For some time I've noticed that my husband is losing his shine. This is devastating, because it was this shiny thing that attracted me to him in the first place. It was almost as though the second I said "I do," the shine dimmed a bit. And it has been dimming since, slowly, slowly, then faster until it has gotten almost all the way gone, like a mirage down the road that shrinks to a mere tablet of shimmer.
The shine was a sort of secret of mine. When it was bigger I used to watch it hover over him, sort of the reverse of a shadow, in the afternoons when we first met. I never exactly said to him: "Hey, nice shine there." I figured it might embarrass him. Or he might think I was sort of strange. But I liked it and he liked me liking it. I know because he would catch me staring at it and smile.
I guess you always admire things in others you do not have yourself. I most definitely am a rather dull individual. It you looked at me, you might say I have a sort of anti-shine, in fact. A darkness that I have carried around since childhood, like a cape.
Maybe that was why I wanted my husband's lovely, humming florescence in my life. It complimented my darkness. We had a yin and yang thing going. But then his shine began to fade and we ended up all yin. Or all yang. All something and not enough something else. And then there was a dilemma about what to do. Without the same shine I had trouble taking my clothes off to get in bed with my husband. The sort of shivery feeling, that nice, new toes under blankets feeling, had started to go with the shine. What was left was a dumb, thick, "your toes are too cold thing" -- and that was not at all pleasant.
Somewhere in the middle of this time we had our daughter, Audrey. Interestingly, she was a very, very shiny baby. She smiled and hoops of light exploded from her. You could touch her and feel it. It was sort of like those "magic finger" beds in motels.
I often have trouble believing Audrey is real. Some days I just go in her nursery and stare at her sleeping, so I can make sure she is really there. Her chin is very nice. It has a tiny suggestion of a cleft. Her eyes have lashes so long they look like miniature brooms, sweeping her cheeks. And above her floats the multi-colored cloud of shine. Some days it looks like mylar, others like mercury and every now and then, it is almost like lightning. It actually flashes.
About a month ago I began taking Audrey into my room at night and sleeping with her the way I did when she was first born and nursing. She is incandescent, like a glow-in-the-dark toy from a Happy Meal. It is wonderful. I can feel the soft shine against my arms and legs, lovely and warm.
But my husband, understandably, has not been happy with this arrangement. He has told me I have to put Audrey back in her crib and get into bed with him again. His shine is completely gone now. Together we are a dark and chill black hole. We could suck away colors from windows. We could turn the world black with our darkness. Audrey feels it. She cries when we are together, holding her. She slaps at us. She wants to go back in her crib and watch the ray of light from the window filter sparkles of dust. She wants to be alone or with me, where we can compliment each other. Darkness and light.
So I have a plan. I am going to take Audrey and run. I have to, because it is getting dangerous. The lack of shine, once a simple darkness, is being replaced now with something darker than darkness. Something full of pain that gets in behind your eyeballs and then starts to sing and whistle. The dark that is replacing the shine is growing teeth and claws. I can hear it growling when my husband is asleep. I think it could be preparing to attack.
I have everything ready now. I have packed a suitcase of all our lightest clothes and we are heading to a very light place: I bought two tickets to Costa Rica. I read a brochure. Even when it rains the rain is filled with sunshine. The sky never really grows dark, even at night, because of the reflections from the sea.
It may seem like I am a hypocrite, chasing shiny, light things when I myself am sort of a grey, non-shiny person. But that is precisely why I have to do this. I have to get Audrey and myself somewhere bright, fast, so we can repair the little dark tears and rips we have begun to acquire in our skin. Mine look sort of like flea bites. Audrey's are less visible. In fact, I think I am the only one who can actually see them. They are very small and pink, as though her body were blushing in spots.
I am not a heartless person. I know that it will be hard for my husband after we are gone. But the truth is, now that the shiny part of him is gone, he should probably try to get it back, or find some other shiny person to be around. It isn't good for him either -- all this dark. I am afraid if we stay we will both need Audrey too much. We will become like vampires upon her every laugh and spark. We will want so much to be near her to absorb that thing she has, that he once had. And it would be too much for her. I am afraid it would dim her the way he was dimmed. Slowly, slowly, slowly, until every last lustrous bit is gone.
So here are the tickets. Here is the date, marked with a light blue x on the solar system calendar in the kitchen. This month is Uranus month. It is a sign, I think. Uranus, though distant and cold, I can see right here it is a very bright place.
And here is my note to my husband. "All best," I have written. And I have placed it next to the window, on the edge of the table where the morning sun will fall on it.
About the author:
Elizabeth Cohen is a columnist and reporter for the Press & Sun Bulletin in Binghamton, New York. Her essays, poems and articles have appeared in The Yale Review, Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, Glamour, PEOPLE and elsewhere. She is the co-author with Dr. Lori Arviso Alvord of The Scalpel and the Silver Bear (Bantam 1998) and the author of The House on Beartown Road (Random House 2003).