WHEN you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
– William Butler Yeats
When I was twenty years old, I was directionless and lost: a raving lunatic; a blistering idiot. I was just recently back in the country, just coming out of a very damaging relationship, and just trying to put myself back together. I was a scattering of ash and dust, the glint of stars, the press of clouds.
And then I met my husband. And then my life was very different.
We are both thirty-nine now, so we’ve been together for a long time. I know the grooves of his hand better than I know my own. I could hear his voice in the middle of a crowd and find him in a shot. I know each gray hair, each worry-line, each muscular heft. When we marry, we love not only the young person standing next to us, the person right now, but we love the very old person that they will be. Creaky joints. Sagging skin. Hair as pale as thistledown. And the deepening shadows of the eyes. These things usually don’t land on Valentines, but they stir me to the core. The long-married find themselves, very often, unstuck in time. We kiss the lips of our beloved and we don’t know where we will find ourselves – are these the twenty-year-old lips? Or the forty-year-old? Or the eighty-year-old. The entirety of a life built together can hinge on a single kiss.
I have told this to my husband. He thinks I’m nuts.
Anyway, a while back, I published this piece in the Interfictions Annex. It’s four linked vignettes, all exploring the magical-realistic quality of love. But the thing is? It started as a Valentine. To my husband. This is what I wrote to him:
It’s cold and we need fire. I wrap myself in a blanket while you clomp to the porch and clomp back in, your arms wrapped around a pile of logs raining debris in a trail from the door to the fireplace.
You open the door and lean in, gather ash and dead coals with your hand, deposit it into a bag, let it fall in a soft gray cloud. Slowly, you pile the knots of paper just so and lay down the small logs and light.
As I watch you, I see what you will look like when you are very old. Your nose enlarges and bulbs forward: a tender beak. Your smooth brow folds upon itself like a topographical map. Your hands, your long fingers, gnarl at the knuckle, sprout spots like mushrooms, grow yellow at the nails. Your hair, shining now in the growing light, thins, pales, floats over your shining scalp like feathers.
Outside, the snow arranges itself into mountains, canyons and plains, retelling the story of a land built from the cruelties of water and wind. Outside, the black sky cracks into infinite shards of light, while the air etches love poems on the windowpanes. Outside, the wind hurls itself against the house, while the trees lean and flail as though about to fall.
Happy Valentines Day, to you and yours. And I love you.