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elizabeth blackburn

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The Mechanics of Falling
Elizabeth Blackburn
The End of the Class War

- from Curled in the Bed of Love

Written in Stone

Hassan comes to me on Tuesday nights. He is having more difficulty than I am with our separation. I don’t know how other people manage to cancel one another out of their lives. I can’t. He can’t. Hassan can’t do anything by half-measures; he won’t be reassured that we remain friends unless I see him every week.

He lets himself in—he still has a key—while I am at the gym, and by the time I get home, I can smell lamb in the oven, and the sauce, khoresht, bubbling away on the stove, seeping the scent of cinnamon and garlic and stewed cherries. The Persian rice steams over a low flame, a dishcloth laid under the lid of the pot, part of the process of fussing over it that doesn’t seem to account for the spectacular results, flaky rice that forms a crunchy golden crust on the bottom.

We kiss. I take off my jacket and go to the sink to wash lettuce for salad. He says I don’t have to help, I look tired, but I insist that I’m fine. Hassan watches me anxiously. He expects to read in my body some distressing proof of injury—circles under the eyes, stooped shoulders, the abrupt collapse of muscles that will make me literally an old woman, a thrown-away woman. I’m forty-six and I go to the gym five days a week, and I’ve told him he can forget it, I’m not going to make it that easy for him.

I tell him about the new orthopedic surgeon at the hospital; the guy seems OK, only he plays country-and-western music during surgery. Hassan is quick to see this as domineering. Surgeons are as cocky as fighter pilots, but they bear the entire burden of risk; no one has yet sued me for handing a surgeon the wrong piece of gauze. I shrug. “Maybe he just has bad taste in music.”

When we talk about Hassan’s job, we’re talking about the problems of the entire world. Somehow, with a degree in structural engineering, Hassan ended up working for a nonprofit here in San Francisco that arranges conferences between government officials and scientists and business-people from all over the globe. He pursues the world’s grievances without any of the pessimism his country’s history should have instilled in him. And he happens to be awfully good at parties and getting people interested in one another. He has three hundred names in his E-mail address book. He loves every person on that list, from his colleagues to the security guy in his building and the earnest minor bureaucrats from Uruguay and Indonesia.

Hassan complains to me about his job, which he never used to do. Sometimes I wonder if he means to console me—he may have left me for another, but he is not perfectly happy—but then, he’d started complaining before he left.

“Now that we’re respectable, everyone becomes cautious,” Hassan says. “I am not supposed to enjoy myself so much at the cocktail parties and banquets. What does this mean? What’s too much enjoyment?”

He met this woman when she performed at some benefit. I don’t know if he decided to love her in particular or if, out of innocence and boldness, she forced his hand by taking literally his long-standing and general offer to the world.

My husband—my soon to be ex-husband?—is a warm and affectionate man, a nostalgic creature. When we went back to Iran, we lived under one roof with his entire family. The man badgered his mother to teach him to make all the foods he’d missed when he was at college in the U.S. He and I were happy—very happy—for twenty years. He brought me tulips on every anniversary. I always knew where he had left his reading glasses. He used to saved the notes I left under his coffee cup every morning when I left for work, stuff the scraps of paper in the top drawer of his dresser, where they accumulated until he moved out. Hassan is in a predicament, all right.

Hassan turns the rice out of the pot, shapes it into a perfect cone and makes an impression into which he ladles the lamb and the khoresht. We eat by candlelight—something we had forgotten to do anymore, when we lived together—and Hassan works steadily at a bottle of red wine.

He slips toward her; he can’t help it. He’s tired, he says, because she didn’t sleep last night. She works late, is used to staying up late. When he first told me about her, so proud to announce she was a singer, I almost burst out laughing. The wife: suited up every day in surgical scrubs, paper cap hiding my frosted hair, plastic booties over my orthopedic shoes, so de-sexed you can tell my gender only by the size of my bones. The lover: a sultry chanteuse.

Hassan tells me he has discovered that Monica is an insomniac. “She stays up, then she feels blue, and then she can’t stand it, so she brings a bottle of brandy back to bed and wakes me up to talk.”

It could be too that this is her way of testing him. She must have plenty of younger men available to her. “Maybe she has to find out if you can keep up.”

“Do you know,” Hassan says, “how old and slow she makes me feel? If it’s any comfort.”

This is his way of testing me, the limits of my tolerance. “I don’t feel that way,”

I say. “It’s not like that for me at all.”

“I won’t talk about her if it bothers you.”

Why does everyone expect me to be bitter? I’ve been avoiding my girlfriends, who want to take me out on Saturdays, who seem to think it’s going to save my life to sit in a bar with them and consider the forms of torture appropriate to husbands who take up with younger women.

“No,” I say. “I’m interested.”

He wonders how she manages for so long on so little sleep. She has to get up and go to work in the morning too, boring temp jobs to pay the rent, at least until she can earn steady money as a singer, graduate from wedding gigs to a local opera company. Then he tells me what else he’s just discovered about her.

“She has some kind of dyslexia when it comes to directions,” he says. “The other night I let her drive home from a party, and I fell asleep in the car. She had to wake me up in order to find the way to her own house. She can’t tell left from right. She finds her way by memorizing landmarks, only she has a harder time at night, and if she strays from her route she has no idea where she is.”

Hassan embroiders the moment until the dyslexia becomes some touching spiritual dislocation, a signifying vulnerability.

He didn’t fall asleep. He passed out. I worry about him without me. I never drink as much as he does and can always get him home.

Hassan’s stories of his courtship—the trouble he takes to elaborate—remind me of the traditional Persian dances he and his friends used to perform, when we were in college. All of the Persians were studying engineering or computer science or medicine, things that would be useful to the Shah’s technological society. They shared apartments, they kissed each other, they cooked together. They paired off to dance to tapes they’d brought with them from Iran. One of them would take the role of the woman and make everyone laugh at the exaggerated sinuousness of his rolling hips and unfurling arms, his pursed lips. Their tradition codified this lasciviousness, cleared a space for it, a secret out in the open.

Hassan and I went back to Iran in 1977, after we graduated from college. Hassan’s mother had been widowed the year before, and he felt a duty to return to his family, to repay his country for his education. We’d just gotten married. There’s the story of what happened to us in those years in Iran—Hassan tells it better than I could—and then there are those vivid memories that continue to live in me like sensation, not recollected but reborn whenever they are aroused. I can still return to the garden of his mother’s house, an inner courtyard walled in by overgrown pink climbing roses, their branches so thick and luxuriant that anyone who dared their thorns could be hidden entirely beneath their leaves. A path of stones wound through salvia and fanning clusters of white lilies. In a shady corner a flowering vine shaped itself in fluid arabesques in its drive for light. The English word paradise comes from the Persian word for an enclosed garden, pairi-daeza.

On Ashura, the tenth day of Muharram, I watched from the window as men marched past the house, their wailing echoing off the walls of the buildings that faced the narrow street. They lashed themselves with chains and belts, scoring the skin of their bare backs. Some of them flinched when they drew blood; others did not waver in their intoxicated chanting. Their faces were not hungry but hard with satisfaction. Hassan was in such a hurry to explain. These men were commemorating the death of Hossein, their long-ago martyr, and this was their atonement, their share of his sacrifice. Hassan shrugged. They had so little else. This was just the sort of thing that the West sensationalized; I mustn’t make that mistake. When I did see what was before my eyes: how real God is to the poor.

The Shah’s regime was already crumbling, with all the randomly intensified dangers of collapse; the mullahs had grown intransigent; Hassan’s sister had taken to wearing a head scarf so she wouldn’t be harassed in the street; her brothers debated how this concession might be understood politically; and their mother remembered how the Shah’s father had forced women to give up the chador. The world might begin to move at a raging pace, with the moan and roar of those men in the street, and still one lives a slower life in private, stubborn and tentative and intricate in its flourishing. I’d sneak out to that garden to enjoy the relief of being alone, to savor all that I was learning about my husband’s family—Hassan and his two brothers, cracking pistachio nuts between their fingers, arguing with the same vivid energy of the boys I’d known in the U.S; his mother snipping roses and dropping them in a bucket, smiling and nodding to supplement the Farsi words I did not understand.

I cook this time, so it’s simple: steak, baked potatoes, peas. I stand all day at work. I sterilize slender implements and lay them out in exacting order on a paper-sheeted tray. In an orthopedic surgical unit, every gesture, like the implements, is scaled to the miniature—the surgeon slices a precisely calibrated seam through tissue, scrapes away at bone in increments that will minimize nerve damage, or studies a video screen that projects images captured by a camera lens so small it can be threaded into the body. I don’t want to come home to core or peel or dice or fillet.

Hassan is in trouble from another quarter. He has wooed a little too zealously the representative of a foundation that might fund his organization.

He takes both my hands in his to plead his case. “We went out for drinks. We’re relaxing, I think. And the next day she calls my boss and says she’s uncomfortable dealing with me. I’ve sexualized the interaction.”

Another time, his need to befriend a fund-raiser might yield a grant, or he might take a guest from India to a drag show and delight him instead of shock him. More than once he’s gotten conference delegates drunk in order to soften their attitudes toward one another. If it doesn’t work out, he is undaunted. He’d roll the dice again if he had to, and let someone else hold his breath. No one wrote to tell him when his mother got sick, for fear he’d rush back to Iran. His brother waited to tell Hassan until it was too late for him to come to the funeral. Maybe it was safe for Hassan to return, maybe he could have visited years ago, and only superstition made us believe that history was written in stone.

Hassan frowns. “I think I touched her elbow. A couple of times.”

And probably he pressed too close, the way he must lean across the table now in order to talk, really talk, to me. Persians routinely invade what an American would consider inviolate personal space. Hassan is so Americanized now, and yet these essential habits persist.

“Would it do any good to call her and apologize?” I say.

“I am forbidden to contact her. Forbidden.”

“Do they understand at work that she just misread you?”

“They say, ‘Don’t drink. Don’t drink on the job.’”

He did stop drinking for a few months last year, after he learned that his mother had died. He didn’t decide to quit; he just lost interest for a while, the way he lost interest in everything else. Maybe they should have written him that his mother was ill. Hassan hadn’t seen her for twenty years, not since we left Iran.

Hassan strokes my hands. “With this woman—I thought we were sympathetic, that’s all. Remember the good old days, when we were so delighted by the freedom to be sexual? Now we must hide it. We must behave like automatons in our professional lives.”

I smile. “Nobody has any fun anymore.”

“Exactly,” Hassan says. He smiles at me.

“Are you? Having any fun?”


“Dating someone.”

“Don’t feel up to it yet.”

“What about that new doctor? You have such expressive eyes. Why don’t you give him a come-hither look the next time you’re handing him a scalpel or changing a CD for him? What if he wants you already? ‘Nurse, oh nurse, I have an itch. Can you scratch it for me?’”

“What happened? Did you and your girl have a fight?”

“She’s not a girl. We’re going to drive up to Tahoe this weekend and go skiing. She’s going to teach me.”

“I’ll be seeing you in the ortho unit on Monday.”

“Don’t be silly. I’m staying on the bunny hill. I’m planning to fall down a lot. It must be very safe to fall down in the snow. She will have to come and help me up every time. She’ll fall in love with me a thousand times more.”

A thousand times he’d flirted, a thousand times been taken too seriously, and then he brought these interesting people home to introduce them to me. He didn’t bring her home, though he kept talking about her. I made him leave. I didn’t want to beg. I can still remember the hurt, stunned look on his face when I told him to go.

“It’s true that we fight,” Hassan says. “But the fights—they’re very good, actually. Big scenes.”

Ever since we lived in Iran, I’ve been afraid for Hassan, the way you are afraid ever after for a child who’s long since recovered from some serious illness. I never want to be as afraid again as I was during those two years. He’d found work right away, consulting with construction crews who were building the roads and bridges and office towers of the Shah’s future, and he was popular with the crews. He told jokes; he brought pastries to the site, he had some story about a goat crossing a bridge that was meant to illustrate the principles of weight distribution. He shrugged when bribes had to be paid. And then he was taken in for questioning. He’d told a joke that everyone was telling: the Shah makes a phone call to hell, and when he asks the operator for the charges, he is told there aren’t any, it’s a local call. Hassan was picked up by the secret police at a job site, and one of the foremen risked his own neck by sending a worker to the house to tell us.

We were not sure where Hassan had been taken. His oldest brother made a few hopeless phone calls, and then we waited. We sat in the living room on chairs covered with crocheted doilies. Later that afternoon Hassan walked in the door with his jacket over his arm, his shirt soaked through with sweat. He had to work a little, this time, at being himself. “Nothing to worry about,” he said. He had only been questioned for a few hours, the SAVAK men had let him off easy. His mother cried, and he promised her he would be careful, he’d tell a different joke the next time.

I was afraid whenever he left the house after that. I never ran into trouble on the street; I dyed my hair brown and wore a scarf like Hassan’s sister, gave shots at the clinic where I’d found useful work and stopped trying to make conversation with the patients. But Hassan could not choose to be careful. Some urge in him that he couldn’t repress would prompt him to make up a story about materials disappearing daily from the job site, or burst out singing some American rock song, or flare up when his instructions for placing re-bar hadn’t been followed to the letter.

Any of these things could have sealed his fate, and that didn’t change when the revolution came, relatively bloodless but not peaceful. Hassan greeted the revolution with anticipation—from such ardor anything might flow. He could no longer find work as an engineer, but he could teach math to high school students. Only he could not help sympathizing with faculty who were denounced by their students. He would not relinquish the necktie he so hated, because someone wished to make him. He would not give up visiting friends in the evening, even though the guards at the checkpoints on the road beat anyone they suspected of drinking. He chewed parsley to disguise the smell of liquor on his breath.

The frenzy would die down soon, Hassan said. Ayatollah Khomeini loved the Sufi poet Rumi, had written poems himself as a younger man. When the komitehs began to appear and issue their own laws over their neighborhood fiefdoms, because the revolution had succeeded so far in advance of its ability to govern, Hassan was the one who stood in line to get permission to buy food, fluid at the task of bartering, teasing and cajoling the armed young men who wanted not bribes but a tithe for the mullahs. He’d joke, to them, that the cost of living hadn’t changed a bit.

Hassan’s sister left the country, smuggling out jewelry as insurance not just for herself but for the rest of the family. His family wanted Hassan to go next. But Persians prefer not to confront one another. They chose intermediaries—an aunt, an uncle—to hint at this. Without result. I felt as if my nerves had been soaked in some flammable solution, priming me, forever, for dread. I burst into tears one day when Hassan came home from the market, on time, as promised. Hassan applied for an exit visa a week later, but he was refused. Finally we left illegally, crossing the border into Turkey on foot, like refugees. From there we returned to America, a place where his impulsiveness would not cost him his life.

Hassan cancels on the next Tuesday but comes the following week. I arrive after he does. I don’t want to sit and wait for him. He serves me dolmeh, rice flecked with the golden bits of crust and sprinkled with saffron threads, duck baked with pomegranates and basted with their juice. He brings a bottle of vodka this time and fills two tumblers full. If I didn’t know better, I’d accuse Hassan of courting me.

“Why are we getting drunk?” I ask.

“You know I like vodka,” he says. “And I have to celebrate. I believe I’ve been demoted again.”


“They’re claiming we’ve raised enough money to hire someone whose job it is to raise money, so I can concentrate on event planning. They put it very nicely.” He sighs. “I must have said something to that woman that I can’t remember.”

“I had no idea they were so Puritan.”

“It’s inevitable,” Hassan says. “It’s been coming for a long time.”

“Don’t be too unhappy.”

He smiles at me. “They’re taking away from me the part of my job that I hate the most. Really, I should celebrate. Life is good. We have a plan afoot to hold regional conferences, and this would be a great thing. Give little countries a chance to solve their problems for themselves. Oh! And I didn’t break any bones when we went skiing.”

“Why do you have to tempt fate?”

“It was an adventure. And did I tell you I am going to be on the stage? Monica and I are going to be extras in the opera. She gets to sing a few lines. I get to stand at the back and hold a spear.”

He’s still slender, and he has the kind of dark, striking looks that come across well on stage. There’s a reason so many women have misread his intentions.

“Will you come to see me?” Hassan asks.

“No. I’d like to see you, but I’ll pass on seeing her.”

He looks stricken.

“I just don’t want to have to set eyes on her and discover she’s a luscious young thing. I’d rather think of her as nothing special. Kind of dumpy.”

“Will you feel better if I tell you things are not perfect with us?”

“She’s not dumpy, is she?”

“Because she’s mad at me. I’m in the doghouse. I banged up the car on the way home from a planning meeting last week. I hit a pole when I was backing out of a parking spot, and that doesn’t even really count. But now she’s thinking I’m drinking too much, that’s the reason. I ask her if she wants to sign on as a consultant to my boss, she throws things. My God, she throws my shoes out the window, so I’ll have to go downstairs to get them and she can lock me out. It’s terrible.”

“That’s why you brought the vodka.”

“If it’s good vodka,” he says, “no one can smell it on your breath.”

“Isn’t this a case of the pot calling the kettle black? Didn’t you tell me she drags a bottle of brandy to bed and wakes you up in the middle of the night?”

“But you see, this is the rub. She threw out the last of her very good brandy. She wants to prove to me that this is important to her. She will do anything for me. She will quit drinking with me.”

“Now that I didn’t expect,” I say. “I thought she was supposed to be so arty.”

“I know. But no. She is strict. So, all right, I say to myself, this would be a sacrifice. But then I want to know, what could be on the other side of that? What would it be like? Do you think I should quit? Maybe I should try it.”

Hassan pours himself another tumbler of vodka. “So. We toast. Here’s to our friends and well-wishers. Here’s to my last glass of vodka.”

We clink glasses.

“Also,” he says. “She turns out to be jealous. She wants to know why I have to come and have dinner with you.”
What story of me does he tell her, of all that binds us, without intending this consequence?

“Tell her I’m being a harridan about money,” I say. “That way she won’t worry.”

If I didn’t see him every week, I wouldn’t know if he had dinged a post or found a new crusade at work or fallen asleep at the wheel and awakened just in time.

Our first years back in the U.S., we worried all the time about Hassan’s family in Iran. His middle brother got out, but Hassan’s mother refused to leave, and so his oldest brother stayed with her. There was the hostage crisis, the gas shortage, the embargo; we had to contrive ways to get money to Hassan’s family, all illegal. Hassan’s sister came out to us from New York, where she’d first gone; she’d married and had a little boy and gotten divorced in short order, another worry. Hassan had difficulty finding work as an engineer—we persuaded ourselves it was the recession—and he didn’t like the work when he got it. Someone threw a cup of coffee at him one morning when he was in a long line at the gas station. He wouldn’t have told me, except that he ruined his sport coat trying to wash out the stain himself. “Well,” he said, “he called me a dirty Arab, and I decided it wasn’t a good time to inform him that I was Iranian, and Iranians are not Arabs.”

None of this could keep us from being happy. We lived carefully so Hassan could send money home, but we always had enough for little trips. We went away at least once a month, even if it was only to a friend’s cabin in Inverness. We enjoyed having our nephew in the house, making forts out of sofa cushions and filling the house with balloons for his birthday, and it was only a favor, not a duty, to give up a concert or a party when his mother needed us to watch him. I never agonized about my work the way Hassan did; I was already doing enough living after hours. We had huge, raucous parties. We invited Hassan’s fellow exiles, people he’d met at some futile political committee or on a construction site, a couple of nurses, teachers, his sister’s friends from graduate school. If people weren’t dancing, they were arguing fiercely, and Hassan would be in the middle of them, usually standing, wavering on his feet. He would tease and cajole and browbeat his friends in his desire for agreement. They must not complain so bitterly about Reagan; his election was necessary to the survival of the left in America, just as the frenzy in Iran was every day making possible the triumph of democracy and reason. I never argued; I plied people with food and drink and smiled a lot. I was a bleached blonde then, with a collection of beaded and silky dresses I wore for these parties, and I enjoyed the dismay and suspicion of some of Hassan’s friends, their assumption that the marriage must be about sex. I wanted them to think that.

Once, for a Fourth of July party, Hassan smuggled in some fireworks from Oregon, and he set them off in the backyard of our rented house, surrounded by an audience, of course. One of the Roman candles misfired and shot into the pine tree that shaded the yard. The tree ignited like a torch, its trunk becoming a slender column of flame. Someone called the fire department; I hid what was left of the fireworks; and Hassan got the hose and doused the fire. We should have been arrested, but Hassan convinced the firefighters that a spark from the barbecue had ignited the tree. Hours later, after everyone had gone home, I was still nervous that a spark might re-ignite in that dry Monterey pine. So Hassan and I kept vigil in the yard, wrapped in blankets, looking up through the blackened branches at the stars. In his arms, I fell asleep to the sound of the pinecones in the tree snapping and crackling, releasing the residual heat and energy of the fire.

Hassan cancels on me two Tuesdays in a row. When he calls the next Tuesday afternoon, to cancel again, I tell him I don’t want to hear another made-up excuse. He doesn’t have to torture me; he can just say that he won’t be coming anymore.

No, no, no, he says, that’s not it. He is silent for a moment. “I stopped drinking. Pretty much. I am supposed to go to the AA meeting on Tuesday night.”

“That’s where you’ve been?”

“No, no. Tonight is the first time. This is a condition—a big condition—she sets for me. I don’t know about this. I’m not very good at organized activities.”

“Where is this meeting? I could meet you when it’s over, and we could go for pizza.”

“Would you?” he says. “Would you come in with me, just this first time?”

“Isn’t that against the rules?”

“If we have to, we will come up with a story for you to confess too.”

I consider staying home alone. I’ve been trying to break that habit. I’ve been dating a guy I met at work, a medical-instrument salesman who sat in on surgery to demonstrate a new arthroscope. We’ve gone out for two Saturdays in a row. We kissed on the second date, a chaste, closed-mouth kiss.

“Give me the address.”

Hassan is waiting for me outside the church social room. When we go inside, the meeting is already underway, so we find seats in the back. People take turns going to the front of the room to announce that they are alcoholics. Some of them describe their most recent temptation, others tell stories of the way that alcohol has rotted their lives. A man does not know how to begin to beg his children for forgiveness. A woman describes how she followed the AA formula for resisting temptation: she stopped to register her emotion, unburdened herself of her anger, got a good night’s sleep, made sure she ate a hearty breakfast. Hassan whispers in my ear, “She looks like she eats a hearty breakfast.” After a few more minutes, he nudges me again. “Why does everybody discover that they drink for the exact same reasons? Why do you have to go to bed at exactly 10 P.M. to stay sober?”

I giggle. He snickers. The urge to laugh becomes so strong that it’s like a spasm. Soon both of us are shaking with the effort to stifle our laughter.

We beat a hasty retreat, shutting the door quietly behind us, and once we are outside, we yield to the irresistible impulse to hoot and howl.

We sit on the back bumper of my car while we decide where to go. Hassan says he would really like a drink. He holds out his hand, level and steady. “I am not shaking or anything. So I cannot be addicted. Which means I can have a drink.”

He sits so that his shoulder touches mine. “This AA,” he says. “This indoctrination. I can’t stomach it.”

I wonder if he is even conscious of his mania for contact. When I closed my eyes to kiss that salesman, I felt careful, vigilant, the way I am in surgery, where it’s my job, not the surgeon’s, to preserve the sterile field. “You don’t have to come to these meetings,” I say. “You don’t even have to quit drinking.”

“I just jumped off that cliff—sure, sure, I would promise this woman the moon, and they’ll stop nagging me at work into the bargain. What did I do this for? I must be a crazy alcoholic. I act like one.”

He takes my hand, and my fingers grip his instinctively.

I am so intently focused on his hand in mine that it hurts. As if I’m a new wife, not one accustomed to this habit.

Hassan kicks at the bumper of the car. “You know, she doesn’t eat, all day. So many opera singers are fat, maybe it’s an edge for her if she can starve herself. And I hate this in her.”

My patience, my forbearance, has finally been rewarded. I am a new wife. I am again stealing off to the garden to indulge my delirium. Here are the roses, the salvia, the vine that cunningly, effortlessly routes its growth toward the light.

“I can’t stop myself from trying to tempt her,” Hassan says. “Eat, eat, eat! It’s myself I’m trying to encourage. I’m not so greedy as I thought.”

I did not worry when Hassan curled up into a silent mourning after his mother died. It was in his nature. No half-measures. He re-read all her letters, thin onionskin pages saved for years in a fat manila envelope. One night I sat with him while he read. He said, “We should have had children.” He never said it to me again. He didn’t really mean it. He was grieving.

Hassan makes a sound that is not quite a laugh, not quite a moan. “Why have I done this to you? Behaving like an idiot! And what for?”

He lifts an arm, but something catches at the gesture, and he lets his hand drop heavily in his lap.

When I want him to flow like water over stone.

I watch his face for a moment. I begin the story for him. I tell him, “You fell in love.”

He seems to gather himself. And then, he’s off. “It’s terrible, this kind of love. Always butting heads. Always struggling.”

I let him lean against me. Soon all those AA people will come out of their meeting and give us dirty looks. I’ve been afraid for too long to register so small a threat. Only I didn’t know enough to be frightened all those years ago, when those men were marching in the street, flogging their bodies, driving themselves forward.