It is impossible to run from the truth of him anymore. Without another man to hide behind, my naked heart receives the full blow. He walks into the house to drop off our son and he towers now in a way he never did. The sensation is not desire but it is similar enough to make the ground tremble. He is not the weak one anymore. That role is mine now.
In the Saturday sun, Bug and I pound a volleyball back and forth before picking our way through brambles at the neighborhood park. Our path takes us around by the community gardens where folks till black soil into stirring plots. An erratic series of reports through the brush leads us to a basketball court glistening with a damp frenzy of male limbs. We watch for a moment before climbing a hill to a buttery yellow house trimmed in white.
“Right here, buddy,” I say. My feet find their way to the precise spot. For a blink, everything is a bright a June day. Bug climbs up behind me.
“Right here what?”
“This,” I say, spreading my hands, “is the spot where your daddy and I got married. He was there looking at me. This tree was absolutely covered in white blossoms.” Back then, two of the flowering trees had stood side-by-side. The arch studded with sunflowers had formed a bridge under the canopy of snowy petals. Now the larger twin is gone and just one tree stands bare. Eight years have passed. There isn’t even a trace, not one scar in the earth. Bug and I gaze all around the grass as it makes its tentative appearance into early spring. A few pink and purple pansies have been planted in mulch by the door.
“Everyone was in chairs here. Your grandmas and grandpas, all your aunts and uncles and cousins.” I retrace my steps backwards along the path I took holding my father’s arm. Oh, how I had laughed during that walk! The giddiness returns in a shiver. It is as potent as the moment I strode out between all the people I loved towards Tee, sweating and grinning there by the blooms.
“Were you embarrassed?” Bug asks as he follows me. We make our way through the trees and down to the tennis courts.
“You were in front of all those people.”
“No,” I say. “I was happy.”
Bug darts ahead into an empty court. A brisk wind has been cutting into our collars. Bug follows the white lines, kneeling occasionally to press his cheek to the sun-warmed clay. On the neighboring courts, groups of doubles thwack and scrape, hollering at one another. We make our way around the back and look for the next trail into the woods. A man calls out and asks us to toss back a ball.
“Where?” I ask.
He shrugs and laughs. “Somewhere out there.”
We walk on, scanning. “I see it!” Bug hollers. Hiding in the grass is a lighter shade of green. He grabs the ball and races up to the fence. It is chain link nearly two stories high. Bug stops a few feet from the edge, pulls back, and hurls the ball. It sails up and over, clearing the top by at least twelve inches. Everyone on the court whoops and cheers. Bug’s pink face shines.
Early in our courtship, Tee spent weeks teaching me how to throw a baseball. First he had to un-teach me and then I practiced the awkward new pitch until it became second nature. In the field near his apartment, I could send that ball soaring over the power lines. He had to walk further and further back to catch it, and he smiled so big and called out his praise when it really flew. “Can you feel the difference? I can see it!”
The return of my maiden name has restored other lesser lords to their previous stations. Old muscle memory has regained its dominion. Solitude has settled back onto its cinderblock throne. This regime was not democratically elected, and so it happens that it is not easily unseated. I understand now that a coup d’epouse is an impermanent solution to the challenges of becoming a truly human creature.
That passage from the white-trimmed door to that lush duet of foliage is now only a neural pathway. It turns out I could not plant a new civilization in the soil of me just by crossing those 20 feet. Like the whole of the absent sister tree, the petals I remember are black earth now. Neither grass nor root has a record of our covenant.
Bug and I walk on. The yellow house where I donned my white dress recedes behind us. The park is not just the place where Tee and I married. It is the place where Bug celebrated his 5th birthday, burying pirate treasure in the volleyball sand with his preschool friends. It is the place where a visiting friend joined me on a stroll earlier this winter and we stumbled across fallow garden plots I did not know existed.
It is the place my son shows me that he has inherited not only his daddy’s pink glow but his throwing arm, too. Undoubtedly, he will be as ignorant of the rarity of his innate athleticism as he is of his fortune in the assignment of fathers.
Today, it is where I learn that I did love that man once. And it is where I practice walking under the weight of my own name in the other direction.
As it turns out, a swath of awakening earth is up ahead, warming itself for my arrival.