"Please. Look at me!"
I knew it was my wife saying those words but my mind was still on the newspaper, which lay before me on the floor. I wasnít really reading anything, the full-page ad for a clothing sale easily told her that. I paused for a moment to glance up at her, a vague notion of her conversation replaying itself through my mind. "Yes, it sounds like a good idea". I wasnít quite sure of the destination but I did know she was saying something about a vacation. I turned the page.
I could feel her eyes upon the top of my head as she just sat there, a few feet away. The sound of the turning pages of the newspaper seemed loud in the small room. I took a furtive glance in her direction to see if I could determine her posture and verify what I feared was going to happen. Her right shoe was askew, exposing the leather sole. I decided in relief, she wasnít angry. Perhaps exasperated.
It was getting so warm in the room. I could feel the moisture which precedes perspiration propel itself to my skin. I couldnít concentrate any longer on the newspaper but I still held onto the feeling of disengagement even though that meant I was neither acknowledging her or getting anything from the paper.
Without reading a thing, I turned to the next page, wincing as the rustle reverberated in the stillness. Her gaze was relentless and I had no idea how to placate it. Looking up meant committing to a discussion! And I was content to remain unattached. It was at this particular moment that I realized this could be the very issue of her concern.
I thought to myself. "Fifteen years". "Weíve been married for Fifteen! Years". The realization came that I just didnít know how to have this conversation. I went to work everyday, came home, did things around the house, watched TV and went to bed. Every day. That was my routine. I was comfortable with it. We didnít have conversations anymore, at least not like the ones we had when we were newlyweds. There was a time, a long time ago, that we were desperate to become one soul, one consciousness. But now? It had been a decade since we last discussed anything of real intimacy.
The sigh came from my lips unintentionally. But I heard it, and I know she did too. "For Godís sake, we are different people now!" "Itís a real feat that we are still together. Look at all our friends!". The argument was unconvincing. Even in my own head.
Good times. There were many good times. I could always bring those up. "Remember when we scared the be jee beeís out of John and Mary at the lake?" For a second I almost grinned, but then realized that would be taken as laughing at pain. So I didnít. I just sat with my head bowed over Ė staring at the floor.
There was nothing left to read or look at. It was the back page, another advertisement for a local department store. I couldnít start over, that would be an insult, but I couldnít make myself look up.
Those eyes. I could picture them. Intense blue. It had been a long time since I stared into those eyes. I suppose I just didnít want to see that deeply. Hear that deeply.
My mom always said "Donít stare, itís not right!" She drilled into me, "Eye contact can be taken as a challenge. Even hostile." So I learned to never look at people like that. But with her! The things she and I used to tell each other through our eyes. We could go beyond words, beyond body language. We could communicate directly with each otherís soul, say things that couldnít be expressed in mere words. Feel with our eyes and touch with our hearts. Such an intimate touch. A gateway to our very being.
A shiver stroked my spine.
I missed that. I wanted that.
I centered my disquieting thoughts, stilled my breathing. All laughter had drained from my heart. All malice and disinterest from my body. My eyes traveled up her askew shoe to her legs and waist. Continued past her arms and to her flushed neck. As I passed her lips I noticed they were quivering. Her nose. "This is what you want", my own voice pushing me. But just before meeting her gaze, my heart skipped and I looked slightly away as if in thought Ė I could feel the heavy beating in my chest. My lips were unintentionally closed. I panicked thinking Ė "Too stern!", "Too uncaring". Too late.
She remained silent. I wanted to inquire "Why?". But it was a question that could only be asked by a direct look.
I continued my pilgrimage up her face. Her nose. Her cheeks. Her eyes.
I intended to take only the briefest of moments but the face I saw held pain and hurt. The tears were welled up like cisterns held by an invisible wall. One more blink and they started to fall. They looked almost surreal as they floated down her anguished countenance.
And there it was. Her soul. Open and vulnerable. My eyes were being allowed to penetrate to the deepest recesses of her emotion. I felt a contact more intimate than a kiss. She was stripped naked, willingly exposed for the world, for me, to take advantage of. Open to show the depths of anguish and pain that had ripped her to her core. Her life. Her nightmare which once held so many unconquerable dreams now lay in burning heaps upon the parched ground of her hopes.
I looked at her. I really looked at her. It was a contact so ardent I could actually feel the burning inside. My instinct was to pull away. Something I had done so easily for so many years. I tried to return a shallow gaze with which I could see her but also one through which I remained hidden. It was a faÁade that could not hold given the openness of her eyes.
Without a single word she took me on a journey. I saw two kids meeting each other, giddy with the possibility that someone else liked them. A tender walk through a rose garden, noticing that the petals felt like human skin. Breezes that carried the scent of her to me with the touch of a feather brushing across my senses. A promise made. That first touch that sparked like a torch and ignited a fire that I thought could never be quenched. I could see it all in her eyes.
The tender gaze on the day we were married. Happy and content. All those dreams to conquer the world with love. Change our domain into a paradise of two. Sadness when the realization came that such a utopia only existed in the fantasies of teenagers who had little grasp on the complexities that life would throw at you. And soon the drudgery of life that could kill something that once burned so intently as if to rival the stars. What could I say? It was a story that happened every day. Even to those of us who fought it. Even to us.
Still, I could see a flicker in the recesses of her heart. It was for friends that always held true . For sunshine and midnight walks under moon and stars that shone as pinholes in a black velvet cloth. For firelight dinners and concerts of music that made you cry and then with un-held hands lifted you up and infused Ė life. The power to dream. It was for flowers and puppies and whales. Things she loved that sparked a smile that was as contagious as giddy laughter.
These were the things that she showed me as happiness in her eyes.
But there was something missing, something I couldnít grasp. I looked more intently, I searched deeper so as to find it. It continued to elude me. I didnít even know what it was Ė until it occurred to me.
I could no longer see me.
Where was I in those memories? Was I not the one who held her sweet hand so tender? Was I not the one who once cradled her head so softly that she felt as if floating on air? Wasnít it I who brushed her hair so many times, so many nights.? Frustrated, I struggled to understand - why the loneliness? I couldnít believe what I was seeing, the light getting dimmer now, her gaze so distant, so clouded as if a camera slowly losing focus. Withdrawing. Withdrawn.
I wanted to tell her that I remembered the day we met. In the storm, which had soaked us both. I wanted to say that the fire that was once a raging storm was not gone - just a burning ember deep inside. I longed to convey to her that she was the rain that fell to answer the prayers of my withered ground. That she was wind that refreshed me on those hot dry days of summer. That kept me going when I thought I had no strength left. But the words just seemed so inadequate.
Tautness coiled around my chest. I felt chilled and my skin so aware of the movement of even the slightest wisps of air. I consciously breathed measured breaths, trying to buy time to figure out what she needed from me, scared of what would happen if I failed.
I could still see it. It was locked far away inside me, but I knew it was still there. I hadnít forgotten. It was just easier to pretend it didnít exist. That it never did. That way there would be no pain when I finally realized I Ė no Ė we, might never attain it. Our dreams.
I wanted so badly to tell her a story with a Cinderella ending. Where living happily ever after included the castle and the carriage, the dances till dawn with friends and laughter. I could see us there. Walking among the dancers on our way to somewhere. Meeting by accident, a slight bump, even slighter touch. The knowing smiles shared for the briefest of moments. Walking past, continuing on to our unknown destination only to pause and glance back. Eyes that locked and whispered silent words from across the floor. A moment to last forever. If we could only find a way to make it last.
Another day not to soon. Just enough to make the heart long even more. Walking along a stream that poured over worn rocks. Lost in thought, marveling at everything that surrounded us. Unspoken, not needed, that carried effortlessly from each of us to the other. A connection of souls made possible by the purest of emotions. Of hearts and minds that danced with steps lighter than feathers landing upon goose down comforters that were wonderful to fall on. The knowledge and thrill that is only brought with passion. For life. For each other.
Why canít I just tell her, "I love the way you laugh. It makes my heart smile. The way you look at me when you think I donít know it. I soar on wings when you giggle at my ridiculous puns". If I could just explain to her that without her I feel as if alone, upon a see saw. I am incomplete, bewildered without her.
I plead with my mouth to tell her the words tearing through my mind "If you only knew that when you enter a room where I am, I am content to just be. To know that whatever I am doing, you are beside me Ė near enough to touch. To feel the heat of your hand, your shoulder, your back as you sleep. The breaths escaping from your lips like the rhythm of lapping waves. I can feel your presence long after you are gone. In the fragrance of your hair on my pillow, the scents of the baths that you take. They linger in my mind and remind me of you when you are gone." But my mouth refuses to obey.
Dammit! Why canít I say it? "When you talk, it is true I donít listen to the words as much as I hear the sounds of your voice as it fills up the space between us. It calms me. I never feel lonely when you are around. In my heart Ė my very soul I know this is where I want to be. Where I need to be. Wherever that may take us, whatever that may do. I want you here. I need you here. Please be here."
I am exhausted. Angry with myself. Frantic. But my mouth remains shut. My lips as if glued together. So I plead with her with my eyes. "What I feel is in my eyes!". What I want to say is in my eyes. I am desperate for her to understand that I see her pain. That I feel her sadness and now I sense the distance. It seems so far away. She seems so far away.
"Please. Look at me."