Dedication of a Lifetime

By: Tamsen Parker

School counselor Sean wants to fix the world, or at least he’s willing to bear the weight on his slim shoulders. No social justice slouch himself, Sean’s medical researcher husband Isaiah is exhausted by one assault to decency after another. Their world is crumbling, their marriage is in trouble, and Isaiah suggests they run away from it all, but Sean balks. Will they honor the vows they made to one another or will their relationship be another casualty of the world gone mad?

For my Rogue siblings, who share my special brand of patriotism.

“Patriotism […] is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion,

but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”

Adlai Stevenson

Metal clinked against metal, and then made a duller sound that might be called a click when the metal hit ceramic. It shouldn’t have been noteworthy, and it shouldn’t have been what Sean was thinking about. It should’ve been a pedestrian, every day, easily tune-out-able sound. Dinner with Isaiah was supposed to be about sharing in each other’s days. The ten or so hours they were forced to be apart had been agonizing when they’d first been together. It was nice in some ways that the desperation to be near each other had faded—who could get anything done when you were constantly texting and/or pining for your lover?—but at the same time, Sean missed it. He missed a lot of things.

Isaiah picked up his glass, and Sean watched his husband’s throat work as Isaiah swallowed the pinot noir. Sean had chosen the bottle from their wine closet—hard to have a cellar when your house was built on a slab—because not only did it pair well with the roast pork he’d made for dinner, but it reminded him of a happier time. A time he’d like to get back and didn’t quite know how, not when they couldn’t just drop everything and run away to Burgundy for a permanent vacation.

Sean cut another bite, concentrating far too hard of the sounds of the flatware against the plates. But with no conversation, what else was he supposed to focus on? Silent dinners were becoming more and more frequent and while he didn’t like it, he couldn’t think of how to fix it.

Objectively, the bite he placed in his mouth was delicious. He’d done a good job on the roast, and the herbs he’d crusted it with made the sweetness of the meat sing. It would’ve been something he’d hope Isaiah would remark on, but now it was another detail he found himself clinging to because there was nothing else to keep him from screaming at the dinner table.

How had they come to this?

A screech of knife hitting plate made him look up, and his husband murmured an apology before tucking back into the food. Sean didn’t doubt Isaiah appreciated his cooking—he still took seconds and sometimes thirds—and when he thought of it would say thank you to Sean for the meals he prepared. But it lacked the same attention, the same enthusiasm. The same intimacy. It had become rote, just like some other things.

Another bite of wild rice, and then he pierced the quartered Brussels sprout and dragged it through the butternut puree he was trying out for the first time. It was good—he knew it was good—but he’d rather be eating a terribly greasy burger with limp and over-salted fries if it meant Isaiah would talk to him.

Long silences had always been a part of their relationship because Isaiah lived so much of his life in his mind. Always tinkering with problems. Even when he appeared to be totally occupied doing something else, like changing he oil on one of their cars or playing a game of chess, his mind was whirring in the background.

It wasn’t unusual for Sean to come home and find a garden bed half-weeded, a sink still partially full of dishes and water that had stood so long it was lukewarm and flat instead of hot and topped with foamy crests of bubbles. The other part of that equation was that Isaiah would be in his office, typing madly on his computer or scribbling on the whiteboards that covered the walls of the small room.

It should have been annoying—who liked completing their spouse’s half-finished chores?—but Sean had found it endearing and knew he could look forward to Isaiah telling him about his breakthrough later. Over dinner. Like he should’ve been now.