I stand in the kitchen of the home we never shared, staring absentmindedly past the unfamiliar face reflected in the illuminated microwave window. I catch this stranger’s eyes—eyes that seem to radiate condemnation—and shamefacedly return to the present with a start. I turn my attention to the small countertop that flanks the stove, noticing the black walnut checkerboard butcher block covered in breadcrumbs and the marble cheese server with curled iron legs—an anniversary present she now uses as a perch for her spices. Those spices carry me into the future on the winds of change as I picture her on a bleak winter night, standing before this butcher block, this cheese server, using these spices to cook dinner for one—alone and sad—as a cold draft fills her quiet, hollow home with the scent of fading memories and broken dreams. And in this kitchen I stand, overcome by an inexpressible grief that feels something like the weight of a thousand lifetimes.
At what point is love no longer enough? At what point can love no longer heal the wounds? Is it when melancholy replaces bliss? When personalities change imperceptibly, until they’re not? When communication shallows? When once visceral connections wane, strain, break? When the relationship becomes prosaic, tepid? When warmth meets numbness? When passion disappears and touch turns artificial? When absence fills the home? When needs starve? When the emotional toll becomes physically unbearable? When the heart is left bruised and battered? When minds wander, when hearts no longer flutter, when souls slumber? When past is present; the future, hopeless? So I ask again: At what point is love no longer enough?
Or is that just it? Is love never no longer enough? Is love a puissance capable of healing all wounds—the monumental and miniscule? Is love a boundless force that transcends the melancholy, the change, the shallow, the breakdown, the prosaic, the numbness, the dispassion, the absence, the starvation, the toll, the bruising, the wandering, the flatlining, the slumber, the hopelessness? A sleeping giant waiting, ready to be awoken, to resist, to fight?
Because as I stare at these silent mementos to what once was, I can no longer stomach the image of what might be: her lonely, trembling, grieving hands as they brush away the last crumbs of a distant and fading love. And I realize this is why I can never leave. I would willingly and silently suffer the unhappiness if only it meant preventing this future.
But I know that’s the wrong reason to stay. The lonely and trembling hands, the lingering crumbs, the perdition of the heart would persist whether I stay or go. I would though. And that may be why we’re still married.
Is it love or fear, then, that keeps me here? Is it love or fear that pulls me away?
I don’t know the answer. I don’t know whether, or when, love is no longer enough. I don’t know if I’m beholden to love or fear. But I know nothing will be healed in this kitchen.