image by Stockarch.
Gina and her friends were already in the kitchen, sharing a bottle of Chardonnay they had brought over.
“Hey, Frannie,” Gina said, her toned arms opened wide. Her bronze summer skin glistened in the florescent light of the kitchen. Her jeans were skinny, her tank top tight.
“Hey Gina’” I said, and leaned in to hug her.
“Nick says you aren’t feeling great.”
“No, but I’m OK.”
I scooched myself up on the stool at the end of the counter. I turned at an angle, and crossed my legs, positioning my bigger than average chest in position to hide my bigger than average thighs.
“This is Kyre, Liz and Delia,” she introduced her friends, all dolled up for a night out. All tall, all thin, all with impossibly long slender necks. Like swans.
“Hi, nice to meet you.”
“Hey. Hi. Hey,” they replied.
“So, Nicky (Gina always called him Nicky) we were thinking, let’s let Fran relax, and we can go out – you guys live so close to Smith Street, there are plenty of places.”
“Well, I don’t want to leave her…” Nick said, but he looked over at me, his green eyes expectant. He was dressed up too, in that almost-hipster sort of way, black tee shirt, jeans, colorful sneakers. His money clip poked out of his front jeans pocket, a mechanical pencil was tucked behind his ear.
I didn’t want to tell him it was fine. I wanted him to want to stay home, burrow with me into our tiny double bed, rub my back, tell me I was still sexy, even after the day I’d had. Crohns disease can take a toll on you if you get stuck in the subway. I was still shaking.
“If you want to, you should go,” I said instead.
Of course I wanted him to decline, send Gina and her long-necked swans back out into the night. So I waited, also expectant.
“If you don’t mind, then OK, OK great, I’ll go.” he said, smiling wide.
I stayed perched on the stool while they gathered their clinking keys and lipsticks and phones and dumped them into tiny purses. As tiny as their hands.
“Feel better Fran,” Gina said and they all nodded in agreement. Nick hopped off of his stool and bounded towards me, catching me with a kiss on the forehead.
“Thanks babe,” he said and followed the girls out onto the street. I watched them from the window of our bedroom, the five of them walking at a quick clip down Pacific Street, soon swallowed up by the other bar-bound hipsters, like a stream filled with leather jacket wearing salmon.
Healthy people have always infuriated me. Especially in my twenties. Their flushed faces, their perky chests, their all nighters and their smoking/snorting/devil may care debauchery. Oh how I hated their vigor. My jealousy over their energy almost crushed me. And Nick was the healthiest of all. Unable to stop, with out limit, with out fear. He and I lived an early relationship of polar opposite, and I’m still surprised we stayed together.
A few hours later, I heard Nick struggling with the lock. I opened the door for him. I hadn’t been sleeping but I squinted into the light.
“Hey babe,” he said, and leaned in, missing my mouth by a mile.
“Are you ok?” I asked. It was a silly question, he was loaded.
“Fine,” he slurred.
“Did you have fun?”
I didn’t want to be annoyed; he was always skipping things to stay in with me, always having to miss the fun. I had Thyroid Cancer and Crohns disease for two years already, our relationship wasn’t that much older than that. But I felt a lot older than him.
But I was annoyed, I wanted to be coddled, I didn’t want him to be drunk, I wanted him to be there for me. I wanted him to just please understand.
“Yeah, we had a ball.”
“Good.” I was mad, why was I always mad?
“Gina is so great, I don’t know why I never dated her.” He walked into the kitchen and turned on the tap, he filled a big glass with water and gulped it down.
“What?” I hadn’t realized how drunk he was until he said that. I followed him into our small galley kitchen, trapping him between our red painted walls.
“I mean – in college I mean. That’s a girl who needs no maintenance.”
“I’m high maintenance?”
“Please, Fran, it’s not your fault, but you have a lot of stuff, with your health, with everything.”
“My girlfriend after you is going to be easy.”
“Easy?” I didn’t say what I wanted to say. After me? We lived together! There would be a girlfriend after me?”
“Well, look, Fran, I love you, I do, but you are not easy.”
My throat bumped up against my stomach.
“Are you saying you don’t want to be with me?”
“No, no. NO.” He said, stumbling towards me. I knew this wasn’t a good time to have this conversation. I knew he wouldn’t remember much of it, if at all. Which is maybe why I pushed it.
“You can leave if you want, you know. I’d understand.”
He shook his head. He put one hand up on the wall by my face. A small piece of drool flew from the corner of his mouth and hit me in the face as he smiled. I wiped my eye.
“No way, you’re my girl.”
I didn’t believe him all the way, especially after the “girlfriend after you,” comment. There was a part of me that wanted him to leave. That assumed that my life would be ridden with diseases like the two I had already endured–and that having a full life – one with adventure, laughter, children, love– might be too much to ask for. There was a part of me that felt he didn’t deserve to have to deal with all of that. But that part butt up against the other part, the part that loved Nick with a breath-taking fierceness, that saw a life forever together, and I’ll admit it, the part of me that needed him.
The next morning, Nick didn’t remember the conversation and I didn’t remind him. We went on with our weekend, and our life together, but there was a new wrinkle in it, one I couldn’t smooth out: I would never be easy.
Since then, there have been many times when it might have made sense for Nick to leave. Another of a thousand days in our Brooklyn apartment, a sick, sober me talking to a drunk, honest him. In the bathroom in Jamaica on a trip he took me on to recoup: me with blue fingernails, red raw skin, vomit in my throat; on the couch during a time where getting up was an impossible feat for me; when a long thin woman got out of a car with out wincing; looking at his passport longingly before putting it back in the top drawer of his desk; as the bank account drooped from alternative doctor care; our fury mounted, our fear sizzled, our tongues lashed. Our fire dulled.
That was when the cycle began, I think. The cycle of my own remission and then episode that has certainly done its part to define our relationship. He has always had understand my “can’ts” and my “wish I could’s” and its harder now because we have these two other tiny souls to protect. And sometimes I can’t do it. I can’t mother. It’s never easy.
But he is still here. We are both still here. My frenzied worry about him leaving is all but gone; deflated, like a weathered balloon. And I wonder when it happened. When did he decide he didn’t need it to be easy? When did I know that?
I asked him, just yesterday. Fifteen years of togetherness later. Two kids. A cat.
“What made you stay? Through all of that, when you were still just a kid yourself, what made you give up on it being easy?”
We were eating Malaysian food, spicy beef and peapods, steamed white rice. When he spoke and a plume of steam escaped his lips.
“I don’t want easy. I want you. It’s as simple and complicated as that.”