The night after Elliot proposed, I woke up suddenly in the dark, thirsty for something. When I turned on the kitchen light, there were three giant waterbugs creeping out of the drain in my sink, waving their roachy antennae.
Not long after the bugs started crawling out of my sink, the diamond on my engagement ring fell off. On a hike outside the city, I suddenly caught sight of the empty band on my finger, and searched among the dry leaves around me. Eventually I found it, burrowed into the layers of decaying forest where the grubs and beetles hide. At first, I thought this was proof of the ring’s inferiority, that it must be fake, to fall apart so easily, the diamond only glass. I took both the diamond and the ring in to a jeweler who peered at the pieces dispassionately and agreed to fix it for a fee. Embarrassed by my need to know, I asked,
“It’s not real, right? It’s a fake diamond?” The jeweler said she would check. I wondered how often this happened, women bringing in their rings to ask, ‘Is it real?’ ‘Can I trust it?’
Marriage had always felt to me like a place we go to sit around in, waiting to be hurt. When my father left my mother for the second time, she locked tight metal braces on her teeth, as though a straighter smile would have saved the relationship. I decided this must be a way to postpone the inevitable pain of being left. But my teeth have always been misshapen. My overbite gets worse with age.
When the day came, I walked stiff-necked down the aisle, sure it was a set up. At our wedding reception, a crowd of hearty guests lifted me and Elliot triumphantly in the air, while I clenched the edge of my chair and shrieked, certain I was about to be dropped. My father, in a peacock bowtie, danced with his second (soon-to-be-ex) wife, tall and blond. My mother’s boyfriend vanished.
During the toasts, deer tics bit our ankles, and guests contracted Lyme disease. Later, along with the thank you cards, we composed a health warning. At our wedding you may have been bitten by an insect carrying a debilitating disease, possibly untreatable. If you have been feeling unwell, please see a doctor immediately.
By the end of the reception, it was pouring. Elliot and I were halfway back to our hotel when my mother called to tell us that there was an emergency—the bus driver who was transporting our wedding guests had driven into the side of a barn. The barn roof crashed through the bus windows, showering the riders with shards of glass. When we returned to the farm, we found women shaking slivers out of their party dresses, a giant sheet of corrugated metal hanging askew, its torn edge gleaming. At the time I thought this was a fitting symbol of failed unions. But now my memory of the night reminds me that love requires a familiarity with jagged edges, a willingness to risk the threat of tear.
On our third wedding anniversary, the world was hanging askew, its torn edge gleaming. Elliot and I were living in the middle of a pandemic in New York City. An unfamiliar virus was infesting human bodies around the world. I had been sick for months. We ordered take out and had a picnic on our living room rug, our daughter sitting between us running a mild tantrum. I should have been miserable, but I was not. I remember thinking that in July of 2020 most things were uncertain—my marriage only one uncertain thing among the many.
Now, we’re still living in a pandemic. I’m pregnant again, but Elliot can’t come to any of the prenatal appointments because additional bodies spread additional virus particles. By the time I’m in my second trimester, the numbers of new COVID cases in New York City are staggering, and the prognosis for pregnant patients is bleak. Given the level of risk associated with it, I decide not to get my hair cut in a salon. I ask Elliot to do the same. We both normally keep our hair short, so it isn’t long before we are shaggy and misshapen.
Finally, we meet at night, in the bathroom, with the scissors. I wet Elliot’s head and stare down the barrel of his center part. At first, I trim tentatively, worried I will slip. Soon, I become bolder, thick chunks of old hair falling to the floor like snow. It looks like our bathroom has grown fur. Then, we switch. I sit on the stool in front of him, the back of my neck exposed. I hear the sound of blades moving close to my ears. When we finish, we stand and grin at our crooked reflections in the mirror, our cheeks close together, our hair almost as uneven as my teeth.