Husband Material -Danielle Kelly

Husband Material -Danielle Kelly

“Not every guy you meet is going to be your husband,” Mom said.

“I know,” I replied.

We sit in the hotel room in Berlin, Ohio eating our takeout dessert: cheesecake. 

“I like him,” I tell mom.  

She’s heard this story before. But I wanted to believe this one, that John, the guy I met right after two back-to-back break ups, was the one. Or, potentially the one. I wasn’t getting younger and Mom wasn’t either. A few months shy of thirty and I had finally dropped the strong, no-man-is-good-enough attitude I had perfected since middle school.  I was always too smart, too focused, too shy, too busy to chase boys according to my family.  The adjectives were many, but no one ever said what I knew to be true: too fat.  Too ugly.

“I know,” she finally said, finishing the last part of our shared dessert. 

I wait for her to add more.  A mother’s nag, that’s what you said about the others or like and love and lust are different things.  But she doesn’t say anything else. She just sits and listens like most women wish their mothers would do.

When I was in grade school, I was surrounded by boys.  A self-proclaimed tomboy, I played soccer with the best of them at recess, navigating, without a second thought between the guys and the crab-apple holes that littered the school’s field.  

Toby. 

Brandon. 

Addison.  

Dillon.

Dillon was my first boyfriend.  He lived nearby over the local Butcher’s shop his family owned.  One summer, mom let me walk home with him after a night of playing giving me permission to stay the night.  We were in third grade.  It was the first night I spent with a boy.  

Once at his house, we played with his toy soldiers and he introduced me to war: Confederates vs. Yankees.  At the time, I didn’t know what he was talking about, so I remember nodding at every word he said, like a good girl should do.  We didn’t play long before his sister snuck in the cramped living space and stuck in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a movie I had never seen before.  She sat in her nightgown and I sat in a pair of shorts and a matching t-shirt, me twice her size, wishing I would be like her when I was in fifth grade. Dylan kept playing with his toy soldiers.

What I remember most about the movie is Esmerelda. Her long brown hair flowing in soft waves to her shoulders.  Her skirt and cropped top and the scarf wrapped along her hair.  Her skin was tan.  Mine was as pale as paper.  I let my hair down from its permanent ponytail as I watched the movie, but no matter how much I ran my fingers through it, it didn’t lie right.  

Later that night, Dillon snuck out of his room and into the living room where his sister and I slept. He crouched between our sleeping bags with his hands firmly wrapped around his back.

“I got you something,” he said.  “Close your eyes.”

I closed my eyes and my hands gave way to a heavy object. I wanted to open my eyes, but, even then, I didn’t want to forget this moment. The object was cold and smooth and heavier than a bag of Halloween candy. “What is it?”

“Open your eyes, silly.” 

A glass, pink translucent apple sat in the palm of my hand. It was the first time a guy had ever given me anything. 

Now, I wish I knew how to give back whatever a guy gives me.

Being a woman isn’t simple.  No one told me that.  Not in health class. Not even in those what-is-happening-to-your-body videos the guidance counselors showed us in fifth grade as they separated the boys and girls and handed out hygiene packets full of sanitary napkins and powder fresh deodorant that no one ever used. In fact, what people don’t tell you about being a woman is how shitty it is. How once your breasts start developing there is no slowing down.  That from the moment of your first period, you can’t control the pain.  Pain is normal.  Pain is womanhood.  Pain is never ending.  Pain crescendos and draws the breath from your lungs until there is nothing left but a swift exhale of air.  I’ve learned recently that pain doesn’t get a voice. 

As singer, I pride myself in my voice taking care of it. Paying attention to everything that can harm it from ibuprofen to the common cold to dehydration to overpowering perfume to overuse. But somewhere with Mitchell, I lost that voice. He was temporary and the first boy I truly dated as an “adult”. He was nice, found me online as a new face in town. We were both young, catholic, lonely—the holy trinity of what we thought would be a lasting relationship.

We had only dated a few months when he censored me. I was standing in the kitchen, making breakfast when he called to check in as he got off his night shift.

“What do you think about this thing with the teachers,” he said, referring to the latest teacher strike that shut down the state.

“Do you really want to know?” I said. I scraped at the eggs in the pan, creating curds trying to formulate a proper answer, thinking about what would keep him happy, as I had done since he told me he had voted for Trump and I had told him that I was a birth-control taking, pro-choice, gun-control seeking liberal Catholic. “You know they’re doing this for everyone.  You.  Me.  All state employees,” I said, “give them a break.”

“If it was anyone else their asses would be fired,” he said. “I couldn’t do that with my job.  They’d send me packing.”

I agreed with him because it seemed like the right thing to do.  As I sat the phone down on the counter, I tried not to erupt into what I really wanted to say: the teachers can walk out for those that can’t and rub in the fact that I, once again, had proven a point.  He never liked when I challenged him. 

A week later while we sat at the bar, he drank while I carted him around. He placed his hand over my mouth to silence me. He laughed. His friends scolded him. I let him do it and didn’t leave immediately.

Outside the hotel, horse-drawn buggies sit tethered at the nearby market while cars populate the space between. It’s a blending of cultures.  But I wonder if it’s more like a population banking on the ideas of wholesomeness and simplicity not realizing that they don’t exist anymore. 

Mom throws her dessert container in the trash. I want to ask her more about guys, about dating, about everything we’ve never quite talked about when it comes to being a woman, but I don’t. I’m not sure if it is the shame or embarrassment that keeps me from speaking up. Good girls don’t speak of their curiosity, my grandmother’s ghostly voice echoes in my ears. So instead, I remain silent. 

Silence is powerful yet overpowering. In music, we don’t step on the rests. We let the silence be as powerful as the notes that build poco a poco into a swell of sound before the sound is stunted again by silence. However, sometimes, a singer holds on to a note longer because they just don’t want to let go of a rush they may never get again.

Danielle Kelly serves as Instructor of English at West Virginia University at Parkersburg where she serves as part of the editorial collective of The Poorhouse Rag, the campus literary magazine. She received her MFA in Fiction from West Virginia Wesleyan College. A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, her work has appeared in rkvry, and in Women Speak vol 5, an anthology of women’s voices produced by the Women of Appalachia Project. In addition to writing and teaching, Danielle is a classically trained singer and has performed with ensembles throughout the state of West Virginia.

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