Even Jimmy Carter Was a Bird Watcher.

August 8, 2012
I married a woman who loved to paint and slept naked.

I met her at a party in college, a sophisticated, but interesting looking girl who towered over the world. Her golden-red hair fell over her shoulders like moss over a tree and her green eyes sulked even when she smiled.

Instantly, I was fascinated by her. I wanted to touch her if the only thing I touched was her fingertips. I wanted to feel her pale freckly skin. I wanted to kiss her sunburned lips, and I wanted to ask her what her favorite color was and why.

It wasn’t that she was beautiful, exactly. She was pretty, but there were far more beautiful girls in the room. But in her I saw something that I didn’t see in the other girls, something that showed on the outside, but could be found nowhere but deep inside. She was the endangered bird, and I was the bird watcher.

“Sadie,” she said confidently introducing herself as she stuck her hand out to shake mine. It was like she knew I already loved her. I didn’t want to shake hands. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to lightly place my arms around her so that they’d rest on her hips and I wanted to sway her back and forth. I wanted to be her dress with the hideous African pattern on it hugging her curves but giving her enough room to breathe.

We lived in a barn. We lived in a two story red and white barn with a balcony in the main room upstairs looking over the huge green field that it sat on. Her father built it.
Inside were paintings of nature and women and random body parts like hands and eyes. She had a way in her paintings to make everything seem unreal. Almost like everything we saw was just part of our imagination, something we had dreamt up.

We had long nights of nothing. We had long nights where we would just sit on her giraffe yellow couch and burn incense and I’d listen to her read me stories and poems she’d written and I’d listen to her voice scratch words like “scandalous” and “raking”.

“They’re beautiful,” I’d tell her. I had no idea what she was talking about in her poems and most of the time in stories I’d zone out after the third paragraph, but I knew what she wanted to hear and I knew what’d make her happy, which made me happy, and at the age of twenty-two that was all that mattered.

One day, I came home from work, and Sadie was sitting on the couch in the dark listening to Pearl Jam and crying. Her face was red and you could see where the tears had been falling for hours.

“Sadie, what’s wrong?” I had never seen her cry in the year that we had been dating, and I immediately threw my arms around her as I had wanted to the day we met.

She wiped her wet hands on her flowery dress and pulled her long hair back. She didn’t speak, only cried.

After a long while of just sitting and crying, she lifted her head and said, “Something’s wrong with me,” she whispered.

“What do you mean?”

She was quiet for another moment before she said, “Ben, do you ever wonder about God?”

I flipped through the things I had once questioned at some point in my life and I was sure that at some time in my years God had been one of them.

“I suppose I have. But I don’t anymore.”

“I believe he’s there,” she said almost as if defending herself, “Trust me. It’s just that I don’t understand.”

I looked at her deeply for a minute, wondering if this was why she was crying. She was losing her soul and it was sending her into a downward spiral.

“I think that’s the point. I don’t think you’re supposed to understand Him. I think that’s what faith is. You’re just supposed to trust.”
Six months later, I married Sadie Robinson at her father’s lake house. She was two months pregnant, her youngest brother and I being the only ones that knew at the time.

“I just don’t want to jinx it,” she’d say.

I was a teacher then. I taught high school English and Sadie was a writer, working for the local newspaper writing petty articles on some couples 60th anniversary or a pair of twins being born.

One day, she came to me and said, “Ben, I think I’m going to take a few months off. For the baby and everything. He’s going to need some one-on-one attention for a while. And I’m going to be really tired all the time and so will you so it’ll be hard to work. Also, it would give me a chance to organize and I could get a lot done. It’d be great! I could get things organized and I could get a lot of house work done. I could sell painted bottles and those clay things I’ve been making! We could make some money from that, too.”

“I don’t know, Sadie. We don’t really have enough money for that. I can’t support three people by myself. It’s hard enough as it is.”

She looked down at the floor and in a very childish, let down voice she squeaked out an, “Okay,” and a tear fell from her face to the floor.

“Sadie,” I said feeling a blanked of guilt cover me, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—“

She interrupted me and said, “Its okay.”

“No, I mean, I didn’t mean to let you down like that. I’m so sorry.” I got up to hug her and she snapped.

“Ben, I said its fine! Don’t apologize! It is okay!”

She ran up the steps and slammed the door, then came back fifteen minutes later as if nothing had ever happened.

“Did you see what I did today,” she asked as she pointed over to the bookshelf.

I walked over to the bookshelf and studied the books closely trying to find a difference in them.

“What’d you do? Dust?”

She looked at me like I was crazy. Like I was blind.

“No, look at the titles.”

I read them aloud, “Asylum, Atonement, Auntie Meme, Bachelor Brothers Bed & Breakfast, Battle of God…You organized hundreds of books in alphabetical order?”

“The books. They told me to.”

Our baby was born in mid-October. His name was Lee Benjamin Garand and he was deaf.

Sadie took this especially hard. We both cried a lot the first couple of weeks, sometimes at random. We cried because our son would never be able to experience things that we had experienced. He would never be able to hear me play guitar or hear his mother read poetry at three in the morning, in her underwear and one of my t-shirts, on the balcony reading to the grass and the trees.

But it wasn’t just that. We both carried massive loads of guilt on our shoulders as if we had been the ones who ruined his ears. As if we were drunk and figured it would be a funny joke.

“Let’s just keep a positive attitude,” Sadie told me.

Two weeks later I heard from the nursery Johnny Cash yelling, his guitar screaming with rage. I ran upstairs to find the stereo right next to the baby’s ears and Sadie shouting the lyrics into his other ear, laughing.

“Mr. Garand?”

“Um, yes?”

“Hi, this is Sonya Gaines from Marshall Pickens.”

I stepped out of my classroom and into the hallway, “Like, the mental hospital?”

“The psychiatric hospital,” she corrected. “I’m calling to talk to you about your wife. Mrs. Garand has been admitted to the hospital by one of our doctors. We need you to come in as soon as you can.”

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