Ten Years in 700

by Elisabeth Preston-Hsu

When I look at you, four months after we are friends and five days after we start dating, I know. We make plans without a ring. We kiss and hold hands. We listen to loud live music and laugh at your Kurt Cobain imitation. You move to Ohio with a dog. I follow, even though I never planned to live in Ohio or like dogs. You propose the day after New Year’s Day. My mom knew. My dad knew. I have a suspicion and say yes because it is “the next step” and the idea warms me in the cold snow.

            I like we can finally share a wide dresser, our clothes mingling together. But you don’t like how I fold my socks and call the ones with loose elastic “quitters.” You decide you hate coconut. You call me a bitch then apologize. Heating the house is so expensive we turn the heat down to 49 degrees Fahrenheit. The dog curls into our bed’s comforter. We shiver, too cold and tired to talk so we buy heating pads for warmth. We have no money for a spontaneous date because you are a graduate student and I am applying to graduate school. You tell me I won’t get in. I do.

            You attend graduate school in one town and I in another. It makes you mad, that I chose school over you. You call me 28 times one night because you are angry and jealous. I throw my phone into a drawer for the night. I spend five years being too far away for you. I run all over the city and forests training for marathons, running as far as I can, waiting for tulips in the spring, studying at my kitchen table in pajamas at 5 PM on Thursday nights, drinking lots of rooibos tea. When we visit each other, we fight, have sex, and study more. You blame your unhappiness on your upbringing and me.

            I have our first child when we live in the same city again. I rarely sleep, I love and hate my job. The heat in our building goes out in the winter. The following year, the radiators run so hot, we sleep in shorts all year round, the baby almost naked and sweaty in his diapers. We watch wind on the lake and walk through wind tunnels created between high rise condos and office buildings. I listen to a lot of Imogen Heap. We dance with our son. We lose track of ourselves in our careers and our son then move away with another baby growing inside me. Things are as expected for new parents. We work together, kind of.

            Oregon brims in greens except the morning sky before the sun burns the clouds away. Imogen Heap gives birth to a baby girl and so do I. We like our neighbors except the ones who smoke cigarettes. You hate your job. I get really sick and end up in the hospital with a virus. I slow down and get better. I go to a nature preserve to watch the mud snails hiss and slime on the concrete banks. Your job keeps you too busy to watch. You change careers and we move again. I give up my dream job.

            We are back where I first looked at you except there are wrinkles and tiredness, more traffic, and black granite countertops. You finally like your job. The live music shows are never loud now: your anxiety deafens me instead. As carpenter bees chew away at the rental we live in, I wonder if they will sting me, so I might feel less numb. The dog dies and I am relieved I feel sad. I take the kids to soccer practice and piano lessons. I dream about sleeping alone but balance our checkbook and mow the grass instead.

            I wait for you to leave the house to play loud music. I make a German chocolate cake with extra coconut and eat it in bed. We buy a new puppy for the kids. I write poetry. Unwashed dishes sit in the sink. There is enough undone and we have more work to do.

About the Author

Elisabeth Preston-Hsu is a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation physician in clinical practice in Atlanta, Georgia. Her writing has appeared or will appear in Glassworks Magazine, Hektoen International, Intima, Bellevue Literary Review, and Chicago Quarterly Review. She received an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train's Short Story Awards for New Writers in March/April 2019, was a finalist in New Letters’ Robert Day Award for Fiction in 2021, and was a semifinalist in the New England Journal of Medicine’s Medical Fiction contest in 2021.