In bed, my eyes trace the blue veins shooting through the milk of his skin, like eggshell cracks, then the prominent veins that stretch over the tops of his feet like nets. I’m fascinated by the differences between his body and mine — the skin underneath his alert eyes loosening the tiniest bit, the occasional gray strand in his dark hair. We don’t dare to talk about it, but it’s as tangible as the blare of car horns outside our windows: What will happen when he grows old?
I do the math: when I’m 30, Douglas will be 46; when I turn 35, he’ll be 50. More variables: if we have a baby when Douglas is 45, he’ll be 60 when our child is 15. Sometimes I feel cheated by time: if only we’d met sooner, if only he were younger. If X equals this, Y equals that. Y is always greater than X.
Other times, I don’t think of it at all. Our four years together have been happy. Our apartment is comfortably messy, and I don’t often clean — the 1950s red Formica table that belonged to Douglas’s grandmother serves more as dumping ground than a dining surface: unopened mail, pens, receipts, loose change, a lamp with a ceramic dog base, two electric toothbrush chargers, a spool of green twine. Coats and jeans drape the backs of the chairs. We eat our dinners on the living room floor instead. I stretch my legs out in front of me and he scoots over, leaning against me. He carefully trims the fat off the edges of his steak and transports the pieces to my plate, where he knows they’ll be savored. In these times, our differences recede into the background.
My mother and father still strip the sheets off Douglas’s parents’ bed, sponge the dried toothpaste off their mirrors, vacuum their rugs. Every two weeks, they dust the bedroom that was once his.
“Their son is an artist,” my father said to me years ago as we straightened the cushions on the sofa in the living room. “That’s him, over there.”
He pointed. Two dense pupils stared at us from behind the glass of the large framed drawing hanging on the wall. It was Douglas’s self-portrait, rendered in smudged whorls of charcoal. I didn’t care to look closer then. I’ve since studied the drawing, its intensity pulling me away from Thanksgiving dinners to examine the hollows and lines that I now know so well. He was 19 when he drew himself, the age I was when I first met him.