You see the ocean for the first time on our honeymoon. Your large feet dig deep into the muddy sands of the Maryland coastline as your blue eyes swell at the infinite water before you. I wrap my arms around your thick waist and press my ear into your back like you are a seashell and if I listen hard enough I can hear the origins of you. I close my eyes and plant myself in the moment. I want to stay this way forever. We are newlyweds. In this moment, with the sky darkening and the shush of waves around us, we are normal, and our problems, which loom large and heavy every other day and hour of our lives, are washed away with the sand between our toes, sucked back into the majestic wake of the Atlantic at our feet.
Forty-eight hours ago we stood in a small church in Scranton, Pennsylvania with our hands clamped together, knees slightly buckled, and a pain in both our chests as we pledged our lives to one another. I got drunk in the limo on the way there. I almost ran away. You were drunk the night before. You almost overslept.
It was a beautiful wedding. Years from now when people talk about that day, they will use words like elegant and tasteful, they will remember a candlelit ceremony with bridesmaids carrying star punched lanterns and wearing simple eggplant gowns. They will recall a reception in a historic house with classical music and mind-blowing cheesecake for dessert. They will forget the particulars, the obvious dread in both our eyes.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so beautiful,” You yell over the thunderous roar of the ocean. Your face is speckled with wet sand and your eyes squint now to see the disappearing skyline folding itself into the dusk of night.
“Let’s head back,” You say, “It’s getting dark.”
We clasp hands like new lovers and bump against one another as we walk. Our hotel is one of the nicest on the beach. It’s covered in reflections, glass or mirrors, I can’t differentiate them in my memory. We chose this hotel because it was new, because it was expensive, because it was what you wanted. I could explain this in several different ways, I could go on and on about why this mattered, but I won’t. I’ll say it simply this way: You are a nervous man. You suffer from Panic Disorder. You have attacks that send you grasping for a tether to this life, and usually that tether is me. You cannot do things that most of us can do without thinking. A walk down the street is a challenge. You find safety in strange places, like your computer room, a video game store, a new car, or a new hotel. Your disease controls you right now. Years later, I hope it won’t. But for now, we are in the thick of sick, and I have the patience to be here. It won’t always be this way. It won’t always be so easy, something I know in my gut as we walk into the gleaming glass doors of our fancy hotel, across the marbled tiled lobby, and are finally swallowed by the soft glow of the elevator.
Later, you roll me onto my back, nuzzle your face between my oversized breasts, and breath heavy with the thick night air. We know this routine, the unclothed feel of one another, the way your skin slides against mine like two plates moving across the earth. We have been naked together for almost half my life. It is here in this moment that I say the words that will change us. The words that will make this ease between us fade away into the canopy of darkness.
“I want a baby,” I announce.
“Okay,” you say back like I just asked you if I could borrow a spoon.
“I want you to give me a baby,” I repeat.
You come inside of me for the first time in our nine years together. We are adults now.
The next morning, before you wake, I slip onto the balcony and light a cigarette. I am still smoking at this point. I sit in a white wicker chair and rest my bare feet on the railing. I stare out over the ocean and remember summers at the shore and how my parents always watched the sunrise together. I can still hear them if I close my eyes, their low voices trying to hush the excitement as a school of dolphins rose and fell into the wake. I remember watching through a sleepy haze the silhouette of them, joined, still married, still the main characters in the narrative of my childhood.
I put out my cigarette, smear the clean ashtray with the butt, and call you awake. You mumble and roll in the sheets like you’re mummifying yourself. Your hair is short and fuzzy, your breath a hot echo of last night. You peel open your eyes and I know immediately you want to leave. Your movements are short and choppy. You look around the room like you’re expecting something or someone to burst in on us, like a tragedy is only seconds away. The calm of last night, the stillness in which we decided to make a baby is gone.
This is what it’s like living with your disease. It’s like living with someone on fire. You want to help, but most of the time you don’t know what to do. Most of the time you simply have to pray they survive the burn.
“We need to go,” You begin to explain.
“I know,” I say. You’ve gotten used to the disappointment in my voice.
“I’m sorry,” You insist.
“I’ll go to the front desk and see if I can get a refund for tonight.”
As I leave, you plug into your Playstation 2. You brought it with us. I didn’t fight you. In the elevator it occurs to me that I could probably sum up the timeline of our lives together by video game consoles you’ve owned.
The Super Nintendo: We met at a pool hall. I was sixteen, you were eighteen. You didn’t have a car or a job and were repeating your senior year of high school. You knew “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” by heart, and wore a pair of beat up chucks. You carried a notebook full of poetry. I fell in love with you. Kurt Cobain died. You cried. I loved you harder.
The Sony Playstation: You took me camping. It took some convincing for you to leave your room, your house, your city. You still didn’t have a job. We were still young. I worked at Sears. We pitched a tent and rented paddleboats. We paddled out onto an island in the middle of a lake where you told me you were in love with someone else. It’s been a long time and I can’t remember her name. I want to say Tracy, but maybe it’s Stacy, or Annie. She lived in a yellow house on Birney Avenue. I thought about burning it down. We unpitched our tent and I drove us home in sobs. Later, you told me you wanted me back, that you loved me more than the nameless girl.
The Nintendo 64: You came to see me at Sears with an engagement ring that you charged on my credit card. I wore it. Your mother was happy. Mine was not.
The Sega Dreamcast: I moved three hours away for school. You came and picked me up every weekend. You got a flat tire in a construction zone. You had a panic attack. I thought I would never see you again, but you kept going, you kept coming. You proved your love to me in miles. My parents divorced. You wrapped me in your arms and swallowed my sobs. You proved your love to me in shock absorbency. I moved home. We moved in together.
Sony Playstation 2: You were the manager in a video game store. You came home one night and told me you wanted to see other people. You kissed an employee. She wore bikinis. I was 250 pounds. It was a battle I could not win. We had a bad fight. I chased her down in a parking garage. You smashed the mirror on our new car. You drank gallons of wine each night. I poured one down our white porcelain sink. It looked like blood. You held a knife to my throat and your eyes were lucid with rage. Things were ugly. We lived in a basement. You tried to kill yourself by taking too many pills. I left you. I took you back. We moved upstairs. I could see the sun again. Things got a little better. We got married.
The elevator dings and the doors part to a cool burst of air conditioned lobby. At the front desk a young boy smiles as I approach. He wears a gold tie and a maroon shirt. I ask if we can check out early. I dig deep into my bag of excuses and pull out the most dire.
“My father is ill,” I tell him. “We have to leave.”
The truth is I could make a quilt from all the yarns I’ve spun covering up your disease. We can’t go out to dinner, we can’t come to parties, weddings, funerals, because you don’t feel good, I’m sick, we have work, our cat ate chocolate, my car broke down, you have polio. I am part of the problem. But I think I’m part of the solution. I’m dead wrong.
“I’m sorry ma’am, we cannot refund any money. We need 48 hours notice at least for a cancellation.”
“How could I give you 48 hours notice that my father has been stricken ill?”
“Let me get my manager,” he whispers and disappears behind a false wall.
As I wait for him a woman comes running through the glass doors from outside with the light of the early morning sun at her back.
“Someone turn on the news!” she yells in a slight panic.
A bell boy runs behind the desk and fumbles with a remote. The young man in the gold tie returns with a compromise. He can refund me fifty percent. I accept. The television flicks on and we are stunned by what we see. The World Trade Center is on fire. It is 9:05AM on September 11, 2001, and the second plane has just hit the South Tower. The world as we know it is about to change. We are about to change. Having a baby becomes urgent, like there is a timer on our life together that starts now.
Amye Archer has an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. Her work has appeared in [PANK], Twins Magazine, Provincetown Arts, The Ampersand Review, H_ngm_n, Boston Literary Magazine, and Hippocampus. Her first chapbook, No One Ever Looks Up was published by Pudding House Press in 2007. Her latest chapbook, A Shotgun Life, was published by Big Table Publishing in 2011. Her memoir, Fat Girl, Skinny, is represented by the Einstein Thompson Agency. Her first play, Surviving, was produced locally as part of the Jason Miller Playwright’s Project. She is the winner of the first Scranton Storyslam and she hosts the reading series Prose in Pubs. She is the former Reviews Editor for [PANK]. You can learn more about her at amyearcher.com.