He slams the door shut, making a beeline for the kitchen. My heart skips as I hear the pop of the kitchen cabinet smacking open, the years of layered paint kiss loudly as he yanks the handle. I hear him sloppily reach for the Wheat Thins, open the box, unfurl the plastic bag, and begin to shovel the sweet and salty crackers into his mouth.
I linger by the door until I’m ready to surrender myself to the next hour. I knew we shouldn’t have gone out tonight, I think to myself. I knew I shouldn’t have encouraged a third drink.
My shoulders relax as I gently pad to the edge of the couch and take a seat. I kick off my shoes and wait.
“I hate going out with your friends sometimes,” he remarks, completely unprovoked.
“Why is that?” I ask.
“I just do. They don’t like me. I miss my friends; they’re the ones who appreciate me.”
“I don’t think that’s true. They love hanging out with you; you were specifically invited,” I say hoping to appease him.
“Whatever. You know that was just them being nice.” Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. There’s no room for silence over his aggressive digestion. I’m still piecing together what could have possibly happened in the short car ride home from the bar. When I sat down in the passenger seat he was laughing and joking with me. I dozed for most of the way, as I usually do. My parents used to put me in the car when I couldn’t sleep as a small child; they would drive around until the steady vibrations and familiar sounds lulled me unconscious. I’ve been trained to fall asleep riding in a car, but I now know that it can be more dangerous than at the wheel.
When the car comes to a stop, and the radio quiets, I awake groggy. I look over at him in the small light indicating an open door; something has changed. His face is stiff, eyes hard, lips pursed. I ask if he’s all right. He tells me he’s fine, but my body’s muscle memory knows better and my skin freezes.
I listen to him chewing now; it’s not particularly loud, but in the thick air it’s deafening. I let my long hair, knotted from the moist night air, cigarettes, and sweat fall into a curtain around my face. Despite years of theater camp and acting classes, I still can’t hide anything from my face. I never could.
My forefinger anxiously picks at a hangnail on its next-door neighbor. I know it will later bleed, and I will be reminded of my mother taking notice of my bad habit and telling me that no one will ever want to hold my hand if I continue to be disgusting and destructive, cutting away small parts of myself.
“Why don’t you love me anymore.” There it is.
“I do love you,” I say because I know my lines by now.
“No you don’t.” Chomp. Chomp.
I think about how laptops have a mechanism that locks the hard drive when it begins to fall. That’s me. I’m falling. I look like I’m sitting on my own couch but I am falling. I can feel myself shutting down. Pretty soon I won’t be able to speak or move. I’m turning to stone. I stare into dead space with dead eyes. I’m gone for now. I’ve been gone for a long time. I don’t even know how long I’ve been hollow.
“Yes I do. You know I do,” I eek out quietly, still avoiding eye contact, trying to maintain composure.
“I don’t know anymore,” he pauses. “You know, I was looking at old photos today. You don’t look at me the same way as you used.”
I suck in air, struggling to breath under the weight of truth but unable to let myself crumble yet; that won’t come for a while.
“Hello?” I’ve been drowning in my own head for too long. “Did you hear what I said?” His tone is threatening. But what? To leave? Even worse, to stay.
My face feels like it’s in a horror movie scene where an ancillary character’s mouth suddenly disappears to leave her with silent screams of terror. I want to yell at him. Tell him I’m tired, that I want to sleep, that I am done. I want to make him leave. But he lives here too. And I’m in an Escher painting of my own design, trapped in a room with too many stairs and not enough doors.
I cannot say any of these things. Instead I sit staring at a spot on the cheap carpet, making a mental note that it needs to be cleaned, my forefinger angrily telling my thumb what I cannot put into words.
I turn my head to face him. My eyes are burning; I’m choking on the lump in my throat. I’m just so tired. This is the point in the night where I give up
“We…I…I don’t know,” I mutter through my temporary stroke.
“You don’t know what?” he presses harder.
“Yeah, you’ve already said that,” he says patronizingly.
“That was a long time ago. We have a different relationship now,” I say, finding my voice for just a moment before lapsing back into my emotional coma. I feel like I’ve been afflicted with the archaic sleeping sickness from the turn of the last century, the one that renders you speechless, motionless, a vegetable. It’s the disease that Robin Williams was trying to cure in the movie Awakenings, based on a true story. I’m Robert Dinero.
“I guess,” he concedes. I breathe deeper, thinking we’ve turned a corner. “But, you’re not even attracted to me. You never want to have sex.”
I lose it, hot tears pouring out of my pleading eyes. My face remains still as my ducts work overtime, pushing out everything I have through the corners of my eyes until everything looks as blurry as it feels.
“Don’t cry,” he scolds. He hates it when I cry because it makes him feel bad about himself.
“That’s not true. I always want to have sex,” I blatantly lie as my face involuntarily twists in anguish. But it is true. Sex has become a weapon we keep in the house, and I’m always the one looking down the barrel.
“Then come over here and prove it’s not.”
I slowly rise walk the ten feet to the kitchen where he stands, leaning against the counter next to the refrigerator. I stand in front of him, arms crossed. I look up at him, and I crumble, falling into his chest sobbing. He softens and wraps his arms around me.
“I’m sorry,” he says. And he means it. He is sorry. I can feel that he’s just as scared of himself as I am.
We’ve been stuck in this impasse for almost three years; he can’t control himself, and I can’t seem to let myself go.
I cry harder, until I’m wailing because the words won’t come. He holds me tighter, kissing the top of my head as my face makes mascara smeared pools on his shirt. I look up, and he kisses my mouth hard. I hate it, but I’m grateful.
He releases his grip and heads for the bedroom. I know once I join him, he’ll be armed, and I’ll have to comply. It’s the only way we know how to reconnect anymore, if even for just mere moments. But I’m gone. I’ve been gone. No matter how much electrical tape you use, a broken fuse is never the same.
“Are you gonna get me some ice water? I’m thirsty,” he shouts from the bedroom where he waits for me to show him I still love him, for me to reassure him that we can sustain the growing fissures just a little bit longer.
“Yeah, can I share it with you?” I call back.
I go to sleep that night curled up on the edge of my side of the bed wondering where we should eat brunch the next day.