by KARLA CORNEJO VILLAVICENCIO
• This document is a restrictive covenant (hereafter “Covenant”) executed pursuant to today, year two thousand and sixteen in the Lord’s calendar. Today I turn 27. The Internet has given that number a club, the matter at hand.
• This covenant is required because sometimes you are scared, and because sometimes I am.
• It is the purpose of this Covenant to restrict certain activities and uses of the Property — once mine but ours now — to protect the environment. You once said I was dense as a forest, beautifully saying that I am a lot, and I thought maybe you were saying I was something like the willow tree that Hamlet’s Ophelia climbed up and fell off, landing in the brook where she drowned. You told me your uncle personally picked the White House Christmas tree from a forest in Alaska. I want to be that one.
• The following are the details of this Covenant:
If anybody could have saved me it would have been you.
That is a line for a girl with no Covenant in walking distance from the River Ouse.
I went to Catholic school until I was a teenager. I don’t believe in salvation, but I quite like the songs about it. My 7th grade teacher, I think she was a lesbian, wrote one on her guitar with my 8th grade teacher, I also think she was a lesbian, and it sounded a little bit more Pentecostal than either would have liked and it went something like: And the Father will dance, [something] day of joy, He will [something] and renew you with his love. There were even tambourines involved, and this was before the storefront churches moved into town.
I am prepared to sign without reservation a 60-year mortgage for a cardboard-drywall house in a small town by the water, even though you cannot drive and I cannot drive and you cannot swim and I cannot swim and your father would never let us sign for that loan, I believe he has got a smart portfolio.
It’s funny, my drawing up this legal document, because whoever knew I could. Would you love me more if I were in law school, I once said to you on a city bus. I know you like to kiss me more, but what if I had a job, a real job, a job with benefits and security and a future, what if I could buy you things, Lacoste underwear not marked down for slight imperfections, bottles of water that cost at least three dollars, a hypoallergenic puppy from a breeder. We were at a hotel downtown in front of a memorial we agreed was poorly designed. It was meant to be a bird in flight but it looked like a plane crash at the moment of contact. We kept the shades up through the night because you or I had paid for the view and we liked seeing each other during because it was early and still painful, and if you were going to be my cold and broken hallelujah, I wanted to see your face when I took something from you as you saw it happen and you took it back from inside me, bruising viscera bruised already, but you always did say I love you after. I made you cry the next morning and to calm you down I offered you my sports drink and you could not well breathe and you could not well speak and through the thickest of tears you said, I don’t drink blue shit and that’s when I thought, holy shit.
You had been safe in a distant suburb on 9/11, one of the ones with no sidewalks and let this serve me as a mental note to research whether this is true of all suburbs, but I’m from New York and my dad disappeared that whole day and part of the night, we didn’t know he was crossing the bridge, and so that long night in the Financial District it felt like we were doing something really bad, like hooking up in a closed confessional, curtain drawn, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which I suggested that one time. You were in between trains, I had an hour for lunch, and it was equidistant.
Our house smells like orange essential oils to keep away the ants, you hate the ants, and you spray lavender eucalyptus water in the air vents before we go to bed, you spray and I say hippie shit, every single time, but I accept the four drops of white chestnut under my tongue for thoughts that go round and round. We disagree on the matter of medicine sometimes, I say honey, it’s placebo at best, but I’ll take it, one of everything, I’ll try everything once, I’ll even take off my ring, once, and then you will, once, and then we will both go down on our knees, which you have never done for a god and I have never done for a man, looking for your simple gold band under the bookshelf. You grew up playing softball and throw farther than I can.
When it was my turn to ask you to do the joint income tax thing, I did it on a softball field in New Haven because it was a reference to your favorite movie. I went down on my knee, the whole thing. My first thought was to take you to the oldest tree in Connecticut, a birch where people claim to have seen the image of the Lord. I tell you this, even though you are Jewish. We planned to go to the oldest tree in New York in February, your darkest month. I want to take you to the trees because they are hundreds of years old. They have been standing for so long. Are they tired, I wonder. In the decades of the great Latin American military dictatorships, one torture technique was to have people in custody just stand and stand until they couldn’t stand any more, and these trees are crooked but still upright. I am tired for them and I am also just tired, so I sometimes I sit, but fuck if my posture isn’t something to see.
Your hands are beautiful so small like the rain I mean I love your eyes they are better than green or hazel, they are the color of dying leaves which the French have a word for. Le passage à l’heure d’hiver. That’s not the word. Can we find a bathroom somewhere, you are between trains and we have an hour and sixty dollars between us. This time, the Yale Club is equidistant.
Section II: Modification and Termination
The Grantor may submit a request to Ecology that this Covenant be amended or terminated. Any amendment or termination of this Covenant must follow the procedures in the document amended to this one and any rules promulgated under these chapters.
Please don’t leave.
This poet I like — Michelle K — said, “Do not make homes out of people. This will leave you homesick and sad,” but too fucking late, dude, too fucking late.
You spend your life thinking you’re Truman Capote, slung across your armchair in your dark satin bathrobe, bookish and strong and sad, and then you realize you don’t have a bathrobe. You have L.L. Bean slippers (you call them “Old Friends” but I think that’s their name?) that I make fun of but are actually quite warm and even Robert Lowell, bookish and strong and sad, wrote his wife about the birds that time, remember? He wanted her to remember. I am a strong man, and you are a strong man, and the point of this Covenant is that Robert Lowell was a good man and a strong man too, may he rest in peace, and I will teach Life Studies wherever I follow you. Like Vera Nabokov, who followed our esteemed Russian writer to Wellesley post-Lolita, I will throw the most darling of tea parties at the term’s start — the ratio of cucumber to watercress to cream cheese to white bread triangles, crusts removed, unprecedented among spousal faculty — so blue-undertone bitches — “winters,” Mary Kay ladies might call them — see I am a forest fire and know their fucking place.
We will head outside, and I’ll hand out copies of Anne Sexton’s collected, the cheap one you can pick up at The Strand. The three-sentence bio on the flap jacket mentions her suicide, I think on line three. We will make a pile and burn them, and then we’ll recite, all together, a catechism from Karen Green: “I always feel like saying he died is letting him get away with something.”
She had her heart broken by a man who wrote this really great thing about cruise ships once.
Not like me, baby.
I have never been on a cruise ship.
I don’t know even how to swim.
Still, I make my way to the Underworld once or twice a week, kidnapped by Hades and serving my time as his bride in a plea deal arranged by my mother. The Underworld is a deep pool, dark and dense with water and souls and I alone levitate. I stare Death in the eyes, I size up his pupils, and then I make it back here, and with me, the flowers.
I promise you spring, every spring, this spring and the one nine years from now, the one sixteen years after, ten years after that, four years later, and however many springs are left until the chlorofluorocarbons we love kill the Earth or something. The day that I’ll die, old and annoyed by everything, I promise you I will die in the fall so I will have never broken my promise of spring.
Finally, I will compromise on the matter of whether or not we will share a sock drawer and, having resolved that, on the matter of whether we will share socks.
Karla Cornejo Villavicencio is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New Haven.
Photographs by the author.