Twenty-Five Years of Marriage 

Nonfiction / Heather Bartos

:: Twenty-Five Years of Marriage ::

We first saw the movie “Two for the Road” when we were engaged. Audrey Hep­burn and Albert Finney show the twists and turns of twelve years of marriage.

They were begin­ners, but we didn’t know that then.

Our mar­riage begins on a sev­en­ty-degree Sat­ur­day under a Cal­i­for­nia sycamore at high noon. Your uncle is five min­utes late and miss­es it. The cake comes from Safe­way. We dri­ve off with a set of hand­cuffs dan­gling from the rearview mir­ror. Strangers in Las Vegas see the “Just Mar­ried” sign and scream, “Losers!” We watch bad pub­lic access TV after a freak snow­storm buries the first floor of our motel in Flagstaff, Ari­zona. I hold my ring up to the light, watch it wink and sparkle, an inside joke, a pub­lic promise, the hope of a sol­id-gold guarantee.

Our first apart­ment, one-bed­room, mys­te­ri­ous stains on the car­pet. The hide-a-bed couch aban­doned by pre­vi­ous ten­ants and too heavy to move. Par­ti­cle board book­shelves hold nov­els like the ones I dream of writ­ing some­day. The kitchen win­dow where I can watch anoth­er woman wash­ing dish­es each night as I wash ours. The white Toy­ota with the fried alter­na­tor, where we can’t turn it off at the gro­cery store since it may not re-start. Two and a half years of cook­ies for the kids down the way, mag­no­lias bloom­ing by the mail­box. The black and white cat catch­es a rat right in front of the dump­ster and you shout, “Just like Nation­al Geographic!”

Blink and you’ll miss it.

Two years of grad­u­ate school. Con­fronting the land­lord with the fact that it is ille­gal to rent a place with­out a source of heat. No bath­room sink, show­er leak­ing into the yard. A blue Toy­ota with a trans­mis­sion leak. Wal-Mart, beer, piz­za and maple scones. The six‑a.m. phone call that my father has died, and the week­end spent pack­ing his life into milk crates. Small town base­ball, stu­dent dis­counts, escap­ing 110-degree heat watch­ing bad action movies.

Our first apart­ment in Ore­gon, two whole bed­rooms. At night racoons swim and frol­ic in the pool. Sat­ur­day lunch at the farmer’s mar­ket, sausage and sauer­kraut. The August night that the Toy­ota died at a rest area off High­way 5. Start­ing our first real jobs with two-hour bus com­mutes, right after 9–11. Dis­cov­er­ing that some­one had bro­ken into the car and left behind string cheese wrap­pers and a screw­driv­er. Buy­ing a TV, buy­ing a couch, then buy­ing a two-bed­room ranch house with some­one else’s odds and ends stashed in the crawl space. That red Mer­cury Topaz that drops its muf­fler right in front of the house. Anoth­er trip to the used car place.

Blink and you’ll miss it.

Friends have babies.

We don’t.

We still don’t.

The July after­noon when we get the call that our baby girl is com­ing home. The mad scram­ble for a stroller, for a dress­er, for a stuffed kan­ga­roo with a lit­tle kan­ga­roo nes­tled in its pouch.

She slept through the first night.

And none of the ones after that.

Lit­tle out­fits, twen­ty-four months, 2T, 4T, 6T, size 6X. Up and down, back and forth. Alpha­bet by eigh­teen months, read­ing before age three, blurred flash in motion. Our pink-despis­ing, nin­ja-wor­ship­ping, Imag­ine Drag­ons-lov­ing lit­tle light­ning bolt.

Blink and you’ll miss her.

Age nine at Legoland, eat­ing ice cream for break­fast and find­ing trea­sures hid­den in the hotel room.

Age eleven, upside down in the front seat of the car, pro­cess­ing the facts of life, shout­ing, “Mom! Does this mean my kinder­garten teacher has had sex?”

Blink and you’ll miss her.

Domes­tic wear and tear, moun­tains of dish­es and laun­dry, tired, naps dur­ing foot­ball on TV.

For the parents.

Nev­er for the child.

Dec­o­rat­ing for Hal­loween in August, trips to the beach, fish tacos, salt on our lips and sand in our shoes. Seals catch­ing fish in their paws. Shells at our ears, lis­ten­ing for the pulse and roar of the sea. Christ­mas lights and brown­ies on your birth­day, store-bought cake on hers, straw­ber­ries and whipped cream on mine, with the April twi­light lin­ger­ing like a beloved guest.

Blink and you’ll miss it.

 The neigh­bors’ chil­dren grow tall and stur­dy like sun­flow­ers. I over pay them for babysit­ting and mow­ing the lawn because we can. Putting down roots, becom­ing gnarled like the oaks and wil­low we plant­ed. I look at our neigh­bors in their eight­ies, and I see the future. The veins on my hands stand out, recall­ing they belong to the earth.

The after­noon when some­one has bro­ken into your car, stolen from your stash of coupons. You con­tin­ue to leave the door unlocked since they must need them more than we do.

Two funer­als. And then silence.

Blink­ing back tears.

Three surg­eries. Three recov­er­ies, com­plete with Vicodin and vanil­la ice cream.

The approach of age, read­ing glass­es, heel lifts, vit­a­mins and lit­tle bot­tles of bit­ter pills. Things that ache because we did stu­pid things when we were younger. Things that ache because we do stu­pid things now.

A pan­dem­ic that forces us inside and apart, that smoth­ers our smiles, con­straints and con­stricts and con­fines. It won’t wave the white flag. It won’t surrender.

First we con­tort, then we explore what we con­tain. We dig in and grow things. I teach on Zoom. The kids show me their pets, their Lego cre­ations, their lives.

 We won’t wave the white flag or sur­ren­der either. Life is dif­fer­ent now. Life ought to know bet­ter by now. We give, but we don’t give in. Deep­er instead of wider, less of but not less than.

Just like the TV show “Sur­vivor.” We will out­last, out­wit, out­play you. We were build­ing immu­ni­ty before you were born or thought of. Catch us if you can.

We watch March Mad­ness and eat grilled chick­en sand­wich­es and Jo Jos from Big’s Chick­en, drench them in Yukon Gold Sauce, home-baked, mayo-sat­u­rat­ed sat­is­fac­tion, defi­ant in our joy.

Hap­py anniver­sary. Again.

Blink and you’ll miss it all.

From the writer


:: Account ::

This short essay was inspired by the 1966 movie “Two for The Road,” with Albert Finney and Audrey Hep­burn. The movie fol­lows a young cou­ple through their ini­tial meet­ing, as new­ly­weds, as new par­ents, and final­ly as embit­tered mid­dle-aged adults try­ing to remem­ber what they saw in each oth­er. The film­mak­ing is inge­nious in the sense that mem­o­ries over­lap and at times, the char­ac­ters pass their younger selves on the screen. My essay starts on the day of the wed­ding and moves for­ward through time. Mar­riages, or any long-term part­ner­ships, go through phas­es relat­ed to the stages of life the indi­vid­ual part­ners are expe­ri­enc­ing. This essay shows the ephemer­al, quick­sil­ver nature of the pas­sage of time, as well as how moments, both mun­dane and extra­or­di­nary, come togeth­er to form some­thing larg­er that their indi­vid­ual fragments.

Heather Bar­tos writes both fic­tion and non­fic­tion. Her essays have appeared in Fatal Flaw, Stoneboat Lit­er­ary Jour­nal, HerStry, and else­where. Her flash fic­tion has appeared in The Dil­ly­doun Review, The Closed Eye Open, Tan­gled Locks Jour­nal, and in oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and also won first place in the Bal­ti­more Review 2022 Micro Lit Con­test. Her short sto­ries have appeared in Pon­der Review, Bridge Eight, and elsewhere.