Loving One Who
Thinks He Has
He sleeps, naked. His hands are by his side, his body flat over a comforter embroidered with flowers. His purple scar is a brilliant vine up his middle, its skin tender and new. An open textbook lies on his belly. You take the book and place it on the side table, and you dry your wet hair with a towel, watching him breathe. You stare at his legs. His legs are an epic, a beatbox, bel canto, a tango, a fresco, a gastronome. Neoclassical. They are a balm to you; even though his masculine assertion has vanished, his legs are evidence of the athlete and lover he was. In the silence you hear his organs rumble with the soft food and vitamins and medicinal teas that you have plied him with, to help him gain weight. The hair they shaved from his pelvis is starting to grow back. You think about running your palms over it, but you're frightened you will hurt him. You stand beside the bed, and you watch his sliced belly rise and fall.
The November wind moves across the Chaparral and sagebrush and goldenrod of the San Joaquin Hills and down to Laguna Canyon, where it winds through the screen window carrying sand and the sense of erosion. The wind lifts tufts of your husband's hair where it is greying: across his chest, the sideburns of his side --- parted, freshly washed mane. His eyes open. They are indigo, wide and unblinking. His eyes disguise no thought; they are alight as if to legitimize your belief in innocence.
You lean over to kiss him. Rise up. Smile. When he looks down at his body, you follow his eyes. You see the flesh-familiar shape. You smile, catholic and evil, giggly and silly. No doctor knew if his sexual functioning would return. It's been two months since the surgery, and you weren't sure if you'd ever be with him as a lover again. Your hands go to your satin slip, and you feel your thighs under your palms. You raise the hem of your slip. You don't even think, you just act, the hours and days and months of quiet having made you more instinctual. He watches as you climb on top of him.
He is silent. He is not without words, you think. You imagine words locked inside, where they are waiting to be discovered. And you will. You will search for your relationship's former identity, your marriage's fixed history, your lover's unaltered state. Because you haven't surrendered yet. You still think you want to find your way back to who the two of you were before. You touch his skin. The only thing unchanged is the way he feels upon your skin. You've got to have some reassurance that the "we" that you knew was not altered, crushed, ruined, deformed; is not derelict or dead. His body can give that to you. You remember. You're willing to use his body to take your safety, security, stability, if you have to.
You remember his body, his luscious body, his erotic body, his carnal body, his animal body, the body he has shared with you for longer than he has been alone. You want to remember how his body feels inside. Everything in you wants the memory --- your muscles, your skin, your sight, your pulse, your heat, your heart, your breath, your everything.
Everything slows. You lower yourself. You watch his already enormous eyes enlarge, rapt, his posture slouch in easy receptivity, the last surreptitious instinct having been drained from him in surgery: he is defenseless. You think this is strange, this is beautiful, this is precious. You know you've never been here before, and you don't know why you know this.
His eyes are never for a second removed from your eyes. He doesn't turn away from your face and so you do not turn away from him. You do not close your eyes. You watch and watch and watch. Which means you must really see him. You see a face completely unaware of its expression of pleasure, the simple stare of a man who senses all and relates to nothing. You lean back, balancing your body on his legs, keep your hands away from his scar, suddenly frightened that your rambunctiousness might tear him apart. By the time you adjust yourself a few seconds later, he comes to orgasm, and it surprises you both --- the fast, sharp impulse, the release that he doesn't seem to recognize.
You watch him closely then, both of you silent, his face remarkably unlike the man you have known, guardedness replaced with the purity of an open gaze. You move off him and lean against the pillow, watching his expression. Across his face, none of his former gestures. He hadn't known what you were going to do, what your touch was going to be like. That orgasm came as directly and forcefully as a teenage boy's.
"Honey," you say, "I have to ask you. Whatever your answer is, it's okay."
He nods, eyes sleepy, still taking in every inflection of your demeanor.
"Do you remember sex?" you ask, your voice a whisper.
"I don't think so," he says, and then he watches your eyes for reaction. He says this without shame, without guilt, without remembering. You look at his face for a few moments, and then you look away, toward the crimson-painted wall where there is a dark column of ants weaving in an unbroken line toward the ceiling. With your finger you smash the ants. The ants reform the line as if you were never there, destroying their lives.
His hand reaches out, enfolds your hip. It is the first time he has moved toward you since the surgery. You do not cry, though you wish you could. In your mind, you add sex to the list of things forgotten. You think about the ways you have made yourself a "we" --- who we are, what we like and what we don't like, what we do and what we will never do --- and you watch those things vanish too. After a while, you watch him sleep. The man who taught you to explore has become a virgin.--- From Wondering Who You Are
©2015 TinHouse Books