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Jonathan Muroya for Fatherly

Author Jason Ockert: Our Love Grows With Each Passing Hour

Love letters are wasted on youth. No matter what artistry and passion go into the prose you once laid out for your lover, the letters lack, well, life experience. When you devote yourself to someone, partner with them, and have a child together, then you have something to write about. Before, you were stumbling in passion. Now, you’ve truly found love. In Found Love, we celebrate the unique love felt for the mother of your children. In Found Love, we celebrate the unique love partners feel for the mother of their children.

Dear d,

I

Remember that first Christmas you accompanied me to South Florida to visit my parents? You complimented the large grandfather clock in their foyer. Made of dark mahogany wood and standing over six feet tall, it chimed a simple elegance every quarter-hour. The clock was actually mine, I explained, a college graduation gift. But being 21 and able to take only the possessions that fit in my car at the time, I had left it there to reclaim in some distant future.

II

I know you remember the first house we bought together: a split-level fixer-upper in Western New York. Our first Christmas there I decided to have that grandfather clock shipped to us to put in our own foyer. It had a long way to go — 1,368 miles — and the shipping cost more than we could afford, but I finally had a home that I could envision it in. I wanted it to be ours.

III

You were teaching the day the clock arrived, and I was home to greet it. The sky was its usual gunmetal gray and there was ice in our gravelly driveway. How excited I was to help bring it in, stand it in the corner we had chosen for it, and reveal it to you when you got home. A Christmas and housewarming treasure at once.

IV

You came home, excited to see the clock, of course, but it was the story of its arrival that really delighted you: The clock was extremely heavy and its box had to remain upright. The delivery man and I each lifted an end and we slowly began navigating our way over the ice and toward the house. A few seconds into our delicate trek, standing only a foot or so apart, the delivery man belched, blanketing me in an inescapable fog of liverwurst, pimento loaf, and mayonnaise from which there was no mercy or reprieve. My arms wobbled, my face broke out with sweat, and I swallowed back my own rise of puke. After its thousand-mile journey, the clock — our clock — was about to lay shattered on our icy front steps. But somehow my assistant and I were able to get the clock safely into the house, with me holding my breath intermittently.

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V

How funny you thought that story was! You made me repeat it a second time, with more details. It was, you said, exactly the kind of thing that would have happened to you. I think you loved the clock even more because of that story. What spontaneous joy I earned from you in its telling and have since strived to duplicate in each of the stories I’ve told and written since.

VI

Remember when you discovered, via a yellowed order form crumpled at the bottom of the clock’s box, that the three weights on the clock could be fitted with custom-engraved brass rings? “Remembrance Rings,” they were called, and they could be engraved to commemorate special moments and events. You ordered one for us, inscribed with one of our favorite lines: “Love’s not Time’s fool.” The words encircle our central weight, reminding us of the Shakespearean sonnet that you have since memorized and will recite to me in full from time to time.

VII

You brought two beautiful children into the world — our boy and our girl — and they completed our family. Their births are marked with their own engraved remembrance rings that flank ours. With them there have been so many first moments: first steps, first words, first days of school and still so many firsts to come: first heartbreak, first hangover, first cars in which they first drive away.

VIII

Though our love is not bound by the ticking of the clock, everything else is. What slipped into the world with our children was the shadow of time and worry. Our constant concern has turned us into fools by first hovering over us and then spilling over them: “Don’t forget your Epi-pen,” “Be home before dark,” “Don’t communicate online with anyone you don’t know,” “Brush your teeth,” “Wear your mask.” Worry makes me question the kind of a world we brought them into.

IX

Shakespeare is inspiring, but we can’t forget Philip Larkin, right? Remember how we liked his irreverent warning: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They might not mean to, but they do.” How much more humorous that caution seemed before we were parents. Now we wonder if it is inevitable. Only time will tell.

X

Our children were born bearing the intricacies of worry, but they also carry an infinity of hope. We brought them into the world to make it better. Along the way, how many gifts have they given us? Remember when our son, aged four, patiently explained to us the difference between comets and meteors? And what a curious surprise to discover our daughter’s musical gifts that came from somewhere but not from us. When she played Billie Eilish’s “Lovely” in the talent show, we stood choked up in an explosion of applause after the last note faded.

XI

Did you know that there are lyrics to go along with the sixteen notes of the grandfather clock’s chimes? They’re from George Frideric Handel’s Messiah: “All through this hour, Lord, be my guide. That by Thy power, no foot shall slide.” It’s a prayer that repeats itself hourly, speaking to us even when we don’t know we’re listening.

XII

Happy Mother’s Day, d. Long after the pendulum quits swinging, our love will endure. Wherever we’re headed beyond this world, I will bring stories and be always in pursuit of your spontaneous joy.

Forever,

j

 

Jason Ockert is the author of two story collections, Neighbors of Nothing and Rabbit Punches, and the novel Wasp Box. His stories have appeared in Granta, Oxford American, and Bull: Men’s Fiction. His collection Shadowselves is coming in early 2022. He teaches creative writing at Coastal Carolina University.