I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way
than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.
Translated by Stephen Tapscott
On the eve of our anniversary, Raine is happily staying with his cousins at Aunt Rachel’s, so we are sneaking away for an evening together. We are new to central Illinois, so I follow the suggestion of my cousin, Beth, and make a reservation at Novu in Peoria. I want to surprise Dan because I know he loves sushi and typically sushi restaurants are not my favorite choice. We rush home from the family reunion we have attended and I change clothes, dab perfume at my neck, and carefully select jewelry. Dan waits patiently and then buttons the back of the collar of my sleeveless black crepe dress, and we head out for a night dedicated to the two of us.
When we arrive at Junction City, I have Dan sit in a chair outside and we do a selfie while I cover his eyes. Afterward, I ask him to look straight ahead and tell me what he sees. He spots the sign for Novu Sushi and is thrilled. Once seated, we quickly order our apéritif –sake and champagne, as well as appetizers of sea salted edamame and radish and chive oysters on the half shell. We are going all out! There is a couple seated right next to us, so we are a little shy and quiet. After fifteen minutes, they pay their bill and leave. We are freed and talk about whatever we want, as loudly as we want, and perform shenanigans that are certainly only hilarious to us. We cheers to our anniversary and clink our cocktails. We cheers and tap our oysters. I try to show my utmost bravery as a badge of love for him and gulp the ocean salty meat down my throat. Dan has prepared them for me—the flesh loose on its shiny blue point shell with a blend of wasabi, Sriracha, and lemon. These are the flavors Dan loves. I want to know what he loves. As if it is our first date.
We trade tastes of our drinks–cold house sake and a blanc de blanc complimented by lychee fruit and an edible hibiscus flower. I find the flower too beautiful and mysterious to eat. Entrees arrive and we use chopsticks to eat our sushi. I have sweet and spicy veggie rolls with jalapeño, cucumber, oshinko, and cilantro, topped with mango and avocado. I smile to myself at the memory of our first sushi dinner together, at Masu in Portland for Dan’s twenty-eighth birthday. I think about how many dinners we have enjoyed together and how he has changed the way I explore food and taste. He has made me more adventurous, thoughtful, and grateful about food. Dan also enjoys the mango and avocado on his plate of house special rolls–seared tuna, spicy tuna, and sashimi tuna. I ask him to tell me again about what it was like to eat fresh food when he traveled to Okinawa when he was in college. I crave his memories.
When Dan speaks of his college girlfriend, we begin to extrapolate out what our lives could have been like if we married our college sweethearts. In our mid to late thirties, it is now completely clear how safely and carefully we dovetailed into one another. How the love that our hearts labored toward for others taught us enough to give even more when we found each other. We know, secretly and achingly, we were meant for one another. To look back on twenty years, and the thirteen we have been together, what we have learned…I have never been more proud of my heart’s willingness to be loved and hurt, hurt again and again, and yet able to open up to this man whose love covers me every day with every breath he takes. Daniel James.
After dinner, we stop next door at the Tavern on Prospect for a drink. My digestif of choice is Knob Creek on the rocks and Dan has a pint of Grapefruit Sculpin, a citrus IPA by Ballast Point. At the dark, cozy bar, we talk about what we hope for in the supposed next twelve years together. Dan wants to learn to play guitar, which he jokingly says goes hand-in-hand with still being alive. This is the conversation only we seem to have. I consider other couples celebrating anniversaries and the gap of knowledge between them and us. Dan became diseased and was given a prognosis–we feel a pressure about what time we have unfolding in front of us. Everyone tries to comfort me, to tell me, “Leah, we all know we will die. We all know that it could happen at any moment.” It is not comforting–it is trite. And so far no one who tells me this, as inspired as they are as they say it, is forced to live in, or circle around, a disease like incurable cancer. Dan and I know when we talk about the next twelve years we are desperate with hope. We are ludicrously wishful. Yet, ahead we forage in our conversation. I speak to the pain of not adding to our family. I speak to the hope of studying in school again. We toss back and forth the ideas of traveling–a holiday in Denver, summer abroad, small trips around the states. We examine how our son is doing, everything that we are proud of and worried about. What a miracle it was to have him.
After the tavern, we drive to Washington and join others at a friend’s house for a local band EP release party. It is such a unique and joyful way to end our evening. We listen to music, share more drinks, and warmly welcome being enveloped into friendships that point back to our acquaintances in elementary school, high school, and college. Illinois is giving us an unexpected world.
On Sunday, our official anniversary, we focus on domestic chores and playing with Raine. Laundry, vacuuming, playing games, bathing Raine, singing songs. We have cards and gifts for one another that have been waiting all day. Now Raine is fast asleep. Dan reads in his chair next to the record player, a chair that is easeful and swivels–the very chair I sat and played in when I visited my Grandma Hendricks as a child. I type this post at my computer in my new office, with Rocco curled up on a pillow beneath my desk. Here in our new home there is a lot of soft lighting, hardwood floors, walls waiting for art, a kitchen humming with appliances, and outside the windows the chorus of crickets and cicadas. Where will the next and final hour take us?
my hand on his chest is his hand,
so close that my eyes close as he falls asleep.