Friday, February 15, 2008

"The Lie": A True Story

The Lie
By Val Evans (Carley Eason Evans)

Once a year, he sat her down on their couch and told her in no uncertain terms that she no longer loved him. “And,” he never failed to add, “you have no respect for me as your husband. Oh yes, you have ample respect for me as an individual, but not as a husband.”
No matter how many times she heard them, his words still came against her like blows. Nevertheless she managed to ask, “How is that?”
In response, he compared their relationship to their neighbors. “Joan treats Charles like a king, you know.”
“Oh sure! But I’ve never seen her kiss him or show him the least affection. I don’t see that Charles has it any better than you.”
“Maybe. I don’t know. They’re different, that’s all.”
“How are they different?”
“They just are." Finally, it seemed to her in desperation, he listed items she failed to do and items she did but which were not done with a proper attitude. The list was not long, but was all inclusive. In every area of their lives together, she did something wrong, according to him.
Every year she heard the same lie. At least she presumed it to be a lie, because soon afterwards all returned to normal; and she tried to chalk it up to his mood, to suppose it to be a passing feeling.
This time round she sat stunned as usual, wondering what brought it on him. She looked at him with as much tenderness as she could muster as she vainly tried to convince him of her devotion and her deep respect. If she didn’t love him, she was unaware of the absence of the feeling. She knew wholeheartedly she was committed to him. This seemed enough to her. After all she believed in that old-fashioned magic which makes one flesh of two persons.
She remembered their wedding day, specifically the intensity of her husband’s blue eyes as he recited his vows to her. He seemed able to communicate in a way she couldn’t how much he meant what he was saying despite someone else having written the words. His entire expression told her of the depth of his love. She recalled her own voice sounding hollow and devoid of sincerity as she repeated the same words. Even then, as she affirmed her love and gave him his ring, she felt lacking and guilty.
She guessed his present attack was his way of asking her to take notice of him, his method of saying he wasn’t getting from her all that he needed or wanted. Why the outburst came only annually, she never wondered before. This year she pondered it, allowing her mind to mull it over and over. Her heart remained heavy for weeks afterwards, even though everything on the surface was better. She supposed his release valve being cleared, he was free to be happy with her again. He seemed pleased with her, with all she did and said despite no obvious or subtle change on her part.
Confusion and then anger dropped in on her like vultures descend from above to their dead prey below. She set about her chores listlessly. She banged dishes around in the kitchen sink, cooked all her best meals without noticing aromas or tastes, and vacuumed up anything and everything from the living room floor. She began to study herself in the mirrors placed about the apartment and saw a wife dissatisfied. She was genuinely surprised. Never before was she the one dissatisfied. Always it was her husband who seemed displeased with their marriage, as if he were aiming higher than she was capable of reaching.
One afternoon that same week, she fumbled through the yellow pages to locate a marriage counselor. She decided she needed to talk to someone else, someone who could give her a fresh perspective. She dialed the number to hear a recorded voice at the other end. The man on the answering machine introduced himself and gave the usual instructions. She laughed when he said, “You’ll only get what you are willing to put up with.” She couldn’t help her response: it came with such spontaneity. “I’m not willing to put up with anything.” Then, slightly embarrassed at herself, she reluctantly left her name and phone number. When the man called later, his voice was soft. He seemed warm and engaging. She asked how much he charged. The amount was beyond their budget. She said, “I love my husband very much.”
“It sounds as if you do,” he said after she told him what was happening. He added, “He may actually mean the things he is saying to you, or he may be pushing you away.”
When she put down the receiver, she felt her face steadily turn to stone as she thought of her husband’s complaints. She wondered if he might in fact be pushing her away. His words echoed in her head. “I want more from you,” he said. “You’re so passive, so, I don’t know, so passive. You’re not a team player!” She never figured exactly what he meant by a team player. Perhaps it was a term he picked up from soccer when he played in college. He did explain one aspect of what he meant. He said, “When it’s time to plan our vacation, you leave all the planning to me.” She thought, big deal. So what?
In an attempt to help matters, she arranged a soccer match with all their acquaintances. Everyone came, played hard, ate hot dogs and drank; but no one was that team player her husband looked for and expected.
In the days following, she saw her husband try to chisel away the granite she felt around her mouth and eyes. He spoke gently to her, brought home flowers once, and even remembered to call her from the office. She smiled with each of his attempts, but noticed a forced quality to it as if the feeling was gone, drained away like dirty bath water from the tub.
She questioned him that evening. She wanted to know which was the lie, his words or their life together.
“Did you lie that night?”
He asked, “What night?”
“Come on! You know which night.”
Finally he answered, “No, I didn’t lie.”
“You meant what you said?”
“You’re not sorry?”
He averted his gaze, then said, “No, why should I be?”
She looked at him, her mouth cemented shut. She deliberately widened her eyes, taking his hands in hers and squeezing ever so slightly. She took this action on the advice of the marriage counselor because her husband was no longer looking at her. She thought perhaps he would feel in his fingers how hurt and angry she was. She tried to speak softly when she asked, “How then can you bring me flowers and smile at me and say you love me if you feel in your heart I don’t love you and respect you? How can you go on as if nothing happened, as if you didn’t hurt me, as if I didn’t hurt you?”
“It was just how I was feeling.” Then he said what he said every year, “Let’s not talk about this right now. I’m feeling good about us right now and I don’t want to spoil it.”
Usually upon hearing this, her anger surfaced. Every year in their six year marriage she cried at this point. This was her cue to release her tears, her anger. Tonight she sat numbed by the predictability. Having heard and having participated in this dialogue every fall, she knew what he was saying. It didn’t matter to her either that she suddenly realized his annual attack came near his birthday, or that she recognized he was terrified of growing older. She knew he felt he wasn’t accomplishing his dreams. He seldom found time to play soccer. How many of his friends even played football? For her, now, it didn’t make any difference.
She stepped back, only to discover she was slipping, losing her footing. She felt herself falling off a cliff, tumbling into darkness while she watched clouds against a blue sky become tiny white dots. Her husband was someone she definitely knew at some time, but she was unable to remember. As her heart turn cold, she vowed to make sure her eyes remained brown and clear and as tender for her husband as her love was once.

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