I wake up to the sound of ceramic hitting paper, and squeeze one eye open to see him silhouetted against the backdrop of my bedroom window. He says he’s leaving early, has an 8am meeting, and I say ‘I love you‘.
‘I love you, too.‘
And he’s gone.
Steam rises from my favourite coffee up. It’s a white one swirled with blue flowers, outlined in black – a 1960s Arabia pattern – brought to me by my Finnish friend who has almost single-handedly built the collection of beautiful coffee cups hanging from hooks on my kitchen wall. I lift it and the book beneath it from the stack on my nightstand and read the last two chapters while I drink.
When I finish the coffee and the book, I stumble downstairs. The house is quiet. In the living room, Everybody Loves Raymond is playing, unwatched, on the television. It’s the episode where Ray and Debra have a silent argument over who will carry the suitcase from their weekend away upstairs, and it lasts for weeks. It always reminds me of us and the dishwasher, or the trash can. I smile, imagining him in his chair, laughing to himself.
I walk to the kitchen, where the stovetop espresso pot sits empty, and a black spatula leans against our small non-stick frying pan (not the cast-iron skillet, which he hates cleaning), streaked with the residue of two scrambled eggs.
I left North Carolina at 21, looking for something I couldn’t put words to. Instead, I found him on the back pew of a little Baptist Church in North Yorkshire.
The friends I grew up with tell me I sound British now, because I say my “T”s and use words I didn’t learn from birth to talk to my children.
Rubbish. Hoover. Cheers.
But here, when I talk to someone new, I watch them lose the trail of my words before they finally say, “where are you from” and “say that again” and I realise they have not picked up on the content of what I’m saying, only the way I make one-syllable words three times longer, only the way I still say ‘y’all‘.
I left a place where I didn’t fit in favour of a place where I don’t fit, and 15 years later, I’m just starting to wonder whether places where I don’t fit are the only places.
A few weeks ago, we came to bed and found both our sons already there, lying diagonally across the entirety of our wrought-iron king. Too tired to move them, I climbed in between them, and then grabbed his hand and pulled him onto us, clutching his back, running my fingers through his dark hair. We laid there, all four of us, afloat on our 5’ x 6’ island, a world within a world. And in that moment, and for only a moment, I tasted the thing I’ve spent my whole life looking for.