Sunday, May 9, 2010

Do You Love Me Enough? 3

She sat on the love seat, he on the sofa at right angles to her. This was good, Mac thought, no direct face to face contact. Conversation began again about her arrangements for going back to Australia, how it fitted in with what was “best for them all”, and how the boys really did need them back 'home.' Screaming out inside, but this is home, Mac remained calm on the exterior, like a white washed wall against a thunderous sky. Then it came. The question.

"Do you love me enough to come back to Australia when it's time?" Her voice seemed to come from somewhere else. Mac wondered for a moment about Jill’s question.

His first thought was that it came from her insecurity, from that place in her that never seemed to get enough of the love that she craved. It hadn’t mattered that Mac diligently said he loved her at least three times every day. He never left the house without kissing her goodbye, never came home without kissing her again, always said goodnight with a kiss, and each occasion was accompanied by the words, “I love you”. It didn’t matter that they held hands just about every time they went walking together or sat with arms around and draped on each other when they sat in church or watched a movie or shared a sofa at the home of friends. No, she always looked for more affirmation than all that and so she had asked often before whether he loved her or not. But this time was different. The question was marked with an addend, an appendix, a suffix of sorts.

Next his thoughts went toward her tendency to want to control a conversation and thereby the situation. It could have been her way of collecting evidence to be used later. If he answered yes then she could later recall “But you said…” He’d lost many arguments before with that kind of trap. Mac didn’t want to fall into her snare again but at the same time he knew he needed to be truthful.

Mac decided in an instant that it didn’t matter what Jill’s motivation was although he suspected he knew the question’s point of origin. He heard himself answer.

"Of course I do."

Despite himself and all that was in him he actually meant it. He did love her enough to go anywhere for her. He had been willing to go along with the plan to go back despite how he felt. But it was more than that. Although their intimacies had grown less and their love making gone stale he knew that he did love her deeply. Somewhere in his gut he knew it but he didn't feel it. What was that the preachers had said countless times - love is an act of the will and not an emotion? He could love Jill that way, he had for years. Simply an act of the will: a set of activities sequenced in such a way to give the appearance of love in the desperate hope she'd fall for it. Mac was beginning to think that the nature of her question was a hint that she realized that he was merely acting in love instead of feeling it. Besides, he was going to stick to the plan.

"Yes, I love you and the boys enough to go back to Australia." As if reiterating it would make it more believable. It didn’t work on himself so he doubted it worked on her.

She stared at him. Jill was trying to decipher her husband. He had become very difficult to read lately. Actually ever since his diagnosis and subsequent deliverance from depression three years ago he was somehow changed and she hadn't known this man. Firmer, assertive to all, except her in bed, and yet more guarded. She had wondered if he had something to hide but she had concluded that he was merely allowing himself to be less vulnerable.

"But that's an unfair question." Mac’s voice was calm. She stared. She hadn't counted on this. Her reckoning was that he'd leave it at his answer to her question and not ask anything back. That's how it had been for years. She'd ask. He'd answer. End of conversation as long as she had made her point. But this was unexpected.

"Do you love me enough to stay?" Mac's skin prickled much like those who have been struck by lightning say they felt right before it happened. The smell of ozone could almost be detected in the atmosphere of the living room.

"No, I don't."

She hadn't even stopped to think about it.

Experts tell us that it takes years to build up impenetrable walls within us. Family of origin issues, bullying at school, lowered self esteem during pimple ridden teen years, betrayal by friends, terrible bosses with unrealistic expectations. Bad experience after bad experience, brick by brick the walls are raised. That instant Mac knew that all the theories were wrong. Massive structures of steel and concrete came out of nowhere - he wasn't sure if they'd been lowered from above like theatrical flats that instantly change the scenery on the stage or if they had sprung up from the dark earth below. Thump. There they were. Mac found himself in a thick walled fortress and he knew he'd never let her in again.

He looked across the room at her and noticed her mouth was moving as if to speak. He heard nothing but had the vague sense that she was trying to work her way out of the hole she had just dug with her tongue. That was okay. It's not as if she would ever say sorry. That had never been her style and Mac doubted she'd begin a new habit now.

Jill got up and moved into the kitchen. Mac's coffee sitting on the end table at his left hand had gone cold.