[The latest #1667 Words entry is by Melissa Newcomb.]
The wind was tangling her hair into a rat’s nest, but it was also whisking the tears away from her face the instant they dropped from her misty eyes. She had decided to leave all the windows down as she sped away. The air was fresher out here, as the city disappeared and the suburbs receded, replaced by rolling hills of crops she couldn’t identify.
Road after road she drove, until there were no familiar road signs left, no identifiable landmarks. She figured as long as the dashboard compass read south she could eventually find her way back home by keeping north. Home. The very word had come to mean so much. They had given the name Home to their love, it was the title of ‘their’ song, it meant the state of their being together.
But he was gone, again. Not yet physically this time; but his mind was closed off and his heart vacant already. The symptoms were so familiar to her now: the sudden anger; displeasure with her appearance, her activities, her choices; the silences; and long retreats into the garage to ‘work’ on something ‘she wouldn’t understand.’
Glancing at the gas gauge she had no idea how much time she had to find a station. Not quite on empty, but dangerously close out here in the middle of nowhere, the gauge could have been measuring the strength left in her heart. It wasn’t her. That’s what he said last time; and the time before that too. It was him. He is a self-sabotager; afraid of success, of succeeding, of having what he wants because he knows that it will only be ripped away from him later. So he chose instead to quit before he got the promotion, dropped out before he could surpass his father, break things that are working so they fail on his terms, and throw away relationships before he could get hurt; even though he was hurting himself.
The familiar voice screamed in the back of her mind, berating his psycho-babble bull that he’d probably picked up in one of her college text books for God’s sake. He was a jerk, plain and simple. Her father would run him down if he had even the slightest clue of the garbage he’d already put her through. And she was contemplating letting it all happen again? Today it was much harder to quiet her ‘rational’ self.
Breathing deeply she tried again to pull it together, to find some sense of calm in the midst of this chaos. “Focus on the positives, remember why you are holding so tight,” she thought. She wished that true love or soul mates were first to come to her mind; neither was. She wanted it to be the thousands of passionate encounters, the glimpse of a child they would never know, or even that one perfect moment when the world was eclipsed by their love. But it none of those were enough anymore. It was the ring, of course. That was the real reason she was waiting. That delicate little silver band, holding a sparking new diamond, nestled in that beautiful velvet box she’d accidentally come across while packing for their most recent move. That was what kept her there this last time, the reason she turned the other cheek, again.
Last summer he’d come back, come Home, before she’d allowed herself to admit he’d been gone from her. Of course the truth had come out, but like always he was so genuinely remorseful. She thought back to the long nights of confessional soul searching, the tears, the admonishments. She remembered his father pleading his case and blaming himself for his son’s short comings.
She eventually accepted his efforts, his apologies, his renewed promises; again. They were supposed to move on, forget the past, live in the present, in the life they were building together. They had left the congestion and uncomfortable memories of downtown behind and found a new place to grow, to once more reconstruct their Home. Fresh like this countryside she saw flashing past her windows.
Going through boxes one afternoon, while he worked at his new job, she’d found it. Proof. The physical manifestation of his countless promises of love and commitment. Now she stared at the steering wheel, at her hand, and her still naked finger. Where was that velvet-wrapped promise hiding now, she wondered.
Turning into a Stewart’s, at the first traffic light she’d seen in at least twenty miles, she stalled out. Emotionally spent she stared blankly ahead into the store’s glass front windows that revealed the walls of coolers, each offering refreshment she couldn’t remember she needed. When had she last eaten? Had anything to drink? When had she last slept well? The unfolding of their private drama had somehow overshadowed even her most basic needs.
It looked just the same as the single gas station in their home town. She was hundreds of miles away from that place now, from the beginning of their love. How much had she forgiven before they had even left there for the first time; knowingly and unknowingly? The moonlight had shined brighter there, at least of that she was certain.
Pumping gas, her unfocused eyes blurred with persistent tears until it was her mother’s old mini-van she was standing next to. In the long ago of her memories, her back had been cool pressed up against the driver’s side door; while her chest broiled, the air between their bodies charged with attraction, sarcasm, and passion. She wasn’t about to let the high school Casanova sway her from her dreams and college plans. She couldn’t escape that town fast enough and there was no way she would be coming back for him. They had tried dating, as little children of fourteen and fifteen years old. Too serious too fast, too different to last. It seemed the town itself took sides against them, pitting them as some academic version of Romeo & Juliet. The good girl and the bad boy, tearing them apart as their love grew more enmeshed.
That fateful night, standing in the parking lot next to her borrowed ride, she watched his lips moving, noticed how his Jugular vein throbbed with his rising blood pressure. Not entirely hearing the story he was spinning, she was conscious of how their young bodies looked. Skin glowing with reflected moonlight, almost touching, close enough to feel the heat from the other, the hair on her arms standing on end with a shiver in the warm spring air. She interrupted. “You want to kiss me, don’t you?” That was all it took. Her boldness, direct and clear, no trace of innuendo, stopped his nervous chatter. Now, so many years later, she knew he was prone to rambling when his nerves got the better of him, but back then she thought he just liked to hear himself talk.
He licked those full lips, stalling, uncertain. He’d told her over and over since then, how he knew there was something very different about that petite girl. Something he couldn’t pin down, but she excited and intrigued him. So smart, so steady, so put together and going somewhere; everyone could see it. He had felt so drawn to her, wanted to unravel the mystery of her innocence and be a part of her ascension.
Climbing back into the driver’s seat, she realized she no longer excited him. She certainly wasn’t innocent anymore. Their life had filled out, grown up. Responsibilities had eclipsed their grand ambitions. Weeks had become predictable. She even planned when they would have time to be spontaneous. She wasn’t as young as she had been, time and experience had cured her naivete; but she certainly wasn’t old or bitter, not yet anyway.
The other ones were always younger. She could imagine their uninitiated faces gazing up in awe at his borrowed wisdom. She didn’t gaze anymore, she glared mostly. The latest one seemed falsely innocent and remarkably gullible, a doe eyed wall flower. No wonder this one caught his attention. Was it really not her fault, as he’d always insisted before? The haunting cavern of self doubt cracked open just enough; enough for the crushing weight of guilt and pain to flood over her, stealing her breath and refreshing her tears.
Closing the windows and confirming her north bound direction, she wondered what he would say if she confronted him this time. Then the voice was back, but stronger somehow and with an authoritative quality she felt compelled to heed. “Why are HIS feelings more important than YOURS?!”
My feelings, she thought. What are my feelings? Embarrassment? Shame? Disgust? Defeat? Perhaps just weariness. She was bone tired of being the one who always forgave, the one who swallowed her pride and accepted whatever flimsy excuse he pawned off as a viable explanation. Damned tired for waiting for the next chapter to start, for her dreams to even have a chance to come true, for him to hold up his end of the deal. Exhausted from the burden of carrying this terminal relationship, forcing it’s continued existence, insisting on keeping the life support system running, afraid to pull the plug.
And as if a light switch were turned on, the sun broke out from behind a cloud and her mind was set free. Dancing wildly in the early summer sunshine she saw clearly the promise she was about to make to herself. A promise she would most definitely keep. Love would not be enough, especially unequal love, to make a future. Life was waiting for both of them. With a renewed resolve she knew she was prepared to do whatever it took to grab that future with both hands and hang on for the ride of her life.
Turning onto the street where they lived, she was confident. The future was just beyond that doorway, as long as she kept to her soul’s compass and remembered which side of the door would finally lead her Home.
[Melissa is a stay at home mom and author, living in Fairport, NY with her husband, two beautiful little boys, and a sweet black lab with middle child syndrome.]
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