There is a stillness in the air, a hush on our house. If someone peered in our windows they would think nothing of what they saw; it is nothing more than any other dark, well-organized house. Sure the sink is half-full, a basket of toys sits beneath our console table, and the throw pillows are askew, but the house is quiet, what you would expect of a house at 5 A.M. But I’m not sleeping, and it is the silence that is keeping me awake. It is not that quiet pale gray calm before a snowstorm. No; it’s a stillness that is far more insidious, the type of quiet that falls after a tsunami comes ashore and the waves roll back: the calm that can only be felt amidst tragedy and destruction.
How do we come together the morning after? The morning after a fight. The morning after I criticize you, or you me. The morning after insults are hurled and accusations are made. The morning after I tell you I don’t love you. The morning after I ask for a divorce.
I should explain, as there is a part of me that will always love you: the father of Amelia, our only child; the man I lost my virginity to; the 12-year-old boy I brazenly asked to save a dance for “the witch.” (It was the Halloween dance and I was one of a handful of children who showed up in a head-to-toe costume, complete with green face paint and a wiry, black hair wig.) I still love the stolen kisses you used to give me in front of my mother’s house; I still love the handwritten notes you used to pass me in high school, between and during class. Notes that started with “how are you” or “how is your day.” Notes that contained questions which, in reality, were so simple — are so simple — but it is these simple questions we can no longer ask. And that is part of the problem with falling in love so young: the boy becomes a man, the girl becomes a woman, and now I don’t know if I am in love with you or in love with the idea of you.
And so we find ourselves here, the morning after, struggling to make small talk. We dance around each other in a semi-choreographed routine based solely on avoidance—avoidance in the bathroom while brushing our teeth and avoidance in the bedroom as we each slip, separately, into our unironed outfits. We never catch each other’s gaze, we do not hold each other close, or we do not touch. We dare not touch. In fact, on mornings like this I think you are just as afraid to wrap your arms around my waist as you were 19 years ago. There is only one exception, and that is when you leave for work. First you hug and kiss our daughter and then me, but there is no love in it—not for me. Your hug is empty, one-armed and rushed, and your mouth barely grazes mine. It is half-hearted and obligatory; the type of peck you would place on an acquaintance's cheek but not your lover’s lips.
As the day goes on we text about work, the weather, or the hilarious adventures of our daughter but the substance is gone. We know it, and so we avoid it. We avoid each other. We hope if we don’t talk about it, or anything difficult or otherwise important, we can stay together. We hope space and silence will fix it—will fix us.
We are a pair of wayward sweethearts, two dancers who have fallen out of step, and while days pass in this manner, we slowly regain our footing. One step at a time, our conversations increase as the tension decreases. Words become less strained, meals become less rigid. But the damage is done, and I wonder if there is really a way to come back from this: to pull back from the ledge and back into our marriage.
But then you offer to make me dinner: a grilled cheese sandwich and split pea soup. While the soup only needs to be warmed and grilled cheese may seem like a simple supper, I jump at the chance. I bathe our daughter, put her to bed, and sit back while you finish our sandwiches. The air smells like burnt toast. I know you burnt something, but you don’t tell me—and you don’t let me help. You won’t let me help, and in that moment I see you for who you are, for who you were: the boy who made me a heart-shaped “steak loaf” on our second Valentine's Day (the grocery store was all out of ground beef), for the man who held me as I cried—many, many times—and told him I wanted to die, for the man who stood beside me whether I was fat, skinny, sentimental or a raging bitch. For the man who cared. For the man who is trying.
I keep saying you don’t love me.I keep asking you to tell me you love me, to prove you love me, yet as I sit here watching you cook one of our college day staples, I see the “proof” I was asking for all along. So while some may see burnt bread, I see hope. I see it. I hold it, quite literally, in my hands. And I savor it, one rare yet rich morsel at a time.