When I first considered marriage, I knew that I would die soon anyway. The doctors, as they were, did not have beards for scratching, did not wear white coats to say, I’m sterile, I cannot give you a thing. They had long names with syllables my mouth could not fit together just right. They had pictures of the small sea inside my pelvis, black and white landscapes gone pretty through a lens. Morphine, I told them, isn’t strong enough for this. There was a woman behind a curtain who could not hold her own information. Behind the curtain, there was a voice I never saw attached to anyone: are you there? And if the drugs would let me I would become the other side of her curtain: Your name is X. You live in X. You’ve had a stroke in X part of your brain. Your X is coming to visit you tomorrow. You’re going to recover your memory we all hope you’re going to recover your memory you’re going to recover your memory. For this, the nurses dragged me bed and all into a private room. In my private room, the walls were yellow, so the boy who already loved me continued to love me. On my body, I showed him all the black places where needles had been. When I first began to show signs of sudden death, he gave me pearls in a little box and sunglasses I’d seen in a movie once and the look of someone who had never really looked at someone at all. I was sleeping when a doctor put a tube inside my throat. We’re not sure what it is that’s causing this, he said, but we’re quite sure that there isn’t any cure.
The second time I made marriage in a man’s mouth, I left on an airplane. On the precipice over the night-lit valley, his mouth was still shaped into “My moon, my moon.” The moon, of course, was summer-drunk and ready to belong to anyone. There was a dog in the plaza that howled at the priests when they went marching in their long, white wedding dresses filled with smoke and smell. On the weekends, all the people on the cobblestone hillsides wore their wine glasses hung from strings around their necks. He begged me to sing on the empty church steps so that the sound would make an echo and come back to him and last forever. I wanted the moon to be mine, whatever that meant, what a sick-jealous heart I’d been tending. I found the word scioco in a book and used it to tease strangers in bakeries or bars. There was a fat, angry cat in every window in town, and every window looked out onto a postcard with me in the middle of it in one crooked alley or another. From the roof-top, his raised arms were a sonnet, they were everything I knew of sonnets. He was flat-footed on the street, something smaller than I’d remembered and aging, as he’d say, as anything worth drinking would. The middle of the night flight was late, and so was I.
When the next question came, it was more force than pop. He had made a book out of naming women he had touched “Girl # this or this.” I thought, “This is not what I know of good taste” when I should have thought “This is the most sexist thing I’ve ever known someone real to do.” If I had written that book, he said, there would be more numbers, so I was never allowed to speak this thought out loud. He said he loved me in a whisper in a hole-in-the-wall bar in Hollywood, and I stopped breathing out of fear. He put his whole weight around my throat against a wall, saying “Is this what a man does? Is this what a man does,” so I stopped breathing altogether. By counting freckles on one side of his face, I forgot nightmares I was scratching into three inflatable mattresses and their deflation. While I made daily trips to collect his venti iced coffee with three Splenda and extra two percent – this is what a tattoo looks like – he learned to form an argument: “This is fiction” or “One has a baby now, so you can’t wish that she didn’t exist” but usually “You’re five years younger than I am and a whore.” I was braving rush hour in West Palm Beach for a night drive home again when his mother called to say, “Did he hurt you? Do you need to go to the hospital?” I am so so so so sorry – because she knew surely he had broken more than dishes, vases, furniture.