Lisa Carver and Nerve.com
I think it started when the Wedding Reception card came in the mail from Dave’s parents, who were going to a great deal of expense and trouble to put it on. “Wedding” was spelled out in big, fancy, mauve letters. My first thought was there had to be some mistake, as if the card was informing me I was overdue to pick up my ten purple dinosaur costumes at the dry cleaner’s. I’m not sure what it was Dave and I thought all along we were about to do, but suddenly it became clear that this was a real thing, something that could not be called off. This, of course, brought to mind the concept of calling it off. I held the invite up for Dave to see. He gulped and looked away and then back at me and said, “I know.”
Suddenly everything looked like a reason to break up. We rented Titanic, and fought over the scene where the officer jumped into the lifeboat ahead of other people. I said I’d rather die than have no honor. Dave said he’d rather live. Well I can’t marry you then, I thought. This is it. End of the line. We’re just made too different.
How he shops was another reason to leave him forever. He found a wedding suit that was perfect, and it was the only one they had, but he didn’t buy it because he wanted to “think” about it. What’s to think about? When I wanted a new car, I took the cash and pointed at the car I wanted and drove it home the same day. When I first saw Dave, I pointed at him and said, You’re for me, let’s go. He, on the other hand, went back and forth about his car, studied automotive figures, kept visiting the car and going home without it. He did the same thing with me. It was dawning on me that I would be trapped in the same house with all that thinking and weighing and slow shopping for the rest of my life.
Dave was eyeing me suspiciously all weekend too, finding insult and evidence of character flaws in my every word and action. He realized he was conscripting himself to my tremendous battalion of bad habits and unabidable quirks. He had horror-face. The only thing going okay was sex and even that was combative, like we were mountain-climbing over each other to reach our own orgasms, not caring if we gouged each other’s flesh making footholds where there’d been none. When you feel like you’re about to fall from a terrible height, you don’t notice the damage you inflict in your struggle to hang on. I’d be on top of him, looking at him, and my thoughts would go like this: Do I really have to spend the next fifty years with this wretched being? He does have really nice eyes though, doesn’t he?
I’d come to know his face so well; sifted into its curves and lines were reminders of every gift and kind word he’d given me and all the funny things he’d done. And those lips kissing mine were the same ones that had slighted me, that had traveled up and down strange women while I waited at home for his call.
Then even the sex got bad. That’s not true it was actually super good. I couldn’t come, which had never happened before except as a game, so Dave was trying extra hard. He was doing about ten things to me at once. We both waited for my orgasm with bated breath, confused and scared, as if it was the last train home that hadn’t showed up. He did everything he knew how which is everything to me, until dawn painted the room in red and purple stripes. The colors made me think about last fourth of July, shortly after I’d first met Dave. Our respective parties were supposed to find each other on the beach to watch the fireworks, but it was so crowded and chaotic we never did meet. Much later he told me how disappointed he’d been, because he thought I’d probably have some cute friends with me. I knew all along that I’d liked him first, that I’d chased him, and it never bothered me before, but this morning I found myself hating him for his year-ago-self sitting there under the lit-up sky wanting to make the moves on my imaginary cool friends while I’d been running my fingers dreamily through the same sand under that same sky, thinking of him. And I couldn’t come.
We gave up. For a very long time we lay there, not talking, not moving. Then he spoke: “What do you want?” He was angry.
“I wish you liked me again, and thought I was the prettiest woman in the world again.”
“Well you haven’t been doing anything likeable lately,” he retorted. I wrapped a sheet around me and went downstairs, almost decapitating the door knob with my hip bone on my way out.
Lyle picked that moment to re-enter my life by calling up drunk and asking me to not marry Dave, to marry him instead, and promising that this time he’d have sex with me. At least I think that’s what he said it’s hard to tell when someone speaks in symbols and referents. He was practically in tears over a five-year-old boy who’d died of heat stroke in Chicago in 1995 or so. Somehow this related to how he and I understood each other and should live together on a cool and breezy farm, talking about stuff, eating apples off the tree. It was appealing. Going back to him would be like going back to sleep in the morning.
But after the drama of winning me back, Lyle would have about as much interest in remaining my husband as a hostage would in getting an apartment with his former captor. Dave was willing to take me all the way, even at seven a.m., with my angry, non-orgasm-producing body and my hair hanging in my face like a curtain in need of ironing.
I went back upstairs and crawled into bed with him. “You’ve been thinking about calling it off,” he said.
I nodded. “You too?” He nodded. We stared at each other.
“Well,” he said, “Do you want to marry me?” He didn’t try to make it sound attractive. His voice was blunt, and so was his face.
It had been easy to say yes on the Bridge of Rialto, with ships’ lights and drifting fog making our faces extra-good-looking and every problem distant, every plan easy. Now we were sitting on my unmade bed in my uncleaned room, hot sunlight illuminating every imperfection, harsh words fresh in our memories, and plans were no longer dreams they were thousand-dollar mortgage payments every month for the next thirty years. Here was the last chance to run away from it all. The last chance to still be a runner.
The first time he’d asked, he was breathless, and my answer rolled out of me like the fog rolling up off the water. This time, I didn’t know what I would say. People are annoying. Nothing against Dave they’re all annoying, every single one, and they’re always capable of surprising me by finding yet more ways to be so. All in all, Dave’s easy to take. Graded on a curve, he gets a hundred. He soothes my savage, silent tempers and keeps me satisfied. I don’t even know who I am without Dave anymore. I don’t know what I was like as Daveless me. But that’s just it: heartbreak and loneliness feel like adventure to me, they never fail to bring previously unconsidered possibilities.
I thought of how Dave thinks it’s cute that he bites his fingers till they bleed, how neither logic nor begging nor barked orders ever stop the gnawing for more than half an hour, and never would. Then I thought about how he’s never once complained about how I complain about the habit every single day. He lets me nag him and change his hairstyle and clothes, and gives in to my desires in a thousand different ways, and he just laughs when I’m bad-tempered. If he hadn’t let me rape him during that steroid-crazed bronchitis fit, I think it would have been the most miserable night of my existence. (Another man might have insisted on his right to sleep.) He makes good songs and peculiar jokes and has a great ass. He calls me ten times a day and only cheats when he has permission. Though he teases and tortures me, he does it for fun; he stops just short of breaking me down. In serious matters, he displays dignity and kindness. I was getting a great deal. I said yes.
I said yes on one condition: if we made a pact to never again treat each other so vilely, and to show each other at least some of the politeness we manage to give acquaintances. We shook on it. And then promptly started fighting an hour later. We were walking downtown when he revealed that he was displeased about moving to Dover and going to the Adirondacks for a honeymoon. He wanted to go back to Italy instead.
“You’re never satisfied with anything!” I cried. “You’re a vacillating, miserable man, and you must not want to really marry me, or else why would you drag your heels over every aspect of it?” Two fat tears fell out of my eyes. “What’s wrong with Dover anyway? Triple-A named it the number one town to move to in 1986!”
He kissed my face and I caught him trying to sneak licking a tear. I felt his pants; it was just as I’d suspected.
“You’re weird,” I said. “Why do you get an erection when I cry?”
“Because you look so pretty. Lisa, I am happy to be marrying you. I feel like I won the lottery. I’ve been a beast this weekend, and I don’t blame you for being upset with me. What can I do to prove I love you and I’m truly sorry?”
I told him he had to apologize to Dover by rolling around Dover Commons (a brick circular yard and a fountain that doesn’t work the centerpiece of our town) with a happy expression on his face. He did it. “Happier-looking! Happier!” I exhorted. “Roll like you mean it!” A truckdriver slowed down and whistled. Dave got flustered and tried to run away, but he tripped over a sprinkler. He was tangled up with the hose, getting soaked it was like a Charlie Chaplin movie or a dream where you flee but don’t cover any ground. It was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever seen. What if the muscleman driver had tied us up in the back of his truck and raped us on the outskirts of town? What a funny ending to our pre-marital squabbling that would be.