There was no semblance of love left in our marriage by December. The cold had arrived but was not yet bitter. That day, Byron rushed in with something that in hindsight looked like joy. He sat me down in the study and announced he was leaving because he was a good man. “Glo, a lesser man wouldn’t tell you,” he’d said. “But I don’t want to lie anymore.” Without emoting, he snatched forever as easy as a passing conversation with a stranger. I didn’t feign shock. I had known for some time our marriage was on its wobbly last leg.
Around the Fourth of July I began to cringe at the sound of his footsteps in the foyer, and the jingle of keys before he placed them on the hook. I felt nauseous whenever his laughter carried from the living room, where he’d taken to sleeping. Everything the good man did either annoyed or angered me. Sometimes both.
I felt better when he didn’t come home. At eleven, I would begin the first leg of my ritual: down as much merlot as possible. The second part involved suffocating hellacious wails into cold pillows. There were no children to hide my misery from, or to be my consolation.
When he was too tired to suffer the discomfort of the worn leather recliner, Byron slept with his back to me. I would peer through the darkness at the outline of his head, envisaging things a bolder woman might say.
But life was too cushy. I spent days reading everything from Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera to Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. I knew other women had spent decades shining a light on inequality so I wouldn’t have to be one, but I didn’t think myself a representative of antiquated womanhood because I relished being a housewife. Cheap perfume on an expensive shirt was no cause to displace that kind of comfort. So, I made art forms of reticence and suppression, and used my imagination.
Late at night, it was the man he used to be that came home, instead of the man he had become. The former him brought flowers, said I was beautiful, and touched me in ways that said I love you as opposed to, “Let’s get this over with.”
Often, it was that night in 76’ when we were twenty and full of wonder. I could hear the strings and Marvin’s golden voice tickling my inner ear.
I want you, to want me
But I want you to want me too
We were college kids, and Byron’s roommate was out of town. It was the first night I’d stayed over at his place that he played the song for me. We brimmed with conspiratorial delight at the thought of being in his bed. Not because we were horny, but because we were willing to be frozen in that moment of silent stillness that accompanies new love.
I want you to want me
Just like I want you
Excitement ensconced itself in fear, and hovered above our bodies like sassafras branches. Only our smiles of surrender illuminated the room. Only Marvin dared make a sound, as a glimmer of golden tomorrows appeared in the screening room of my mind.
I give you all the love I want in return, sweet darling
Pure happiness is all I crave
A rush of heat bathed a part of me, and suddenly we were atop a cliff, diving into unfamiliar waters, hoping for the best, but not knowing what becomes of new love and stillness.
“Gloria,” he cried inside my forever.