I’ve been keeping something from my husband. I don’t anticipate this changing any time soon, as I’m concerned about the aftermath of confession.
I’m not afraid of Aidan. Don’t even go there. Aidan is one of those “too good for this world” people. Possibly too good for me, for that matter. Yesterday, he gently extracted a spider from our master bathroom ceiling by doing some sort of glass/cardboard/Houdini thing. This happened shortly after I threatened to eviscerate it with a broom and then spray twice for good measure. I think he might even have said a safety prayer right before releasing the eight-legged monster and watching it scurry towards our neighbor’s lawn to star in the next scene in Advance of the Arachnids (rated R for strong language).
There’s more. Some time ago, Aidan sat through a two-hour endurance test (or, as my relatives described it, “an intimate family dinner”) during which my parents plied him with traditional Caribbean food that they intentionally made too spicy for pain-free consumption. He did not ask for water, did not question why no one else was eating, and, for reasons I still can’t fathom, did not break up with me on the spot. Instead, he gamely chewed his fire chicken and surreptitiously popped Tums. I’m pretty sure I fell in love with him that night. (The next morning, my mother grudgingly informed me that Aidan had passed.)
Six months into our marriage, Aidan remains a “good” fighter. He listens, doesn’t get defensive, and generally avoids the twin perils of mansplaining and talking over me. I told him once that I’ve never had to reclaim my time with him. He stared at me blankly. I invited him to google it.
The secret seizing my lungs is that I’m no longer all in with respect to one of our wedding vows. Not that vow. That’s not even on the radar. I’m currently five and a half months pregnant, neither looking nor feeling my best. I barely want to be with myself right now, let alone start an illicit relationship. And besides, just no.
I mean the movie night vow.
Some backstory. My first impression of Aidan was not favorable, through no real fault of his own. When I saw him make a beeline for the table I was sharing with Cat and Chris, I nudged Cat hard and hissed, “This is why I don’t go on blind dates. You did not tell me this boy was white. Our friendship is on a break as of right now.” “Simmer down, sweetie,” Cat said calmly as she dodged my left elbow, which attempted a second, brutal nudge. “First of all, I told you his name was Aidan. What did you expect? Besides, we live in a post-racial society, remember?” (Obviously this happened back when people could say things like “post-racial society” and receive an angry head shake in return, as opposed to getting things thrown at them.) “You’re perfect for each other. I promise. Just give this a chance.”
So I did, reluctantly, and Aidan wore me down that night. He was charming, witty, and generally adorable. We bonded over our mutual love of movies and our mutual hatred of bananas (with their slimy flesh and vomit-inducing scent), and it seemed like I had known him forever. I had no choice but to assent when, against the backdrop of Cat’s wide, complacent smile, he asked if he could see me the following weekend. Of course we went to a movie. We simultaneously snorted Dr. Pepper out of our noses during that extra-ridiculous scene in Crazy Rich Asians, took it as a positive sign, and have been joined at the hip ever since.
Aidan’s proposal, one year to the day of our blind date, was spot on. He suddenly knelt on the sand during what I believed to be an impromptu golden-hour walk on the beach. Thinking he had dropped something, I knelt down beside him to join the search. He chuckled and said, “Annette, this is why I love you,” and then set me upright before kneeling once again. At that point I saw the small box in his hand and although I’d never fainted in my life, I came pretty close in that moment. A small crowd had gathered. Somehow, my parents were there, along with Cat and Chris. Their sly looks in recent days finally made sense, as did the flurry of texts Aidan had been sending related to an unspecified “work project.” I could hear the “awwws” and see women fanning their faces. His promises were beautiful.
I had some concerns. For example, I envisioned making an ass of myself on the annual ski trip with Aidan and his extended family. I do not ski. When I’m in rooms inhabited solely by people of color and the topic of skiing comes up, we say, “But, trees. And also, cold. Why? No, seriously, why?” Loudly and collectively.
I also considered our divergent genetic histories. Those dandy spit tests had revealed that Aidan is 98.5% Scottish, with a scintilla of German to spice things up, whereas I am 85% West African (mostly Nigerian and Ghanaian), 14% English (which I assume came to pass in a highly problematic manner, but who really knows?), and 1% German. Aidan thought our shared heritage was hilarious, joking, “We’ll always have Oktoberfest!” I thought, as I stood barefoot on the warm sand under the indulgent watch of well-wishers, that our children’s skin colors could run the gamut. Potentially light enough that I would always be mistaken for the nanny. Possibly dark enough that if they ran track everyone would assume (incorrectly) that speed was my contribution. Maybe that middle shade so coveted by the makers of feminine hygiene product commercials.
But it was 2019, those were all hypothetical issues, and most importantly, I loved Aidan. My yes was inevitable.
We married during Labor Day weekend the following year. Not much had changed since our engagement. Kidding. Our officiant wore an N95 mask dotted with sparkly heart stickers. Most of our guests attended via Zoom, which was fine with me as long as they still sent presents; I’m not really the large gathering type. We wrote our own vows. Our friends and family expected no less. The one promise that appeared verbatim in both speeches was this: “Friday will always be movie night.”
Pre-lockdown, we had been fanatics about our weekly cinema sessions. Post-lockdown, we adapted quickly to movie nights on the small screen, choosing old favorites. Initially, they were a welcome distraction from the madness swirling around us. Then the “let’s enjoy being just us for a few more years” memo went straight to my ovaries’ junk mail folder, and I became pregnant shortly after the wedding. The immediate result, which I attribute to a hormonal shift coupled with the existential dread that hovered long before the stick turned pink, is that now I can only watch movies in metaphor. This is not a good thing.
Case in point. About a month ago, we settled on The Princess Bride, an oldie but definitely a goodie. I had high hopes for a nostalgic evening punctuated by numerous guffaws. Westley was as attractive as ever and the plot was as ludicrous as I remembered. Unfortunately, Westley and Vizzini’s battle of wits ruined it for me. (If you have not watched The Princess Bride, you a) should find a way to not retain the next few nuggets of information that I plan to impart and b) likely have a lot of pop culture to catch up on.) Before, I would have laughed hysterically at Vizzini’s machinations as he sought to choose correctly between the poisoned cup and the (ostensibly) not-poisoned cup, not realizing that both cups were poisoned. But that night, very much against my will, I re-imagined the scene. I asked myself whether over generations, it was possible for blood to become immune to injustice. I considered the mortal danger to those who had not yet built up a tolerance for intolerance. Even though I never get headaches, I told Aidan that I had one – I blamed the baby – and asked him to turn it off. He looked surprised, but then smiled and said, “Aaaaas yooooou wiiiiiiish,” before pressing the appropriate button. I laughed in spite of myself and hoped my unwelcome over-thinking was a one off.
It wasn’t. The next week, we decided to revisit the first installment in The Hunger Games franchise, which we had both enjoyed the first time around. Somehow, likely due to pregnancy brain, I had totally forgotten about Rue’s death and the mayhem that followed in District 11. The sight of her small, still body first gave me chills, then hot flashes. I saw a hail of bullets, a young woman in Kentucky, the ensuing sound and fury. And then my unborn child, a mini-me in all respects, replaced the woman in Kentucky in my mind’s eye and I couldn’t catch my breath. Aidan paused the show and stared at me in alarm. “Annette, what’s going on?” he asked urgently, reaching for my hand.
What I should have said was, “Movies are too much for me right now. Everything about them, even the funny ones, reminds me of all that’s wrong everywhere, reminds me that there’s really no safe place for me and the baby. Can we please cancel movie night? Just until I’m more myself again.” Those words stuck in my throat. I felt that my relationship with Aidan was close to perfect, and that our shared movie nights were the foundation of that near perfection. Putting movie night on hiatus could break something essential to our continued success.
Focusing on our other joint hobby–strolling through museums and rolling our eyes in tandem at questionable modern art –was not an option for obvious reasons. Moreover, there was little chance that our individual pursuits could become couple pursuits, thereby filling the movie night void. Aidan is fanatical abou0t working out. I intentionally do not own sneakers. Or sweat pants. Or leggings. I read romance novels and British mystery series by the truckload. Aidan reads biographies and skims WIRED and Consumer Reports.
Also of concern was the fact that Aidan is a consummate troubleshooter. I often call him MacGyver. He often calls himself MacGyver. I envisioned outlining my movie problem and him immediately trying to fix it, probably with duct tape, bleach, and a paper clip. I honestly wasn’t sure whether Aidan understood that some problems are simply not fixable, and didn’t want to be the one to burst his bubble if he hadn’t already figured this out.
So what I actually said was, “No worries. Just felt some strong kicks. They were unexpected.” After giving me a very long look, Aidan said, “Okay.” He turned the bedroom television off and asked Alexa to play music by Alicia Keys. I didn’t protest. Then he lay one hand over my quiet, traitorous stomach and left it there until I fell asleep.
For several weeks after that I insisted on watching movies with English subtitles. Then I purposefully didn’t read the subtitles. The problem, of course, was that I failed to laugh, gasp, groan, or tear up during key moments. I’m fairly certain that Aidan wasn’t thrilled, but he understandably didn’t want to make an issue of it, what with me carrying his offspring and all. During a pandemic.
Today is Friday. I have a French dramedy on the tip of my tongue, but Aidan beats me to the punch. “Let’s mix things up,” he says cheerfully. “How about a wildlife documentary? It’s like a movie. About animals.” He points the remote at the television and an unfamiliar number illuminates the bottom right corner of the screen. I am taken aback to learn that our cable channels go that high. Not knowing any better, I say, “Fine with me.”
Forty-five minutes in, I am not fine. The film is about a herd of African elephants. The narrator doles out tidbits (“They entwine their trunks while mating!” “Their brains are extremely complex!” “They display compassion!” “They can use tools!”) staccato style in an accent that makes me crave fish and chips followed by a Spice Girls dance off. I watch the youngsters gamboling on the savanna, engaging in hijinks while mothers and aunties look on indulgently. They are all lovely, with thick gray skin, ears like majestic commas, acrobatic trunks, and golden eyes. What is not lovely is when a tuskless infant somehow gets separated from the herd, and ends up being circled by a pride of lions before the camera cuts away. Too late. The bewildered baby elephant is my son, this time a boy mini-me. He has been asked to step out of his car.
I cover both eyes with one hand and then glance at my husband as I ponder what excuse to give this time for cutting our viewing party short. As it turns out, I’m off the hook tonight. Apparently – consistent with probably 89.3% of the population – wildlife documentaries do not qualify as must-see TV for Aidan. I carefully study his long, sleeping form. His parted lips are curved in the careless smile of the chosen, of the blessed, and his light snore is a zephyr. His unwitting smugness riles me until I’m almost choking with resentment. Sensing my pique, my baby elephant stomps in solidarity. I eventually drift into a fitful sleep, and dream through a crimson filter.
Colette Parris is a Caribbean-American graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School who returned to her literary roots during the pandemic. Her fiction can be found in Cleaver Magazine, Burningword Literary Journal, Streetlight Magazine, Vestal Review, and other journals, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize as well as Best Microfiction. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Michigan Quarterly Review, The Healing Muse, BigCityLit, Thin Air Magazine, and elsewhere. She lives in Westchester County, New York. Find her on Twitter @colettepjd.
Image By: Kenneth Lu via flickr