Woke this morning with Martha in my arms, slowly unweaving this morning from that morning when I first woke with her in my arms. Twenty-seven years ago. A bunk-bed in a trailer that was perched up on the steep forested slopes of the Delphi valley. I could lift the curtain without stirring from where I lay, and see the sun rising behind Mount Rainier. Fine honey-colored hair spilled over my forearm and my chest. Even braided, in those days, it fell to the middle of her back. She had unbraided it last night, and it had flowed over me like the sea. Her soft breathing. The glow of the sunrise filling the room.
The faint scent of mouse dung, dim memory of having heard the scrabble of mice in my sleep. In my dream memory I hear the trickle of the water in the creek. We had to fetch water from it, in white plastic five-gallon buckets, old paint buckets.
Her lover, a musician, was on the road. This was "okay," though. Sort of. And we were just friends, supposedly. Not really lovers, though everybody already thought we were, we spent so much time together. And now we really were. Maybe. Or maybe not. "If somebody's going to stop us," I had muttered conscientiously, the night before, "it's not going to be me." She hadn't stopped us either. But still we were just friends. No strings. That was our policy, and we stuck to it for an absurd length of time, months, while Martha and her lover slowly, painfully broke up, and she and I went to classes together every day, and read Dante and Tolstoy and Joyce together.
And now we've raised two kids together, and weathered depressions on her part and binge alcoholism on mine, and various infidelities, if very few dishonesties. A year when we probably made love only three or four times, netted by depression and terrorized by the violent deaths of friends and relatives, and a year like this last when we're sneaking past the kids at every opportunity, more like teenagers than the teenagers. Years running past like rippling water. And we're still just friends, in a way. There's nothing more real in my life than this friendship. Sometimes it seems to me it's the only real thing I've ever encountered in a shadowy, formless universe.
Losing her is the only face of death that frightens me, or even troubles me. I don't want to lose the only real thing I've ever found.