I lie in bed staring at the ceiling. The smoothness of the white paint is very mesmerizing. For the past year, my weekdays have been very monotonous. Wake up, drink strong coffee, make small talk at work, gobble up dinner as fast as I can, hide in the bedroom from Charlie, and go to sleep.
When I started retreating into the bedroom, I used to watch movies or read books, as Charlie watched the TV in the living room. But lately, I can’t seem to concentrate on anything except my drab ceiling. The only change in my routine is Charlie’s reaction when he comes into the bedroom at night. Sometimes (the good days), he says goodnight, turns off the light, and crawls quietly into bed. However, there are days, when he attempts to interact with me, sometimes with words, sometimes with caresses, trying to prove to himself that he still has a wife.
He comes into the room smiling, “they were showing Pretty Woman on TV tonight, it’s actually not as bad as I remember it being. I actually liked it a little, maybe I’m getting old or maybe I’ve developed a crush on Julia Roberts”. He chuckles. Today he is going to try to interact with me.
He sits on the bed, his back leaning against the wall. “I forgot to mention during dinner, I got the promotion. It’s not official yet, but Andrew (Charlie’s boss) told me that I’m the only candidate left. You know what that means, an extra 10,000 a year.”
“We could take a nice Caribbean cruise this summer. It would be so nice, lying on the beach during the day, staring at the stars from the deck at night . What do you think?”
“You sound like a commercial.”
“Whatever it takes to get you interested.” He smiles, leans down, and kisses me on the lips.
“You know it’s been more than two months since we…”
“Well you always talk about having children right. If I have a child, we won’t be able to have sex during the last month of pregnancy, or the first month afterward. This is good practice.”
“I know it’s been a while since you took a biology course, but sex is needed to make a child.”
“I’m just not in the mood, maybe tomorrow.”
Charlie sits up, leans against the wall again. “I love you”, he says. Every neuron in my brain is telling me what I should say. All he wants is to hear is “I love you too, Charlie”. That’s not that difficult. A few words, and he is reassured, at least for tonight. He’ll turn off the light, go to sleep, and it will be at least twenty-four hours before he brings up such subjects as sex and cruises. I feel his eyes watching me, he needs a response. I open my mouth , and let the words spill out naturally. “Good for you”. Those were not the words he wanted to hear.
“You know I can only take so much. I have nothing against divorce.”
“Two seconds ago you love me, and now you want to divorce me.”
“I don’t want to fight.”
He gets up from the bed, grabs his pillow, and heads for the living room. “Aren’t you going to turn off the lights?”, I yell at him. “Turn off your own damn lights” he replies, slamming the bedroom door as he leaves the room.
He uttered the unspeakable word. Divorce. I know it’s been thought of before, and possibly mentioned during conversations he’s had with his mother. However, this is the first time he’s said it front of me. I’m not certain how to feel about that.
I remember the day Charlie and I met. I had lain in the university park, reading a humdrum textbook about the modern history of Asia, when a large foot stepped on my book. “Sorry I didn’t see you”, said the owner of the foot. His sneaker had left a muddy smudge on a photograph of a Buddhist temple. “Let me make up for my rudeness, how about a cup of coffee.”
“You’re very forward.”
He laughs. “So what do you say?”
“I don’t’ even know your name.”
“My name is Charlie Statton. Problem solved ?”
“You don’t know my name.”
“What is your name ?”
“Problem solved again. So what do you say ?”
“I’m sorry, I’m just not interested”
“Well maybe if you got to know me over some coffee you would be interested.”
I laugh. “You’re not going to stop are you ?”
“Oh, I’ll stop eventually”, he looks at his watch.” I have a test in 5 hours.”
I laugh again. “Ok, I’ll have a cup of coffee with you”
“Mission complete.” That was the day Charlie and I started dating.
A year later, Charlie confessed to me, that he had purposely stepped on my book, because he needed an excuse to talk to me. “You were so beautiful , just lying there in the grass, I needed a noble reason to approach you. Since I couldn’t find one, I stepped on your book .” I’m not sure I believe his confession, but I enjoyed listening to him tell me this.
When I called to tell my best friend about Charlie , the first question she asked was “Is he good-looking ?”. That has always been a difficult question for me to answer. Every time I see his picture, I think wow, I married a decent looking guy. But in life, Charlie wears his charisma like a mask around his face. Everyone is attracted to Charlie. He has this spark that captivates people, the way the light captivates flies. He can make something as uninteresting as geology, sound exciting. I used to tell him he should have become a politician or a teacher instead of an engineer. “You’re wasting your oration skills in that office” I’d tell him. It was his charisma that hooked me. He brought exhilaration and luster into my dull life. Every date we did something different. He took me rock climbing, roller-skating, paint-balling, wind surfing, he took me on nature walks, to impressionism art galleries, restaurants that most people didn’t know existed, and to each of these outings he brought along his never-ending energy. Sometimes I wondered if he took me on all these atypical outings because he worried I’d get bored. Truthfully, I would have been just as happy watching a movie and eating hamburgers.
Sometimes I wondered what he saw in me. Perhaps, he wanted an audience. I did my share of talking, but more often than not, I’d let him manipulate the conversation, and I would sit there soaking up his words, and enjoying his company.
I remember the disastrous dinner, when I brought him home to meet my parents and brother. My brother bombarded him with condescending questions. “So you’re going to be engineer, they don’t make much do they?” Mark, my brother, asked Charlie. “I’d make enough.”
“But would you make enough for Annabelle?”
“I don’t need anybody to support me.”
“Anna, don’t talk back to your brother” my dad said, always siding with Mark. My mom tried to smooth over the situation. She had lots of practice. “An engineer is a very respectable job”, my mom interjected. “And there is no shame in spending your life in debt”, my brother adds. Mark was on a warpath that day, there was no stopping him. Charlie sat quietly chewing his food. He is a pacifist when it comes to family battles.
I must have apologized ten times after that dinner. “It’s ok”, Charlie tried to reassure me. “They are evil, I can’t stand them”, I inform him. “This is why I never wanted you to meet them.”
“Everybody is embarrassed by their family. Mine isn’t exactly perfect.”
“At least your parents are nice.”
“That’s not always a good thing.”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing.” Charlie replied and he quickly changed the subject.
Sometimes I wonder why I married Charlie. We have different temperament and interests. He was not the guy I imagined myself ending up with. I always imagined my husband to be a moody intellectual, the type who lurks in coffee shops, and always carries a copy of Plato’s republic. A man of complex emotions, who enjoys watching foreign movies, and who always seems a bit displeased with the world. Charlie is the antithesis of this. His idea of a foreign movie is Rocky in Spanish. I often found Charlie’s happiness irritating. I once heard a joke, that the way to make a man happy, is to show up naked with beer. Well Charlie doesn’t even need the beer. Sometimes I think I married Charlie because it was the way our relationship was moving. We had been dating for three years, and if I didn’t marry him, I’d have to break up with him. I was not ready to do that. When I met Charlie, I was at a stand still, and he was this force of perpetual movement. I let myself get pulled along, and before I realized what had happened, I was traveling alongside Charlie. But constant movement can get tiring, and lately I’ve been feeling exhausted.
The exhaustion started sixteen months ago, the day after my mom’s funeral. It crept up slowly at first, unnoticed by Charlie or I. But before I knew it, I was spending my evenings hiding in the bedroom and staring at the ceiling. I wonder how long I can refuse Charlie before he finds somebody else. Maybe he already started having an affair. I imagine him with another woman, over her, under her, to the side of her. Strangely, these images don’t bother me. The frightening part though, is that Charlie knows I wouldn’t care if he had a mistress, and I’m not ready to lose Charlie.
I prepared beef stew tonight. I never cook, unless you count the microwave dinners I have made. Although I somehow managed to burn those. Something about microwave power. Charlie sits at the table grinning while I tell him about my day. At this point, he would be happy to eat fried dirt, if it means that I will continue talking to him. I even bring up the cruise.
Charlie gets quiet all of a sudden. “Listen Ann’, he says. “I didn’t mean what I said yesterday, I was just -.” “I know”, I interrupt him. “It’s ok.” I start talking about the cruise again, as I clear the plates off the table. I stroll back over to the table, give Charlie a kiss, take his hand, and lead him towards the bedroom. Time to mark sex off the to-do list.
Dinner. Conversation. Sex. This is all it takes to keep my husband happy. I can do this. I used to do this. Well all except the dinner, but judging from Charlie’s reluctance to devour my stew, my dinner making skills will not be missed. Conversation and sex, they used to be a big part of my life, there is no reason I can’t continue doing them. The only difference between the past and the present is that I used to enjoy these activities.