~Originally published in Eastern Iowa Review~

I’m telling a story and my wife is laughing so hard she spits her wine into the kitchen sink. This might not seem like a big deal, but when Sara turns back to me she’s still laughing, leaning against me with her hand on my chest and her eyes on mine.

We’ve been together for almost thirty years, and too often lately our shared life feels like a war of attrition, the two of us struggling to hold the small territory of our happiness. We’re a great team, and we fight for it, but time advances, relentless, capturing more ground every day. Our children leave the house. Friends who can afford their dream retirement move away to warm weather elsewhere—as if the future didn’t disappear, it just bought a condo in Palm Desert. Our parents lose their mobility, their memories, their breath. Lately, our own bodies have begun to betray us in ways big and small; stiff backs, fading vision, limbs refusing to obey the mind’s commands. We no longer expect to sleep through the night. If we’re not careful, whole conversations devolve into litanies of discomfort and worry. There are days, weeks without laughter.

But right now, it’s cold and raining outside and I am in the kitchen with my wife. I’m cooking dinner and we breathe the warm smell of fresh bread, the summery brightness of pesto. I slice tomatoes with my good hand and make jokes about a botched medical procedure I underwent earlier today; a nervous phlebotomist missing the vein on my arm, pumping saline straight into the muscle. Then, a more daunting procedure, face down on a surgical table, the doctor jabbing a much larger needle into my spine, trying (failing) to get my left arm back to full function.

None of it was funny to me at the time. My little re-enactment is blatant bravado, a crude alchemy for transmuting anxiety into hilarity. But Sara laughs so hard at my story that I do, too. Outside, the October evening is forty degrees tops and the clouds seem bent on washing our little house into the sea. Yet here we are, warm and dry. We’ve sustained some damage, but we can still make dinner, set the table, light the candles.

​I don’t want to make too much of having turned a bad hospital visit into a shared chuckle. I’m just saying that what we call heaven is nothing more than peace in the moment of our death. And when the bony-fingered Reaper comes for me, all icy breath and clanking chains, he will find me in this warm kitchen with my wife. Sara will be laughing, leaning into me with her hand on my chest and her eyes on mine. And there will be nothing left of me but joy.