One night, a few months into therapy, I sat in the living room, waiting for Jack to come home. He was out for a drink with his work friends. It was nice that his life was getting more “normal,” but I really hoped he wouldn’t come home too happy. Meaning he’d want to have sex. I was just too tired. And still not ready. I had no memory of ready. My body still felt old, used up. Therapy was relieving the guilt of the accident, but I still hadn’t told Jack everything. About how wound up I always was. About hurting myself. I was terrified to lift the mask yet desperately needed too. Pushing this internal battle to the back of my mind was taking up most of my already depleted supply of psychic energy.
What time was it? It was just supposed to be a “quick beer” after work. I glanced at the clock. He was an hour later than we had agreed upon. I had put Simon to bed and was ready to go to sleep myself. Where was he? Now it was my bedtime, and I didn’t want to go to sleep without knowing he’d be there if Simon needed something. I dialed his cell. Straight to voicemail.
Fifteen minutes later, he walked in. As he plopped down next to me on the couch, my line of vision took in his cell phone peeking out of his coat pocket. He put one arm around me and the other touched my knee suggestively. I stiffened. My exhaustion tipped over the edge into an adrenaline rush. My skin felt hot. I was aware that my unshowered (all day) body smelled. I pulled away and turned to face him. He saw the look on my face and replied to it: “What? WHAT?”
“You’re late! I told you I was exhausted and please be home by ten. It’s 11:15.”
“God Becca! I just wanted to have some fun for a change. Remember fun? Sorry, Mom.”
Again, the heat. What about my rest, my FUN!
“Do you see me at all?” I asked.
“See you? My God you are so selfish. I’m done with this. Done!” he turned to walk away.
“I’m selfish? YOU are done? Look at me! Really look! I haven’t showered all day — I’m tired — about to break! I feel crazy all the time. All. The. Time. I’m done! Not with us, with my life! Do you realize what I’m doing? I get so frustrated I hurt myself! I leave bruises!” Silence. There it was. The last piece of the mask.
Jack stood there, half turned, his eyes set forward in anger, their usual open shade of blue turning to shiny black. He looked like a bored stranger on a bus. I knew this look. His furious look. The one where he stopped talking. He was checking out. How could he be furious now? Not fair! Well, I wouldn’t wait for his painful deliberate silence!
I pivoted and turned into our darkened bedroom. I grabbed the antique doorknob and slammed the door behind me — so hard it bounced open. I was so exhausted. Adrenaline gone, I fell to the bed and began to cry hungrily. Like a baby. It felt good to finally come apart. But, oh God, who was I? Lucy Ricardo? Worse, I was a nag, a shrew! A fucking cliché!
Our life consisted of endless work. Everything was a chore, an obligation. But where were WE? Why weren’t we in it together anymore? Why couldn’t we ever get relief together? Why was fun suddenly something that one of us always “owed” the other?
For awhile he stared at me, unmoving, from the living room, his body towering in the doorway. Then our eyes met. He stepped into the room, kneeled down, and put his arms around me. “Oh, sweets, I didn’t know,” he said. He took both my hands. “Please, don’t do that. You’re beautiful. I love you. You can’t hurt yourself. ” We held each other for a moment, quietly mourning our loss.
The darkness in the bedroom gave me courage. “I want to be stronger. I want to be here for you. Somehow, I couldn’t let you have fun; I felt cheated.” I paused, a release. “But you’ve been taking care of things for so long. I got scared. Now that I’m getting better in therapy, what if you decide not to be here for me anymore? What if you don’t want to be? I know that’s not true, is it? Wait. I want this to be about you. What can I do for you? I want to know.”
“You really want to hear this now?” he asked.
I realized I was ready. I turned on the bedside lamp. “Yes.”
He said “I can’t take all this responsibility much longer. There is no joy anymore. We’re young, have children, friends, have enough money. This should be the best time, a simcha, our prime. Our life isn’t how it’s supposed to be.”
I sat silently. My stomach tightened. I was ugly, stupid and fragile, too fragile to be a partner in this family. I felt overheated. I pulled off the covers and took off my sweatshirt, leaving a cool t-shirt underneath. I had let things fall apart. Part of me wanted to give up. I hadn’t realized how much my depression had changed our relationship.
It was now or never. I needed to change, to fight for us. “Why don’t you go out with your friends once a week, find someone you can talk to?” I felt better as I spoke. “I’m getting better. Really. I know you don’t trust it. Try. I want to take some of the burden off you. Please, don’t be afraid to ask for things. We both need to see me be stronger, powerful. I want our family to work; I want our love to work. We need to be partners again.”
He kissed me. I kissed back, my hand grazing his wiry red curls. His full lips felt solid. It felt like home.
We made love for the first time in a long, long time.