My Husbands, from Ages Seven to Twenty-Seven

by Michelle Cristiani

I am married to Nick Charles.

I am still a child, and I barely know what marriage is, except that my mother hasn’t one. It is safe in here, with my Nick Charles–The Thin Man of 1934–and his sharp wit and clever deductions. It is safe in this black and white loft mansion, where everyone is always dressed for dinner and they drink fancy bubbly cocktails and have parties where they accuse each other of murder. Great fun, compared to this. Heaven, compared to this.

Nick Charles is my perfect package. He honors his commitments, but you can smell on him–through the pages and through the screen–that he has a little shady, a little underbelly, on him, too. He walks the line between the nobility and the working class. Everyone adores him, no matter their station. And no matter his shenanigans, Nora (me) laughs it off and pours him a drink. She does this because despite his mishaps, he is loyal and trustworthy. He is not indiscriminate with his antics. He does not, for example, cheat and lie. His world, despite the pistols and bumps in the night, is safer than mine. Abandon, not abandonment. I know too much about abandonment.

I am married to John Steed.

I am still a child, but an older one, and I now know what marriage is and what it is not. I know that you can marry one person and come to love another. John Steed of the esteemed and British stately Avengers is honorable, too, and loyal and trustworthy. He appears only when he needs to, when action is imminent. He never crosses any line, anywhere. He rescues young ladies all the time. He rescues me all the time–at least once a week.

When John Steed finds Emma (me) in a pickle, he helps her out. Emma was always getting into some trap or other, pretending to be someone else, and then getting found out. No matter how much I, too, pretend, the identity I craft crumbles around me. When those who distrust my identity hold me captive, John Steed appears.

Unlike Mr. Charles, John Steed’s spare time is a mystery. I have no idea what he does when he’s not with me. I don’t know whether he has friends or drinks Scotch or files papers in the office. It doesn’t matter, though, because what I do know is that he manages to be both exciting and reliable. There is nothing more dangerous than an unreliable man. I know too much about unreliable men.

I am married to Davy Jones. I am married to Alex Van Halen. I am married to Stevie Nicks. I am married to Antonín Dvořák. I am married to Madonna.

There are those who sing only to me, whose eyes look at me directly when they wink. When they capture tears falling or wings soaring, they are thinking of me. Me, headphones on, waiting at windows and doors for boys and girls and women and men who never showed. Fanatical adoration is the pinnacle of love, maybe. I try it on.

While I am married to an icon nothing matters but the art. We revolve as distinct planets with coinciding orbits, and when we meet, there are explosions. In the calm after the climax, art soothes us. Movement soothes us. I dance, I run, I shake my hips. I drive too fast. I jump without looking down. I rev engines until we have no gas left. There is nothing more dangerous than standing still. I know too much about standing still.

I am married to Bruce Wayne.

Bruce Wayne is a terrible husband. He’s never home, he lives a lie, and he throws money around like it’s supposed to make up for everything. One lives around, not with, Bruce Wayne.

But he does have what a lot of my real-life lovers don’t have: conviction. Something in this world really, really matters to him. It’s not me, sadly. But his piety is genuine, and I can step aside for it because it is beautiful to behold. His devotion is contagious. His zealotry is inspiring. His unerring compass sets mine too, in its wake.

I know the truth: I do not want to make constant excuses for my man or go to sleep together and wake up, always, alone. I don’t want to bother my lover with domestic minutiae while he is saving the world. But I do want someone who cares for something (or more than one thing) besides myself.  I don’t want to be his everything. I don’t want to put all eggs in my lover’s basket. When I close the book, I am sure there is nothing more dangerous than making your lover your whole world. I know too much about that too.

It is my wedding day.

I am old enough to know what my love requires: balance (thank you, Mr. Charles), integrity (thank you, Mr. Steed), rhythm and harmony (thank you, musicians), and devotion (thank you, Bruce Wayne). My fictional lovers guide me down the aisle, kiss me (chaste, now), and whisper: We have taught you all you need to know, but you may return to our textbooks whenever you wish.

My groom does not wear a bowler hat. He is not British, not spy. He does not play his guitar at venues bigger than our parties. He is not a superhero.

But I can tell you what he is. He is a seesaw in stasis, balanced with both ends off the ground. He is committed, and he is independent. He is staid, and he is fiery. He is companionate, and he is libidinous. He is safe but daring, prepared but impulsive, adoring but balanced.

And we together? Messy. Sloppy. Boringly nonfiction. At capacity with human error. In the real world, when the books shut and spotlights shift from secondary to primary, what’s left? Real people either holding hands or not. For today, we hold hands. For tomorrow, we hope, and we remember our lessons.

Michelle Cristiani teaches reading and writing at Portland Community College. She won the Margarita Donnelly Prize for Prose Writing from Calyx Press for her memoir on stroke recovery. She has also been published in Awakenings Review and Verseweavers (Oregon Poetry Association). She can be foundon Twitter: @heart_pages. Her website is