Now that the incorruption of this most fragrant ambergris should be found in the heart of such decay:is this nothing?

Chapter 92, Ambergris

Snake skin hanging in the Rusty Black Haw my dearest planted for me

He is perfect for me. He keeps me close this Sunday afternoon-sensing that something inside me is quietly bleeding out.  He is as aware of it as am I,  though the pain is folded deep into me. His instinct is to protect me, to keep me safely close by, within reach of his ready arm which he now extends to me, “Come for a walk. ”

He will not ask what demons I harbor. Perhaps he knows these demons are likely to hurt him more than they do me, or, perhaps, he knows that in order to fully shelter me from these demons he cannot draw them out.  I take his hand and we walk out to the truck.

He drives me to the edge of an adjacent neighborhood made up of run down mid-century tract houses, yards exposed through low chain link fences.  Beside the neighborhood sits the community college, and behind that, a field. A single path cuts through the scrub and prairie grass, disappearing into the nearby woods.

As we get out of the truck he comes around to me, takes my hand and smiles into my face as if he could will away the clouds hanging like so much distraction in my eyes. He gives my hand a gentle tug as he turns to lead me, “C’mon.”

He is excited, genuinely excited, because here, where the native  Texas prairie struggles to reclaim her footing, she has birthed a wild resurgence of rusty black haw.  This is what he wants to share with me, though as we make our way he pauses and points out the changing leaves of the sweet gum, the pile  of skeletal remains from a rabbit, a bend in the creek covered with lily pads.  He threads his arm under mine and around my waist to pull me in close as he gazes down on the water. “Like Giverny,” he says.

In such a moment, I have to wonder, how hard would I have to scour this earth to discover another heart like his?  A fifth generation Texan who can see Monet in the creek behind the community college.  But he is right, it is beautiful.

We reach the edge of the rusty black haws and a limb dripping with berries stretches out across our path.  He picks  one and bites into it– the field scientist using every possible sense to take in the specimen.  I wonder at the security that his understanding of  this plant gives him.  He knows its fruit will not poison him.  This is a gift of deep knowledge.  In the wild it is the difference between survival and starvation.  There is much to be said for deep knowledge of a thing.

I watch him and whisper, “You are perfect for me.”  He turns to look in my eyes then tilts his head and smiles as if to say: “How curious you are,” and though he is smart enough to wonder, he does not ask. We walk through the woods and I will not let go of his hand. How I hold on to him does not make him feel needed or strong, but simply fits– we are as natural in each other’s environment  as the resurgent black haw is to this prairie.

It is sometimes uncomfortable in marriage to know that the history between you carries the memories of a thousand flaws.  We are painfully aware of each others weaknesses  and we know we will continue to make mistakes and hurt each other time and again.  But we also know that each in our own corruption, give the other the chance to forgive us in ways we cannot even conceive.  Like the fragrant ambergris that is found in the heart of decay, our journey back from the dark brings us home.

This is the fruit of knowledge.

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