Below is a short piece that I posted on a former blog of mine sometime last year. I’ve been a bundle of nerves as of late (a post about why is coming!), so I thought I’d share this one again, though the reasons why these characters are nervous are much different from mine. Enjoy!
The ride home was so silent it hurt my ears. I watched him watch the road, maneuvering the car in and out of traffic with ease. The setting sun would occasionally reflect against the white gold and diamond band around his left ring finger. He continued to drive, looking forward, saying nothing.
And I didn’t speak either.
After a few moments, I turned my attention to the side window, twisting my own gold and diamond ring around my finger.
At some point, I thought, one of us has to say something.
But words never came.
So we sat in the loud silence whizzing down the interstate for the next fifteen minutes.
That silence between us continued for the remainder of the evening. Neither of us wanted to address the elephant that had followed us home and was now perched in the middle of the room. If it weren’t for the kids rattling on about their days or playing loudly from their playroom or the noise of the flat screen on blast, then the tension would be too much to bear. I welcomed the noise, all of it.
It took my mind off the news we’d received earlier.
Ignored the elephant.
I’m sure it did the same for him.
However, a few hours later, the babies were tucked away, their gaming system powered down. Only the noise from the TV remained.
And the elephant.
I stood by the wall to the family room, once again watching him. Watching him not look at me. I finally looked up at the TV to see what had his mind occupied. To see what took his eyes off the elephant.
A UFC fight. Why he watched it, I didn’t know. I stopped trying to understand his fascination with it long ago.
I fought a yawn from deep in my gut. A part of me wanted to sit beside him, to see if he would speak. But the yawn was bigger than me. The fatigue was deep, weakening, manifesting in the bags under my eyes.
Lately, it — the malaise — always is.
The yawn was what concerned me to begin with. The fatigue that couldn’t be conquered with a nap or sleeping longer on Saturdays.
After a few moments of standing and yawning, I had enough. I give. I quit. I can’t fight this monster tonight. So, I waved the white flag and headed to the bedroom. I could feel his eyes on me as I moved past the TV towards our room.
I shut the door behind me. The last thing I wanted was The Octagon to creep its way into my dreams. The TV cut off as I closed the bathroom door to wash my face. By the time I came out of the bathroom, the room was dark. His figure laid still on his side of the bed.
The elephant winked. I gave it the side-eye as I made my way to the bed. I laid in my usual position, on my side with my back turned to him. Usually, he’d eventually roll over and wrap his arms around me.
Tonight, he didn’t.
And that same malaise that usually has me knocked me out within moments was no match for the elephant. My mind raced as I struggled to find comfort. Some semblance of peace.
But peace would be hard to find as long as the elephant, The News, dangled between us. I finally stretched onto my back and looked up at the ceiling.
I glanced his way; he was still awake, staring at the ceiling.
Still not speaking.
Still ignoring the damn elephant.
Song lyrics made their way to the front of my mind. The music that accompanied it played in my head, so clear, I almost thought the radio was on.
We cried together.
I continued to lie there in silence, waited for him to mumble like Eddie LeVert.
We can’t go on like this.
Except both our eyes were dry. Only the silence wept.
We can’t go on like this.
I was so used to him making the first move. The first to initiate anything – conversation, a touch, sex. Now, it was like he was shocked into paralysis.
I guess this kind of news would do that to a man. Even a strong one like him. Render him completely mute.
I thought back to one of our early dates, a double date with mutual friends. We rode in silence in the back seat of his boy’s car. He reached for my hand and squeezed it tight. I didn’t say anything when he did it, just enjoyed the warmth, the strength, the gentleness of his hand over mine.
So I reached for his. Let my fingers curl around to touch the side of his palm, hoping he wouldn’t jerk his hand back.
Because if he did that, I think I’d lose it.
He tightened his grip around my fingers.
It was okay, I decided, if he didn’t speak. His squeezing my hand let me know he was still present.
But he did. And what he said would be harder to wrap my mind around than what we’d been told earlier.
“Baby, I’m scared.” His voice was barely above a whisper, and I was quite sure that it shook when he said it.
Seriously? He wasn’t scared of anything. Fear never guided his thoughts, dictated his life.
But that was before the doctor walked in and dropped The News. Told him his wife, the mother of his children, was sick.
That the fatigue that led me through a series of tests and doctor visits he deemed to be unnecessary, an attempt to milk our health insurance for all it was worth, actually meant something.
He’d thought all I needed was more sleep. Stop staying up so late and getting up so early, he’d say. I know you want your master’s baby, but stop pushing yourself so much. Stop eating all the junk. Lay off the lattes and Wild Cherry Pepsi. Maybe lose a little weight.
I just needed to slow my roll. Remember to take my vitamins. Anemia had been a problem for as long as I could remember. I was just malnourished. I wasn’t eating breakfast like I should. I was no longer the spring chicken, the young undergrad that could function off of three hours of sleep and some caffeine.
Thing is, it didn’t matter if I had three hours or thirteen hours. Fatigue stayed on my back all day everyday for months. Laid across me like a heavy weight in the morning, my mind willing to move, but my body unable. Threatened to claim me at work. Pulled on my eyelids during class. Rested in my muscles as I drove home. I fought it as I put the kids to bed, but determination to spend some time with them that day always prevailed. But it was a hard battle. I kept the fight up so I could study a little, but I always caved at the end.
I wasn’t just a little tired. Not just under some stress.
I was sick. And even though the prognosis looked good, I was still sick.
And now that we finally had our answer for the fatigue, instead of being the strong, take-charge type I knew him to be, he was scared? Just when I thought nothing could rattle him, I discovered the one thing that could.
Thou art but a man. Far from invincible. Definitely not untouchable.
“They caught it early,” was all I could think of to say.
“I know what he said.” He replied. “But still,” his voice trailed off.
I almost said something really clichéd, but held my tongue. The next few weeks would be full of trite idioms as word of my sickness spread. Well meaning and often unsolicited advice from family and friends that wanted to encourage and uplift, but would likely disappoint when they opened their mouths to do so. I’m sure I’d probably roll my eyes out of the sockets at some point.
Or they’d be so overly dramatic and into themselves, death would seem like a more viable alternative.
Poetic Waxers & Chicken Littles.
I didn’t want neither in this space. Both are uninvited.
I watched him as he sighed deeply; his whimper was a noise like a wounded animal.
I realized I didn’t want his strength. That would come from above.
I wanted, no needed, his vulnerability.
Because finally I could drop the Superwoman act. And admit that I, too, was scared shitless.
Once we both stopped pretending, the News became easier to deal with.
I sat up on my knees, and pulled his head to my chest. I closed my eyes, exposing my own vulnerability to him, tears running down my face as his ran over my forearms.
I kissed the top of his head and he held on to me tightly.
I watched the elephant get off his fat ass and walk away.
I thought of The O’Jays.
Looks like we’d cry together after all.
(c) 2012 Dahlia Savage