We argued again tonight.
I wish he wouldn’t save it all up for when we’ve just sat down to eat. I knew I’d done something because I’d been getting the silent treatment.
Well, the not-the-completely-silent-treatment but the grunted-answers-in-a-monotone-with-no-eye-contact treatment since I came home with new shoes.
“Why do you always treat me like a child?”
It was angry, accusatory, and blurted out right across a steaming plateful of his favourite homemade chilli and potato wedges, which I guess (on some unconscious level) I made because I knew this was in the offing, and I wanted to somehow assuage him. Such a shame it didn’t work.
The problem is (with his condition) that I never know what’s going to be right. The goalposts are constantly shifting and I never know from one day to the next – heck, sometimes from one hour to the next – where the boundaries are. Whether they’ve shifted. Whether I’m okay to joke around or do something for him (maybe even venture to tease him in playful jest) or whether, when I try anything, that hurt, angry look will come slamming down on his face, turning his eyes to cold, grey glares and ruining the rest of the day with his festering resentment.
I’m spending my whole life at the moment walking on eggshells, and the problem is sometimes I’m not careful enough.
“I’m sorry hun. I know you’ve been annoyed recently because your shoe was rubbing, you know, where the sole’s wearing through, and I happened to be in town and thought I could just..”
His anger cuts across my sentence like a back-hander
“I can buy my own damn shoes. I don’t need you to do it for me. I’m perfectly capable, and I’ll do it when I’m ready, okay? Just stop trying to control me.”
I sigh, feeling the inevitable prickle in the backs of my eyes.
“Sure. I won’t do it again. Sorry.”
We eat the rest of the meal in strained silence; him sighing loudly and obviously every now and again, accompanied by an eye-roll and various shakes of the head as he glances across at me, as though he’s having a conversation with someone and they’re both discussing how poor my conduct has been today.
I sit, swallowing my own anger with each bite of chilli, forming a hard ball in my stomach so that I give up halfway through the meal I’d invested so much in. I remain in glum silence myself, let out my own small sigh and get up to leave the table.
“Ach! Can’t even stand to sit with me now, can you? You’re pathetic.”
Once again, only the kitchen sink and dirty pans see my tears.
He slams out a little later, leaving his used plate on the table for me to clear away. I know he’ll be gone for the evening, if not the night. I know I won’t sleep until he’s home. It’s gonna be a long one and as I scrape the congealed food into the bin, the thought keeps repeating in my head ‘This is not what I signed up for’.
He wasn’t always like this, I promise you. He was wonderful, intelligent, good looking, the hub of his social life and a massive force for good. There was never a weekend where he wasn’t doing something for some good cause or deserving person. He singled me out at a bar one night and asked me “Do you want to leave the world a better place?”
How could I resist an opener like that? His lovely brown eyes locked onto mine, shining with hope and the promise of better ways of living – what could I do but go along with it? Shyly at first, serving soup to the homeless without a word, or painting fences at local schools, trying to keep my head down, but he kept bringing me to the forefront, sharing his glory with me when he was thanked by grateful recipients of his kindness.
Through him I learned how to take homeless people to dinner; how to get a cat down from a tree; how to organise a charity drive for a special needs school; how to throw an auction to raise funds for disabled ex-servicemen (and women). My life was expanded, my perceptions of society shaken up and the pieces reshaped into a clearer, more involved view. For the first time in my life, I felt I was a real contributor to the world around me. I made a difference. I mattered.
We found lots of excuses to be alone together, and after a while, coffee breaks taken together whilst on the job turned into ‘planning meetings’ at coffee shops, which turned into ‘meetings’ at restaurants and before I knew it, one balmy night after a particularly delicious meal at a bijoux cafe with tiny tables outside overlooking the harbour, he’d shunted his chair around next to mine, wrapped an arm around me and gazed deep into my soul with those rich eyes and murmured “I could easily come to love you, you know. You’re so wonderful, so…everything I ever looked for”
Halfway between embarrassment and swooning, I gazed back, rendered utterly tongue-tied, but soon got back into the swing of things as he planted a velvet kiss on my lips, drew back to gauge my reaction, then went for a full-on, passionate smooch. I shall treasure that memory for ever.
We only dated for a few months. He wanted to make it permanent, a forever thing, as fast as possible. I wasn’t sure why, but was so in love with him (and, if I’m honest, I had been for ages before he kissed me) that I didn’t mind, and said ‘yes’ to everything. Yes to a big, white wedding. Yes to moving in with him. Yes to his strange family and the odd emotional distance between all of them and my new father-in-law. Yes to his dog.
I didn’t like the dog.
A mangy, smelly mutt which he allowed into *everything*. A dog I shouted at for chewing my shoes, baffled by the sudden hurt in his eyes when I did it. A dog which gradually started to become a bit of an issue after a year or so.
A dog which then died, and which I’d give anything to have back. Because then I could have my husband back.
He took it so hard.
I’d never seen him so broken before. He shut down and went to bed for a week, which stunned me, then irritated me, and finally I told him to pull himself together and get up. It was only a dog for crying out loud.
From then on, there was ice between us. Even when things were okay and he’d gotten up and gone back to work, there was that shard in his eye that knew I’d Done Wrong.
He started withdrawing from me, snapping at the smallest things and finding reasons to criticise me. I suggested he went to a doctor, which he did, without me, and came back telling me I was a bully, making him think he needed medical help when he was clearly fine. We haven’t been intimate since that day and our marriage bed lies unrumpled on one side, as recently, he’s moved out to the couch – the look of disgust on his face when I invite him to share with me each night, showing exactly what he thinks of me.
It’s just got worse and worse from there and the arguments have become more painful, more personal, more vicious. His friends have dropped him because he doesn’t join in any more, rather sits and bitches about how pointless it all is because so little difference is made anyway, and how they’re idealistic losers. He ended up with a black eye for that last comment.
Now he sits in the chair for the evening and glares angrily into space, getting up to go to the pub or to fix himself another drink. Or to tell me I’ve done something wrong.
And my poor, precious husband, the one I fell in love with, is disappearing, like the moon behind clouds, leaving the faintest hint of his outline behind all the darkness.
The nights he goes to the pub worry me most. He’ll pick fights or be brought back by angry ex-friends or one time, in the back of a police car. He sometimes comes back hurt. And he doesn’t care. Lately he’s been talking about wanting to just stop being, because why bother. Because nothing matters. Because I don’t matter. Because he doesn’t matter.
I make light of it, but it his words tie my heart in barbed wire as they pour in vile torrents from his lips.
So each night he disappears, I lie there awake like I’m lying here now, both hoping for and dreading the moment I hear him trying to get his key into the lock. The stumbling slow walk as he holds the walls to navigate the hallway. The curses when he stubs his toe, and the voice raised in anger at me for leaving the furniture lying around. I press my hands to my ears and squeeze my eyes shut, trying to not hear it – to not take it in.
But tonight the silence has stretched on. Midnight was far too early and 2am passed with no disturbance.
I napped towards 4am and woke up with a start to a silent house, feeling guilty and terrified.
Why isn’t he home?
Anger and hurt and longing and anxiety chase one another like shadows across my heart and collect in a thick puddle of dread in the base of my throat.
The sky’s lightening and I can see the silhouettes of the trees beginning to thicken and come into focus. A bird sings a jarring, dischordant attempt at a pre-sunrise song. Where is he?
I get up and pad into the kitchen, wrapping my dressing gown around me, holding my arms crossed around my body, trying to hold the panic in as the kettle boils. Is he safe?
The coffee scalds my lips and tongue. I’m grateful for the reminder that I can feel, but at the same time, am strangely numb to the blisters that pop up. Is he hurt?
The sky turns a clear, pale, almost imperceptible blue as I nurse my mug, rocking on the balls of my feet. Is he lost?
A seagull, minute against the massive expanse of fresh air, swims across the roof of the sky, disappearing into a cloud. Is he alive?
The phone rings suddenly, its jangling, strident noise jarring every nerve in my body. The coffee slips from my grasp and smashes, covering my toes with lukewarm liquid and splinters of pottery.
I run, slipping on my wet feet to answer it, snatching the receiver from the cradle and pressing it to my ear, heart pounding “Hello? Hello? Who is it?”
“Madam, I’m calling you about your husband – it’s the police.”