Shakes to its Foundations

In the first year of my relationship with Nick, I would often ask myself: what was I doing this time last year?  I would compare the past and present, in their parallel and untouching trajectories, curious if a point would arrive where they’d…meet.  Where an entire year had come and gone, and after that point there would be no more memories of “last year at this time” which didn’t include him.  It seemed unlikely we’d make it that far, frankly.  Being with him was heaven, and each new calendar month at least put a little more time in the togetherness bank, against future rainy days.  I think I could feel those rainy days coming.  I’ve always had good instincts, but that’s all they are.  Instincts, mostly untranslatable to courses of action except in eventual hindsight.    

We met in the winter, in a cold mountain town.  The winter before, what was I doing?  Living with my dad, writing every morning at a cafe.  I had a crush on a barista there.  I was experimenting with just allowing myself to have crushes on handsome men, instead of writing myself off, on their behalf, while half-heartedly dating men who should have written themselves off on my behalf.  Again, good instincts, but muzzled.  

Every now and then I’d hear from my winter boss, usually while curled up on the sofa near the pellet stove.  My dad called the stove “Moloch”, the Old Testament eater of children.  “Moloch is hungry,” he’d observe, dumping in more pellets.  Besides radiant, drenching heat, Moloch emitted sounds, actual moods — shrieking, purring, rumbling, droning.  

‘Tracy King, RWC’ would show up on my phone and I’d feel a little twinge of interested angst — time to go for a trek.  “I got a truck that needs to go from Spokane to LA tomorrow.  You want it?”  

“Sure,” I’d always say, watching the snow fall outside.  “Just text me the flight info.”

My dad enjoyed that I made my living in this haphazard fashion.  It appealed to his sense of blue collar adventure, which had been somewhat, but not entirely, curtailed by having had a family.  As his 41 year old daughter, living at home, it was beginning to seem less and less likely I would become similarly curtailed.  

So I’d pack up Buffy and several pairs of her warmest onesies, and get myself to the airport before dawn the next morning.  She was my emotional support animal, officially, but more commonly someone else would hold her, during take off and landing — someone actually afraid to fly, or afraid of life, or only blessed by the sudden and temporary manifestation of an entirely intelligent and remarkably calm rag doll, four-footed and gazing about with calm, sad eyes, when she wasn’t sleeping.  

They were starting to get to know us, at Idealease heavy truck sales and rentals in Spokane.  Buffy would be greeted with treats, hugs, and kisses.  I’d be greeted with an offer of stale coffee, a set of keys, and zero information about the vehicle.  We’d trek around out back, through the sideways snow, Buffy high stepping distastefully, and eventually we’d find it.  A beater, usually.  I’d stuff Buffy inside, where she would shiver miserably as I checked the fluids and lights and kicked the tires.  Once the cab warmed up she’d fall back asleep, and remain mostly asleep except for pit stops.  

Then it was a gray, snowy haul for quite some time.  The snow would turn to rain in Northern California, and the rain turned to sunshine south of Sacramento.  I’d sleep somewhere, or — on several occasions — not.  I was creative with my logs, depending on my own assessment of fatigue or alertness.  

Once, I got stopped by DOT on the uphill crest of a mountain, just as a storm was setting in.  He took my license and logs back to his patrol car and did god knows what with it, for about an hour.  Probably looked me up on Facebook or some shit.  By the time he let me go, all the road markings were snowed over, and the evergreens were only black and white.  “Silent sentinels” — that’s the cliche everyone uses to describe pine trees in the mountains, but they really are like that.  I lost traction getting up the hill and had a little fishtail moment, sour adrenaline squirting through me, but it was only a moment.  Buffy opened one eye and closed it again.

It was always a long way, from Spokane to LA.  I listened to Teal Swan on YouTube, Abraham Hicks, an audiobook analyzing the financial patterns which have driven human history.  The Black Plague, as narrated by an economist, is a whole new level of tragedy.

I’d talk on the phone to my brother, my friend Blake, a handful of other friends.  I’d listen to music.  Jason Aldean or Patty Griffin or just some mix.   

Eventually I’d navigate myself to the drop yard in LA, Tracy worrying at me like a Jewish mother.  Buffy and I would lock it up, turn in the keys, find a place to piss, and then walk out to where the Uber could find us.  It might be daytime, or nighttime — whenever.  We’d talk, on the way to LAX — what country the driver is from, how he’s finding his time in the US, whether he might benefit from getting a CDL, that kind of thing.  

Sometimes the flight was a rush, and we’d barely make it to the gate.  Other times, we’d miss the last plane out and have to sleep on the floor, in the airport.  I was prepared for all these eventualities, and it was all the same to me.  

Touchdown, back to my car, back down the road to my snowy mountain town.  Day, or night, or whatever.  Moloch, roaring or humming or whatever.  A good sleep, and back to the cafe to write.  Writing was all I wanted to do, when I wasn’t stimulating my personal economy.  

I had friends, sort of, but not really.  A handful of gals that looked at me like I was a bug; a handful of guys that were interested in getting me drunk if I wanted.  My dad was the best hang I had — him and Buffy and Moloch.   

Here’s the crazy thing about Meeting Someone, especially given the freeform nature of my life when I did: everything besides that represents a mere variable, right?  Here’s some work; I can take it, or not.  Here’s an acquaintance; I can make plans with them, or not.   Here’s a trip; I can take it, or not.  Cars, money, people, locations, experiences — they’re all just these approaching, or retreating, variables, which you can opt into or out of.  

But when you Meet Someone, you yourself become the variable.  You don’t know what you’re going to do, following that rendezvous.  You don’t know who you’re going to be, on the other side of it, and in a very real sense.  When you meet someone, it’s alchemical; you are changed.  You become a new thing and you have no way of predicting what.  They’re not just this additional factor to plug into an existing equation.  It’s…quantum.  

I think we know this, on some level, and it’s why we want to Meet Someone, but we scramble to control everything we can about that.  We want to be utterly changed — of course we do — but it’s scary.  We are a helpless compass, and a new True North could drop out of the sky at any moment.  Of course we still have our old azimuths, but they are re-oriented and reorganized by this new North.  The only thing more disconcerting than when this happens, is when it doesn’t.

So, it happened.  And a year later, I was…an Us!  This is an astounding experience, when a chance conversation begins with a stranger and literally never stops.  Even when they’re not right in front of you, and when the electronic pings temporarily subside, you find that you’re still talking to them, in your mind.  You’re seeing yourself and your life and the events of your day through a lens that includes them and their sensibilities. In no time at all, it’s as if it’s always been this way.

The last tattoo I got before we met says “I surrender”, in no uncertain terms, right across my chest.  And I did.  I knew I was a creature of accurate, but muzzled, instinct.  I knew True North when I felt it.  All of the specifics were unfamiliar, even alarming, but I followed the feeling.  When he wanted to hang out, we hung out.  Which was, almost immediately, all the time.  It was either really naive, or really wise, or a little of both.  

He was a stranger, though, and remains so even now.  I used to observe married couples and think, “They must know each other so well.”  It’s the opposite, if anything.  We gasp in the asphyxiation of this foreign panorama — a beautiful but alien vista, stretching off infinitely in every direction — and we grasp at anchor points, looking for signs: this way up.  We ourselves lose coherence internally, even as we gain coherence externally, and we hope that we eventually swing the other way but not too far.

Being, suddenly, in a relationship was genuinely surprising, not least of all to myself.  I wanted one, and I’d come to terms with that, and was able to call it by its name.  But I’d come to a point of such magnificent, albeit lonely, self-sufficiency that it seemed no one could possibly have enough to bring to my table.  Not materially, but existentially, somehow.  But Nick was King Underdog; an arresting and stirring combination of royalty and absolute down-dirty scrappiness that I’d never encountered.  

Nick can’t be told no.  You can’t look at him and tell him no.  It’s entirely hypnotizing, legitimately dangerous, and controlled only via his internal compass, which has a track record of being exactly broken.  Nick can be an actually terrible person.  He’s not a self-styled “bad boy”, sporting aftermarket upgrades of affected masculinity in the general female direction — he’s, like, this guy who actually didn’t care if he lived or died, for a really long time.  The extent to which that guy has explored, and experienced, the heights and depths of his own psyche makes the rest of us look like amateurs, on training wheels.  He isn’t scared of anything — not rejection, not humiliation, not failure.  He’s been, and done, all that.  He’s scared of only one paper tiger, and it happens to be the exact tiger I have tamed — answering the call of one’s heart.  Which is the stupidest, least useful skill imaginable, until it’s not.  

No woman could “get” Nick; he wasn’t get-able, and I didn’t get him either.  I just answered the call of my heart, about him, and I’ve never stopped answering it.  This has always been between my heart and me, and each day he chooses, again, to shine like the sun in my heart’s general vicinity.  There are cloudy days too, of course, and storms.                   

True romantic chemistry is like taking every Christmas you remember as a kid — all that joy, all that warmth, all that security and love and fun — and distilling it, 100 proof, and then mixing it with the deepest, sweetest sex magic.  And then huffing that shit every moment of every day.  The Beloved is endlessly fascinating, and life’s most mundane details around and about the Beloved are illuminated, made sacred.  The gray of his sheets and towels, the water pressure of his shower, the sound of him starting his truck in the morning.  The grocery store by his house, the smell of his laundry detergent, the sight of his clothes hanging in the closet.  

Winter became Spring and, like mated swans, or born-again lesbians, we had already moved in together — a warmer city, larger, bigger problems but more diffuse.  Our home was large, lovely, bright but haphazard with a compendium of wanted and unwanted furniture.  We didn’t have any money.  We moved there for a job (mine) that refused to actually manifest, except in starts and stops.  He’d lined something up quickly, but then was shot down quickly too: background issues, haunting him.  Now he had another job, but it was no good.  Mine was still holding its breath.  We both craved warmer weather, and had unexpected allergies.  He leaned on me too heavily, in some ways, seeming angry about my practiced sense of autonomy.  I didn’t know what to do about that.  But I kept answering the call of my heart, and it kept surging and surging towards him, like a horse towards its barn.  

What was I doing at this time last year, I wondered?  

I had been just about to finally get around to my taxes when my summer boss called.  When he called, it was a whole different thing.  Not just a two day run down the west coast, but weeks — maybe months.  I left Buffy this time, and was on my way to a fire in New Mexico by 7am the next morning.  My co-driver was unconscious — he’d driven all night, from Idaho, to get to my house.  The fuel truck was half full, and it was a bitch to drive — sloshing, lurching at every turn and stop.  

The fire was up in the mountains, in Apache country.  It was seventeen, eighteen degrees at night in the tent, and I was glad I’d left Buffy behind.  I could barely fill out the purchase receipts with my frozen, cracked hands.  One morning, feeling a little warmer than usual, I unzipped my tent and saw that snow had blanketed everything — the fuel truck, my co-driver’s tent, the goddamn silent sentinels.  It didn’t change anything, certainly not the fire, or the crews’ demand for fuel.  Another morning it hailed.  A shitty, wet, sideways hail.  I sat in my warm, running fuel truck and watched as one lone motherfucker — an office guy, of course — had the audacity to come for fuel in the middle of a hail storm.  He parked beside the nozzles and honked.  I snugged my stocking cap down over my ears, flipped on the PTO, and climbed down with some resentment.  I pumped his fuel and he sat there, with his window rolled up.  The hail hailed.  I hung up my nozzle, killed my pump, and went over to my little folding table to fill out his purchase receipt.  The table was an ice swamp, the ticket book was warped and moist.  I filed out my boxes and then waved it at him.  He rolled down his window two inches.  

“You need my signature?,” he called.


“Alright, bring it over.”

“No, you gotta sign it on this table,” I answered.  

The hail intensified.  

“Why,” he said.

“Because otherwise it won’t go through to the sixth duplicate,” I lied.  No force on earth could make it go through to the sixth duplicate.  Get out in this hail, you flaming piece of shit.  

He snugged his stocking cap down over his ears and climbed out with some resentment.  He signed and I gifted him his sodden, illegible copy, already heading back to the warm cab.

Other days were nice, increasingly so.  I was on that fire for three weeks.  I was on fires, generally, for six months.  I didn’t get home until October.  

By then, it was already Moloch’s season for eating children, again.  I missed the whole summer, and even the first snow.  I called my winter boss, Tracy, to tell him I was available again, after some rest.  Turns out he’d committed suicide the same day I de-mobed off my last fire, in Eastern Oregon.  I was stunned.  Why would he do that?  He loved Buffy.  He always snuggled her, whenever I saw him.  He was brusque, brisk, beleaguered, and sweet.  I had a tremendous liking for him.  He was my winter boss.  What was I going to do now?  

Meanwhile, in Us time, Nick and I had made it this far.  My slow-start job, teaching truck driving at the community college, had picked up hard and fast, that summer.  We started early and worked like dogs.  I’d roll home every afternoon, dusty, red-faced, and emanating heat, practically crackling with it.  The students weren’t sure they liked me, and neither were my coworkers.  My essential right to be there, teaching anyone anything, was tested with some skepticism, in ways little and large.  I’d been reprimanded for going off-script on the pre-trip inspection.  I thought our pre-trip study guide was a piece of shit, but hadn’t realized the extent to which both the school and the State Examiners were both accustomed to using that same piece of shit as the historical metric, so I actually was out of line.  My prior truck school experience only served to handicap me, here — it would have been better to arrive as a blank slate, not to have been an Examiner myself, albeit in another state.

Nick had gone as far as he could go, as a stymied personal trainer in a narcissistic has-been’s gym, and I’d encouraged him to launch his own enterprise.  He’d commenced organizing himself to that end, but didn’t truly believe he could.  He was angry at me for dissuading him from other, lesser opportunities that had cropped up here and there.  I was amazed that he would think that little of himself, and anyway I had the money rolling in.  He was born to coach people on barbell strength, and via that to contribute his wonderful, clear perspective in peripheral ways.  People gravitated to him, moths to his flame, and effective strength coaching — while important and rare in its own right — represented the mere tip of his iceberg.  Those skills we trade for money are just the cost of entry; the real event is personal value fulfillment involving others, via the excuse of transaction.  Nick was magnificent, spiritually all dressed up with nowhere to go.  But I kept saying: go!  You’ll shine.  Trust me.  

We worked out together every day, or every day that I could drag myself to the gym.  I was tired, perpetually.  But my barbell vocabulary was expanding, nevertheless.  My body, although perpetually stiff and achy, showed new lines.  I dressed modestly for work, which was essentially an eight hour shift in the baking sun; a sort of Mad Max dystopia of slow-motion jackknifing tractor trailers and whistling, hollering, hat throwing instructors.  The students began to say things like, “So you must work out a lot, huh.”  And, “Which gym do you go to?”  I’ve always been tall and skinny, but this was new for me.

Nick and I made dinner together each evening, practiced in our shared domesticity now, and watched something on Netflix in the evenings.  Nothing had become mundane, at least not for me.  I felt I was playing house with the world’s sexiest man.  The fact that he loved me was a miracle that kept, somehow, happening.  The gentle deliquescence, from our hot, steamy roots to this, more sedate, even roommate-y at times cohabitation, was only a new form of fetish, for me.  Imagine: a man so desirable, from the inside out, that simply watching him brush his teeth at night and spit in the sink was halcyon.  

The late summer went off the rails, though.  We returned from a family reunion where perhaps his choices, in choosing me, dropping out of school, moving away from his sober network, struggling to find even low level jobs, were scrutinized, and he began to scrutinize them himself.  His business venture was still invisible, practically speaking, at this point.  Nick’s family is landed, let’s say.  Well to do.  They were happy he recovered his sobriety, after so many years down the drain, but their hopes that he’d stay in school, meet a nice girl, graduate, get married, get a career, and start having babies was looking…bleaker and bleaker, in regards to my 40-something year old ass, and our firmly merged lives.  His friends didn’t like it either.  “Why would someone like you move to a shithole like that with a person like her?”  

“Because I’m happy,” he would answer firmly.  

“You could have any girl.  Why her?” 

“I don’t want any girl.  I don’t want to put up with the same immature bullshit you’re texting me about day and night.”

I didn’t do anything about any of this.  Obviously I couldn’t.  I wish we could be closer in age, or that the difference could matter less.  I wish we could have met when I was younger; but he’d have been younger still, and out of his mind.  I think we could take a shot at a kid, if we wanted, but we were nowhere near that kind of stability.  It was one day at a time, for us, still.

“Look, the honeymoon is over,” he informed me one day.  I didn’t understand why we didn’t hug, when one of us walked through the door.  Why he made himself a sandwich and didn’t ask me if I wanted one.  This had never occurred.  We had an entire vocabulary of togetherness that was suddenly — gone.  “I have to work on this business.  Our house is the only office I have.  If you’re going to be upset, then I’ll have to find another place to be.”  

I was upset.  I cycled through so many flavors of upset.  I felt he was gaslighting me.  Was it another girl?  “I’ve never been unemployed, visiting my family, since I got sober.  That’s never going to happen again,” he said.  

Finally, and as per my tattoo, I surrendered.  I wasn’t going to leave him; that much was obvious to me.  Something my dad had said, years before, snagged in my memory now.  I’d asked him why he didn’t leave my mom.  She was just unbearable, a lot, and for years, in the throes of her inexorable break down.  She made our lives — his life — difficult.  Very difficult.  

“I thought about it,” he admitted.  “But I just knew — I’d spend every day just…wondering about her.  Wondering how she was.  Missing her.  Forever.  I just knew that.”

I called my summer boss.  The semester was over.  “Send me on a fire,” I said.  


“I don’t care.  Now.  Whenever.  I’ve got four weeks.”  

He sent me on a fire, in McCall, northern Idaho.  They posted me up at a spike camp miles away from town and light years away from phone reception.  I slung fuel, genuinely happy in my own way.  I didn’t want to leave Nick, and I wanted him to love me; more than that, to want me.  And either he would, or he wouldn’t.  My heart still pointed towards him, due North.  Buffy made the rounds, with the hotshot crews.  Everyone took turns holding her, admiring her fleece jammies, while I serviced their gasoline or diesel, their engines and their jerry cans.  The silent sentinels looked on, as it seems they always do when I’m left to my own devices, existentially.  The incident commander visited Buffy, or perhaps only me, every day.  Flirtation was everywhere; bearded, manly dudes with lines on their faces and calluses on their hands, admiring a chick who knows her job.  Magnetic to men, but barely a consolation prize to the one I’m watching.  Well, fuck him and his stupid friends, I thought, mildly.  

I returned.  He’d missed me.  We reconnected, deeply.  It felt maybe okay.  I didn’t know what we were becoming, only that we were continuing to become.

There had been another girl, he felt the need to admit.  Not lately.  When we first met.  After we first met.  Some overlap.  It seemed like something I should know.  

That first conversation when we met; the one that had started and never, for one moment, had stopped — that’s what broke my heart.  How much of that conversation was just…me talking to myself?  Am I just talking to myself now?  Have I always been?  

When something staggers what you’ve known, there’s no end to the questions that arise.  Am I enough?  Have I ever been?  What am I, besides your first real post-sobriety exit ramp…up?  

I cried, a lot.  I got through work and came home crushed, to a house that felt like a headstone.  Our bed — the one with the gray sheets.  I shared those sheets and never knew it.  

“I’m going country dancing,” I finally declared, one night.  I was off the next day.  

“Dressed like that?,” he asked, alarmed.  I was wearing skin tight black jeans, a midriff black top, tall, fringed boots and a lot of tattooed cleavage.  And makeup.  Dark eyes.  

Don’t worry, I’m just some old chick none of your friends could imagine anyone wanting, I thought to myself, angrily. 

“Fucking men are just gonna try to put their hands all over you,” he accused, bitterly.

“Probably,” I said, exhaling cigarette smoke.  

In the end we went together.  And actually had fun.  Men did try to put their hands all over me.  I saw a former CDL student who danced like quicksilver, and seemed to enjoy dancing with me.  “Wow, I always wondered what you did in your spare time,” he grinned, spinning me triple and snatching me back.  

My heart pointed due North, but my soul loves a honky tonk.  The band was loud, playing covers but so skillfully they were almost better than the original versions.  The place was packed, and almost nothing makes me happier than a country bar on ladies night, unless it’s slinging fuel.  Nick got jealous, got over it, learned to 2-Step, and we Uber’d home, happier and more snuggly than we’d figured out how to be in quite some time.  It was Autumn.  

What was I doing this time last year, I wondered?

Well, Tracy was dead.  That job was gone, one way or another.  I’d applied to a truck driving job at a college, sitting there in the cab on my laptop, between fuel customers, at a fire in Washington state. 

After the season, I’d flown out to New Jersey to reclaim Buffy from my best friend, who’d eventually taken her over as the fire season had drawn out.  I was loaded with money and not sure what to do with myself.  

So I wrote, every morning, at the cafe.  Sometimes people made the mistake of thinking I was there, pretending to write, and actually wanted to be chatted up.  But that was not the case.  I still had a low-grade crush on that barista, but it was just a minor pleasure, like the coffee.  

I have no social outlet, I realized.  I could hang with my dad at home.  Buffy was always good company, if you’re into someone that’s mostly curled into a tight little comma, pretending to be insensate to all stimuli.  I had even fewer female friend prospects now.  I couldn’t tell if they didn’t like me, or if I didn’t like them, or if I’d just never really had female friends and it had all been some vague fantasy on my part.  There were still plenty of dudes who’d love to get me drunk.  It was all a strange treadmill of options that enervated me. 

Fitness was an issue, though.  Schlepping myself and my tent from fire to fire all summer was sort of fun and definitely lucrative, but I had no control over my schedule.  I could, and did, exercise next to the truck, but I couldn’t leave the truck.  I was a fire camp utility, and utilities have to stay put.  I managed to eek out a vegan existence from the Standard American fare, every day, but wouldn’t call it a great diet.  I’d been excited to get home and return to my long trail runs, my walks, my uphill sprints, but thanks to the late season, it was all snowy and cold now.  

I joined a gym.  I looked up various lifts on YouTube and put together a little program for myself.  I wanted to get comfortable in the weight room, something I hadn’t truly accomplished before.  It was a virtual woman-free zone, oddly.  It was almost as if all the treadmills were for women and all the barbells were for men.  Nevertheless, it was something new to learn, and I enjoyed the low key conversations I had, there.  A nice pattern developed, where I would write in the mornings, have a big smoothie at home next to Moloch, and then go to the gym mid-day.  I bought some nice workout clothes and commenced session work on a new tattoo.  It said “I surrender” across my chest, and it was objected to.  I had Thai food with a girlfriend I grew up with, when she was in town.  The tattoo was only line work, at that time.  I couldn’t decide on the color of the rose.  

“It’s nice,” she said, eyeing it dubiously, and I waited for the other shoe to drop.  Our sensibilities were very different, at all times, on all subjects.  Our friendship would have never taken root, had we not been planted in the same pot long ago.  “What does it…mean?…to you?” 

“It’s spiritual, mostly, I suppose,” I said around a mouthful of food, not giving this conversation too much importance, on purpose.  You know when you’re outgunned.  “Like, what’s there to fight.  Only yourself, really.  Life just comes, so let it come.”

She chewed on this, literally and reflectively.  “Yeah but —”

…here we go…

“Don’t you think that could be, like, misinterpreted?  Like you’re not going to stand strong for what you want, and people will just think…”  She trailed off, meaningfully.  

I shrugged.  “Probably.”  I tried to imagine myself with the sort of tattoos she’d approve of.  They would say, Fight!  Or, Defy!  Or, Not taking anyone’s shit!  Guess whose shit most of us are out there taking?  The people who identify themselves as not taking anyone’s shit.  What a shit carousel.  “I like it.  It’s pretty.”  

“It is pretty,” she offered magnanimously.  “It looks good on you.” 

I met Nick at the gym.  He was a stranger, but somehow we smiled at one another.  It’s literally the hardest thing in the world to smile at a sexy person, so kudos to me for pulling it off.  

“Do you need a spot?”

“Obviously,” I laughed.  I never reject a spot from an off-duty male fitness model, particularly when I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, as I actually did not at that time.  

“That’s a sick tattoo,” he observed.

Today — real time now, May 6th, 2020 — is Nick’s birthday.  He’s 31.  And I’ll be 44 on the 8th.  I can no longer ask myself what I was doing, a year ago, before Nick.  It’s been more than a year, now.  And for however long it lasts, from here on out, this time a year ago will still be within the realm of our shared experiment.

Last year at this time, on this day, I had to work.  But after work, we hung out with his family.  His mom, dad, and sister had come out to visit us in our new city, our new home.  I was someone they’d never met — some much older woman, who’d grown up on some reservation, with a weird trucking job.  

As much as a stranger as I was to them, he was even more the stranger, in some ways.  They’d dropped him off at rehab out West, four years ago, and he’d become — well — more than the sum of his parts.  The son they hoped he could be, but better, beyond, quantum, and clarified in ways that went beyond their scope.  He’d gone from wasted potential to…some kind of alien life form that looked like their son, but spoke with quiet confidence, held himself with easy grace, gazed at them with direct, clear eyes, and acted from well-examined integrity.  Like many sober addicts, he’d emerged a collection of very short straws and very long straws.  He stumbled over the tiniest blocks, in some ways, and leaped over tall buildings, in others.

 There’s a reason addicts in recovery turn to one another, and not to their families.  And not to their significant others, either.

There’s a lot of this story left untold, and that’s okay.  Sometimes I feel that he’ll always be The Beloved, and I’ll always be the one holding the loving gaze.  I could date someone else and be, myself, The Beloved; I’ve felt that many times.  I don’t actually need it.  I think that he shores up my outer world so I can travel deeper inward; I think that I shore up his inner world so that he can travel outward, more sure-footed.  He can never be my compass heart, which is only mine and which can only point; I can never be his sobriety, which mandates only one direction: up.  His sobriety cost his family a lot of money, frankly, on top of all their tears and sleepless night, hospital bills and lawyer fees and, presumably, posting bail.  All of that, so that he could finally step into his natural freedom and choose — me, of all things.  Many choices, but me among them.  

His circle has wondered whether I’m a waste of his newfound choice.  My circle has wondered whether he’s a waste of mine.  It’s always been a fairly radical experiment, and one that we ourselves have watched unfold, in amazement, each time we flip the calendar to a new month.  And today, on his birthday, I am as happy as I’ve ever been, and grateful for each day I’ve had with him.  Every single day — even the bad ones.  

He’s deadlifting now, in the garage.  The house shakes to its foundations.              

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