He found dentures washed up on a flea-ridden beach—smoothed down to half its dental cast by the timid waves that deposited large purple jellyfish like blood clots along the shore. We were looking for beach glass but here was the pride of his findings and he tucked them carefully away to be saved. Now they live in an antique mason jar on a ledge behind the toilet and if I see them on display I carefully rotate them back against the wall.
The day we get married the clouds won’t cooperate and I leave the decision in his hands but he knows I’ve never wanted to exchange vows in a church, so he makes the call I can’t and we’re standing under our handmade arbor regardless when the rain starts to fall. His eyebrows go up in perfect crescent moons and we both peer at the sky until a childhood friend donates her umbrella and his cousin holds another over his head and it can’t be coincidence that they somehow match the wedding colours in the photos we get back.
In the letter I forgot that I wrote to him that first summer that he admitted he’s been carrying all this time, worn down to the thinnest folds. He says “I read it when I’m feeling low.” And I hear all of the ways he’s held me to him even when we’re apart. And I see all of the ways we’ve been loving each other in tiny trickles that meet and grow into streams and suddenly our love is immense as a raging river and I don’t mind, I want to, be under its pull. Like I never needed to learn how to hold my breath. Like being near him helps me grow gills.
I read him my handwritten vows, voice shaking, taking slow and steadying breaths and trying not to cry. Here are the things I’ve learned and the ways I’ve loved you and will always try my very best to love you. And here are the ways fate made you family and the struggles we will always come through stronger. I empty my heart onto the page and later, people hold me in their arms and tell me how much they cried when we spoke. How we must be meant for each other. The love in the room is as pregnant as the sky and I feel it in the eyes that are watching us. I feel it in the hand of my best friend, entwined in mine under the table. In the words of my father, when he begins to speak Cree, and a shiver runs through the crowd. I feel it when my mother mentions how much my grandfather would have like to have been here, he is here, and the tear that winds its way down. Free at last.
Later, after the dancing, after my brother holds me and maybe for the first time, tells me to my face how much he loves me, how proud he is of me, after everyone is in their beds, and the room is picked clean, and my buzz is wearing off, and the dress is in a pile and he’s hung it on the door, and I peel fake eyelashes from my lids, after all of the emotion and the party and the hoopla we take our dog Sundance for a walk.
At 3am in a small dark town, settled, soft and the rain has finally stopped and we’re officially, stamped, marked, sealed, a family.
He holds my hand in his the same way he always has.
Wife he asks.
Husband I reply.