December 31, 2009

Gary Presley

What Keeps Us Together

We searched for the one thing that would hold us together that Friday night, and we burned through the early morning hours rumbling through the inventory of all the things that were wrong, were painful, were intent on pulling us apart.

By four in the morning, we had argued our way into the car, and I drove for thirteen hours straight down through the hills and across the great alluvial plain and then onto the flat river bottom, and finally across the Old Man and down through Mississippi, each milepost marking one more wrong turn during the seven year detour we had called a marriage.

I left the woman I loved in a way I never understood where I had found her those years ago: on her mother's front porch six blocks off Canal in New Orleans.

She stood one step above me, red-eyed, flanked by a backpack, three pieces of luggage, and her old cat Cinder in a rickety pet crate.

"Have a good life," I said, kissing the splash of freckles on the bridge of her nose.

"Could you be any more of a jerk?" she asked.

I was on the fifth fairway at Crossfield Country Club the next Thursday evening when my cell phone began to vibrate. I knew the number, and when I cracked the little Nokia open, she said "I'm pregnant," and hung up her phone.

I walked directly to my car, sat on the front seat and counted the cash rubber-band-wrapped around my driver's license and debit card. Twelve hours later, night-crossing the great river, speeding through the pulp pines of the Delta, I turned off Canal and covered the blocks to that same front porch.

I saw her where I left almost a week before, dressed in the same blue jeans and one of my worn blue button-down dress shirts, her backpack in one hand and the three pieces of luggage on the stairs behind her. I didn't see Cinder, the cat.

"And so who's the father?" I asked with one step remaining.

"You wouldn't be here if you didn't know," she replied. "Let's go home and try to do this thing right."


Gary Presley's memoir, SEVEN WHEELCHAIRS: A Life beyond Polio, was published in October 2008 by the University of Iowa Press. Find links to his other work at

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