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HOME by Madeline Anthes

You say you’d follow him anywhere, so when he asks you to move across the country, you do. You say you’d do anything for love, and you love him.

He wants you to love your life with him.

You try.

Your rented house has plain beige walls. It’s in a suburb and has a fenced-in yard. You don’t have dogs or children to use it.

The kitchen is tiny. You bump into each other every night as you fix your lunches for the next day. You’re watching infants at a childcare center. You change diapers and clean spills all day. You hate it, but there aren’t any teaching jobs in October.

You say you’ll keep looking for another job. He has his new dream job, after all.

A career. He’s managing a plant, staying late, getting tipsy at corporate dinners. He comes home rosy cheeked and full of stories about men with names like Bill and Frank. You are never invited.

The point is he’s happy. You tell him you’ll keep trying.

He’s heard you tossing at night, seen you staring at the beige walls, watched you bite the inside of your cheek until your mouth fills with the taste of rust.

He asks you over and over what he can do.

You tell him you miss the sound of the ocean, and the feel of salt air through a cracked window. How the ceiling fan would press the air down and make you feel heavy when you were falling asleep.

He buys a machine that plays the sound of crashing waves and plugs in a fan next to your bed.

You tell him you miss how sand piled in the corners of the kitchen. You miss how the wind carried bits of shell and coral, and how you’d find flecks of it stuck to your scalp when you showered. You miss how you could scratch and scratch all day and still find bits of grit under your nails.  

You find a bag of potting sand in the hall closet and perfectly-formed piles near the fridge. One night you wake to him sprinkling sand in your hair; it pools on your pillow and sticks to the sheets. It makes your skin itch.

You tell him it’s the air and the smell and the way people dress. You tell him it’s the way you could close your eyes and feel present, alive, like a current connected you to the walls of the house. You miss belonging.

He brings in jars of sea air and wears flip flops around the house. He wears Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirts to the grocery store. He looks like a parody of your old life together.

What more could you want, he asks you. What else can he do?

You tell him you don’t want anything else. There’s nothing else he can do.

You can’t replicate the heartbeat of a town, or the rhythm of a household, or the texture of a life. Even if you went back now, it’d all be different.

So you listen to your sound machine and step over the piles of sand. You tell him it’s time to start a new life.

At night, you run your fingers along your scalp and look under your nails for traces of sand.

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