“These muscles,” Says He
Notice what you eat, and you will find in it the taste of your own fleshâ€¦
-Michel de Montaigne, “Of Cannibals”
I am new to eating animals, newer still to poultry, and preparing to cook my first whole chicken. I rinse the bird; my small kitchen smells like a farm. I pat it dry and work my butterslick hands under the skin, pulling it from the muscle. I marvel at the efficacy of connective tissue and succumb for a moment to a creationist fallacy: There is design in this, I think.
The next morning, before I step into the shower, I pull hard at the skin covering my own breast, wondering how much force it would take to separate it from the meat.
Aubrey has a dermatofibroma on her leg, a layer of scar building on scar, all the way down. The day they remove it, I join her in the outpatient operating room. I study horror film, so there is nothing new to me in the blood that flows out of her calf, in the multicolored thickness of skin, in the sharp hooks they use to pull the hole wider. I am fine with all of it. While she grimaces and shakes her head, saying, “I do not like this,” I hold her hand and smile.
The surgeon sets the scalpel on the tray and says, “Almost done.” She reaches for a small laser-pen mounted in a cradle on the wall. She squints into the hole in Aubrey’s leg, presses a button on the side of the pen, and smoke rises from the incision. Now I am not fine-now I am light-headed-because I have just begun eating red meat and the smell of my girlfriend’s leg-hole being cauterized is too familiar. The searing of the fatty hypodermis makes me liken the difference between cow and goat to the difference between goat and human and for just a moment, before the nausea sets in, my mouth waters.
From a Distance, at a Remove
On the drive home from the airport, a thick morning fog dampens my senses so that the radio sounds like it’s been steeped in reverb. I have just dropped Aubrey off after one of the oases in our long-distance marriage. I pass the exit for Settler’s Ridge, a development anchored by a new, fancy movie theater and a new, fancy grocery store, and I remember when it was just a pile of dirt. When it was just a pile of dirt, and Aubrey and I had been together hardly a year, and Brandon and Margaret hardly a month, and we all had a midnight picnic in the park across the highway. The Perseids showered over us and we drank warm wine and broke ground on our complex of friendships. I had battled my jealousy, or my trust issues, or my hypersensitivity, and mostly won, but in the park I remembered when I’d first had feelings for Aubrey. When I’d first had feelings for Aubrey, and I’d worried about her feelings for Brandon, worried about their flirtation, or their romance, or their relationship. In the park I remembered those feelings and even though I had mostly won, I felt the stab in my stomach like tonight again was a night to worry-even though Brandon was in love, and Aubrey was in love, and not with each other. Even though for two beautiful, single people with as much in common as any good friends have, it would be impossible and stupid not to consider it. Even though a hundred sober reasons kept them apart-I felt the stab and I worried. But in this thick morning fog, even though I remember everything, I feel only longing for those easy summers when Aubrey and I could be together at midnights and under meteor showers.
Once in a while, I smell the sea and plump oranges-but only for a moment, so quick it barely registers, so quick I experience it as an echo, so quick I mourn its absence before I know it has arrived.
What I am smelling is our honeymoon, our food and our strolls and our sex and more than anything our relief that we did not live together anymore, because when we did, it was at what they call intermediate altitude and I do not sleep enough at intermediate altitude to stay sane.
We still do not live together now, because you are still at intermediate altitude, but we are too far from those troubled times to feel that relief as intensely as the longing that grows in its place. Or at least, I am-but your memory is better than mine, and it was like a dream to me at any rate.
The first few times I smelled our honeymoon I did not understand all this; I thought instead that I missed the city, the language, the ruins, the culture, the sheer difference of that place. I estimated our travel budget; I checked airfares and conversion rates; I compared our schedules. I thought I might tell you, when I saw you next, that I long for us to return.
And perhaps I do. But I will tell you, instead, that I long for you to return to me.