It rained a lot for the first several months of the year, but no one complained. You’re not allowed to do that in the middle of a four-year drought, even when the streets start to flood. The tree quivered and swayed and the weight of the droplets knocked the white blossoms to the ground. By the middle of March, there were buds on the branches and the deck was covered in a carpet of petals.
We hiked in the East Bay, made pasta in my apartment, and showed up at concerts and parties that I used to attend on my own. We were so very pretty when we went out at night—dim lights and dark slacks, high heels, soft pearls, and dresses that clung onto curves. Sipping drinks in etched glasses was some sort of surreal, like we were performing on a stage of candlelit corners and foggy gray evenings.
Then morning would come and the bright light of dawn cut sharp through bay windows and onto the bed.
“So this is it,” I said shrugging the first morning I woke up beside him.
He looked into my eyes then over my face and we studied each other in silence, the light falling heavy on wrinkles and freckles that keep track of years like corporeal journals.
“I like you without make up,” he said, his hand tracing the arc of my eyebrow. “And I don’t just mean on your face.”
We planned a road trip to Sonoma and spent a weekend in blankets talking about dreams as lamb and potatoes slow-cooked in the oven and rain poured down on our Airbnb.
My mom and dad came to visit and the four of us joined to eat seafood at Scoma’s—a legacy restaurant in Fisherman’s Wharf. It is the one place on the wharf that I will still go to eat because it is special to my family and sacred to my parents.
The buds on the plum tree began to unfurl, their tiny green scrolls forming an umbrella of shade that arched over the deck. Sometimes I would sit there and work on a story, tap out an e-mail, or get lost in a daydream. On weekends in Oakland we’d eat breakfast outside and talk about travel or how we felt about children.
He’d say things that were hard, like “I’m just not sure,” or “I don’t really want to go with you when you go back home.” Then I’d say things that were desperate, like, “I just don’t feel wanted,” or “The world is against me. Things just never work out.”
While I could outline in detail what I wanted from a relationship, I struggled to make and follow through on real plans for my life, from finishing a novel to finding steady work. This was frustrating for someone who who was looking for stability and saw my insecurity as a chasm of need and a reflection of his own uncertainty. I was flighty and he was afraid and both of us overthought everything. Still, we never really fought. There was never a need to. The decades of life we’d each lived before had taught us to listen, or at least that’s what they’d taught me. We didn’t always find answers to the questions we asked, but we were sure of the fact that we wanted this now—that the we that was us was still something good.
I delighted in sharing the things that we loved. For me, that meant cooking and show tunes, blog posts, massages, and the view from the Berkeley Marina. For him, it was blues music and Kierkegaard, Belgian beer, Doctor Who and podcasts on grit. But as precious as it is to share someone’s joy, I was equally honored to share in his pain. That summer each of us faced demons that still seemed to haunt us—humans who had damaged our hearts or added on shame and whose very appearance could conjure past pain. I ran into mine on a symphony stairwell, but we faced his together in a fellowship hall, and there was something about this that was better than the flutter of the day he sent flowers, better than a moment you might capture on camera. There is something that is better about suffering alongside than looking for someone who will pull us from pain.
Sometime in June, small green fruit began to appear on the branches of the plum tree. The green turned to yellow, the yellow to gold, and by the end of the summer the branches hung low, weighed down by fruit that had ripened each day.
We took turns climbing into the branches with a rickety ladder and grasping for plums that were the size of fat cherries. He jumped onto the railing, crawled into the tree, took hold of a branch, and shook. Plums rained down like juicy ripe mana, hitting the ground with splats and thuds. There was so much fruit. Bucket after bucket, day after day. More than I could process. More than I could have imagined.