My therapist has told me I'm to have no unsupervised contact with my father while in the hospital. No contact with Rick, either.
"How about I'll send you flowers?" she adds.
I don't want flowers. I don't want presents. All you give are presents. You gave me as a present. To your husband. By feigning illness and staying in bed, your eyes shut, the door closed, you could pretend not to notice how you made me available to your husband---a gift---a little-girl wife.
"Mother, I don't want flowers, I want . . ."
The impossible: a real father; a mother who saw what she saw, knew what she knew. Even though the last time my father touched me sexually was when I left home for college some twenty-five years ago, it feels as if I've never left that home at all.
"Just to get better, I guess," I answer.
"Well, be sure to pack a warm robe and slippers," my mother says. "Bring plenty of vitamin C. You know how cold they keep those places." I am about to hang up when she adds, "Oh, and call your sister. She's doing so well in her new job."
I put down the phone and sink back into the velvet cushion on the couch. I grew up in pretty houses decorated with art objects my father bought on his many travels; how easily our family hid its secrets behind carved wood masks from Samoa, straw fans from Guam. How successful we seemed, with elegant tea sets from Japan, silk curtains from Hong Kong. Now Andrew and I have nice antiques, an Oriental rug, watercolor paintings. Things. I was raised to believe that if a family appears perfect, it must be perfect. I have tried to keep up appearances.
I open the door to Andrew's study. He doesn't look up. He is an English professor, and he sits at his desk grading student papers. I lean over his shoulder and wrap my arms around his chest. I tell him I called my parents, that my father hung up, that my mother worries I'll catch cold. He sighs, and doesn't put down his pencil.
I straighten and lean against his desk. Bookcases jammed with volumes by James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, Tolstoy, Cervantes, Jane Austen, Derrida, Riffaterre, Kant, line the walls like thick insulation. He is writing a book of his own, evolved from his dissertation. I have typed the manuscript several times for him, several revisions. I have proofread it twice. Yet I only have a vague understanding of what it's about.
Even though I married Andrew for his cool distant silence---so different from my father's needy raging---now, this moment, I want to get his attention. I want to say: Look at me! I want to crack the silence of our marriage and reveal to him the complete reason my therapist says I must enter the hospital now: to be sequestered, quarantined, from men. But I can't tell Andrew. For I believe if he sees the real me, he'll leave me. All he knows for sure is that I'm entering treatment because what happened to me as a child caused an eating disorder and I hate food.
I turn, about to close the door to his study. "I'm sorry," is all I'm able to say. "You know?"
"Look, I'm sure it'll be fine," he says. "Call me when you get there. Let me know you made it okay."
Later I lie awake, where I sleep by myself, in a small second-story bedroom. The attic fan whooshes air from the basement up through the house and out the windows, out the vents in the gable. The house feels vacant. Andrew sleeps directly below me in a king-sized bed. I roll onto my stomach in my narrow bed and press my fingertips against the wood floor. I want to feel a quiet vibration from his breath. I want to tiptoe down the stairs and slip beneath the covers beside him. I want the scent of his freshly laundered sheets on my own body, his clean, strong hand to hold mine. I want to feel a reassuring, constant presence of this man labeled "husband." I don't know how. Ordinary married life is too tame and mild. I want to hold on to him, but Andrew, as well as our ten-year marriage, only skims the periphery of my senses.
Copyright Sue Silverman 2001. Reproduced by permission of the author.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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