“Giant Redwood Trees of California” (detail), oil on canvas, by Albert Bierstadt, 1874.

by Amye Archer

Redwoods are fireproof, you tell me. A stranger in a bar, listening to our conversation, corrects you. The bark is semi-fire resistant, he says, but nothing made from wood is ever fire proof. The stranger retreats to his drink and you smirk, convinced you’re right. We are in San Francisco. We are far from home and our girls. We have come here for a multitude of reasons: we have been married for what most people consider a milestone: 10 years. And I agree. There are nights when I look at you, feel for you in the dark, and the falling into one another, the estuary we create, is still so easy. It was never this way with other men. I grew bored of them quickly, but of you I’ve yet to tire. This is the honeymoon we never had.

Also, it’s your birthday. A big one. You’ve turned 40, and in six months, I’m turning 40. We met when we were almost young. We met in first grade. We shared homerooms our entire lives. You told me years later that you had loved me always. That you had known then that I would be your girl someday. But I was in love with your best friend. Then a different boy. Then another. And another. And you loved a million women on your way here, but the road stopped at me. We were too old to fool around with first dates and courting protocols. We were only 30, but we had a lifetime of pain rotting inside of us. We matched, and we knew it. Maybe we always had. So, we had love, we had babies, and we had a wedding, all within a year’s time. This is the honeymoon we always wanted.

The next morning, we wake up early and drive a compact Toyota down the PCH, the royal blue of the Pacific out my window. We are going to see the redwoods. You’ve been wanting to show me these giant trees since we met. You’ve traveled-slept on beaches, in forests, on sailboats. I’ve been nowhere. My world was closed, I was closed, until you burst into my life and pried me open. Everyone should see the redwoods before they die.

The first time we rode in a car together, you slid your hand from my knee to my thigh and you let it rest there. My thigh was thin then, and fit easily under the cup of your palm. It felt right—the exact heft of your hand resting on my skin. Things were easy between us then. We found each other in the dark without even trying. We slipped into one another like a tide folds herself into the ocean. There were no children, no mortgages, no nightly dinner menu. There was you and I in that pink Ford Escort driving up the interstate like we had nowhere and everywhere to be all at once.

In those early years, you delivered pizza and built additions on rich peoples’ houses. I stayed home, earned my MFA and cared for our girls. Life seemed to crawl, to freeze, to suspend us in her swell. I remember coming home one night after drinking too much. You were asleep on the couch, the girls asleep in their cribs, the floor creaking under my crooked walk. I stood there overcome with emotion. This was the exact life I had always dreamed of. The dream that kept me going through the bad. This was the perfect-fucking good.

There is a simple intricacy to these giants, they are woven to stand for centuries with their arms to the sky. What are they reaching for?

Now we drive our rental car along the lush California forest. You drive carefully and cautiously. Both hands on the wheel. The coast has drifted away from us, the road winds like a stream through the green. We drive for what feels like hours until we reach the grove, dense and foggy. We have the whole park to ourselves. There is a breeze in the air, a sway in the forest above us. I am awestruck. There is a simple intricacy to these giants, they are woven to stand for centuries with their arms to the sky. What are they reaching for?

As I stand at the base of “The Giant,” a near three-hundred footer, I can think of nothing but our girls. How they swam to us against all odds. How they too are delicate yet strong. How they feel pressed against us, how their hair always smells like baby powder. These trees are magnificent, but they have nothing on the wonder of the thirty-year old fuck ups who made the most beautiful creatures I’ve ever seen.

On the drive back to San Francisco, I roll down my window so I can smell the Pacific. It smells like every good dream I’ve ever had. It smells like our newborn girls pressed naked against my chest. It smells like your neck on a warm summer night. I am lucky to love you the way I do. It comes so naturally for me. The life we have built together is fireproof. With our windows down and Ryan Adams serenading us, your hand, aged ten plus years now, reaches for my thigh, slides up high and rests.


Originally published as an installment of This is 39, a column at Feminine Collective.
Amye Archer is the author of Fat Girl, Skinny, a true story about fat jeans, Weight Watchers, and bad decisions. She holds an MFA and teaches writing at the University of Scranton. She is the creator of The Fat Girl Blog. You can find her on Twitter @amyearcher.