I come home on Valentine's Day and the living room has been transformed into a blanket fort. I had been forewarned that this would happen - Amber had been talking for weeks about how she wanted to camp out and had me buy the fixings for something called "hobo stew" - but it is still startling to see what my lover can reduce our living room to when given a few spare hours, the contents of our linen basket and bed, and whatever twine she can fine. Within the fort, she has placed our inflatable mattress and the books she had been reading since finishing this masterpiece.
I had taken Friday off from work, knowing this would be a blissfully long night. We spend the night ignoring our art and writing, neglecting the internet (except for when I post bragging pictures of her fort - earning a few comments that people wish she were their girlfriend - and to watch a suitably bad movie that has nothing to do with romance, The Stuff), and cuddling together on our bouncy mattress. The hobo stew is interesting, a combination of various vegetables and ground beef roasted in aluminum foil, though perhaps not so much so that I am going to fold it into my culinary repertoire. We toast marshmallows for smores over the electric range and I introduce her to one of my favorite old school video games (Chrono Trigger).
I kiss the top of her head. "You know, you are a short-haired, unemployed Etsy artist who just made me a blanket fort for Valentine's Day for her slightly curmudgeonly writer boyfriend. My darling, I am afraid you fit the exact definition of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl."
She pouts at me and fakes crying. "No! I am a Depressive Pixie Dream Girl."
I squeeze her to me. "You seem more yourself today. Is it to do with your hair?" The day before, I sat patiently as the salon down the street turned Amber's long locks into a pixie cut, something she did largely because she wanted a change. My mother had texted to ask if this haircut meant Amber would now be a lesbian, but I had been given ample evidence to the contrary shortly after walking through the door.
"Like, does having short hair change things?" She wets her lips in thought. "Yes, I guess it does. I can't hide behind it now. Also, I'm usually busy making art, so we don't get a chance to really talk."
There, I think, is the crux. Even though we live with one another, the mundane needs of that life tend to drain away the ability to actually connect. We talk, but we don't really listen. We can be on our respective computers, reading or working, and neglecting the other person for hours out of no sense of malice. She is tracing figures in her mind, I am plotting out the next book I ought to write. It's easy to lose sight of the other person when lost in the worlds of our creation.
This isn't always a bad thing. We need to do our individual work to be content. We are separate beings and need to foster that which makes us so, because it is among the reasons we love the other person. At the very least, we need to do art and write, respectively, to maintain our sanity. We cannot just remain in bed, leaving only for cereal or bathroom breaks, as appealing as that seems at first blush.
Freud said that both love and work are necessary components of happiness, but it is too easy to give too much to work because love is seen as being omnipresent. Word has deadlines, love doesn't. Yet I don't love Amber any the less when I am fulfilling the needs of my day job or when I am in my writing closet, pounding out my latest sequel. If anything, I love her more, because I have had time to feel her absence.
At times, I believe I fall to the misapprehension that Amber needs me more than I need her. I am financially secure, I am further along in my artistic career by dint of being older, I am emotionally independent. But I don't love her because she is in my home. She is in my home because I love her. She has more time home because I work elsewhere and that can make her seem to be on the hungrier end of this relationship dynamic. I have been on both sides of this dynamic and they have their charms and pitfalls. I have been the unemployed artist (and resented to shame for it). I have felt second place to my lover's work and anxious for attention because of it. I never want Amber to feel that she is less than my priority, because I need her just as much as she needs me, something tonight proves again.
She has grown so much since I met her, from the irresistible mute of our first date to this increasingly confident woman (who still leans a bit on the defense mechanism that she is tiny and cute). Last weekend, she roped me into being a model at a bridal expo with her, something that I would have found unimaginable a year ago. She goes above and beyond to interview artists who join the local Etsy team, driving to their studios to take pictures and talk. She cut away a physical representation of her defenses. She has taken to drawing nudes because she avoided it when in college, within a month transitioning from crude figures to adept representations. She is steadily becoming the woman I sensed in her the first time our hands clasped, the one I've hardly stopped touching since, brave and clever. I feel as though I am still just getting to know her, that I am just falling in love with this cervine beauty who pounces on me with kisses whenever I walk in the door.
As we fall asleep on our squeaky, bouncy bed that night (a wall away from our proper bed), I cannot help but feel lucky to be the one trusted beneath the blanket barriers Amber constructs.
Soon in Xenology: The Discontinuity. The Ship of Theseus.