…and let me hear you say everything's alright' ~ Romeo's Tune, Steve Forbert
I’ve been feeding my need for melodrama with Bob Seger and Cyndi Lauper and Johnny Hates Jazz and it’s that – as much as my concern for Reservoir Mum – that’s led me to write some overwrought and disposable stories tonight, but it’s only when the Thompson Twins start singing Hold Me Now that I look to the bedside table and see that it’s way past midnight and that I’m heading to an empty bed for the second night in a row, because RM’s still working on some pressing academic articles in our study at the end of the hall.
When I first met RM we were in our teens but she was already focused on her career and as certain of making a difference to people’s lives as I was that crystal therapy could dissolve past life transgressions and cure cancer. We kissed – her long dark hair and blue jeans and black hoodie jumper and my long mousey-brown hair and pink tracksuit pants and daggy angel t-shirt - but it was a full three years later before we fell in love.
Before all the adult stuff had come in to rush one day into the next I remember the late nights cuddling in bed. We’d be physically spent but still wanting to be as close as possible. I’d have one arm under her neck and the other around her waist and I was always amazed at how quickly she could fall asleep. The way she’d say love you or goodnight and take a breath and reach back to warm her feet against me and then suddenly, just as I was mid sentence in my reply she’d be jumping, jerking, asleep.
If there’s any positive to take from my life-long insomnia it’s the extra minutes and hours I’ve had to lie beside her like this. Right now at my writing desk, after all these years, I can just close my eyes to feel her lying against me. I can close my eyes and smell her and miss her, as much as I can smell her and have her here.
It’s ten past one and I’ve given up on writing for the night but the earphones are still in because there’s a chance she might make it to bed before I give in to this shuddering fatigue and try again for sleep. Steve Forbert’s singing Romeo’s Tune and, yes, I’m being emotionally curdled by tiredness and 80s classics, but after I lean into the computer screen’s luminosity and cradle my head in my arms I can’t help but think back to the dozen rental properties we shared and our first house and now this newly built home is ours and I can’t believe it, really. I feel like I’ve been slapped silly and come to with no idea how I got here.
There’s no way I’d want to skirt around the fact that they way we live right now comes from RM’s love and effort, in fact it’s my desire to do the opposite. I’ve always been awed by her drive and determination and her selflessness and I’ve stood to the side for the most of it, always trusting her, never raising concerns about new projects and exciting opportunities or the extra load she was taking on. But then it’s only been the past six weeks that I’ve worried about her so much; about the pressure it’s putting her under.
Last night was the first night that I can remember her coming to bed after I’d fallen asleep and it was 6.30 this morning that I was woken by Tyson to find she wasn’t there and as the boys and I tumbled through the morning routine I texted her to find that she’d come to bed after working till 2.30am. She’d woken up after a few hours and because she’d been unable to get back to sleep had gone early to her workplace in the city.
‘Sorry, I’m not there,’ she texted.
‘Don’t be silly,’ I texted back, knowing what she had ahead of her – from her workplace in the city to her clinic in the suburbs and then back home after 6.00pm for some time with me and the boys and then more hours for those pressing academic articles in our study down the hall. ‘We miss you though.’
The entrance to our bedroom is a blurry rectangle of light and it’s as I’m nodding off into a drooling pool of gratitude, whispering to myself that I’d live in a tent in the bush and catch fish and trap marmot just to be beside her, that she appears there as a silhouette. When she turns the light on Benny Mardones is singing Into the Night which would have been lyrically perfect for us about twenty years ago, for the most part, but the timing is way out and so I’m forced to point at RM and sing the most inappropriate line in my entire playlist. ‘She’s just sixteen years old, leave her alone they say…’
When she laughs and pulls out my earphones I can see the raw sting in her eyes. ‘What are you still doing up?’ she asks.
‘Just writing,’ I say, following her into the ensuite to ask her how she’s going with the articles as we snap off lengths of floss and take our turns at the toilet and stare into each other’s eyes with big fat whirring toothbrushes in our mouths. I’m as happy to hear that she’s nearing the end, that she’s only a week or so from submitting the articles and getting some time back, as I am to have these five minutes with her.
RM’s in bed first, lying on her side. Her eyes are barely open as I turn off the light and take a moment to listen for any movement down the hall.
‘You know what I was thinking just then?’ I whisper, as I crawl in beside her, wrap my arm around her and put my lips to her ear.
‘What?’ she asks.
‘How girls wee really loud.’
‘What? Boys wee loud as well,’ she says, her cheek rising in a smile.
‘Yeah, but boys wee loud when their wee hits the toilet water. Girls wee really loud out of their vaginas. It’s a hissing sound, like an angry snake… which is pretty ironic really…’
RM laughs and shrugs me away before catching my hand to pull me in close again. ‘How did we find each other?’ she whispers.
‘What do you mean?’
‘How did we end up together?’
‘I don’t know…’
‘I couldn’t imagine being with anyone else,’ she whispers, her eyes closed.
‘I couldn’t either,’ I say, as I commit more fully to the spoon, remembering the clock again, still worried about her but thankful for what she just told me – that everything’s okay.
Down the hall, are the three bedrooms that house Archie, Lewis, Tyson and Maki and those four boys are as lucky as any in the world with their working Mum, with their football and tennis and swimming and piano lessons, with their school and their kindergarten and their OT appointments, with their roof, their food, their beds, their shelves full of books, their Xbox and iPads, with their stay at home Dad.
After some synchronized maneuvering I have my arm under her neck, where the pillow blends into the mattress, and when she says goodnight I think of how lucky I am to have been lying beside her like this, no matter what’s been happening, for nearly twenty years.
Her warm body has always made me sigh like this. Her cold feet have always moved back to find me like this. And she’s always been able to fall asleep within a few breaths, just like this.