I slow the car when I spot the wind turbines, their majestic arms swooping in circles, chopping the unrelenting summer heat. Miles of blades work at smooth paces, but a few sit unmoving, broken or tired. You enjoyed this stretch of the drive best.
It’s 7 o’clock in the morning when I leave Chicago after this dream I have about you, or maybe it’s a memory. We were on our second date, drinking mugs of beer at the Rathskeller. You told me your middle name was Lee, your grandfather’s name— my middle name too, spelled the same. We joked it would be our firstborn’s too. How old were we? Almost 30, because I felt my life was just a pile of the same shit, and I loathed being older. I didn’t tell you that I had been darkening my hair since I was 20 to cover the gray.
“Thirty’s not old,” you said. “A hundred is old, and most of them are happier than us.”
“Doesn’t mean they aren’t disappointed about something.”
“Sure,” you said, raising your glass, a smirk reaching your mouth. “Here’s to disappointments.” The look in your eye was clear— you would be the optimistic one.
I must have made the three-hour drive down I-65 ten times before you graduated and moved into my studio apartment on Hermitage. You approved of the exposed brick wall and free laundry in the basement and complained about the faulty windows that allowed that chill into our space. I hated the glow from the television when you stayed up late, and you made fun of me for leaving empty beer cans upside down in the sink when the recycling bin was in the cabinet underneath.
“I never do anything right.”
“You picked me,” you said.
That was our life for eight months.
I go to Noblesville, where your parents still live, my nerves uneven because it’s been a while. The sun hides behind the one big cloud in the sky when I park the car, my hands cool when I remove them from the steering wheel.
It had happened fast, faster, when I allow myself to remember correctly. Within three months, one whole season, your face changed from oval to triangle, skin covering bones. The leaves of the oak trees were already orange and yellow that day at the lake when we saw all those well-dressed people, a handsome group, celebrating. We guessed a wedding or a memorial.
“Or maybe they’re just happy,” you said, recognizing it. Pops of light, vessels that held meaning, moved upward, closer to something we hadn’t discussed yet.
The newly-cut grass stuffs my nose when I sit next to the headstone. The fake flower wreath, one I’m sure your mom left, is limp.
I say out loud: “You asked, ‘You think people get married in heaven?’”
Yes, I thought, knowing that’s what I should have told you.
Lesley Stanley is a writer living and working in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She received her M.A. in Creative Writing from Wayne State University in Detroit in 2016.