On the 9th of December Elizabeth emerged from the shower. Fragrant, moist, and naked. She crawled into bed and with a wicked grin reached for my cock. She was really into it this time. A prolonged and intense encounter that started slow but escalated into a multi-orgasmic, sweaty marathon. In the middle of it my head swam with elation because this incredibly delicious sex meant she truly loved me after all, and my suspicion that the marriage was in trouble was just paranoia.
Then a mere ten days later, on the 19th, she coolly informed me it was over and I had to leave. Say, in six weeks. The sex, I guess, was just her way of saying goodbye.
The woman I loved was no longer in love with me. What hurt most was how easy it was for her to throw me out. She had absolutely no second thoughts, no guilt, no regrets. An attitude that simply baffled me.
It took me a long time to make progress in the moving-on-with-my-life department. I tried to identify the causes for the unbearable effects I was experiencing. I went around and around and around, in an endless loop.
I said to myself: Compared to all the other men in her life, I’m really a nice guy! So I don’t deserve to be dumped. But then wait. She’s right. I’m too needy, too demanding. My expectations are too high. I’m too thin skinned. To her I represent the “tyranny of the easily offended.” But wait! I never deliberately fucked her over like Bob and Richard did.
In mid-April following my departure the weather provoked my resentment. It should have been warm, but the sky was dark and the wind was howling. The chill of another broken promise. A leitmotif of my life. I remembered when I was nine years old, in my mother's embrace for the very first time, inhaling her perfume, tingling with a vision of a life with her. Two weeks later my father told me I was not permitted to see her again because “That whore is living in sin.” Thus spoke the drunken philanderer, the whoremonger, the former US Army Dance King of the Pacific Theater.
Christ I wish I could have done better with her. I know my neurotic whining really turned her off. I should have kept my goddamned mouth shut. But no, I had to let her know exactly what was on my troubled mind. Had to write it down, and demand that she read it, and reply. After a while she just couldn't take any more of that abuse.
It's all on me. I made too many demands on her, I constantly rubbed her nose in her shortcomings, which I failed to understand were elaborate defenses that kept her safe. I was so intent on tearing down her walls.
Akasa. Payback for the sins of my past. I dumped Barbara, so Elizabeth dumped me. How exquisitely specific Karma is! Tit for tat, exactly. Have I gotten payback yet for the pain I caused Barbara by fucking all those bar whores?
But that was then, this is now. I don’t drink, and I don’t cheat. I am not a leper, a serial killer, a sociopath. I am not ugly, or stupid, or cruel. Most of the time I’m kind, compassionate, caring, nurturing. Considerate. Polite. A gentleman. And yet…
She just got sick of my ranting and raving. I sensed she was lying about loving me. I knew—feared actually—she was still in love with Bob. I felt it deep down, but she kept denying it. She tried to convince me that what I saw was NOT what I thought I saw. Which was my father’s favorite tactic. I hated it.
In our courtship Elizabeth sent me single-spaced typewritten letters, and home-made postcards with mind-boggling collages. She showed me two stories she’d written. All of this, I told her, proved she was at her core an artist. No question.
I added that it was absolutely criminal that not a single one of her ex-lovers ever acknowledged this central aspect of her character. Why, I asked, could they not have seen what was so obviously and self-evidently true?
She was an artist—but she couldn’t bring herself to make art. Something paralyzed her, and no amount of encouragement from me ever worked. She did nothing, she said nothing. I supported and encouraged her, and I suppose I hoped she’d do the same for me. But, again, she was paralyzed. She could not love me, could not affirm me, could not praise me, could not tell me how proud she was of me for what I wanted to do. She just could not reciprocate.
I thought I could rescue her from paralysis, but that was a conceit. Well intentioned, yes, because I was truly in love with her. But that poor, lost soul was beyond reach. I wish I could have found a way. We could have been happy together, I just know it.
A dream: She's dressed in her black trousers with the paint spatters all over them, and her hair is pulled up behind her head, and wisps are flying all about. She is crying. Which makes me cry. We're back together at the Maypole Street house, but then nothing has changed. She's on one end of the couch, and I am on the other. We’re watching Channel 6 Action News. I am crying because I feel both her pain and my own. We are crying separately.
On the long drive up to her parents’ house for what turned out to be our last Thanksgiving, I asked what was bothering her. She didn’t answer right away, just kept staring out her window at the passing scenery. Then she told me about the six-month project Chase Manhattan was laying on her, a job she didn’t want to do. If she refused, they’d probably fire her. What would happen to us then?
She was worried about health insurance, and about the very real possibility that all the free lance work could suddenly dry up and then what would we do?
I had an answer. We’ll just hunker down, batten down the hatches. We’ll start a frugality campaign, cut living expenses down to the bone. And I’ll beat the bushes for more photo clients.
She said nothing. Not a single word. I couldn’t possibly say or do anything that would make her feel better. So this is the way it is. She's on one end of the couch, and I'm on the other. We were supposed to be husband and wife, but if I would dare to put my hand on her shoulder she’s scream.
After that last Thanksgiving dinner Wild Bill and I had a long, private chat. He told me we have a lot in common. Abusive parents, for one thing. He quizzed me about my writing. I told him about the novel I was writing about how abuse is passed down generations.
He nodded, “Yes, yes, you’re absolutely right!” He told me about the scar on his face, and how his mother always made nasty comments about his evil-looking appearance. That woman humiliated him constantly. But then he said it was never on purpose, not really. She did the best she could.
And shook my head, no. What you just said is so typical of the stories abuse victims always tell. Well, yes. I was abused. But it wasn't THAT bad! But abuse is abuse.
You may have a point there, he said.
Well, there’s more. His mother always ordered him to eat all his food, even if he didn't like it. Twenty years later, at the dinner table, he shouts at Sally, his daughter. EAT YOUR PEAS!
Sally said she didn't want to. He got mad. “Goddamnit, you WILL eat those peas!”
And then Ma chimed in. “Why?” she said sharply.
Ma, for once, had stood up to him. And at that point Wild Bill suddenly realized he was doing exactly what his mother had done to him when he was a boy. It was sickening, and he was mighty ashamed of himself!
But when I related Wild Bill’s story to Elizabeth on the drive back home, she laughed. “What a crock of shit,” she said.
“He never experienced an epiphany like that. He made that story up because he figures you want to hear it.”
Later on that long drive Elizabeth said, “Ma told me you looked morose.”
“And what did you say?”
“I told her you always look morose.”
I could have told Elizabeth that these days I truly am down at the mouth. Why? Because it seems likely you married me because I am like your father. And our marriage is now on the rocks because I am too much like your father.
She ordered me to pull over to the side because she had to take a leak. No, she couldn’t wait until we got to the service station near the Interstate entrance. While she was off in the woods behind a tree, I spotted the deer lying, dead, in the grass up ahead. Flies covered its brown and white fur. I got the camera. I was still framing and focusing when she came back.
“Why on earth would you want a picture of that?” she asked.
I might have explained, but I didn’t think she was in the frame of mind to understand.
* * *
Despite the vows we exchanged at our wedding, she never did actually “couple” with me. Therefore my accusing her of being in a process of “uncoupling” was specious. The simple truth was she’d made a huge, serious mistake.
As to her concern about my paying more attention to the writing of literary fiction as opposed to working more on my freelance photography business, well, she had to admit I was right when I pointed out that my income never fell below what it was when we first met. OK, it wasn’t the money. The problems in the marriage, she said, were much deeper.
When we met she was seeking a “passionless” relationship, something quiet and serene, as an antidote to her poisonous involvement with ex-husband Richard and the acute traumas of her thing with psychopath Bob. Now she was totally sick of relationships. Not worth the pain and anguish. She’d be better off alone. Permanently.
I felt the same way. Exactly.
* * *