In the winter of our discontent, there lie between us an unspoken, unplumbed gulf of pain and recrimination. The kind of pain that only two people can inflict who, at one time, loved one another without reserve.
The ice of Hannah’s recent habitual, perfunctory good morning kisses had for some months gradually eroded my desire and ability to communicate with her on any meaningful level. Odd, that the lack of warmth in so simple a gesture of affection was the first outward sign there was trouble amiss in our relationship. Odder still, that so natural and endearing a ritual should be a harbinger of the death of a marriage.
Yet, there it was.
Who’s to say when the decline began…or why? In the midst of the demise, neither of us had spoken directly to the whys and wherefores. Nor had we sought, or participated in any kind of marriage counseling. It’s as if we both understood implicitly that to do so would be a needless exercise in futility. Perhaps, even a breach of relational etiquette. You see, the both of us are nothing at all, if not unfailingly polite with each other. That’s the way we’ve lived, side by side, throughout our life together. We are the only couple I know who have not ever really fought over anything substantial …hardly ever argued…and barely ever said a recriminatory word to each other.
I find that fact strangely compelling, and ultimately, disturbing.
On this otherwise, commonplace January morning, fresh snowfall coated the frozen ground, a patina of pure white glaze as yet unsullied by footprints, tire tracks or dirt. An early morning winter wonderland of unspoiled dreams lay before me as I gazed out the bedroom window. I was freshly showered, shaven, and mostly dressed. Shoeless, and sock-less, true, but I had always loved padding about the house in bare feet. It felt so …homey and domestic.
Often, Hannah gently chided me for doing so.
We have very old, but exceedingly well crafted red oak floors throughout our home. The grain of the wood is magnificent and Hannah keeps the floors in a highly polished state. She keeps them that way because of her personal aesthetics, to be sure, but she is also afraid I would suffer a splinter in my bare feet. I used to think it was yet one more indication, however slight, of the depth of her love and caring for me.
So, here I sat with nowhere to be, even though it was a work day. I was sipping from my usual morning cup of lemon mint tea listening to one of my favorite songs on our bedroom CD player, “Folks Who Live On the Hill”, by Diana Krall. It was a standout cut from a collection of female jazz vocalists I’d burned to CD. ‘Folks’ was a wistful, bluesy and haunting paean to the potential joys of family life with the right partner. It was evocative of the way Hannah and I had dreamed our life might be when first we married. Check out the lyrics, you’ll understand what I mean:
Someday we'll build a home on a hilltop high
You and I, shiny and new
Cottage that two can fill
And we'll be pleased to be called
The folks who live on the hill
Someday we may be adding a wing or two
A thing or two
We will make changes, as any family will
But we will always be called
The folks who live on the hill
Our verandah will command a view of meadows green
The sort of view that seems to want to be seen
And when our kids grow up and leave us
We’ll sit and look at that same old view
Just we two, Darby and Joan
Who used to be Jack and Jill--
The folks who like to be called
What they have always been called
The folks who live on the hill
I’d always wanted to be one of those people who were…”the folks who lived on the hill”. A lovely dream it was, but I no longer felt as if it was going to work out that way between Hannah and me, if it had ever been in the cards. We were at a definite impasse in our relationship. It seemed to me the reflective sentiments expressed in this song were destined to be only a sad, transitory reminder of what could have been between us. Especially, the lyrics that noted, “…we will make changes, as any family will”. Prophetic words, those.
Listening to the song now left me in a contemplative, moody disposition, and even more depressed than I’ve been, of late.
I raised my head and looked out the window again. Another flurry of swirling snowflakes was falling, gently wafting a fresh coat of whitening on the still-pristine snow that blanketed the yard. It was in stark contrast to the gray, cloudy, sunless sky that seemed to be a backdrop to my over-arching despair. All in all, it was a funky, shitty, moody bitch of a day.
I’d felt out of sorts since …well, hell, since the last couple of weeks, I guess. I get that way sometimes, especially lately. During the last several months, with all that’s been going on (or little, depending on your perspective) between Hannah and I underneath the fragile, skin-deep surface of what had been passing for our marriage, I would often find myself slipping bleakly into the desolate nether regions of a deep blue funk. You know the kind…a funk that melts your insides with wretchedness and woe, and overwhelms your emotional defenses while nearly always leading to a massive, bone-crushing headache. Which, in turn, can lead to uncounted miserable nights of insomnia, fitful tossing and turning, and the inevitable, insincere spousal refrain…“What’s wrong, honey? Can’t you sleep?”
Of course, given the daily patois of our relationship one wasn’t meant to actually respond to such a query. It was strictly rhetorical, to be answered only with faux-courteous, pseudo-companionable silence. Or, perhaps a barely audible sigh accompanied by a sudden body shift into the fetal position, facing away from your bedmate, so that at the least, one of you might get some rest.
Yet, recently, still having difficulty sleeping, I finally responded aloud to Hannah’s almost nightly, disingenuous ruminations, much to her dismay. I broke the cardinal rule of utter civility in the bedroom long since established by our personal habits and the aforementioned engrained relational etiquette. I told her I wasn’t sure if I’d ever had a good night’s sleep since the early days of our marriage. The moment I said it, I experienced such a blinding flash of clarity that just as quickly morphed into epiphany, I stunned myself into silence.
Hannah’s subsequent actions and harrumphing little noises made it clear she regarded my statement as a regrettable, momentary lapse of judgment, and mistook my ensuing silence as an apology of sorts. Seconds later she did the fetal thing, showing me her backside. It was dark so I couldn’t see the granite look of disapproval on her face I knew all too well was there. Moments passed. And then a few more until Hannah grew quiet and settled. I said nothing, but remained tense and alert.
A short while later, I finally heard the tell-tale soft, high-pitched, nasal, hiccup-y murmurings that signaled Hannah was well and truly asleep. Unlike me she could snore, however demurely, and sleep through a nuclear holocaust. Listening to her measured breathing, I relaxed a bit. Still lying on my back, I replayed over and over in my mind what I’d said to her. I was still in shock from it. Not that I’d actually said it, mind you, but that I realized it was unalterably true. True to a degree that I was still processing as I lay in wide-eyed wakefulness in what all likelihood promised to be yet another sleepless, fitful night.
For you see, in point of fact, this little scene had only happened just last night.
So, here I sat, still on our bed, barefoot and partially dressed…my cup of tea in one hand. Staring out the window, as if in a trance, my eyes unfocused, unseeing of our beautiful six and a half acres in bucolic central Connecticut that was now completely swathed in the purity of new-fallen snow. The property we had scrimped and saved and sacrificed children for. My barely conscious thoughts were dark, disjointed, clouded in a hazy red mist of regret. The room was redolent with the faint, acrid scent of smoking metal that began to rouse me back into a semblance of consciousness.
It was the insistent buzzing of the busy signal on the phone in my other hand that finally forced me out of my near-somnolent state. I stared quizzically at the phone, suddenly mesmerized, wondering why it was in my hand in the first place. I pressed the ‘OFF’ button, and blessedly, the buzzing stopped. Yet, it was in that very moment I noticed for the first time that my hand was bloody. Strange…it didn’t hurt at all, but it looked like it was a grievous wound.
I was still pondering why I wasn’t in pain when the phone rang in my hand. I was so startled I dropped both my lemon mint tea and the phone to the floor. The ensuing clatter roused me somewhat. Yet, I could only stare at the phone as it lay awkwardly on its faceplate. I noticed, with a faint sense of bemusement that some drops of lemon mint tea had splashed onto the back of the phone.
The phone must have struck the floor just right, I guess, because the ‘ON’ button accidentally activated. I stared curiously at the phone as a tinny sounding voice squeaked out of the clam shell speaker. A man’s voice. He sounded very much in control, if somewhat annoying.
“Sir…sir, are you there? Uh…our people are on the way. Don’t touch anything, please. They’ll arrive on the scene shortly. In fact, they’re probably just minutes out from your location now. Hold on, sir. And remain calm…..”
The man’s voice continued to drone on out of the speaker, but I was no longer paying any attention. I had a momentary, mildly curious thought. I wondered how long he’d been trying to get through while I’d been holding the damn phone for God knows how long as it buzzed with a busy signal?
But the thought was momentary, because bits and pieces of consciousness began to disjointedly patch themselves together the more alert I became. In fact, I was becoming acutely aware that one of my recent bouts of bone-crushing headaches was in full flower. I sighed and took in a huge gulp of air as if breathing deeply would ease the encroaching pain. Just the opposite occurred. The sudden intake of air rushed to my head and exacerbated the pain to such a degree it drove me to my knees.
When I hit the floor, I held both hands out in front of me in an effort to break the fall. It was a useless gesture, because my hands slipped on a puddle of some kind of liquid and I slid face-first to the floor. My head bouncing off the polished red oak that Hannah was so proud of. When my face finally came to rest on the wood, I could feel waves of purple-tinged pain crashing against the walls of my skull. It was excruciating and I lay there for what seemed like minutes, but must have only been moments. For I again heard the man’s voice prattling on at me from my cell phone which was somewhere near my head on the floor.
“Sir…are you all right? What happened? I heard you groan …can you answer me, please? Sir? Sir? Are you there?”
END OF PART ONE