I don’t know what it was about her.
Not even today, almost a year later.
“We have to talk,”
I sat on the basement stairs, watching him fold our children’s laundry. His hands doing the same motion over and over. The hands that I trusted for almost eight years to never hurt me.
He sets another towel on the drier. The corners don’t match up, giving it the appearance of being slightly off. Not fitting in squarely with the pile. How ironic.
“Are you happy?”
He pauses slightly.
I am silent for a moment. Staring at my lap. Fidgeting. Not trusting my own voice. I know what’s coming. And once I say it, there will be no recovery.
I don’t know what made me open up to her. Her liquid hazel eyes that didn’t look at me, but into me. The way she asked questions like my answers meant the world to her. Only one other person ever got away with talking to me like that. And she was hours away, though no less important.
“What does this mean?”
I look up at him slowly, not quite meeting his gaze. It’s one of my major faults- eye contact. Then again, could you look someone in the face while you were tearing their heart out?
“I want a separation. I want to go stay at my moms.”
His voice broke. This man who held our children, who raised a daughter that wasn’t even his by birth and never questioned it. This man who was a pillar when our middle daughter was diagnosed with cancer, and we didn’t know if she would even survive.
I don’t know why I let her touch me. Why I didn’t flinch, which was my autonomic reaction whenever someone moved toward me. I don’t know why her fingers brushing my hair out of my eyes and tucking it behind my ear made goosebumps race up both my arms like the temperature had dropped twenty degrees. I don’t know why, just then, I met her stare head on, and saw the question in them, and was answering it even before I knew I was.
“I can’t do this anymore.”
“Do what? Stay here, try to make it work?”
“We’ve been trying for a year now. It’s not getting better. We are on autopilot. We aren’t lovers, we aren’t even friends. We are strangers in this house, going through the motions.”
“We can fix this. We’ve been through so much together. Everyone has always said we would make it, no matter what.”
I’m getting frustrated. He’s not listening to me. He hears me, but he’s not listening.
“What do people know? Do people know you’ve been accusing me of cheating on you for the last six months? Do they know the empty smiles, the fake happiness?”
“I love you,”
There it is. There is that. Of course I love him. He was my best friend.
I don’t know why I let her lead me away from the table we were sitting at only moments before. I didn’t want to leave, to go back to that house. I wanted to stay here, with her. I wanted that fire she ignited with one touch. But I followed her to the car anyway. I’m not good at this game of wanting. Of running ahead, of falling and being caught.
She opened the door for me, and I just stood there, suddenly struck dumb. One of her eyebrows raised up, followed by the corner of her mouth. Another question. I eased in between the heat of her body and the car, and I shut the door. Another answer. One arm on each side of me, she cocked her head and kept grinning. Closer.
“Why are you doing this to me?”
I still can’t look at him. I look instead at the water stain on the concrete floor where it leaked in the spring. Around the time I had first told him I was leaving. And I did; for two weeks. But I didn’t have a plan for the kids or for me. So I buckled and I came back. Convinced myself I had done this for seven years, and it wasn’t just about me anymore. That story book love with passion didn’t exist. That mediocrity was okay, especially when three children were involved, and the other person was crazy about you.
“We both have.”
“No, you aren’t listening to what I’m saying. I’ve changed, and I can’t go back to who I was before.”
He runs his hand through his hair and he paces.
“I can’t fake it anymore,”
That stops him dead in his tracks.
“This. I can’t fake this house, with all this stuff that doesn’t mean anything to me. I can’t fake that this is fulfilling, that this is all there is and that I’m okay with it. I can’t fake sleeping next to you anymore, while the whole time I’m staring at the ceiling wishing it would cave in on me just so I would know if I could finally feel something- even if it was just pain.”
I don’t know why when she got closer I stared at her lips. The way they parted slightly the closer she inched to me. I don’t know why, suddenly, after twenty six years, every fiber of my being screamed at her to kiss me, kiss me, god DAMN IT- KISS. ME.
But she wouldn’t. She ran her perfect lips slowly, agonizingly over my neck toward my ear, then back down again. She was just tracing the line of my jaw when I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“Are you going to kiss me, or what?”
It was so quiet, that for a moment I thought I had just killed the mood completely. I was positive I had misread every signal she had thrown my direction. I didn’t belong in this world. I didn’t know women. Men are easy. They bend at the slightest hint of attention. But women- they are subtle, mysterious creatures. Beings of silk skin with hopes and dreams and thoughts and complexities.
I wanted to die. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to will myself anywhere else but in between her and her car. How could I be so fucking stupid. I was married and had three kids, one of whom was still a baby. Why would this incredible, self assured woman want me?
And just when I was about to make some lame joke about how I was kidding and totally straight- she leaned in.
I look up sharply. He’s angry. Something I’ve seen more and more frequently over the past year. But there’s something else in his voice.
I don’t like to hurt people. I don’t mean to hurt people. But somehow, I always do. I’m always on a self destructive path, always racing to hurt them first before they can get to me.
“Go,” he repeats. “Get the fuck out of here. I don’t want you here.”
I can’t cry, even now. Even while I’m killing the one person who loves me. I just stand up, turn around, and head back up the stairs and out the door. I get in my car and turn the key.
He’s watching from the doorway.
I don’t know why that kiss changed my life. I don’t know why, even today, it was like a thousand fireworks going off in my head. A million fireflies dancing behind my eyelids. A pair of lips so perfectly formed to mine, it was like coming home after an eternity of winter.
I don’t know why, and I might not ever know, kissing her was like finally opening my eyes and taking my first breath. It was a billion stars falling to earth all at once. It was a wave crashing to shore, smoothing the ripples in the sand.
I backed out of the driveway and made it to my moms before I texted her.
Where are you?
I’m at my moms.
Are you ok?
I don’t know what I am.
I’ll be right there.
And I sat. On the front step. Des’ree singing “Kissing You,”. The words piercing my soul.
Ten minutes later, she pulled up smiling shyly at me. I watched her get out smoothly, her black police uniform crisp and precise, but her shiny combat boots unlaced. A telltale sign of her rush to get to me. She knew I needed her. It had only been two days, but she already knew me better than anyone.
“I love this song. Des’ree.”
She stood over me on the step and put both her hands on my face, forcing me to look at her.
I couldn’t do anything but wrap my hands around her waist, and bury my face into her. I wanted to be closer. I wanted her to cover me in darkness. I wanted it to be a year later, for all of this to be over.
She climbed into my lap and held me.
She rocked gently.
I don’t know why that one kiss made me know myself. But I did.
I knew then who I was and what I was meant for in this life.
I don’t know how I knew in that moment that I had to be with her.
But most of all- I don’t know how she knew it too.