MELISSA HUNTER GURNEY
If I had children you’d come see me more. This is what the woman told her mother. She said it without thinking about the depths. When she thought about the depths she realized it was absolutely true - grandparents were supposed to be around just like women were supposed to get married and have children. If she had children they’d be there more. She knew what she said was hurtful but she also knew it was accurate. When they got off the phone she imagined it. There’d be a guest room for them to stay in. Her mom and her would wake up in the woman’s kitchen tired eyed, wearing colorful muumuus they bought each other at some point and they’d read, write and drink coffee together. Her dad would come out a half hour later and he’d talk so much the woman would have to go find a quiet place - her mom would roll her eyes at her, knowing her need for solitude and wishing she was ever allowed that privilege. No, no. . . wait, the woman shook her head. She forgot about the kids part. There would be kids not reading and writing and sneaking away for solitude. The kids would be running around the kitchen wanting of someone to see them or maybe her kids would be quiet like her in the morning - maybe they’d be sitting, staring at a wall of books and the woman would be writing next to them. Either way, because her mother was there she’d be able to write - her mother would allow her that privilege - it’s one of the reasons she’d be there. She’d be there because she cared about her daughter’s creative side - knew it kept her sane. Knew she wouldn’t give it up for kids. Knew she needed help to keep a vision rooted in before. Her partner would be sleeping - he went to bed so much later than her. His mind was one of the wild night kinds. Maybe her kids would be that way too.
The woman shook her head again. What was the point, the woman didn’t have children. There wouldn’t be mornings like this one in the kitchen of a home she didn’t have. She envisioned herself drinking coffee at the art space her and her partner built, creative work all around her. No one had to leave she’d already had a place of solitude. Her creations would grow while her belly shrunk. Her mother and her would still buy each other muumuus. Her partner would still have a mind of the wild nighttime kind. Her father would still interrupt the silence. Maybe she’d call her mother and ask if she could come in on Sunday to drink coffee, hang out and decorate the art space with her. Maybe they could wear muumuus too.
Something about the thought of muumuus brought her to her own death. It wasn’t a thought of her dying it was a thought of her wearing a muumuu when she did. Wanting to be put in a bright, handmade muumuu from Ecuador or Chile or one of the countries she loved. A muumuu she found along her travels. Her mother would have to be buried in one too. There were no midwives for death. That is what she thought when she heard a woman named Bichita tell the story of her husbands passing. Bichita’s husband was murdered on the job. He was a cop, she was a priestess. They took his body from her and she followed it to the coroner. She told him she wanted to be the one to clean and dress him - my eyes, not a stranger's. Not a stranger's eyes she repeated until they heard her. The coroner called the police and told them about her request because he hadn’t been faced with a request like this before. He found it strange. He was the stranger and he found it strange. The police sent two officers over to accompany the priestess while she did it. Their exact words were if anything uncomfortable happens we’ll have to stop you.
The woman thought the term “uncomfortable” was odd. What about death was comfortable? It was also odd that the word “uncomfortable” would be reserved for a wife bathing and dressing her own dead husband rather than a stranger. She didn’t understand why they would have chosen a word like that. She remembered her x-husband saying it to her in an email. He told her he felt “uncomfortable” picking up his stuff, and the engagement ring, at her parents’ house considering what happened. Which meant considering he was gay and married her anyway, considering he cheated on her regularly for six years - the same six years he told her he loved her and rubbed his nose against her eye lashes to sniff in the magic. His exact words were:
As you know, it is an uncomfortable situation for me to come to your parents house to pick up my stuff.
She wrote him back and used the word “uncomfortable” over and over. She sat in bed wearing a muumuu as she did it.
It was uncomfortable for me when you walked out of my car that day and told me, that even though you loved me, I was dead to you now. It was uncomfortable for me when you decided to disclose your indiscretions before our marriage too, forcing me to accept nothing was ever what I thought it was. It was uncomfortable for me when I tried to sensitively confront you about the emails I found to Juan and Hector and you tried to manipulate me into thinking I was crazy - creating something that didn't exist. And, it's beyond uncomfortable for me that you don't feel the need to apologize for any of it.
So, I do truly understand how uncomfortable experiences can be. My first instinct has always been to make things comfortable for you but now I have to think about what makes things comfortable for me. And as uncomfortable as it is to write all of this knowing you will respond without emotion, I need you to get your stuff so I can move on, so I don't have to worry about the emotions which come with cold logistical contacts.
Is there any time on Saturday that is inconvenient for the stuff to be picked up? I plan on hiring a courier service.
Cold and Logistical like the priestess’ husband as he lay on the metal slab dead to her needs as she dressed him.
It might be this sentiment that veered the woman away from having kids. A man who said he loved her more than he ever loved anything in his life. A man who sat across from her one day and asked her if there was one thing he should never do, one thing that would hurt her most - what was it? She told him. I never want to be cheated on again. I never want to be lied to about being cheated on again. I never want someone to tell me they love me while lying and cheating on me again. My insides took years to repair. I don’t know if they will be repairable a second time. Her soon to be husband reached across the table, put his hands on hers and told her she never had to worry about him. Then, he started laughing and crying at the same time. Laughing because he loved her so much he was crying for her pain and crying because he loved her so much he was crying for her pain. That’s what he said. When they got married in her backyard they both laughed, cried too. It’s what they did when they loved each other so much one reaction wasn’t enough.
* * *
She thought about her partner now. He was the most honest person she’d come in contact with. His honesty hurt sometimes. The last time it hurt was the time he mapped out his problems for her. He put categories like: work, family, apartment, art space, roommates, health, partner, friends, women he sleeps with sometimes (the woman and her partner were not monogamous, she had not been in a monogamous relationship since the divorce eight years ago). His point in outlining all the categories was to show her how stressful each part of his life was. One of the things he listed under partner, which meant her, was a bunch of arrows to art space which listed things like: money, time, rent, moving, emails and he said since they’d been working together so much he connected her with the stresses that came with work rather than getting to escape the stresses of work and life when he was with her. The category next to hers was women I sleep with sometimes and they were not connected to stressors - the only issue with them was time. He didn’t have enough time to give to them. The woman felt a small part of her heart fall off inside of her. It hit the bottom of her stomach and sat there for the next week. It was in that conversation that the woman was honest too. She said the problem six years into their relationship was clear. She said, she wanted to commit to life long partnership, she wanted to live with her partner, she wanted to build with her partner, she wanted to attack stress together, she wanted to have more time not less and he wanted a balanced list. She said it with a smile rather than tears because she knew tears stressed him out. He’d actually asked her not to cry before he started mapping out his life for her. The cry, laugh wouldn’t be something acceptable here. She liked that honesty too. After the charting and the smiling her partner pulled her close and said, it’s not that I don’t want what you want - life partnership, building together - I do. But I have to look at the reality and right now you are one of the only areas of my life where I feel happy. I can’t let that happen. I can’t make you the only happiness I have. It’s the other areas I have to concentrate on right now. When he said “other areas” he didn’t mean other women and she knew that but she told him all she was thinking about was the map showing her connected to stressors, birthing them almost, and the women he sleeps with sometimes disconnected - maybe that was the point. She doesn’t remember what he said next but she knows whatever it was - it was kind, meaningful and honest. Not cold or logistical. He pulled her close to him on the couch and they lay there wrapped in each other. It was a hot summer night and she could hear the crickets chirping outside the window. Her partner did not like being cold - he always wanted heat - as much heat as he could get. If he were to die before her - which she hoped would never happen - she would bring a down comforter to him, get on top of the metal slab he was laying on and wrap her body and the blanket around him. She’d whisper in his ear, You ignited me, opened me up, persuaded that fire to spread in my bones. Then you left me to burn. She would lie there until his body, now an object, took some heat back and then she would dress him in the beautiful orange and white silk garments someone brought him from India. He would look like the largeness she saw in him, the wizard he said he was. When she got home she’d put on a muumuu, lay her hands on her belly and stare at the wall of books, like her imagined children may have, while she wrote.