He laughs even as I feel my bones creak and groan like old floorboards, weak and water-stained, when he holds me too tight. When my muscles strain like a squeaking staircase as I reach out to touch him, feel him with my fingertips, he laughs and takes my hand and folds it into his.
I know that I will never be able to tell him, but I know that he understands.
When it becomes too much, he is patient, like a child waiting for a faulty bulb to stop flickering once he turns it on. He watches, patient, but keeps his hand on the switch, ready and willing to turn it off and try again later if he needs to.
Sometimes I think back to the house I had moved into, many years ago. That house on the corner with one working light and a living room I had never used. When we opened the front door for the first time, it seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.
Finally, it seemed to whisper. Finally, I am lived in again.
We don't realize it, how we change the spaces we occupy. We fill it with odds and ends and transform it into more than it was. We become a part of it, just as much as it is a part of us. And when we leave, the space is frozen in time, preserved the way we had left it, wallowing in its own despair, until someone new comes along and makes it theirs.
That house, it was more work than it was worth. Making it livable proved to require more effort than I had been willing to put in. It seemed forever steeped in dust. The floors would never shine. The lights were always flickering.
I did what I could. I littered the house with my mementos. I painted pictures. I bought furniture. I marked it as mine.
But it changed nothing. I didn't do enough.
I never opened the windows, because I was always afraid of people peering in. I never touched the old furniture or used what the previous tenants had left, because I was always afraid of breaking something. There was a bedroom I never used because I had heard the stories the previous tenants had told, and was afraid that there was more lingering in there than dust.
I left that house in the same state it had been when I first pried the lock on the gate open: lonely, empty, and unloved.
But he sees this old house, and he laughs.
He opens windows, feels the ridges on the walls and the scratches in the cupboards, listens to the whining of the hinges when he opens doors that have been left locked for too long, and he laughs. He takes the things left by those who came and went, and with gentle, deft hands, salvages what he can, leaving the rest to be thrown out when the time is right.
It's a lot of work, and I remind him often. He reminds me that it's worth it.
Where others had been forceful, he is patient. He hears the creaking of the floorboards and thinks it's a quirk. One more tiny detail that reminds him that this old house is his. One more sound to welcome him home when he opens the door and steps in.
And when he opens the door, I breathe a sigh of relief.