The story of our marriage begins in South Bend, Indiana, in a two bedroom, one bath apartment just off of I94. I hated it. Not the marriage, South Bend. I didn’t feel like I fit in at work, or the church we went to. There was a strange smell hovering over the town—part yeast, part chemical—and nobody could tell me what it was. The closest restaurant to our apartment was a Burger King, and the guy who lived below us called the paramedics at least once a month in the middle of the night; their emergency lights twinkling in our living room, kitchen, and bedroom.
One afternoon during our first summer in South Bend, Jesse took me to Macri’s Deli and Bakery, a little Italian shop that sold olives, cheeses, and wine, donuts, cannoli, and coffee. A giant mural of an Italian villa was painted across one wall in the shop – a portrait of another world that travelled to the “Crossroads of America,” and decided to stay.
We walked across the street with our treats and watched the East Race, a kayaking route that emptied into the St. Joseph River. “I like it here,” I said, pulling apart a powdered sugar donut; the sugar poofing out onto my legs and shorts.
The East Race and the St. Joseph River formed a sort of peninsula where a set of apartments stood. I spotted them while Jesse and I walked along the race to a bridge, and watched the water gurgle and splash, almost like lava, then settle into the river, calm again.
“Let’s move to those apartments,” I said.
I knew Jesse wanted to say no. Cost was one thing, being this close to water was another. We stood on the bridge in silence for a while and watched people tear down the route until they slowed at the beginning of the river.
“Safe and sound,” I said to Jesse as they glided toward the shore.
“No,” Jesse said back. “This is the most dangerous part.” He went on to explain that a river might look calm on the surface, but it rages underneath. People can get swept under and carried away before they know what’s happening.
I might’ve rolled my eyes. Sometimes, I call Jesse Ross Geller because what Ross knows about dinosaurs and evolution, Jesse knows about water. That is, everything. And he must pass that information along. It’s like a public service.
He didn’t want to live in these apartments because he knew living on the bank of a river was not a smart choice. My suggesting to Jesse we live in them immediately sent him calculating 100-year floods and the history of South Bend. “It’s not a matter of if, Callie,” he told me crumpling up his white paper bakery bag, “it’s a matter of when.” I might’ve rolled my eyes then, too.
But move there we did, and they were happy years. We went to football games, and we walked to Corbys, a corner bar at the end of our street. We walked along the river to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings, and in the afternoons during the week, as long as the weather was warm, I’d ride my bike along St. Joseph, and then into St. Mary’s college, then Notre Dame, and I’d sit by Ivan Mestrovic’s sculpture of Jesus and the woman at well, and wait for Jesse.
One evening, he came home and told me about a job in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside of Washington DC. He was excited about it, I could tell. I opened up an atlas and found a page where a sliver of Lake Michigan shared a page with the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The bodies of water were like bookends supporting Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, Maryland, and DC.
“It doesn’t seem that far,” I said.
“A day’s drive; an hour plane ride,” Jesse said.
We moved again, to a 500 square foot apartment on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, DC. That first night it rained and rained, and the humidity wrapped around me like a giant piece of plastic wrap. A cockroach crawled up a window, and I screamed, “I want to go home!”
“We are home!” Jesse yelled back.
He was right. We were home. We were home on the streets of Georgetown, and on the balcony of the Kennedy Center where we could see Virginia on one side, and the National Cathedral on the other. We were home on the mall with Hadley and Harper on Obama’s second Presidential Inauguration, waving flags and cheering him on. DC and Maryland were our home for over a decade until, one morning when I was driving on the Beltway and Jesse called to tell me about a job in Ann Arbor, Michigan, his voice the same as it was the day he told me about the job in Silver Spring.
“Take it,” I said.
And now we are here, when, in the summertime the sky never seems to completely blacken because the sun only naps and the fireflies sparkle all night. Hadley and Harper run to the pool just beyond our home faster than you can say, “sunblock;” their towels flying behind them like capes.
We go to the Jolly Pumpkin, a brewery with a rooftop deck where we share pitchers of sour beer with friends. There’s Literati, a bookstore with a typewriter in the basement that rarely doesn’t have someone sitting and typing a sentence or two; continuing a never-ending story with no arc, just an infinite number of observations, thoughts, and expressions dancing on the page, their beauty in the fact that there is no arc, no form, no theme, just pebbles of thoughts, like cairns on the shore of a hiking trail: I was here, and you are not alone.
We are home. Again.
It is Saturday morning, and I’m sitting across from Jesse in our dining room. He’s typing away on the computer, and I have cookbooks all over the table looking for easy dinner ideas for the upcoming week. I am daunted by weeknight meals due to the extra-curricular activities Hadley and Harper are involved in, in addition to the writing schedule I’ve set for myself. There’s barely time to eat dinner let alone make it.
“What about pizza? Do pizza and salad sound good?” I ask Jesse.
“Well, who’s going to make the dough? I guess I could, and take Hadley to practice while it rises. Do you mind rolling it out and doing the rest?”
“Okay, so how about something in the crock pot? Maybe bean stew or my mom’s recipe for meat sauce for pasta?”
I sigh heavily and I flip through page after page of recipes we’ve clipped and kept in a binder since we’ve been married. Tried and true recipes we love and know by heart: potato soup I ruined once because I left the potatoes on too long and also didn’t cook them in any liquid. They were burnt to a blackened crisp and the fire alarm went off. Sweet potato burritos—the recipe so tattered with our alterations and suggestions: “More cayenne, less cheese (or none at all), ONLY use Trader Joe’s chili-lime tortillas.” Thumbing through them feels like I’m looking through a scrapbook of days past, never to return again.
“How about a cheese board? We can just lay a bunch of stuff out and make our own plate?” I ask. “Does that sound good?”
“Does it sound good to you?” Jesse asks. I think he’s patronizing me, but what he wants is for me to just make the damn list and be done with it. I want to have a conversation about it.
“I don’t know, I guess.” I say.
“I would prefer it if you told me what you wanted.”
I hate when Jesse does this. I slam my pen down, stack up our cookbooks, stand up, and shove in my chair.
“I would PREFER to not talk to you right now.”
I stomp downstairs to our basement, turn on the radio, and start angry cleaning. A while later Jesse comes downstairs. We work silently together while “Fools Rush In” begins to play on the radio.
I scrub at a paint stain on the arts and craft table that used to be our kitchen table when we lived in apartments that were too small for anything else. The stain won’t come out, nor will the imprints of Hadley and Harper’s first attempts at writing the alphabet, or my handwriting from when I used it as a writing desk.
“Like a river flows,” Elvis croons as I scrub, “surely to the sea, darling so it goes, some things are meant to be.”
The night before we moved to DC, Jesse and I stayed in a hotel in South Bend. We were downtown, about a block from what was no longer our apartment. We had a view of the small, industrial city I’d fallen in love with. Below us, was the St. Joseph River.
“Is it possible for the Potomac River and the St. Joseph River to flow into one another?” I asked.
“What? No. I don’t think so.” Jesse said.
We sat for a minute in silence, and then I said, “The Potomac empties into the Chesapeake Bay, and the bay empties into the Atlantic?”
“And the St. Joseph River empties into Lake Michigan?”
“Where does that water go?”
As though spitting out a Bible verse or a favorite song lyric that’s made its way into his soul, Jesse said, “Huron and Superior, and then over Niagara Falls, and into the Saint Lawrence Seaway.” After a beat, he looks at me and says, “And then into the Atlantic.”
“So maybe the water from the St. Joseph, and the water from the Potomac could meet, right?”
“I guess,” Jesse said, chuckling.
I leaned back in my chair, satisfied.
“So they’ll find their way to each other,” I said. “They’ll connect.”
Jesse’s back is to me and he’s adjusting shelves on a giant bookcase we’ve had since we first moved to DC. We bought three of them to cover up a wall because it had a mirror that covered it and I hated the mirror. It was supposed to add the feeling of space, but all it did was remind me of what we didn’t have. I didn’t want to work with an illusion, I wanted to work with what was there. My mom said to get bookshelves. “It’ll warm the place up, plus, you can fit everything you had in that second bedroom on them.” She was right (as usual).
He’s wearing a pair of old Levi’s that fit him perfectly as he works on the bookshelves. Jesse wanted to get rid of them years ago, but I convinced him not to. He wears them almost every weekend to shovel snow, rake leaves, mow the lawn, fix things around the house.
I will not apologize, and I know he won’t either. But I will walk to the bookshelves, and pull on a belt loop on his jeans. He will turn and look at me, suspicious and curious. I will take the gold band on his left ring finger, and move it around with my thumb until our fingers intertwine, and I will put my head on his shoulder, exhausted, in love, and wherever Jesse is, at home.