes caught the pale sheen of another, and onward the afternoon went, until the whole swath of border between their yard and sweet old Nora’s was dug up.  He was relieved to have that claustrophobic hedge out.  But that’s what it felt like sometimes – Nali digging up his roots.  Some got broken in the process.

Still, maybe he’d tell her.  Then he wouldn’t spend all this energy turning it over in his head, debating whether or not to tell her.  It might feel good.  Maybe.  You’re only as sick as your secrets.  He had heard they say that in A.A.

But right now it was Thursday night.  Kelcey checked the clock.  Nali would be home by 7:00.  He would make a wonderful dinner – a loving meal that Nali could come home to.  He would find a recipe for making asparagus, maybe a little differently than his usual. Maybe something with turmeric.  He could find a recipe for potatoes he had never done before, or try scalloped potatoes, the way Nali had made them once – sliced thin and slowly baked for an hour until soft with milk and butter.  He had time.  He added some ice to his drink and felt the warmth of it going down.  He’d make his own variation of those potatoes, with cheese, maybe chives from the garden. The steak could wait until the end – just the way he always made it, seared on salt.  While the potatoes baked maybe he’d make a pie with those Winesap apples he had found at the market.  Nali loved his apple pie.

He had a plan.  It was going to be the best dinner ever.  He gave his favorite knife a few swipes on the steel and started chopping onions.  Cooking was a moving meditation, a song, and Kelcey approached as a good improviser.  Tone was important.  To take care meant to be discriminating with the notes, to load them up with feeling, but not have too many.  Patience.  Timing.  He let the onions sauté slowly, coaxing their sweetness out with a little oil and gentle heat plus a touch of salt to make them sweat and absorb the sage and pepper.  He put together a pie crust to chill – butter, flour, water, salt – what could be simpler?  He pulled down a large bowl off the shelf and started peeling the apples.

When Kelcey was fifteen and when he wanted to be alone, he’d tell his parents he was going for a walk before dinner.  He’d go up to the mountain, really a hill, near their house.  There were patches of field edged by woods – tall trees that grew up on land that in another century had been farmland.  He could follow the remnants of old dry-stone wall to his favorite spot.  He would lie down and attach all four corners of his back to the ground, his arms outstretched like the Vitruvian Man – man’s connection with nature.  Kelcey would wonder what kind of life that farmer who worked this land had had.  Did he come out to his field a hundred years ago and lie down like this after a hard day’s work and look up at this same patch of sky, even wider when these trees hadn’t been there?  Kelcey certainly hadn’t had a hard day of farm labor behind him.  He had had a hard day of being a teenager, which carried its own burdens that didn’t end when the sun went down.

Sometimes, when he went up to the mountain, if it was a warm day, he’d take off all his clothes before lying down.  Then, in the shade of the trees or sometimes out in the meadow, he could feel with heightened awareness the solid but forgiving ground, the warm touch of the sunbeams, or the relief of the shade under the trees.  It was at those times that his body had felt right.  His feelings had felt right.  His rhythm had felt right.  The mountain and the woods expected nothing.

Kelcey finished peeling the last apple and could smell the potatoes beginning to cook.  The asparagus stalks were trimmed and ready, the steak was laid out and salted.  White, green, brown.  He needed a little red.  Finding a red pepper in the refrigerator, he minced it and put it aside.  Perhaps a red wine reduction sauce for the steak.  He checked the refrigerator.  Nali always kept red wine on hand but didn’t drink it much, so it lived in the fridge.  She didn’t seem to care about the drinking temperature. Kelcey rinsed out the mug from his morning coffee, filled it with wine, took a swig to see if it had gone bad, grabbed a handful of peanuts and the bottle, and made his way to the couch in the living room.

The couch in Del Rio, when Kelcey was three, was covered in a nubbly green fabric.  He remembers the rough feel on his skin when he lay down.  The fabric was patterned with broad black lines woven in little angular spirals he would trace with his finger.   Whether he was inside or outside the house, it was hot and still.  The hills in the distance were blurry with the vibration of the heat.  The low houses far apart.  He remembers looking out the window and wondering where everyone was.  The big picture window in the living room gave a wide view of the front yard and their street.  When he planted his little feet on the cushions he could just see over the back of the couch and out the living room window. Whenever he did this, his feet soon slid down into the crack between the edges of the seat cushions and the padded back that his grandmother always slumped against when she came to visit.  Down in that crack the thin black cloth made a sling where all the change would fall out of adult pockets, adding to the collection of cracker crumbs, old candy, and sand. But when his feet slid down there, it hurt his toes, so while he looked out the window he kept hopping back up onto the cushion top, which also set his sight a bit higher over the window sill for a better view.

From there he saw the tricycles at the bottom of the front stoop, where he and Darrin had left them earlier that morning in a hurry to come inside.  There had been a reason for hurrying to come inside, but young Kelcey couldn’t remember what that reason was.  His mother had called out from the front door when Kelcey and Darrin were across the street in their friend Nathan’s yard, but by the time they had ridden their tricycles home, no one was standing in the doorway to sweep them inside.

Darrin had run upstairs to get the toy boats.  Kelcey was frequently hungry and went into the kitchen.  He pushed his wooden stool to the counter and climbed up. There was no food on the counter in the middle of being made.  His hunger told him it was time to eat – one of the reasons he and Darrin were often called inside.   Seeing his set of crayons next to the fruit bowl, he reached for it and brought it into the laundry room where he had an easel set up next to the play kitchen. Kelcey still remembers that he and his sister Billie had put that kitchen together one Christmas.  It was made out of cardboard and was complete with a refrigerator, a stove on top of an oven, a sink set into a counter with cabinets, and an extra section of cupboards.   The handles on the refrigerator, freezer doors, and the faucet at the back edge of the sink were made out of pink plastic, as were the control knobs that turned on the oven and the round burners on the stove.  These last items, maybe because in real life you weren’t allowed to touch them, Kelcey loved to poke.  The dryer in the room was making that whirring sound and giving off that familiar smell, so his mother must be around somewhere.  Kelcey tries to remember why he had been looking out the window – perhaps it had been to see if the car was in the driveway.  His mother never appears in his memory of that day.  Memories had a way of dropping off like that – a picture with every detail vivid, and then nothing.

His parents must have gotten rid of that green couch, because it wasn’t in their house where they moved later.  He remembers hanging out with his high school friends on a new three-seater covered with a brown and orange colonial print.  That’s where he caught sight of his mother making out with the family friend, Mr. Henley, Kelcey’s presence unbeknownst to them.  The memories of looking out the window at age three and then at age thirteen seeing his mom with Mr. Henley became like pictures clipped out of a newspaper and carried around in his pocket forever. It was also at that age of thirteen that he remembers getting really, really drunk and feeling completely numb, and the main point of that memory is how wonderful it was to not feel anything.

Kelcey topped off his mug and checked the potatoes.  The smell of potatoes, onions, milk, and butter being transformed into one creamy rich substance was filling the kitchen.  Opening the oven door a crack, Kelcey confirmed the perfect browning to a golden color.  Kelcey was happy when the food turned out just the way he envisioned it.  He felt rewarded when all of his attention to the details – selecting his favorite kind of potato, the thinnest asparagus, and the thickest and fattiest of steaks, then trimming them all just right, hitting the right notes on seasoning, and pacing the cooking – when all of his thought and measured effort resulted in something delicious and impressive and a pleasure to serve, something that surely demonstrated that he was present and cared.

He wouldn’t start the steak until Nali was home and settled in.  He should make sure she was going to be arriving at her normal time.

“Hello?”

“Hel-lo, Dear.  How was your day?”

“Hi, Sweetheart.  Oh, it was good.  I’m almost home.  What are you up to?”

“Ok, I was just checking.  I’m making dinner for you – I wanted to do something special for you – it’s going to be a really, really good dinner.  In fact, it’s going to be the best dinner I’ve ever made in my life.”

Nali paused.  She recognized Kelcey’s hyperbole.  It sent a thin liquid fear through her body, barely noticeable and easy to overcome at this point, but readable if she paid attention.  She laughed softly, “Sounds wonderful.  I’ll see you in a minute, I’m just around the corner.”  Nali could hear the smile, the big open heart in Kelcey’s voice, the love.  Nali also could hear the unmistakable lilt, the up and down of the inebriated phrase so devoid of the sober reserve that most of the world saw before 5:00. The feeling of coming home after a full day of work molted into the feeling of coming home to what lay ahead – the home they made together, her husband’s cooking at which he excelled, her husband’s intoxication, her husband’s defiance against all who had wounded him, her husband’s sorrow and terror lying bare to her recognition and knowledge, her husband’s fragile joy and strong love.

She pulled into the driveway and cut the engine.  Her white clematis was having its second blooming up the fence, and the latest flowers in the perennial bed were holding on to summer.  There were still good tomatoes on the vines and chili peppers to pick.  Nali liked taking a moment in the car when arriving home.  It was an opportunity to enjoy the bubble of an automobile, where you’re not anywhere that really matters in your life.  You’re not in your home, you’re not at work, you’re not in your parents’ house, and you’re not heading down a highway to somewhere. It offered a useful and not-enough-appreciated space of transition, like a mudroom, an anteroom, a foyer, a vestibule – all very important spaces that Nali noticed were being designed out of newer homes.  She believed it not only changed the domestic space, but it changed people’s lives.  We need transitional space, she thought.

She would have to set her concerns of the day aside now. She would not know exactly how drunk Kelcey was until she walked into the house, but she had heard it on the phone.  She did not have to think twice to shift gears for an evening that would be spent with Kelcey in his drunken happy space, to flow into his stream and bring her sober love along.  The climate of drunkenness trumps any others.  She had fallen in step with this pattern the way one learns a language by simply dropping oneself into another country.

She gathered her satchels together and got out.  Putting her key into the keyhole of the front door, she thought about her friend who told her he sometimes comes home at the end of the day, has his hand on the doorknob, and then thinks to himself that he doesn’t want to go in.  But Nali does want to go in.  It is home.  She takes a deep breath.

The house is filled with the smells of good cooking – sweet and savory all mixed together yet close to being distinctly identifiable.  Nali detects something with cooked apples, one of her simplest pleasures.  And some wonderful savory potato and onion thing baking, but she can’t name it.

“Hello, my Dear,” Kelcey sings, coming in slow stride to the front door.

“Hi, Sweetheart, how are you?”  Nali kicks off her shoes and dumps her bags and coat.

Kelcey smiles and folds her into his arms, and their lips meet, one cornerstone of their marriage they return to again and again.  She embraces the familiar torso, the smells of the kitchen coming off the softened fabric of his shirt, and just behind that, the smell of alcohol.  No one would know how she stares into the eyes of the substances that have him in their grip and feels a dark hollow open up, deep near her psoas muscle. No one would have known how her heart sinks and rages.  She kisses him again.  Nali loves the twin spots just below his collarbones, a little hollow and a small pad of muscle to rest her head on.

“I wanted to do something nice for you, so I made you a dinner with some of your favorite things.  And I’m doing the potatoes the way you make them, but I added cheese.  Are you hungry?  Everything’s almost ready, come look!”  Keller turns and heads into the kitchen.

Following her husband through the short hallway, Nali notices how he steadies the sway of his body with a hand grazing the wall.  Love drives away fear.  Love comes before fury.  Love conquers sadness.

In the kitchen Kelcey smiles and watches, mug in hand, as she peeks in the oven – “Oh, yum!” – at perfectly golden scalloped potatoes enrobed in creamy buttery goop.  She peers into the bright green asparagus braising on the stove.  A beautiful, thick, and heavily marbled steak sits on a plate ready to go into the hot frying pan.  A fluted apple pie on the other side of the stove stands ready to switch places with the potatoes.

“I can’t wait!  Thank you!”  Nali exclaims, feeling good to be home.

Nali gives Kelcey a smile, a hug, another kiss.  She would never know what it was really like to feel bliss in numbness, to be in a place that silently commanded everything in a small circle around oneself and made one oblivious to everything else, and then to have it slip away by morning.  She wishes she could take the hand of this person she loves and enter the chamber where he keeps his grief and rage and terror, and tell him he does not have to sit in there alone, that he could give up at least the rage, to which he has devoted so much effort to conceal, and he could leave the insult to himself and others and choose a more generous, respectful, and peaceful path.  She feels her ignorance.  How can she refuse to go along, where all in the world seemed good?  It was Now.  She cannot say it is false.  She cannot say that, just because he is altered, it is not real.  She cannot say that just because going up to the mountain behind his house had, somewhere soon after, been replaced by intoxication of other kinds, it was not still a right remedy for wondering where everyone was and not getting an answer.

The aromas of simple and splendid food are making her ravenous.  This evening, this meal to be shared, is the shape of Kelcey’s love.  It is love of his self, love for the fruits of the earth, love for his wife, love in the effort that gives him validation, love that allows him to feel he is a part of life, that he is really living.  Tomorrow she could ask him questions and perhaps she could tell him what she had wanted to tell him tonight, and would have told him, about her day today, but for this evening, in this song of food and home and heart, this ephemeral moment, it was going to be the best meal ever.

© 2013 Lillian Hsu