“Do you love me?” He whispered in the dim light.
She opened her mouth as if to respond, but only managed a muffled groan. Such a simple question, it would seem. Why was it so difficult for her to provide an answer? Her mind immediately raced backward in time, back to the first time she had ever summoned an answer to that question.
“Do you love me?” She shot back.
“I think so.” His response seemed solemn and poorly thought out.
She quickly searched his voice for an indication of fallacy.
“You expect me to believe that? After everything I’ve learned about you! I’d have to be a fool!” She wailed.
He frowned at her, certain she would continue. He was well adjusted to this side of her. She was winding up for a rip-roaring tantrum about how his past would determine their future, or lack thereof. His pulse quickened as he imagined the sting of her words. She seemed a magician with them when she chose. Even though he was confident in his endeavors as a man, he knew she would point out his faults, his flaws, his weaknesses. They’d played this twisted game before. No one ever wins. Why did she insist on playing now? He wondered. What have I done to deserve this? She leered at him from the edge of the bed. He witnessed her chest rise and fall more rapidly as her anger surged. Her eyes became glossy as she seemed to look through him.
“You tell me you’ve never been faithful to a woman before,” she began calmly, “then you disappear for days on end. You don’t return my calls, you flat out ignore me. What exactly am I supposed to think?”
He could feel the lump in his stomach rise up to his throat.
If she had any idea about the stress I’ve been under! He thought.
His anger pounded through his veins with every heartbeat. He couldn’t believe her audacity. After days of hell! Being attacked from every angle by people he once trusted! He recalled becoming physically ill in his hotel room at the thought of losing everything he’d worked so hard for. He feared for his name, his home, his success. And I come home to this! He screamed in his head.
But he was more rational than she.
He stayed quiet and they stared in silence for what seemed like an eternity. It was then that he noticed the pain in her eyes that she was so desperately trying to conceal. He saw the scars, left by many a man, that were ready again to burst at the seams. His pulse slowed as he began to assess his own behavior. Sure, he may have avoided several opportunities to contact her, but she’s so strong and independent! He rationalized. She should have understood! His life is like a portrait, and he’d been the mad painter locked away in his studio until the masterpiece was complete, right? Or was it the reality of his other messes? He wondered. They would have surely resurfaced if they’d spoken, and perhaps he feared it too much to handle at once.
Tears began streaming down her face, and she stood up silently.
“Being with another woman was the last thing on my mind.” He attempted to reassure her.
She stared at him blankly as the flood of tears worsened.
He wasn’t responsible for the damage others had done to her. He was determined to defend his position. “The messages you left me were completely unjustified!” He yelled. “They were rude, immature, and ignorant!”
Her tears stopped and her muscles tensed as she swallowed the attack. She looked down at the ground.
He saw an opening. “Do you have any idea how much pressure I’m under to be able to maintain this lifestyle? To provide for my son, my family! For you!” He screamed.
Her eyes shot up at him. Foul play. She was always so determined to make sure he understood that she depended on him for nothing.
He calmed. “I have created an empire through which I have become inadvertently responsible for the well being of hundreds, maybe thousands, of families. If I don’t make it happen, it doesn’t.” He said sharply. “Do you understand what kind of pressure that is?”
“I can’t expect that you would.” He mumbled disparagingly.
That fueled her. “So I’m naïve? I can’t conceptualize your high and mighty, pressure- stricken existence!” Her eyes were wild. “How about the pressure of a man’s weight pressing down on your limbs to incapacitate you? The pressure of him ripping you open as you cry! The pressure to keep silent out of fear. The pressure of being a woman in this world, at this time, in my neighborhood. How about the pressure to succeed despite all that? I wish I were born a man! You have no idea how the doors open for you! How about having all the gear, standing at the foot of the mountain, with everyone around you expecting you to fail? Don’t sit there and imply that I don’t know pressure!” She seethed. She stood there for a moment and studied him. Her tone changed. “Look, I don’t want this to become a contest about which one of us has it worse. No one ever wins that game.”
He released a brief chuckle at the irony.
“I know I over reacted.” She continued. “I hope you can forgive me for that, but I understand if you can’t.”
He was amazed at her ability to admit fault and assume the consequences. He was equally astounded by her willingness to accept him leaving her over this. He noticed the calmness of her mind and body as she came to terms with this situation being yet another reckless casualty. The blood from this mess was on her hands, and she readily admitted guilt – fearless of outcome. This frustrated and impressed him. Was he not worth fighting for? Or was she just attempting to do what she felt was right? He opened his mouth to respond and was interrupted by the ringing phone in his pocket. He pulled it out.
She could hear a man’s frantic voice on the other end.
“There’s been an accident,” said the man, “they were both in the car.”
He hung up the phone.
She saw the desperation in his face, and knew. She reached out for him and he grabbed her hand. She squeezed his palm, “I’ll drive.”