She cries in the night sometimes, in the dark when all is still and he’s deep in slumber and she cannot disturb him. She cries for the life she’s led, the life she wishes she could forget. She cries for her own inadequacies because she isn’t—nor will she ever be—as good as what she’s found in him. She can’t undo the misdeeds, the past. She can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. And listening to the easy, deep breaths of her husband beside her, she can’t help but wish she could rest just as easily.
When she awakens from the uneasy sleep that she drops into—the sleep that is plagued with haunting images of past crimes, past injuries—she finds the space beside her empty, the faint outline of his body still indented into the sheets and the mattress. It is still warm and the water is running in the bathroom five feet from her side of the bed. The walls are a dusty shade of blue, sunlight just starting to filter into the room. It is Thursday. He’s humming an old tune in the shower. She sits up, rolls slowly out of the bed and makes it halfheartedly. The white carpet feels thick and soft between her bare, red-painted toes. Her negligee is ruffled, the lace strap slipping from her shoulder and reminding her once more of her own impurity.
She pads down the chilly hallway and down the stairs, turning on the radiator of the old row house. She puts the coffee on to boil. The dog stirs in his corner. A bird, straggling behind the others just starting to fly south, chirps from its perch in the branches. She sits at the wooden table, stares blankly at the copy of Reader’s Digest open before her. He comes down the stairs, grins at her, brown hair still wet. He pours himself a mug of the coffee, gets another for her. The absent click of the toaster indicates he is preparing breakfast. He asks how she slept. She lies. He accepts it.
The routine is never-ending. This carefully sculpted life—lie—that she has constructed to make herself feel safe. She despises it. Despises the fact that this wasn’t always her life. Despises the fact that he accepts her imperfections, loves her for them because she isn’t worthy of his love, of good love. The life of one-night love, of making believe that she was in love only to be heartbroken but a few hundred richer come morning—that was the life she deserved. Not this. Not this beautiful home, this loving husband.
She sips her coffee, nibbles her toast. He talks to her, his words and hers barely registering in her own mind. He gets up, clears the table, changes into his shirt and tie, kisses her farewell. She watches him get into the silver Saab, drive off to work in the city so that he can provide this wonderful life that she isn’t worthy of having.
She brushes her hair, looks disdainfully at herself in the mirror, and lets the raven locks fall over her face in an attempt to hide the disgraceful face beneath them. She applies her makeup lightly, just enough to put a veneer over her disgust for herself, make her look renewed, somewhat different, pure. She sets about her daily chores with the monotony that is to be expected. She wipes down the counter, empties the trash can, takes the dog out, lets her day pass her by in a blur, carrying her one step closer to death and forgetting.
A church bell tolls mournfully in the distance. She reproaches it, reproaches her God for her own shortcomings, channels her frustrations into Him because He cannot reply, cannot defend Himself, cannot tell her she is wrong. Tears. Dark, inky tears that spill forth in surges from her once-vivacious blue eyes. Her heart squeezes in pain, in self-pity. Here she is, the wife of a doting husband, living in a charming suburb in a quaint, azalea-bordered home, driving an Infiniti, not working too hard—she should be happy. She should be having the time of her life. She isn’t even thirty yet and the fortunes of the world seem to have found their way to the small-town girl who couldn’t even picture a thousand dollars growing up. She spent her teenage years searching for this wealth and she found it at the cost of her own integrity. Her life is perfect now. But she is not.
He knows she cries at night, hears the gentle sobs escaping her lips when she thinks he’s fast asleep. But he knows better than to interfere, to interrupt what may well be the only chance she has to cleanse herself, let her emotions out. Each cry sends a small pang of guilt up his chest, makes him feel like he should be doing more. He knows her past, knows why she cries. But he accepts her past, doesn’t fully understand why she should be so ashamed when she has already sought and received forgiveness from every outlet imaginable. Except perhaps herself.
When he married her he knew there would be work involved. He knew of her insecurities, knew of her guilt and of her self-loathing. And he thought he could be the one to fix her, to solve the problems she couldn’t. He thought he would provide her with everything she could ever need and to that end he had made good on his promise. The home was beautiful, well-kept. They had nice cars, money in the bank, enough for him to take her out on Friday evenings. But even as he gave her these things—these things she had always wanted—he could see his wife closing off from him, shutting down, shutting him out.
Until they reached this point, communicating minimally, mumbling trivial nothings over breakfast. He can hardly touch her anymore without the tears. Is it something he’s doing wrong? Is he the one who’s inadequate? When they first met she intrigued him. She was introverted to begin with, timid, fragile. But the story in her eyes enthralled him and he quickly found himself falling deeper into her—her past, her emotions, her everything.
He sits at night, prays. Prays for guidance because he can’t seem to find any from the others in his life. Prays for the strength to persist, the help his wife break free of her past transgressions. Prays for sensitivity, empathy, inspiration. Prays that she will be able to heal. Prays that he will be able to heal her. Prays, prays, prays because there’s little else he can do. Little else he can think of. Prays because she won’t pray for herself and he knows there isn’t anyone else in the world praying for her.
He gets up before her, takes in the sight of her sleeping on her side and he’s amazed by her tranquility. He slips out of bed quietly so as not to wake the tentative sleep she has fallen into. The carpet is soft, cushioning his footsteps as he treads lightly to the bathroom. He showers, humming softly as the warm water washes over him, invigorates him for the day’s challenges. When he emerges and goes downstairs she has already put the coffee on and she’s sitting, reading a health article from the Reader’s Digest. He pours himself the coffee, pours for her as well, and prepares breakfast. He makes quiet conversation, tries to elicit more than a monosyllabic response from his wife but to no avail.
By eight-thirty, he’s behind the wheel, commuting into the city with the radio playing softly. The highways is crowded, traffic moving slowly and he wonders why he does this every day. As he crosses over the bridge he entertains the notion of driving on, of driving until his car runs out of gas and then running on foot without stopping. But he can’t. He has a home to return to. And one day, he hopes she will see that house, this life, his love in the same way.