We were newlyweds, living in a grungy apartment.
Each morning, I would wake before her. I would pass my morning hours writing poetry on a yellow legal pad, sipping coffee.
Mostly, I’d write the kinds of god-awful things you’d expect newlyweds to write. I’m talking painfully corny stuff. I’d leave these poems on slips of paper scattered throughout our apartment for her to find.
One such poem read:
“Together, the two of us,
“In thought, and deed, and breath, and heart,
“Shall never be lacerated apart.”
Gag me with number-two pencil. “Lacerated?” What kind of a dork uses that word? In fact, I’m not certain this verb works in this particular case.
LACERATE [verb: las-uh-reyt] lac·er·at·ed, lac·er·at·ing
1. to tear; mangle; rip. Example: “Hey dude, that poem you wrote really freakin’ lacerated.”
My wife saved all my crummy poems in a shoebox, and today they reside in a storage closet.
Anyway, when we first married, we lived in an apartment that smelled like dead squirrels. I am not being figurative. I mean our apartment actually had a nest of decomposing squirrels in the attic above our master bedroom.
The place was tiny, and about as ugly as homemade soap. The tenant before us had painted the walls black and greenish-gray. Sherwin Williams officially titled this color “Seasick Granite®.”
When we moved in, we made the place our own. We painted the walls brown and khaki. We bought a used coffee table and some scented candles.
My friend, Chubbs, found an old console television on the side of the road. I was lucky enough to claim the TV before the garbage man came.
The thing was heavier than a dead preacher, but we got it up the stairs. Chubbs, however, would suffer from severe disc degenerative problems for the rest of his life.
Our building sat across the street from a Waffle House, a Chick-fil-A, and an ice cream shop. And this is why we gained nearly fifty pounds within our first year of marriage.
We never went to the movies because we didn’t have the money. We ate Hamburger Helper without hamburger sometimes.
We saved our cash for a new window unit AC—our air conditioner was on the fritz. The thing would only work on days of the week beginning with “R.”
On weekends, every weekend, we ate donuts. It was our simple ritual, and I loved it. Krispy Kreme was only a stone’s throw from us, and when the hot-and-ready light would glow, by God, we were there.
Over donuts, we would talk for hours about nothing. Heavy doses of sugar can do things to the human mind. It can make a person honest.
She told me all her stories. I told her mine. You can do a lot of soul-searching over crullers.
My professional life was non-existent, I took whatever jobs I could get. I spent days crawling rooflines, swinging a hammer, or operating a commercial lawn mower. She worked as a preschool teacher at church, or in a kitchen.
For extra income, I played piano at a Baptist church on Sundays, Sunday nights, Wednesday nights, Thursday night choir practices, and Saturday night prayer meetings.
We learned things about each other. We learned important things.
We learned how to argue in the middle of a Winn-Dixie, and how to attend two Thanksgivings in one day. How to share a sunset, seated on the hood of a truck. How to read in bed with a flimsy battery-powered book light.
We learned how to travel together with paper maps. And after years of practice, we finally learned how to make a bed together without me getting murdered.
We learned how to hold each other when loved ones die. We learned how to sit together—me reading a magazine, her playing a crossword puzzle.
We learned how to wring our hands in hospital waiting rooms. We learned how bury dogs with a shovel and a burial sheet.
We learned how to make a life together.
A lot has changed since those days, but I still wake early in the mornings to write. I don’t use a legal pad anymore, I use a laptop.
This morning, however, I did not write. Instead, I sifted through our storage closet. I found things. An old coffee-tin sewing kit, some scented candles, love poems, and the picture of a young man and his new wife in their first apartment.
In the picture, the place had ugly gray walls, but that’s the only ugly thing about this photo.
He’s holding her. She’s holding him. They are young. Their skin is smooth. I wish I could tell you how much I love these two people in the picture.
I wish you could see their faces, and their punch-drunk smiles. You can tell they belong together by looking at them. You simply know that their names should never be said apart.
It’s as though nothing bad in this life can ever touch them. As though the two of them, in thought, and deed, and breath, and heart, shall never be lacerated apart.
I suppose that word is growing on me.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Jamie.