By Amanda Miska
Their love at 16 was like this:
Notes passed in the hallway, full of compliments and I love you’s and plans, the first moist tongue-on-tongue kiss that she’s not sure she likes because it’s like plunging her tongue into a bowl of gelatin that’s just set, but they try it again and eventually, they both like it; fooling around in basements and cars, hands sliding beneath clothes, so horny that she can’t imagine ever wanting anything else, anyone else, it’s forbidden and that makes it feel even better; their parents want them to slow down so they speed up, faster, faster, faster, and she comes, for the first time, and she thinks this is what love is.
Their love at 26 is like this:
No more notes, unless they are grocery or “honey-do” lists pinned beneath magnets on the refrigerator; compliments are given only when someone’s craving sex, they are a bargaining tool, and kisses are pecks, except, again, when there’s sex involved; only now because they are married adults living in the same house they can do anything sexually and so they don’t want to do anything; they could do it doggy style, lights on or off, she could wear lingerie, he could experiment with sex toys, the world is their oyster (an oyster is also an aphrodisiac) but they are no longer hungry for each other that unquenchable way, and she wonders if forever is supposed to feel this way, this lukewarm bathwater of a life when she keeps craving a scalding shower.
They are sitting together on the living room couch.
She is thinking about someone else. She is thinking: someone else would take me out to dinner. Someone else would buy me flowers. Someone else would carry me to bed right now, without needing to know the final score.
He is thinking about something else. He is thinking about estimating. He is thinking about where the hell in the city you can find a good barber. He is thinking about his Fantasy Football league, how many points he needs to get ahead.
She wraps the blanket around her shoulders and shuffles over to him. She climbs onto the couch and wedges her face between his neck and shoulder. She smells his soap, like she has for ten years, and the scent brings immediate comfort: a reference point in a chaotic world. His broad hands rub circles around her back. She sighs. He kisses her forehead.
Now that the word “divorce” has become part of their vocabulary, they keep a perfect twelve inches of space between them in the bed, careful not to touch and mumbling soft apologies if, on accident, their legs brush beneath the covers. Next to him in bed she feels safe, comforted by his steadiness, the very thing she also loathes. Both of them are too stubborn to sleep on the living room couch—too much like waving the white flag and admitting that one of them, the one who gives in, is more at fault for the deterioration of their life together.
When he’s at work, she thinks about how much apartment she might be able to afford on a part-time office job. She surfs the net, looking for places that allow pets, places where she won’t need a car, places where the bedroom wouldn’t face the street lamp. She thinks about the housewarming party she will throw, just for her. She thinks of her newly-single glow.
Then, after everyone leaves the fantasy, she thinks of being alone; of bottles clinking against each other in the recycling bin, of rinsing glasses in the sink, and not knowing how to do the bills. And she thinks maybe she is just happy enough to stay here and try to be all right.
Amanda Miska lives and writes in Northern Virginia. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from WhiskeyPaper, Black Heart Magazine, Buffalo Almanack, CHEAP POP, and jmww. You can find her being irreverent on Twitter @akmiska.