His father didn't need him.
Rick's hands tugged at belts and zippers: hurry. We will do this . . . even though his son might get out of bed, knock on the door, see me leave his parents' bedroom. What I then forced myself to know was that this, this one careless act of sex, was more important to Rick than his son. And because I, too, couldn't say no, because I feared Rick would leave me if I refused him sex, I began to know, had to accept, that sex was more important to me, too. In a moment of clarity I realized that, while the sober part of me wanted to attend his son, a tangled, humid, inescapable part stopped me. Time stalled: with Rick's hands forever on his belt buckle; with my fingers always on the zipper of my skirt.
And a moment later, I no longer heard his son crying.
The next therapy session I told my therapist, Ted, about Rick's son. More: I confessed that I'd been secretly meeting Rick for weeks without telling him, Ted. I couldn't stop. Before I'd left Ted's office, he called the inpatient unit where he worked and scheduled my admittance. He told me it wasn't possible for him to work with clients who showed up for a session "drunk" or "hungover." He could no longer see me as an outpatient; he could only help me in the rehab unit. "To have real feelings, you have to be sexually sober," he said. "Not numbed out." Afraid to be abandoned by Ted, beginning to accept the emotional destructiveness of my behavior, I agreed to go.
Now, as I cross the motel parking lot, dingy afternoon light fuses my blouse to my sweaty back. All I want is to sleep it off. My footsteps sound hollow. My mouth tastes contaminated, metallic. The little girl and her green balloon are gone. Without her energy, the pool is a flat, glassy sheen. Driving from the lot, I pass the neon sign, silently spelling rainbow motel.
I should never return here; yet I can't imagine not meeting Rick every Thursday at noon. For what I do in room #213 is the only reason, I believe, a man would love me . . . what my father taught me was love.
That evening my husband and I eat a silent dinner at the kitchen table. Andrew sits erect, solid, focused on a Braves baseball game on the portable television, while I hunch over my plate. Andrew takes angry bites of an overdone hamburger, the third one I fixed this week, and canned string beans, all I managed to prepare after returning from the motel. I nibble at an edge of hamburger and spear one bean onto my fork. I put it down without eating. Looking at all the food, I think I might be sick. Fumes from the motel seem to rise from the hem of my skirt. My body feels sticky and smudged. It feels unhealthy. Andrew seems not to see, pretends not to notice, this mess that is me. Or, yes, he notices. But he never asks questions. He is too afraid of the answers.
"Sorry about the dinner," I say.
He isn't angry about the affairs; he doesn't know about them. He's angry about my emotional disarray. He wants me to be industrious and smiling. Normal. I worry, even with therapy, I won't learn how to love him the way I should, won't learn how to act like a wife.
"I was wondering," I say, during a television commercial break, "maybe you could drive me over there tomorrow and help me get settled."
"I can't just not teach my classes." His fingers grip the fork.
I want to touch his hand, loosen the grip, warm our fingers.
"I need to finish grading papers." He pushes back his chair. "Remember to call your parents, tell them where you're going," he says. His six-foot body fills the doorway. "I wouldn't know what to say if they call here looking for you."
Copyright Sue Silverman 2001. Reproduced by permission of the author.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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