‘Breaking free’

When we met, I was nearly seventeen, and Don was older. I didn’t know how much older until I saw his passport, the day after we married, and then it was too late to matter. He had rescued me from my miserable childhood and the hopeless life that awaited me. I owed him everything.

Out of gratitude, I never asked about his life before. What could I understand of it? He’d lived three of my lifetimes up to that moment, and I’d barely lived one.

Sure, I had questions. They were everywhere I tried not to look. There was the gold ring he kept on a chain, pressed inside the pages of a book. The perfect way he folded his fine knit sweaters, and the way he would redden when I arranged them wrong. The finest sand, deep in the pockets of a winter coat. The fear that glazed his eyes at the sight of open water. Untold stories. Roots. Something that went down too far for me to understand.

We moved house every year or two, for no particular reason. I had a child, and then three more, and suddenly ten years had gone by. In that time, I never really knew anyone, except the children. Not even him, or myself. Was this how love stories went?

It took me entirely by surprise when I woke up one day and he was gone. Why would an eighty year old man disappear like that? Had he been kidnapped? Gone insane? Perhaps I had dreamed this episode of my life, and woken up fifteen years later, more free than I ever could have imagined. For the last time, I thanked him, for giving me my own roots.

When his face comes back to me, the mustard he ate with every meal is caught on the hairs above his top lip. Sun blemishes are spattered on his nose and forehead. I can smell the oily sheen of his cheek, pore-pitted, always on the verge of breaking a sweat. Sometimes I imagine his body, washed up in Sandwood Bay, half torn up by sharks. Around his neck is the ring, and all his stories are lost.