"I love you." Beth said to John. It went this way every night.
John didn't respond. He couldn't. He didn't want to. Beth waited silently for his return. He thought about covering for himself but it was too late. She saw the hesitation and he lacked the energy to say anything.
Beth had blue eyes. They were dark and very deep. When her hair had been a long dark brown the eyes had looked magnificent. John had fallen in love with those eyes. How did they become so dull? Now Beth's hair was in a short perm that nauseated him every time he looked at it.
Twenty-two years of marriage, two children, one grown and gone, the other in his own room and now John couldn't find the words. He didn't love her, not anymore. He was sure he had loved her at one point. He could remember the love like a balloon in his stomach elevating his entire being when she'd walk by. This feeling had been gone for years.
Neither said a word nor did they break their stare. In his room, probably watching television and eating cold pizza, was their fifteen-year old Tom. Away somewhere in Idaho was their twenty year old Nathan. He came back for holidays. He was busy trying to make a life for himself as a garbage man. He'd come home bragging about all the money he was making. He said it was such disgusting work that they had to keep them well paid or everyone would quit.
Did John love either of these two? No, they were like strangers to him. Sure he saw them everyday and knew all about their lives but he really knew nothing about them, any of them. They knew even less about him.
That was his family. They had all just gotten used to each other over the years. Now after all this time, with their routine set so precisely John couldn't form the words. He'd said them over and over and over, he had originally meant it, then he just missed it and finally he accepted that it was never coming back.
It was his job to tell her that he loved her too. It was expected if not required. There was just something about all of it that seemed absurd. Why should he have to tell this woman that he loved her? He didn't, he could barely stand her anymore. She didn't love him either. She just remembered loving him some time long ago before children and mortgages and car trips to Sea World with loud-mouthed brats.
He could say, "I did love you." but then she'd ask questions or cry. He could pretend to tell her that he loved her too but he was sick of the lies and deceit. Marriage survives by these little lies here and there, the undermining of the will causing casualties of the soul.
Beth's eyes filled with tears. John didn't even blink. The tears went back wherever they had come from and the moment remained unchanged.
Fifteen years ago I saw you standing under an oak tree in the summer. You had our son in your arms and the two of you were swinging and laughing. I never thought you'd quit. I never thought I could love anyone as much as I loved the two of you. Back there under the oak I'll always love you. You're not that woman anymore and I'm no longer the same man. We settled down and gave up on everything. Dust covered our lives and now I can't tell you I love you. I won't.
Silence like a cool death. John wished she'd say something, do something. He just wanted to break the stare and go back to pretending at life. He never wanted to hurt her. He knew he was hurting her but it had now gone too far to be taken back.
I can see the hatred in your eyes. You feel like you've wasted all of these years on me. Well maybe you have but I'm at a loss too. I didn't lie to you, we've lied to ourselves. We listened only to what we wanted to hear. I know this hurts you but I'm dying inside. I feel starved.
Thousands of things he could tell her but he wouldn't. She wouldn't understand any of it. He could barely understand it. What good would it do to say anyway? No string of words could give him his youth back.
If he had it all to do over again he'd have traveled the world. He'd have bought a boat and sailed port to port stopping only to get supplies. He would have done something. Something exciting or maybe even dangerous, something he would have to remember the rest of his life.
Now he was older, in his forties with two children. He couldn't do it anymore. His looks were gone too. He was soft and pudgy and could hardly make it up a staircase without wheezing. Beth knew all of his ailments and acted as his liaison to the doctors. In sickness and in health.
What was so romantic about marriage? It seemed a good idea, to pledge to love someone and be with them forever. Well what about when the love doesn't last? If love could leave then why couldn't he? He had only been a child when he'd spoken those vows. He never knew it'd all end up like this.
"John. . . " She broke the silence. She'd given him an out. He could feign a spell or swoon. Say that he'd dazed off and hadn't heard her.
"Beth." He wasn't taking the easy way out this time. He didn't want to go back to things the way they were.
"John go to sleep."
With that she turned away from John on her side and said no more. He had yet to move. So now what? What did any of it mean? It didn't mean anything and he knew it. He knew that he'd go to sleep and wake up in the morning.
He'd go to work and there he'd have to put on a front too. He'd have to pretend to give a damn about reports or files or programs. He'd come home and watch television and then at night he'd get roped into telling someone he barely knew that he loved her, all over again.
John turned on his own side and fell to sleep. Nothing to do but forget a moment like this and get back to the routine. It had to pay off somewhere down the line. Think of all the couples in all the houses in all the world. There had to be a greater reason behind it. Someday when he was older and grayer he'd figure out.
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