She called earlier and I didn’t answer. I played the message back during lunch. “What was it like?” She asked in her bubbly sarcastic laugh. It was brutal. I hate public speaking. It makes my stomach bleed knives. Took me two hours to recover. I almost threw up back stage. Somehow I got a big clap around but I’ll never do it again. Not worth the agony. She knows that and won’t ask me again. I hope. I don’t work for her. I’m only married to her. I’m family. I don’t have to do what she says. Better call her back.
I can see the lines on her face. Her smile seems to hold secrets from me. I don’t like secrets. She knows I don’t and makes me ask. I hate her for that. I mean I love her but I hate that she does that to me. So much that I am in constant turmoil.
“Yes my love.”
She’s always happy.
“Why are you smiling like that.”
“Like what, dear?”
“You know how.”
“Ask the right question. I might answer.”
I hate her.
“I just want to know if it’s a mood or if you’re really thinking about something.”
“Oh my poor darling man! I’m just happy. I smile when I’m happy. I love that you’ve decided to take some time off to be creative. It makes me happy, to see you create.”
I don’t hate her. I just hate that she knows everything about me. I hold no mystery. She, on the other hand…
“Well, you make it look like you’re hiding something. I don’t like that.”
Head tilt. She tilts her head and looks at me tenderly. She walks over to me and plants a big wet one. Her lips feel good, comforting. How does she do it? She holds such power over me.
“Oh, Richard! That’s an incredible sketch. Beautiful! You know what?”
“You should publish your art.”
Is she crazy? I could never do that. Public speaking and showings and… No.
“I just do this to relax. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“You are such a sad little man. But I know you have a fire in you. I know it. It’s just hiding. You hide to protect yourself.”
“What are you talking about?”
A pause. A pause and a breath. That’s never good with her. It means…
Damn it! Here we go again.
“I am not! What am I scared of?”
Richard, you’re an idiot. I just opened the flood gates and now she’s sitting down. She’s gonna pull out the big guns. I know it.
“You’re afraid that you are really something special and others will see it. Others will demand more from you. You’re afraid they may discover what a wonderful artist you are. They’ll set the bar high. You’re afraid you won’t be able to keep up. Mostly you’re afraid to be happy. As if you don’t deserve it.”
Damn! My heart is racing and I want to hate her. I don’t want to be here with her, this moment, things collapsing around me and I’m to blame. Deep breath. Her deep breaths… She’s disappointed. I disappoint her. But still, she stays, she loves me, she cares for me. Why?
“Listen to me my love. I don’t mean to bother you, annoy you, but you need to listen to me. These lines you’ve sketched? They represent your sad life.”
It’s just a doodle. It’s just for relaxation. They don’t mean anything.
“Yes. They’re safe, cocooned.”
Cocooned? Her words drive me crazy!
“You hide behind your lines, Richard. Yet there are details that suggest you are capable of so much more. You’re an artist and you can’t see that because you’re scared. You’ve somehow managed to trap yourself in this gloom because you are scared to truly live your life. You’re scared of what it means to move on. You’re scared to lose her all over again and you’re wrong to do that, Richard!”
“I love you, Richard. That will never change. Not even if you can’t return that love the way you should. I’m here because I choose to be here, here until you choose I can’t. It happened to both of us. It affected me too, you know. I just refuse to die while I am still breathing. It’s not fair to us. It’s not fair to the life she led, to her memory.”
She’s walking away. I want to say something but I can’t. She looks back at me as she walks upstairs. She’s crying. Damn it!
I can’t say what I feel! I can’t voice how much I miss our little girl. I can’t say how I hate her for getting over losing her, for choosing life. I hide because… I hide because it hurts. I wake up in the middle of the night missing her little hands on my face. I wake up jealous of my wife’s way of remembering our child. All I want to do is forget but can’t and I sink and it hurts.
“Are we not talking this morning?” I’m asking as if I want to talk but I really don’t. She nods. When she doesn’t talk to me, she nods to me. It’s her way. She knows me well. She walks to the kitchen counter and waits for the toast. She only does that when she can’t look at me.
I swallow every bit of cowardice I have inside me. I bury it deep down where all my fears have planted their roots. I’m shaking and my head is spinning and the tears come out because I can’t bear it. She turns around, her face is drenched in the sorrow I have no doubt made her feel.
“Erica, I’m sorry. I just can’t. I can’t…”
“You don’t think I miss her? You don’t think I want to crawl out of my skin and run away to where she is, where she’s not? I miss her every goddamn day! I want so much for that accident to have taken someone else’s child. I want to see her smile light up this house again. I want to go into her room and let her scent saturate me. I want to hear her say Mommy, I love you. I lost her too, you know. But I need to feel her life, not drown in her death.”
Her words break me down even more. My love! My Erica. My best friend. Anybody else would have given up on me. Not her. Not her. I pull her close. She sobs on my shoulder, weakened with emotion. I hold her tight and we both sob like abandoned little children. Kids that got lost somewhere along the way. Two little ones far from home. She was home. Our little one. She was home to both of us.
I’m spent as I look at her pleading tears. I don’t have the energy anymore. I don’t. Whatever she’s going to ask of me, I am certain I cannot do.
“Please, Erica I — ”
“You can!” She shouts at me pulling me through to the family room. The family room… suddenly I grow deaf from the loud void in the house. It feels like she’s dragging me underneath a heavy sea, salty and thick. It stings. I can’t breathe. She’s going to the drawer. The drawer. We kept our unfinished drawings there. I can’t. She lays it on the table. It’s been a year. One year ago today. Our walks, our sketches, our memories. They’re all… no… I can’t!
“Finish it! Finish it! Don’t keep killing her joyful spirit. Don’t you kill her again! I’m begging you! Finish it! I won’t have you kill her again! I won’t!”
She storms upstairs sobbing leaving me numb. My tears have frozen into a fog. Everything is fading, my ears are ringing. That day floods back in my head. She had spotted two lovely pine cones on our walk. That day was so perfectly autumn.
Oh! Daddy! They are so perfect. Two perfect pine cones!
Yes, my sweet.
I really like going on our walks. I really like these pine cones but…
She smiled as she hesitated her next thought. The sweetness of her fed my heart’s delight.
I don’t think I would like anything as much if you weren’t holding my hand. I don’t think I would like anything as much, if Mommy and you weren’t loving ME so much.
I remember her loving, comforting little voice. I remember the thoughtfulness of heart.
Hey! I just gotta a good idea!
What is it, sweetness?
She took off like lightning towards the porch and grabbed her bag. The memory of her little hands handing me my sketch book. The vividness of her favorite green pencil, as she pulled it out from her book bag, glaring at me. Such a sweet souvenir. Her brown eyes brightened with delight and curiosity. My princess! Closing my eyes, remembering… memories.
What if you draw these for me? I can pretend it’s you and Mommy. Then I can keep you both forever. My two pine cones. Forever.
I’ve been out since this morning, out for a walk. Something happened. I didn’t feel empty on that walk. I felt… her warmth. It’s late afternoon. She didn’t text me once, nor did she call. I rush in towards the family room. The drawing. It’s still here. Erica. Anybody else would have given up on me, but not her. Not her. She’s taken Annie’s favorite green pencil, perfectly sharpened, ready to be brought back to life. My beloved has also taken the liberty of placing my old sketchbook just so. She knows me so well. I look up to find her at the doorway. She doesn’t scold me, as she should. She doesn’t nag me like maybe other wives might in this situation. She…
“Are you hungry? I can fix you anything you like.”
“You know what I like.”
“Okay. You want to come sit in the dining room?”
“I think I’ll sit here and…”
A smile waters her eyes. She places her hand over her chest and walks towards me. I look down as I feel her lean in closer. The pencil feels good in my hand. Feels like home. She aims to kiss my head but I turn around to meet her lips. Warmth. Love. Life. Annie’s home. She’s right at home… in us.
© 2020 Mel Gutiér