I Kiss Your Shoulder at First Light

Dear Kathy,

I don’t know exactly what time it is, but I’m awake. Strange, I’m still tired. It’s almost like I woke up so that I could lay here and feel my fatigue. As today’s first light shows through the boulevard’s maples, I kiss your bare shoulder. Quietly. Softly. I kiss your shoulder and rest my hand on your back.

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Dawn shines through the Shenley Drive maples.

I’ve been tethered to myself lately, reckoning the distance between the man I am and the man I long to be and shaking my head. The destination is over the horizon, and the road is black ice. So I kiss your shoulder to say, “I’m more grateful for you than you can imagine,” without spoiling your last hour of sleep. There’s no reason for both of us to look out the window and contemplate mortality and, at least in my case, feel fat.

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Cole’s legs and my belly: I don’t know how to break this to you, Kath, but I’m pregnant.

That’s another thing: I glimpse myself walking by windows and see the reflection of an animated pudgy-guy butter sculpture. You may remember a time when I cleaned up pretty well, when I didn’t grunt when bending over. I do the weight loss calculations and string together a couple of interior expletives: 3500 calories x the 50 lbs. I want to lose = $%#&! So, again, without your knowing it, I kiss your shoulder. And at the moment, my hand still rests on your back—a fragile man steadying himself.

Since I’ll get a nap this afternoon, I stay awake in gratitude. You don’t mope around, gazing into your naval and mentally kvetching about your wounds and flaws. Instead, you do shit, extremely beautiful and useful shit. When we needed a roof, you said, “I can do that,” and you did. Even though you used to faint at the sight of blood, you said, “I do believe I’ll become a nurse,” and then you hauled off and did it. Now, you not only treat cancer patients, but you look at them with compassionate eyes. When the downstairs bathroom got shabby, you remodeled the bad boy.

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That’s some fine tile work . . . especially for a rookie.

And over the last few months, while I’ve napped, you’ve tended plants. This summer we’ll have tomatoes, basil, cilantro, and peppers, and the yard will be a riot of color because you go to work for ten hours, then come home and head to your basement “greenhouse” to make sure no plant is thirsty.

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Even the animals love to hang with you in the basement greenhouse.

Now you’re awake. You roll toward me. I draw you close and kiss your boney elbow. (You could put somebody’s eye out with those elbows of yours.)

Understand, I’m not saying all these nice things about you because I’m entirely hot dog water. I’m a nice guy, patient, low-maintenance, and I do cook you some good food. I’m much less neurotic than I was years ago. That counts for something. I do more chores than back when I was a lazy slug. And I work as hard at writing as you do at gardening, though your produce tastes way better than mine.

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Pretty soon, my love, I’ll make you some pasta with pesto.

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It’s only May, and your flowers are already gorgeous.

The thing is, I sometimes wonder if you knew what you were getting into when you said “I do” on July 30, 1983. Elena and Matt have given us Cole, and Micah is making us proud. Good stuff! But you love the rush as a plane accelerates toward take off, and I’d rather snort wasabi than fly. You love to sail, and I’m always a-scared the boat will capsize. You like to ski and build snow forts, and I like to drink hot cocoa by a fire. In short, whatever the woman equivalent of a mensch is, that’s you. As a guy, I’m a fraidy cat, a poor man’s Woody Allen.

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Please be careful! Don’t stand so close to the edge!

I do lots of mulling over as I watch you sleep. Often without realizing it, my lips are drawn to your shoulder, cool from the open window. I rest my hand on your back, cooperate with love’s gravity, and kiss you so gently you don’t feel it—most of the time. Once in a while you go hmm, and I know you understand what I mean.

I mean I’m glad we’re together. The sight of you walking in the front door is a joy to me. Falling asleep and waking up next to you is unmerited grace. This is what I’ve been saying, kissing your shoulder this morning at first light.

Love,

John

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Flowers everywhere, including on our busted-ass back steps. This summer you’ll make them beautiful again, like you do everything else.