You are the one and only girl who would send me a cryptic quotation from my favorite comic book that explains everything and nothing.
(But I get it, I think.)
It’s good to know that unlike Dr. Manhattan, you are not in another galaxy. My phone number hasn’t changed, and I know you still remember it. Enclosed you will find a somewhat fictionalized summation of the past year of my life in graphic novel form. Give me a call if you want to discuss this masterwork. We can start from there, or anywhere else.
I’m still here,
P.S. Just in case you forgot, here’s my number again: (XXX)XXX-XXXX.
Park didn’t waste much time after graduation. He sprung it on her immediately after hefting the last of Eleanor’s boxes into the U-Haul, in fact.
“So I guess we can get married now.”
It took a moment for his words to arrange themselves into meaningful concepts in Eleanor’s brain, distracted as she was by her own exhaustion and the mesmerizing slow glide of a single rivulet of sweat making its way down the golden column of Park’s throat.
“Wait…what?” She jerked her head up and frowned.
Park took the opportunity to wind one of her frizzed out curls around his right index finger and patiently repeated, “We can get married now. Like we talked about.”
“When did I agree to this?”
“Last Christmas break. You said you had to finish college first, and I agreed.” Park glanced around meaningfully at the trampled commencement programs and abandoned futons littering the lawn in front of her dorm. “College is over,” he concluded.
“Yes, but why…”
“Because I love you. And you love me.”
“Well, yeah, of course,” Eleanor agreed angrily. “What I was going to say was: why now? And for the record, when I said I needed to finish college first, I didn’t mean right after. I thought, you know, we could talk about it. Eventually.”
Park crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the truck. “Okay, so let’s talk.”
Eleanor eyed the veins on his forearms warily. “Don’t even.”
“You think you can hoodwink me with your masculine wiles.”
His face crinkled into a grin. “My masculine wiles, you say.” Oh, he sounded gleeful, the jerk.
Eleanor didn’t know what to do. She knew him: he was not going to give up on this. And he was standing right there, looking and smelling and sounding like Park. She’d missed him so much these past few months, with a longing that only increased with each day ticked off the countdown to when they could finally have more than just letters and phone calls, care packages and always-too-short visits. She couldn’t believe they’d made it to this moment, when no one – least of all herself – had believed they could.
She didn’t want to jinx it.
“Eleanor.” Park crowded his wiry, beloved body into her personal space and gently tipped her chin up to meet his eyes. “We can do this.”
Eleanor felt breathless, all hopped up on conflicting emotions.
“We’re still so young.”
“And just look at my parents…”
“Look at mine instead.”
“Why can’t we just live together first?”
“We can. But I want this.”
“You want a piece of paper.”
“Yes. I want a piece of paper that tells everyone – that tells you – that I’m your family.”
Eleanor felt her heart unwillingly puff up like a hot air balloon, rising and soaring, too high. “This is the most annoying proposal ever,” she said, defeated.
“Did you expect me to get down on bended knee with a diamond ring? You said they were a waste of money.” Park had his hands on her hips now, strong fingers kneading her denim-encased love handles in a gentle, proprietary seduction.
“It is! It’s a crazy amount of money for something so small. But that’s not the point! You haven’t even actually asked me.”
“Hmmmm.” Park rubbed his nose against Eleanor’s in a contemplative Eskimo kiss. “But I’ve suggested a course of action - proposed a plan for your consideration.”
Then he kissed her full-on, with practiced tongue and exquisitely familiar lips. Eleanor groaned when they broke apart. “I’m not wearing a poofy white meringue dress.” The entire idea of it filled her with terror, everybody staring at her all trussed up like a not-so-virgin sacrifice.
“Okay,” Park assented easily.
“And nobody’s giving me away, least of all my father.” Eleanor could feel a churning panic flushing up into her face. Park smoothed the wrinkles on her brow and listened while she ranted. “Would your mom want a church? What am I saying? Of course she would. And isn’t the bride’s family supposed to pay, because my mom’s back on her feet now, but she definitely couldn’t, and my dad, well.”
“We could elope.”
“Like to Vegas?”
Park laughed. “I guess, or Niagara Falls, or just the courthouse. Wherever. Just you and me, no commotion.”
Eleanor exhaled gustily and scuffed her shoe into the ground. “Okay,” she said in a small, hopeful voice.
Park blinked and exclaimed, “Seriously?”
When she roused the courage to look up at him directly, he was beaming triumphantly. “I thought it would take way longer to wear you down.”
Eleanor scowled. “Your mom is going to kill us.”
Park shrugged. “Not literally.”
Eleanor snorted and let him hook his arm around her neck, pulling her in close to press haphazardly aimed kisses into her neck, her hair.
“No backsies,” Park admonished as they piled into the truck. “C’mon, let’s get going.”
Park had entirely forgotten about the dishes (and the laundry) by the time Eleanor got back to the apartment. Never mind the Dark Horse deadline. Nevermind…
There was still a choking lump in Park’s throat, despite the fact that tears had been liberally spilling down the sides of his face and into his ears for quite some time as he lay there prone in the center of the living room carpet. Dimly, he registered the familiar sounds of Eleanor’s just-got-home racket: her keys in the door, the slight squeal of hinges, a rustling of grocery bags, and the soft thump of her satchel being deposited on the kitchen table. On a different, less horribly momentous day he might have noted with satisfaction the increased volume of her entry into their home and contrasted it with the overly careful way she used to tiptoe around his parents’ house when they were kids—always trying to avoid the impression of taking up any space at all. She’d even been like that when they first moved in here, and his stomach still clenched when he thought of the tactics she must have used to hide her own existence in that hellhole she’d lived in before her mom and stepdad split up.
The bleakness of today, however, muffled the bone-marrow-deep comfort he felt in his surroundings: the thrift shop splendor of the punk rock hobbit hole he and Eleanor had cobbled together, all the happy trappings of their life together. He couldn’t even really feel the buzzing excitement he’d been harboring ever since he found out that the weird little book he’d been putting out in ‘zine form since the 12th grade was going to be printed by a real—yet edgy-cool—indie comic publisher.
“Damn it, Park.” Eleanor’s pissy exhalation drifted in along with the clink of dirty dishes in the sink. Ordinarily he also rejoiced in the fact that he could now discern the gradations and target range of Eleanor’s anger. Now that it wasn’t always overflowing and exploding inwards like an infected zit popped before its time. Right now she was probably only at a 2.5 on the Eleanor Irritation Scale since in truth, he usually did most of the housework what with the longer hours of her full-time job at the newspaper versus his slightly more than part-time record store employment. He liked taking care of her, and was generally eighty-five percent certain that he pulled his own weight in their marriage—never mind what his dad might insinuate about real men’s work and being a “provider.” It’s the nineties, Dad! And hello, feminism.
Jesus, she must not know. That’s the only explanation Park could come up with for why Eleanor continued to crash around in the kitchen instead of just collapsing on the floor with him, mourning.
Of course, Eleanor had never loved Nirvana as much as he did; she mostly just liked that MTV Unplugged live recording from last year. But still, she’d get it. Because it was Kurt Fucking Cobain, and he was dead. Kurt Cobain was dead. And Eleanor was Park’s wife—his best friend—so she’d understand.
Kurt Cobain had a wife, and a kid too. Jeezus. It was all so unutterably sad.
“Okay, that’s it.” Eleanor marched in from the hallway, waving the cordless phone in her hand. “I’m ordering pizza, and we will ignore the dishes for now. I’m not going to be mad at you today. Although we are going to order from Dominos instead of that place with the deep dish lasagna kind you like.” She wasn’t actually looking at him yet.
“Because my mom is crazy. And hypocritical. And…” She paused her rant suddenly—blustered out? No, nervous—and out rushed, “Ihavesomethingtotellyou.”
Then she walked over and got a good view of Park’s face, and in seconds Eleanor was right there, bent over by his side in those jeans that always made him want to jump her—they gave her such a bubble-butt. “Oh god, Park,” she breathed. “What happened? Is it your grandparents?”
For about two seconds Park felt foolish that he had to tell her that it wasn’t a relative or a friend that had him bawling like a toddler. But then he remember who she was, and tamped that shit down.
“Kurt Cobain’s dead. He died. He—he shot himself.”
“Oh. Damn.” Eleanor sat back on her heels and grasped Park’s hand firmly in hers. “I’m so sorry, baby. I know—“
“Yeah,” he said, and wiped his swollen eyes with their intertwined fingers. And then Eleanor did just the right thing. She got horizontal with him, never letting go of Park’s hand as she curled herself around his body, her breasts smooshing softly against his back, the outer spoon to his fetal position. She held him, and said nothing as the lingering heat of his repressed tears burned out. He could smell her vanilla-cookie woman smell mixed with the cheap bar soap they both used and the fancy conditioner his mom supplied. He calmed down. Still sad, but calm.
“You called me ‘baby,’” he said after a while.
“What?” Her voice seemed kind of strained.
“You don’t usually say stuff like that. Pet names.”
“Yeah…” She still sounded off, distracted.
“Not even when I fuck you,” Park teased. Dirty talk always made her pay attention. Especially outside the bedroom.
Eleanor just coughed.
“Hey.” He rolled over to pin her body beneath his. “What were you going to tell me?”
Eleanor’s eyes got wide. Park could see every freckle on her nose.
She sucked in her bottom lip, just slightly, but he called bullshit. “Come on, it’s okay. I’m okay now, mostly.”
“Crap. Is it bad? Today doesn’t get any more bad news.”
“No? Or, no.”
“Just tell me, or I’ll tickle you.”
And then the world dialed all the way up to full volume. The same tears that Park had been trying unsuccessfully to hold back an hour ago welled up again, flowing out cleanly this time. Pure and raw. He was so caught up in having emotions that he didn’t immediately realize how freaked out Eleanor looked.
“Say something,” she pleaded.
“You’re going to have a baby,” he stated.
“My baby. With me.”
“We’re going to have a baby, asshole.”
“So. You’re okay with this.”
“What? Of course. I’m just surprised. Surprised, but happy.” And still also sad. And a little overwhelmed. Alive.
“Whew.” Eleanor’s relief whistled through her teeth. Park kissed her on both apple cheeks. He nudged his face into her cleavage like an affectionately horny puppy then scooted down to catch the hem of her T-shirt in his teeth and tug up, stopping short at the sight of Eleanor’s exposed stomach. Her creamy white underbelly—where apparently, miraculously, a part of him was now growing inside of her.
He drew curlicues on her skin with the tip of a finger and pointed out, “My mom’s gonna go nuts if it’s a girl.”
Eleanor’s face crumpled. “My mom just went plain old crazy when she found out.”
Park reared back. “You told your mom before you told me!?”
“I didn’t mean to! It just came out.”
He softened. “You were over there today.”
“She doesn’t approve.”
Two shakes of the head.
“It’s a little effing late for her to play the parent card now—“
“Park, don’t start. Not now.”
“Okay, okay. But you’re going to be twenty-five—and she had you when she was—”
“You just started.”
“Right. I’ll stop.”
“I love you.” They both said it at the same time. Park hugged her tight.
Later, after a short but surprisingly reassuring phone conversation with his father, Park pulled out the turntable and listened to Kurt sing about how he “didn’t have a gun, no,” and tried to forgive him for lying. He stared at the underwater baby on the album cover and thought that everything, everything was happening at once.
Eleanor sucked in a deep breath as soon as they tumbled out of the club into the comparatively fresh air of the parking lot behind the bar. It was so freaking hot in there—she was sweaty all over. The band wasn’t that great either. But it had been fun all the same, a whole night not being anybody’s mommy, just her and Park. Well, just her and Park and a mosh pit full of punks.
“Hey,” she said, jingling her car keys. “What time did we say we’d pick up the kids tomorrow?”
“Noon,” Park slurred slightly, having guzzled three or four beers to her one.
“So we can sleep in.” Eleanor moaned in exaggerated anticipation. Park took that as an invitation to wrap his arms around her from behind and nudge his crotch into her ass in a sloppy bump and grind. He was already half-hard; she could feel it as he prodded her haphazardly in the direction of their boxy Volvo station wagon. A dormant fizzle of lust warmed her stomach as Eleanor leaned into his body and tripped along.
“That bartender was hitting on you,” Park rumbled into her ear, biting the lobe softly for punctuation.
“Who, Sarah?” Eleanor laughed. “She does that to all the straight girls.”
“Her too,” Park agreed. “But I was thinking of green mohawk guy.”
Eleanor rolled her eyes automatically though Park couldn’t see and the lot was otherwise deserted. “Whatever. He’s a kid! And I’m an old lady.”
“You’re my old lady.” Park slid a possessive hand down Eleanor’s chest and over her abdomen. She sucked in her stomach and then felt foolish. He was more than familiar with what was hidden under her clothes: the stretch marks on her breasts from feeding his babies, the jiggle above her C- section scar. Intellectually, Eleanor felt fine about her “war wound” and compared it to the tattoos Park had gotten inked in honor of each of their daughters. But lately, since turning thirty—even though she was actually thinner than when they first met, Eleanor sometimes found herself lamenting the way things were softer now and there was…gravity.
Park huffed an irritated breath out through his nostrils. “Don’t do that.”
“What?” Eleanor asked sharply, even though she knew.
“I can almost hear it,” he continued, swinging her around to face him. “When you start thinking like that.” Eleanor didn’t say anything as Park backed her into the car door, a look equal parts tenderness and honest irritation on his face.
“Nobody gets to insult my wife,” he insisted, rounding his palm firmly around the weight of one breast, plumping it before biting through her T-shirt and bra in censure. “And that includes you.” Rather than any kind of retort, this only elicited from Eleanor a decidedly unmatronly groan.
“That’s right,” Park said smugly, before lifting his head to grace Eleanor with a wet, hops-flavored kiss on the mouth.
“Now drive my drunk ass home. I have plans for you.”
Eleanor wasn’t going to argue with that.
“We’ve always been pretty good at arguing.”
“An important skill in any functional relationship.” Snort.
“It is though.”
“I didn’t say it wasn’t.”
“Don’t ‘nothing’ me.”
“Okay, I just—it didn’t happen all at once.”
“Of course not.”
“We used to be too afraid of saying the wrong thing.”
“There is no wrong thing.”
“All right, I shouldn’t have said that one thing about your mother.”
“Great. I’d forgotten about that.”
“You know I didn’t mean it.”
“You sort of did.”
“Yeah okay, I sort of did, but I shouldn’t have said it that way. That’s why I apologized.”
“I know. And that’s why I forgave you.”
“So like I said, we’re pretty good at arguing.”