May 24, 2014 by Paula Reed Nancarrow
The kiss was amazing.
But I knew I was falling in love because when I asked him if he had ever read Stranger in a Strange Land, he said “Of course. Why do you ask?”
“Because you kiss like that guy, Michael Valentine.”
“Valentine Michael Smith,” he corrected me. But he understood the reference, and seemed pleased.
Maybe you don’t. Stranger in a Strange Land is a science fiction novel written in the sixties by Robert Heinlein about a boy born on Earth’s first Martian colony. The colony is wiped out, but he survives – raised by Martians. Twenty years later, he’s rescued, and taken back to earth, where they discover the Martians have taught him a few things. Like the ability to pay complete attention to the experience of the moment. Girls liked this in the sixties. They like it now. So when I compared my date’s kiss to Valentine Michael Smith’s, it was a compliment. A geeky compliment, but a compliment nevertheless.
I was disappointed that his car had bucket seats, and I told him so.
I wanted to sit closer. “What good are these?” I asked. I was a little tipsy. He reached over me and flipped the seat recliner switch. I was flat on my back in five seconds. Impressive.
We met in graduate school, at an English teacher training, where we discovered both of us had been in the same play, John Guaré’s House of Blue Leaves, in our respective undergraduate colleges. He played Artie Shaughnessy, a zookeeper whose true vocation (he thinks) is songwriting; I played his wife, Bananas. I’m crazy, you see. But I’m the only one who notices that all the songs he is writing are actually new lyrics over old Broadway show tunes. In the end, Artie strangles Bananas. It’s a mercy killing, really.
We got married anyway.
And my husband discovered his vocation. He became a minister. I became a minister’s wife. The Bible says that in marriage the two shall become one. It doesn’t say which one.
Mornings were hardest after the divorce.
Especially when the alarm would wake me and I’d fall back asleep. Those morning dreams feel so real, you know. I’d dream about the front porch of that old stone rectory in Sewanee, how we’d sit there after the kids were in bed and listen to cicadas, wave upon wave. About the snowstorm we drove through to get to my parents for Christmas, semis jackknifed on the side of the road, his knuckles white on the wheel. He was a good driver. About our vacations on Lake Superior, how he would splash through the waves with the kids at the Great Sand Bay, bellowing “Whale on the Beach!” A middle-aged man; the father of my children, the geek I married. In those dreams I could still feel how I loved him. And when I woke, I was not sure where I was, or how I got there.
There is a scene in the meltdown of my marriage that still haunts me.
We are returning from a storytelling event. He’s trying to become more interested in what I’m interested in, less preoccupied with his own job and more willing to let me be something other than a minister’s wife. He is enthusiastic about one teller, critical of another – but mostly he is thinking about what stories he would do, how he would perform this or that.
He does not seem to notice that I have gotten quieter and quieter, that my responses are increasingly short, until we have pulled into the driveway of our home in Eden Prairie, the one we would be selling a year later. And then he gets it.
He turns and looks at me, and I will never forget that look, that strange mixture of love and despair. “You don’t want me there, do you.”
I don’t know what to say.
“Because I colonize everything you do.”
And I think that is it, he is right.
But what breaks my heart – then and now – is the fact that I know with complete certainty that no one else in the universe would be able to come up with such a perfect phrase for what is happening to us.
Story first told in this form (minus images) at The Moth Story Slam, Amsterdam Bar, St. Paul, February 2013. Artwork courtesy of the online collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where images may be downloaded free for noncommercial use.