I am sitting in our empty house. The movers have taken all our belongings and left us with a few chairs and a card table. I am remembering the first time my wife and I sat in this empty den, the day before we moved in.
We were young. Our new house was empty. We had both just gotten off work. She wore her teacher’s clothes. I wore a fast-food uniform. We were sitting cross-legged on the bare floor.
I was eating moo shu pork. She ordered the garlic broccoli, but she was stealing my pork one bite at a time. This was beginning to offend me.
“Can you believe this house is ours?” said my wife, stabbing her chopsticks into my container.
“No,” I said. “I can’t.”
“This is our house. OUR house.”
“It’s a great house.”
Until now we had been living in a 700-square-foot apartment with a window unit AC that only worked during leap years. Our downstairs neighbors’ dogs had given the entire building a flea infestation.
Our new house was remote. The property wasn’t located on the edge of the world, but you could see it from there.
Thousands of acres of longleafs surrounded us. Cell reception was a myth. Nobody owned GPSs back then. There were no streetlights, no markers on the dirt roads. Even with competent directions, most of our friends got lost looking for our house and ended up sleeping in their cars.
In recent decades, county fugitives have taken their chances in these woods. The escapees never make it against the elements. They always stagger out of the wilderness with copperheads and bobcats attached to their limbs, muttering, “I can’t do this anymore, take me to prison.”
My wife stole five more bites of my moo shu pork when I wasn’t looking.
“You think we’ll grow old in this house?” said my young wife. “You think this will be the place where we become old folks?”
“Maybe,” I said.
“Do you ever wonder what we’ll look like when we’re old?”
This was a sobering thought. All the men in my family develop chronic turkey waddles.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I just hope you won’t be repulsed by me when I’m old.”
“Why would you say that?”
“Because my grandfather looked like a cue ball with false teeth.”
“What about me?” she said. “Will you still love me when I’m old and ugly?”
“You could never be old and ugly.”
She stole more moo shu pork without remorse.
“What about,” she said with a mouthful, “when one of us needs the other for a caregiver? Will you take care of me when I’m not able?”
“Would you change my diaper, bathe me, carry me back and forth, and wipe my you-know-what? Would you brush my hair, brush my teeth, feed me, read to me?”
“Will you love me,” she said, “even when I can’t love you back because I’m senile, and not in my right mind? Even when I am miles away from you in my brain?”
She scooted closer. “Would you love me if I were disfigured?”
“Would you love me if I were a vegetable?”
“Would you love me if I developed a mental illness?”
“Would you love even after I was dead and gone, and you couldn’t see me anymore?”
“Jamie,” I said, “I will love you all my life. I will love you while living in this house; I would love you while living in a refrigerator carton. I will love you in perfect health, in fatal illness, and even when we lose the SEC championship.
“And long after I am dead, when my remains have become soil pH, and my body has been digested into the earth, I will continue to love you. Because it is not my body that loves you, but my soul. And a soul never dies.
“My soul will love you for eternity. For ten eternities. For ten times ten thousand infinities. I will love you far beyond the expiration of the cosmos, long after the sun burns out, long after the stars have ceased to shine, and time is no more.
“I believe that you and I are not two, but one. I believe that, long before God poured the foundations of the world, he took one soul and cut it in half, then he sent both pieces to earth to find each other again.
“And now that I have found you, I feel united, not only with you, but with myself, and with the force that created the heavens and the earth. That is how much I love you.”
She leaned onto my shoulder. “Would you still love me if I ate all the moo shu pork?”
“I take it all back,” I said.