TERRA INCOGNITA: Or, My Husband’s Inner Life

TERRA INCOGNITA: Or, My Husband’s Inner Life

Elizabeth Cook

As of February 7th, 2019, Albert and I have been married for two months, but we met and fell in love over six years ago. Before our first date, I got my hair stuck in a budget-friendly hair dryer and had to cut myself free. When he left for grad school, we Skyped across 7,000 miles. Then I left for grad school, and we shrank the distance: 1,000 miles. Across separate time zones, we chatted into the night over our textbooks and mugs of hot tea. He drove through the night and early morning to come see me, and then drove again—a road trip to the Grand Canyon. We stopped in Pie Town, New Mexico on our way. None of the alleged pies were available. We walked around the empty pie shop porches in the bright sun, our clothes crumbled from sitting in the car. We put our hands against the dark storefront windows to see inside; we were full of hope; we really, really wanted pie. Every place was closed, the insides dark.

He cut me a plate of pineapple just now, to snack on as I write. At night, I press my cold feet against his leg and give him a shock. In the morning, I pour his coffee in a thermos to keep it warm.  

Despite all the breakfasts shared, the texts asking when are you coming home, the bumping of our shoulders while we stand side-by-side to brush our teeth, Albert is the most mysterious person I know.

If you read about maps as much as I do (which is to say, less than a geography student and more than the average citizen), then you’re reading Rebecca Solnit. In her atlas for New York City, she writes, “Elusiveness, evanescence, is part of the intrinsic nature of ecstasy and joy and pleasure.”

As a kid, I was always sad that others charted the world before me, discovering continents and languages and trees previously known only to themselves. I’d like to discover a tree, or at least a shrub.

It’s not like I have an explorer’s mind. I’m more of an armchair self-glamorizer, fond of sitting by windows and daydreaming myself into bigger stories. In actuality, I struggle to find my way down the already-known paths of our current world. I work on a university campus, and mostly look at my feet while I walk. Sometimes, I look up by accident, trying to spot my favorite pair of local ravens or to make sure I’m not about to be hit by a bus, and because I don’t know more than the patterns of cracks in the sidewalk, I’ll get confused, turned around, even if I take that same path every week.

I doubt I could travel an ocean by looking at stars and charts, then find my way back. Oh sure, I could end up somewhere, but then I’d try to return and end up somewhere else, the wrong somewhere else. The locals would probably tolerate me, as I roasted scarlet in the sun, babbling about mermaids and magical upside-down worlds.

Much of the sea is still unknown, so I could exercise my explorer’s curiosity there, but alas, I’m deathly afraid of the giant and colossal squid. The sea is their domain. Have you heard of abysmal gigantism? It’s what happens when normal creatures sit in a dark abyss for too long. Crabs the size of taxis. No thank you.

So basically, I have vague dreams from childhood about discovery. I am also an unqualified wuss. But I do have an entire unknown beside me, every day. My beloved Albert.

Albert, and all people including myself, keep their own company.

Even though it’s been over six years together, when I see Albert laughing or when he folds towels while watching Liverpool play Arsenal on a Saturday morning, I find myself totally struck. Who is this person? What is happening inside him?

I’m most likely to wonder at who Albert is when he seems totally sensible. In contemporary American culture, there’s nothing particularly striking about a man watching a sports team. Most people laugh. It’s when Albert seems the most easily read that I am the most mystified.

It’s possible that all truly true truths (as opposed to mostly true truths or subjectively true truths or even facts, which are just single points of data unleashed from the interpretive work of the human mind) are mysteries. Perhaps I’m finally realizing the truly true truth: we are all inherently unknowable, even to ourselves. Love is a bridge, but it is not a key to a locked trunk full of strange, bright things that I can open and rummage through at will.

Maybe the problem isn’t that I don’t know Albert, but I don’t take the time to be stunned and astonished by other people around me. Every receptionist: a stormy sea of invisible experiences. My mom: a person who has managed to have thoughts about me that she has decided not to share. The roommate from ages past who always called into radio shows to talk about her dating life: beloved, strange, as rich with possibility as a map with lands uncharted. Terra incognita.

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mind maps and minutiae

mind maps and minutiae