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This is a Love Story

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This is a love story. There’ll be a boy and a girl, and a swing set. The swing set is where they’ll meet, she with the gaggle of kids she’s nannying for this summer, he with the thick glasses and the textbook for a science-y class, physics, maybe, or biology. The littlest kid will run up to her and lean in close to whisper something halfway funny, and she’ll throw her head back and laugh, tossing her hair, and he’ll look up, and sort of close his textbook while leaning forward, watching her. He’ll stop thinking about cell multiplication or velocity and know that this is it, that this is her.

This is a love story. He’ll start coming back to the park everyday, hoping to see her, and he’ll spend at least twenty extra minutes in front of the mirror questioning his outfit. He won’t see her the first couple of days, but that third day, just as he’s about to shrug himself into his car, he’ll see her, or, he’ll think he does. He’ll run up to her and say something he’d been practicing for the past three days, something he’d thought sounded witty. It’ll come out dumb, but she’ll laugh and be a good sport.

This is a love story. She’ll agree to go on a date with him and he’ll be ecstatic, and then panic because though undeniably handsome, he hasn’t had much time to date while in med school. His friends will pump him up, or freak him out, but either way he’ll arrive at the restaurant and hold his breath until she does. She’ll be wearing a little red dress, classy but by no means prudish. Their date will tank, just fail in every way, but partway through she’ll toss him this mysterious look and ask if he want to get the hell out of there. He’ll nod, speechless, and they’ll walk up and down the streets, lost in conversation before finding themselves at the park. She’ll grin, and he’ll grab her hand and pull her to a swing, where she’ll sit and he’ll push her higher, higher and she’ll lean back, back and smile and laugh and squeal when he catches her back at the bottom. He’ll kiss her then, and it’ll be the best she’s ever had.

This is a love story. When she calls home to tell mom she’s seeing someone she met at the park, her mother will ask if he’s a pedophile. After they meet, she’ll love him, just like her daughter does. It’ll become more serious after that. One their one year anniversary he’ll lead her back to the playground, just as he had on her birthday, Valentine’s Day, Christmas and push her on the swing. When he catches her, he’ll twist her swing around so she faces him, and get down on one knee. She’ll scream a little bit, and after she gushes her assent he’ll pull her forehead to his and hold her there. Their breath will steady, their heartbeats synchronize.

This is a love story. On the day they say “I do”, she’ll nearly run down that aisle. During his vows, he’ll dab at his eyes, they all will. Before the honeymoon, they’ll bring the photographer to the swing set, where he’ll grab her hand, where he’ll pull her to a swing, where he’ll push her, like always. This time, it’ll be tough for her not to cry. It’ll hang proud along the stairs of their little blue house. Every guest who passes it will pause, will exhale a smile, will return to the clink and chatter of the constant celebration believing in happy endings. From the way she’ll look up at him, gentle in resting her head on his shoulder, from the way he won’t be able to stop himself from coming up behind her, running steady fingers up and down her arms, or wrapping himself around her waist, it’ll have to be true. Her single friends will nearly die of envy, demanding to know her secret, but her married friends will shake their head, pat their husband’s legs and whisper that it’s time to go.

This is a love story. They’ll have two kids, her and him. As a doctor, he’ll be extra vigilant with her pregnancy, nervously diagnosing and rediagnosing her, but she’ll find it endearing and pull his forehead to hers and set his hands on her belly. Family, she’ll smile, eyes closed, this is family. When their son is born he’ll be beautiful, and they’ll take turns just looking at him. Four years later, they’ll head back to his hospital, tired, and leave with a girl. The kids will grow up scampering in and out of Daddy’s study, sitting on his lap and playing with his stethoscope. After school, they’ll run down the hallway to drop their things off in Mommy’s classroom, where they’ll eat a snack and read each other books. At random, they’ll hear him ask her if she wants to get the hell out of here, and they four of them will practically fly to the park. The kids will shriek as they run towards the swings, letting Mommy and Daddy hang back, holding hands. Up, up they’ll demand, until brother pushes sister, or they’re big enough to push themselves. But even by the time they’re teenagers, he’ll chuckle and she’ll smile and roll her eyes when Dad will grab Mom’s hand, pull her to the swing and push her. These images will be their Christmas cards, will line the stairs of their little blue house. Their kids will grow up safe, and though he’ll start coming home so tired she’ll wonder how he made the drive, he’ll turn a blind eye as her single glass of Zin becomes the whole bottle, and his once constant touch will dance over her waist like a ghost, that will remain their shared triumph.

This is a love story. They’ll have been married twenty years and think they’re incapable of surprising each other. He’ll recognize the way she stiffens when they’re about to disagree, the copper quality to her voice when she has to remind him of anything, the way she quit being a good sport and never laughs at his jokes anymore. She’ll catalog the number of times he’s been in bed after she’s asleep and out before she’s awake, and some days she’ll have to search for traces of him, clues that he even came back home. She’ll notice how their conversations will always dissolve into logistics, into picking up and dropping off and meetings and surgeries, how the ‘I love yous’ they promised to exchange everyday will become rarer and rarer, how the exclamation point they once said it with years ago will curve into a question mark. It’ll be like a word written over and over until it starts to look like nonsense. On separate nights they’ll lie awake while the other one sleeps and say it out loud, testing in secret to see if it still sounds right.

This is a love story. She’ll start to look for someone else to push her, and he’ll look for someone else to push. They’ll start out with the obvious, the clichés. She’ll share a tentative kiss with her assistant principal while going over the new curriculum, and excuse herself quickly. He’ll let himself be seduced by his eager new nurse, playing dumb to her advances for months until finally giving in. After the initial shock of grasping what they’ve done, they’ll realize just how easy it is. The first time the principal and her go all the way, she’ll sink under her desk, crying, but every time after that, she’ll pull up her tights, lock her classroom door and reapply her lipstick in the rearview mirror, deciding what to cook for dinner. Once he figures how easy it is to pick up girls at the bar, he’ll start leaving his wedding band in his medicine cabinet. When he tells her he must have left it in the scrub room, she’ll know, and when she informs him she’s playing on the staff softball team, he will. They’ll do their part to keep up their fake house, their fake marriage until their backs snap, and the levies break, and they get to the point where they can’t talk without yelling and they can’t yell without cursing the other and the day they were born. Nights will be spent drinking and ignoring and resenting and fighting and yelling and crying and days will be spent as if the nights were normal. The little blue house will threaten to split in two. When they’re tired of tripping over glass shards and heaving their broken hearts at each other, when the thought of a reconcile becomes unfathomable, if not comical, he’ll move to an apartment across the city, with view of the park with the swing set. On his first day out, he’ll walk to the park and sit on the bench and cry. She’ll spend her first week alone buried in bed, but in the middle of one night, she’ll stalk to the park, and sit on a swing staring listlessly until dawn. She’ll have forgotten how to pump and push herself.

This is a love story. One day, their son will thud down the bare stairs of the little blue house to find his sister sitting cross-legged on the carpet tracing one of the swing set pictures, eyes faraway. It’ll have been two years since their father had moved out, and their mother and the assistant principal would be inching their way toward marriage. They’ll have been brave, and wiped their tears when their world ran out of tissues, and covered their mouths when people got sick of hearing their screams. They’ll have spent too many hours, days with people who’d never know what it was to miss a boy, and a girl and a swing set. But today will be different. Today the boy will grab his sisters’ hand, and pull her to the park, tug her past the swings, lead her to the water on which the park stands. He’ll turn her to face the lazy expanse of blue stretching across the horizon, the giggling waves, the sun yawning contentedly from the sky, and drape a long arm over her shoulders. “This,” he’ll declare, “is a love story”.




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