She defined love for me every morning at 5:00 AM. My parents couldn't afford an alarm clock, so we rose on hers. I knew at least three other families - one in our tenement, two in hers - that did the same. While my brothers fought for the hot water, I scurried over to the window. I called her Dawn.
She was appropriately blonde, the downiest stuff you ever saw. Nostalgia’s probably colored my memory. It does that without asking. If you asked my little self, she was incomparable, an angel in threadbare linens. Most mornings I didn't catch sight of her before she got out of bed and into the bathroom, but I tried. I was at that age.
Six days a week I did catch her exiting the bathroom, though. She might look out their window, but never up for a Peeping Thomas a story above and across the alley. In those early rays of yellow and orange, her skin was raw and pinkened from the freezing shower. And then she'd put bobbies in her hair, pinning and hiding it all up.
I'd take my breakfast at the windowsill and consume her ritual. Guess observance was my ritual. Dawn’s was to wrap her breasts, mashing them into her ribs so as even I got uncomfortable. They had to fit into her husband's old uniform. She'd lace the boots snug, pull on the too-fat gloves, and button things up to her chin. The tools waited for her by the door as she made sure he had his bedpan and a glass of water.
Don’t remember a morning where he got up. She'd kiss him on the forehead, then squat under the weight of his pack and embark for the mine. Someone had to, to ensure he'd have food and medicine tomorrow. Some nights she'd come back so coal-stricken you couldn't tell her apart from the dusk. All that radiant beauty, scrubbed pink and strapped down. Tomorrow after tomorrow.
Nowadays, that's what I think love is. It's what you'll do to yourself for someone else. I've had four women tell me I'm wrong, and all four walked out on me eventually. But you know, I drove into hurricanes and stayed through cancer-scares when they needed somebody most. So I don't regret. I did my part getting us to dawn.