The Man I Married approaches the road’s narrow shoulder as if he’s hustling the VW onto the roomy Salt Flats, not parking on a makeshift pull-off overlooking a cliff.

Turns out the “affordable property” MIM’s checking out is the sheer drop-off that plunges down from my passenger side of the car.

“Wow, this looks great!” MIM opens his door during a break in traffic. He darts around to my door, waving to a logging truck that lays on the horn, and surveys the untamed wilderness he will conquer. I keep my seatbelt on and roll down the window.

MIM points to a shocked-bald tree clinging horizontally to the precipice. “Isn’t that a madrona? You love their red bark.” He hitches up his Dickies. “See? I’ve been paying attention.”

No way am I getting out of the car. Opening my door might upset the gravitational balance, and I’ll plummet to my death as the hatchback slides over the embankment—unless it gets hung up on the madrona. “It’s a cliff,” I point out.

“It’s waterfront. You’ve always wanted waterfront.”

I look down, down, down. I can see now that it’s more of an aggressive slope, plummeting to the frigid Puget Sound, where overturned kayakers die of hypothermia in 23 seconds flat before being swallowed by killer whales. “It’s not waterfront. It’s water.”

“This is perfect for your writing retreat.”

The real estate agent told him that a true crime writer bought neighboring land. Sure, I’ll relax by myself a few hearse-lengths over from a guy with a penchant for serial killers. Besides, I thought the land was for MIM, so he could go away occasionally and leave me alone, with plumbing, level floors, and Sasquatch on television instead of my outhouse.

He pulls on his welding gloves, steps over the side, and disappears from view. He oofs and thrashes his way down.

A while later MIM hauls himself back up. Twigs hang from his beard. “What a view!”

“There’s nowhere to put a driveway.”

“You just have to be clever.” After 26.5 years together, he doesn’t have to add, “You’re being negative.”

“It’s a bluff. Bluffs around here slide. A recent mudslide destroyed some houses nearby.”

“Yes, and I could choke to death on tofu tonight.” He squeezes my hand. His point: I am too fearful and need to take risks. I need to learn to sleep peacefully in a house he has cunningly built next to a Bundy fanatic on a sliding mountainside while the tide is out. Oh, I’ve taken risks: I married him.

But if anybody could transform this inhospitable tract, he could. I envy him his ability to see nothing but potential: after all, he married me.

*Placed in Top Ten, 2014 Erma Bombeck Writers Competition, Global Humor category. (Published here after winners were announced.)

7 thoughts on “Potential*

  1. love this, Jennifer! My MIM has some stuff in common with yours. It’s mostly great to be pushed to take risks. Except when I panic and hyperventilate…

    • Agreed! As long as no broken bones or body bags, it’s all good. Seems from most of the couples I’ve talked to in response to this piece, that most couples are made up of one risk-taker and one risk-averse person, and it’s not always determined who’s who by gender. Thanks for reading!

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