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Juxtapositioning

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Juxtapositioning

 

“When women love us they forgive everything.”

Honore de Balzac

 

            “You have been so honest, so . . . accepting.”

            “None of that matters.  It’s the past.  You’re off drugs, now, so you’re not a ‘drug addict’ anymore.”

            “But I am a drug addict.  Once you’ve been hooked, it’s always there, the urge, the desire.”

            “A recovering addict.  You don’t do drugs anymore-”

            “No, but you don’t understand.  You have to accept that I am a drug addict.  That’s non-negotiable.”

            “OK,” he said after a pause, adding, “I don’t care.  I accept you as you are.”

 

*          *          *

 

            The second night they shared together, he felt it was time to be honest with her, too.  He tried to tell her once, months ago, but wasn’t able.  As they laid there on the bed, cuddling and talking to one another, he finally spoke.

“There’s something I need to tell you,” he spoke softly, the lamp atop the cheap motel dresser giving the room an oddly yellow tinge.

“I know,” she responded, casually touching the man’s arm beneath the covers of the bed.  The only sound that filled the room was the droning of the old window air conditioner.  After a short while, the woman added, “It’s ok, if you’re not ready to tell me . . . really.”

            Yet after a time, lying close to one another, one arm beneath her head and the other reaching over to run fingers through her hair, he spoke.  “I killed someone.”

 

*          *          *

 

Six months earlier . . .

 

            They had met at work.  It wasn’t exactly “love at first sight,” but there was something about her that he couldn’t quite put his finger on.  The woman went to work for a local teleservices company late in the summer of 2005, where the man was employed as a trainer.  She was not in his class, but the two had noticed one another whenever he had business in her training room or in the hall and break room, and both were intrigued by what they saw and heard.  She was smarter than the rest of her peers, and her literary interests piqued his curiosity: she was always reading a book.  She was intelligent, too.  Most of the others were mere intellectual pretenders compared to her wit.  Both desired to learn more about the other.     

 

From: Her
Sent: Monday, January 22, 2007 3:29 PM
To: Him
Subject: thanks

 

I just found out that it was your inquiry that cinched my getting into training in the morning.  Thanks yet again.

 

From: Him

Sent: Tuesday, January 23, 2007 6:55 AM

To: Her

Subject: thanks

 

Well, no need to thank me...it was purely selfishness (any time spent in your presence is good for me).

 

She and her peers were being retrained to accept telemarketing calls for a new client, and it was his responsibility to head one of the training classes.  So, when the chance came to get her into his training class early in 2007, he leaped at the opportunity; it afforded him the opportunity to see her on a regular basis.  Neither of them was displeased

 

From: Her
Sent: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 12:04 PM
To: Him
Subject: Re: thanks

 

You are soooo in trouble!

What's up with not even warning me that you wouldn't be here today?

Poor Tom had no idea what kind of class he was walking into.  He kept alluding to issues that were better left alone (production questions, money, etc) and the class ran with it like a gay boy with Madonna tickets. Will you be gone every Wednesday?

 

Her blue eyes, long, straight blond hair, and playful, almost nymph-like smile were very appealing to the man, yet even more was her wit – ah, there it was again.  The sharp, satirical tongue, which she used to harangue the unsuspecting, duller members of the group, was never silent for long.  They would always laugh together at these remarks, and their eyes would meet.  It was at these times that he felt a bridge between them in the watery gulf of humanity.  She felt it, too. 

 

From: Him

Sent: Tuesday, February 13, 2007 6:46 AM

To: Her

Subject: It figures...

 

Well, I got your message last night but the words cut off on my phone.  What else did you want

to say?

 

From: Her

Sent: Tuesday, February 13, 2007 6:59 AM

To: Him

Subject: It figures...

 

Good morning.  Well, I have nothing worthwhile to say anyway, really, so it’s best my words

did cut off. I’m having that kind of day.

 

From: Him
Sent: Tuesday, February 13, 2007 8:19 AM
To: Her
Subject: RE: It figures...

 

OK, fine.

I have to say that I am disappointed that you were ready to share something last night but not today.  Perhaps it is for the best.

 

Of course, like anything in life, relationships take time, and they were only at the flirting stage, that fun, exciting, intellectually and emotionally bonding phase where would-be lovers fence wit with words and body language.  He enjoyed the tete-a-tete immensely and longed to be closer to the woman.  Still, she was married.

“And what do you think you’re teaching your child, staying in an unhappy marriage?  Is that doing her more harm than good by staying when you’re clearly so unhappy?”

She knew that he had a point, yet she felt . . . felt . . . so much.

 “You know,” she commented one day during class, “being around you is like being

around cake when your dieting.”

 

From: Her
Sent: Wednesday, February 14, 2007 1:17 PM
To: Him
Subject: I have to keep telling myself...

 

…I don’t want any cake.  I don’t want any cake…

 

From: Him
Sent: Wednesday, February 14, 2007 1:34 PM
To: Her
Subject: RE: I have to keep telling myself...

 

Maybe you'll become diabetic and the cake will be easier to pass by.

 

From: Her
Sent: Wednesday, February 14, 2007 1:36 PM
To: Him
Subject: RE: I have to keep telling myself...

 

Let’s say goodbye to cake and good luck!

 

From: Him
Sent: Wednesday, February 14, 2007 1:40 PM
To: Her
Subject: RE: I have to keep telling myself...

 

This sucks.  I dislike that part of being human that makes it so difficult to actually be friends in a situation like this.

 

From: Her
Sent: Wednesday, February 14, 2007 1:46 PM
To: Him
Subject: RE: I have to keep telling myself...

 

I thought we were friends.  I am ok with things.

 

From: Him
Sent: Wednesday, February 14, 2007 1:49 PM
To: Her
Subject: RE: I have to keep telling myself...

 

I'm glad that you are ok with things, but I am finding that I may not be trusted...

 

From: Her
Sent: Wednesday, February 14, 2007 1:49 PM
To: Him
Subject: RE: I have to keep telling myself...

 

I could only wish! 

 

From: Him
Sent: Wednesday, February 14, 2007 1:50 PM
To: Her
Subject: RE: I have to keep telling myself...

 

If I were in the same room with a chocolate cake, I would eat the entire thing!

 

Four months earlier . . .

 

            “Hey, how’s it goin’?”

            He was working at his desk when the woman approached him.  They had been chatting by e-mail for a while, when he received a message suggesting they go out for “a ubiquitous cup of coffee.”  When he discovered she was married, it took him aback, and he felt mildly guilty for being so forward.  He had visited her website a couple of times but had not noticed on her biography that she was married.  Still, he was attracted to her and thought it couldn’t hurt to meet her that night.

            “So, where do you want to meet?”

            “How about Borders?” she suggested.

            “Sounds good.”

            The following day, he wrote her in an e-mail that he “couldn’t do this,” that no matter how much he liked her and wanted to give things a chance, he couldn’t.  She was married, and that was that.  She accepted his decision, pained, but still, in the back of her mind . . .

            Later, when he visited her website once again, he was moved by the poetry she had written about him.  They thought of one another often.

 

Four months later . . .

 

From: Her

Sent: Wednesday, February 14, 2007 1:55 PM
To: Him

Subject: RE: I have to keep telling myself...

 

To be completely honest, I can’t sail away without a safety net.   If I cut the anchor now, with no life boat, what’s to say the result will be any better?  What’s to say that I won’t be just as lonely?  

I dated a lot before and had little luck.  There’s no guarantee that “we” would work out either.  I fear trying to make it work (by leaving him) then finding out a month later that “we” just don’t work, and I am out in the cold.  Can you understand my fear at all?  It would be devastating.

Anyway, just my thoughts and feelings.

 

From: Him
Sent: Wednesday, February 14, 2007 1:58 PM
To: Her
Subject: RE: I have to keep telling myself...

 

Thank you for your candor.

You would be foolish to leave for any other companion; if you left, it should be for your own peace of mind.  I only left when my misery at being alone in a relationship overcame my fear of being lonely by myself.  I have no promises to offer you.   I have found that in the end none of us can promise a relationship will work out.  My mate and I were supposed to be together forever and you see how that worked out.

 

            “Fair enough,” she responded.

 

From: Her
Sent: Wednesday, February 14, 2007 2:24 PM
To: Him
Subject: RE: I have to keep telling myself...

 

Sorry for the short answer.  I recall your “Fair enough” reply to one of my messages and thought it would be appropriate here.  Seriously though, I guess it’s what must be.  Loneliness stinks and I can’t do that again.  It’s better to have the scrapings from a burnt meal than go completely, absolutely hungry.  

The other night when you got kind of mad or frustrated with me, I couldn’t sleep at all.  I don’t know why you have that effect on me, and I told myself all night as I lay tossing, turning, and thinking that this is not healthy and that there can’t be anything here because that how life dealt the cards.  

No, there’s no guarantee.  You’re poignantly right.  So, I wish you, truly, the best and know you will find the right one.  Keep to your values and move on.  We will always be friends.  You are a nice, intelligent, sexy guy who will find a girl who will do leaps for you (or at least meet your needs)!  I believe in you.

 

From: Him
Sent: Wednesday, February 14, 2007 2:29 PM
To: Her
Subject: RE: I have to keep telling myself...

 

I thought that I was the only one who didn't sleep that night.   I wasn't mad, I was frustrated.

 

From: Her
Sent: Wednesday February 14, 2007 2:43 PM
To: Him
Subject: RE: I have to keep telling myself...

 

Well, I am certain I will have a few more sleepless nights before it’s all through.  Thanks for sharing with me today.

 

From: Him
Sent: Wednesday, February 14, 2007 2:55 PM
To: Her
Subject: RE: I have to keep telling myself...

 

I have many comments, none appropriate.

 

            The mundane conversation waxes . . . 

 

From: Him
Sent: Thursday, February 15, 2007 7:51 AM
To: Her
Subject: RE: For you...

 

By the way, I FINALLY finished Anna Karenina.

 

From: Her
Sent: Thursday, February 15, 2007 7:56 AM
To: Him
Subject: RE: For you...

 

Good for you!  That’s a long one…

 

From: Him
Sent: Thursday, February 15, 2007 7:57 AM
To: Her
Subject: RE: For you...

 

Are we returning to ignoring the turd on the table in an effort to not be naughty?

 

From: Her
Sent: Thursday, February 15, 2007 8:06 AM
To: Him
Subject: RE: For you...

 

Besides, what would happen if I said I’d love to kiss you?  It would probably not be a very comfortable situation for you, and truly, the last thing I want to do would be to make you feel uncomfortable around me.  It’s bad enough when I know you’re relieved that you will be gone my last week on your trip, so I understand what you must be feeling inside.  I want to respect your wishes…

 

From: Him
Sent: Thursday, February 15, 2007 8:20 AM
To: Her
Subject: RE: For you...

 

Hmmm...

I'm having a difficult time remembering that a portion of my reason for declining to spend extra time with you is that I don't want to put you in a position that would put your living situation at risk when you say things like that to me.

You made my stomach jump. Seriously. Kiss me? Christ, that's tame compared to the thoughts I've been having.

 

 From: Her
Sent: Thursday, February 15, 2007 9:06 AM
To: Him
Subject: RE: For you...

 

Of course, since it’s only part of your reason, maybe I should just shut the hell up now, eh?

 

            The passing looks and sidebar conversations wane . . .

            “At a loss?” he said.  “I’m sorry.  I’m not sure what to say.” 

 

 From: Her
Sent: Thursday, February 15, 2007 9:32 AM
To: Him

Subject: RE: For you...

 

I am not - at a loss for words, that is.  I can tell you unequivocally what I feel about you, what I have felt about you for quite awhile now.  And, moreover, I think that you, too, know how I feel.  I want you.  I’d have you right here and now if there weren’t 17 other people in here!  Of course, that might get a little weird…  Seriously, though, if you gave me the chance, I feel in my heart that I could make you happy.  I know as humans it is very risky to admit our feelings to another – and worse yet to act upon them – because the risk of rejection is always painful.  But, risking that, I lay my thoughts and feelings out on the table.  In fact, ironically, it’s actually refreshing to be vulnerable with someone – it’s the first time in a long time, believe you me.  Well, that’s about all I can say. 

I am here if you want me….

 

 From: Him
Sent: Thursday, February 15, 2007 10:07 AM
To: Her
Subject: RE: For you...

 

Thank you.

I would love to have, or at least attempt, a relationship with you; however, I cannot allow myself to do so with a married woman. I think of you frequently when I am at home also. I have my own fantasies and desires, I was thinking of so much more.  I wonder what it would be like to have you to wake up next to and just share life with. I think, I wonder, I feel, but I can't.

I know it's wrong. Whether you are unhappy in your domestic situation or not is irrelevant to this particular point, you are married and that is a deal breaker. It would be yet another item to add to my ever lengthening list of things I have done that I feel guilt or shame about and those can literally be killers for me.

I can't have you to share my life with because you have already promised to do so with another. I can't have you as a lover because I am incapable of separating love and sex and honestly I don't believe that it could be "just sex" in our situation.

It's all or nothing at all. You are either "all in,”  sliding your chips to the center and standing next to your chair waiting to see how the hand turns out, or you fold.

I know this. I can see the reason and logic behind this, and yet...

Why can't I stop feeding this? I don't want to lose your attention or what affection you have been able to show me. I can say that "we have to stop this" but I am unable to force my actions to mirror my words. I want you to talk to me, I look forward to seeing your name in my inbox, I crave your attention. I write this manifesto while thinking of cuddling up next to you on a couch somewhere or taking you back to my desk. I am torn. I don't want you to stop.

 

From: Her
Sent: Thursday, February 15, 2007 12:11 AM
To: Him
Subject: RE: For you...

 

I want you to know that if I did not have a child, none of this would even need to be pondered and weighed.  I would embrace the chance for personal happiness in a relationship with you without a moment’s hesitation. 

Regret is obviously not the sole companion of you alone, and I can certainly empathize.  I, too, have regrets and moments in my life that I wish desperately I could undo.  I am not the person I should have been.  I should not even be here – in this position in my life – had I not made a series of unfathomably poor choices that I can’t take back.  Sometimes I think that no one on the planet is sorrier for their choices than I am. 

So, giving birth to my daughter, I saw the rebirth of hope.  Not hope for me – if redemption ever even existed it is not reserved for me – but for her.  With every ounce of my soul, I long to guide her and succor her as she grows, until one day she will make her own choices.  And, though I myself am not a success, in her I have the opportunity to redeem myself.  So, I save every penny possible and lavish her with love and empathy and unconditional acceptance in the hope that I can literally make her childhood dreams come true, whether those dreams require large capital investment, large emotional and mental investment, or something in between.  When she says, “Mommy, I want to be a…” I want to be the one to make it come true as no one ever made it come true for me.

I guess I am asking myself right now, “How can I do this for my daughter and still have a fulfilling, rewarding interpersonal relationship with you?”  If I leave, I will surely lose custody should he want her (partly due to my past drug problem), and even if we split custody, she will likely spend her nights home alone, lamenting the loss of a mother who at one time gave her unconditional love, time and attention.  While living with her father, she will surely be provided with almost no love outside of providing for her physical needs.  He will not, I am sure, grant me full custody.  Every day away from my care bear will be heartbreaking for me.  Still, my heart and soul longs to have you, to have a chance at real happiness for me.

I am so confused.  I just wanted to share with you my heart’s dilemma.

 

From: Him
Sent: Thursday, February 15, 2007 12:44 PM
To: Her
Subject: RE: For you...

 

It seems we have our answer.  Your desire to be there for your girl is admirable, she is indeed a lucky Care Bear. I regret the time I have lost with my own son.

 

 From: Her
Sent: Thursday, February 15, 2007 12:51 PM
To: Him
Subject: RE: For you...

 

I understand that, too.  Well, thank you for the time we had to get to know one another.  I am truly, truly honored that you would share your heart with someone like me.  Time will wash all of this away in the end, but I will always care for you and think of you as long as I live.

 

From: Him
Sent: Thursday, February 15, 2007 1:36 PM
To: Her
Subject: RE: For you...

 

I will miss you.

 

            Sleep is a stranger to them both.

 

From: Her
Sent: Friday, February 16, 2007 7:02 AM
To: Him
Subject: RE: For you...

 

After about two hours of sleep last night and resisting several urges to call or text you, I did a lot of thinking and reflecting and soul-searching.  You know, I begged that bitch yesterday to allow me off today for “personal” reasons but she refused.  I really wanted time to think, you know, just to contemplate.

I guess what I want to say is that, even though I need to think out and plan the details so as to minimize the footprint of destruction I will likely leave in my wake, I don’t want to let you go.  I want you.

For the first time in a long, long time, I feel passion - an intensity that I lacked the entire time I have known my husband - when I think of you, of holding you, of caressing you.  I miss intimacy, holding hands and slow kissing. I miss dancing to the radio in the dark and holding hands while walking.  I miss foreplay and having someone ask me what I like and not just “hurry up and get it over with.”   I miss deep conversations about books and philosophizing about why were here and what it means to be alive. 

But I need some time to sit down and plan how I am going to do this.  I refuse to lose my relationship with my daughter and will give him anything he wants to keep her near me.  It’s a bit overwhelming, really, but if I can simply think it out I am sure I can find a middle ground with him.  I need to gather the inner strength and courage, is all, to move forward.  I do not want to lose you.

I believe I am “all in” to use your expression.  Can we meet after work today somewhere where we can talk? 

 

            He rarely made eye contact with her that morning, while the minutes turned into hours.

 

From: Him
Sent: Friday, February 16, 2007 10:28 AM
To: Her
Subject: RE: For you...

 

I cannot meet you. Reviewing our recent conversations I can see that I need to clarify something for you. I enjoy you, I have fantasies and desires regarding you, I want to be with you as well; however, I cannot.

If you are unhappy enough to leave your husband, I understand and hope with all my heart that you find some peace. I would be dishonest if I said that my first inclination is not to dance for joy and run to you. You cannot leave your husband for me, you would need to leave the situation for yourself. Leaving him and turning to a relationship with me is not a situation I am willing to be part of. Don't misunderstand, I WANT that to be what occurs, but for my own peace of mind and possible mental health (eventually?), I cannot. There is always going to be the idea somewhere in my mind of "if she left him for me, she will leave me for another.”  Protests and proclamations will never be able to dissuade that feeling.

I have learned (sometimes brutally) that what I want can kill me and hurt others with an amazing amount of collateral damage. I have had some very in depth conversations with people close to me because I was ready to run to the ends of the Earth with you, all others be damned. I just can't. God I want to, but can't.

I wasn't trying to toy with your emotions or lead you on. I have always tried to be honest and sincere in all my dealings with you. I care for you greatly. I know this is not what you wanted as an answer, please believe me when I say it's not the answer I want to give you.

 

            At lunch, the woman went into the restroom and cried.       

 

From: Her
Sent: Friday, February 16, 2007 1:46 PM
To: Him
Subject:

 

Wow, am I dense or what?  I understand, now, no need to explain more.   I truly wish you the best in life!!!

 

From: Him
Sent: Friday, February 16, 2007 2:01 PM
To: Her
Subject: RE:

 

 Dense? You are far from dense.  I fucking hate today.

I hope your life is wonderful. I would like to believe that fairy tale endings are possible and that in the future...  You get the idea.

God, I'm sorry.

 

From: Her
Sent: Friday, February 16, 2007 2:30 PM
To: Him
Subject: RE:

 

Who knows what time may bring… 

Don’t be sorrowful.  Do something for YOU and treat yourself well – you deserve it!          

 

            Before leaving for his business trip, the trainer read excerpts from Three Men in a Boat to his class.  Seated in front, staring at the man behind the podium, the woman’s eyes welled with tears.  He smiled and whispered very softly before excusing the class, “It’s OK.  We’ll always have Borders.” 

She never heard what he said.

 

From: Her

Sent: Monday, February 19, 2007 7:03 AM

To: Him

Subject: RE:

 

I know I'm a bit foolish and that it's probably not good to keep any hope
alive and extend our pain, but I have been thinking about what you wrote
Friday and I am curious: how long, when I do leave him, would I have to wait
to see you?  Is there any length of time (ie - years) your friends
feel is acceptable or is it pretty much a "no go" regardless of how long
after I'm divorced?
I miss you.

 

From: Him

Sent: Monday, February 19, 2007 10:02 AM

To: Her

Subject: RE:

 

I have no answer to the time frame question.

I miss you also but am leery as it seems that we have a pattern of our behavior escalating when we are in contact.

 

From: Her
Sent: Monday, February 19, 2007 10:29 AM
To: Him
Subject: BTW

I hope you are well.

(PS - I will leave you alone, now.  You are probably thinking I am a pain in the B*&^)

 

From: Him
Sent: Monday, February 19, 2007 10:34 AM
To: Her          
Subject: RE: BTW

I miss you also but really don't know what are boundaries should be.

 

From: Her
Sent: Monday, February 19, 2007 11:08 AM
To: Him
Subject: RE: BTW

I am glad you are alright.  
I guess it's just hard for me to let go.  I am sorry for everything.  Whoever finally earns your heart and your hand will be a lucky, lucky person. 
Take care...

 

From: Him

Sent: Monday, February 19, 2007 11:24 AM
To: Her
Subject: RE: BTW

I never said that I was alright.

 

From: Her
Sent: Monday, February 19, 2007 11:30 AM
To: Him
Subject: RE: BTW

Well, I meant physically.  I wish I could take away all your inner pain...
If your heart can brave it, I wrote something for you and attached it.  I guess I am a bit of a dreamer - and a little foolish, too. 
So tell me, has anyone ever written poetry to you before?  There are not enough volumes to inscribe all that I feel.

Have a good trip next week.

 

From: Him
Sent: Monday, February 19, 2007 2:30 PM
To: Her
Subject: RE: BTW

Thanks
No, no one has written poetry before.
My wife was a fine artist so I had paintings, never poetry.
I don't know how to respond.

 

From: Him
Sent: Tuesday, February 20, 2007 12:10 PM
To: Her
Subject: RE: Good morning!

I have just a min, wanted to tell you that I'm glad to hear that you are making some changes for yourself.  You deserve to be happy.

 

From: Her
Sent: Tuesday, February 20, 2007 12:31 PM
To: Him
Subject: RE: Good morning!

Thank you

Well, sometimes the veil of apathy (and of simply settling is lifted when good things present themselves.  I guess you could say I have incentive.
 

From: Her
Sent: Tuesday, February 20, 2007 12:40 PM
To: Him
Subject: FW: Good morning!

Upon reflection, I am really thinking, "Wow.  This is scary."  I just wanted to share.

 

From: Him
Sent: Tuesday, February 20, 2007 12:54 PM
To: Her
Subject: RE: Good morning!

It is scary. Making those HUGE changes was the most difficult thing I have ever done. Probably much more difficult that quitting drugs, I’d say.
You really do deserve to be happy with your own life. The tricky part for me was not jumping before considering what the ripples would cause. It's that whole collateral damage thing. I came to believe that my son would be better served by parents who were not just going through motions and attempting to tolerate each other while their resentments grew to epic proportions AND that I believed that I had done everything that was possible for me at the time to resolve the conflicts we were experiencing.
You will have to search your own soul. Do you believe that there is a way to repair your relationship? Do you believe that you are able to continue through the relationship only for the sake of your own child? Is that a healthy enough environment for her to grow in (will she learn your resentments thus teaching her that is how a relationship should be)?

  

From: Her
Sent: Tuesday, February 20, 2007 1:42 PM
To: Him
Subject: RE: Good morning!

You said this to me in class three weeks ago "Is that a healthy enough environment for her to grow in, and that really struck me hard.  I felt like I had been emotionally and intellectually punched.  I have always told myself, you see, that I will teach her how to be happy with another person but I spent a couple of days contemplating your words.  You probably never knew it. 

I have been asking myself, sometimes several times a day, can I really "teach" her without "showing" her?  Is he really right?  Am I really damaging my daughter by accepting misery for the rest of my life?  I was truly stunned and realized that maybe I have been fooling myself.

And the notion that I would do this for anyone else other than myself is perhaps something that I may have accidentally led you to believe.  Yet this is not the case, and I feel bad that I didn't express my inner thoughts and turmoil accurately.  Sometimes I feel like I am talking and writing as in a "stream of consciousness," like musing aloud.  Like a catalyst, you have been an eye-opening experience for me that has helped me realize that I - having convinced myself before that I must stay at all costs - have been fooling myself.  I suppose, if I may be completely honest and vulnerable with you at the risk of sounding silly, that I have settled for the "comfort zone" although it has bled my soul - my dreams and hopes - nearly dry.  It's as though I have been awakened from a stupor, from a bad dream, and that I see what I must do clearly now. 

Well, I told myself not to get too personal today (lol).  It's good to chat with you though.  It's like talking with a piece of my own soul...

Have a great night.  I'd like to e-mail you again tomorrow.  I’d like to call you, too. 

 

            The phone rings in a New Jersey hotel room sometime after midnight. 

             “Hi,” she said, not knowing what to expect.

             “Hi. I . . . I’m glad you called me.”

            “So, how was work today?   Are they keeping you busy?”

            “Yeah, it’s OK.”

            “It’s not the same without you here.”

            “I know.  I  . . . feel the same way, too.”

            The conversation drifts for awhile into subjects like work, books, her cat, and other mundane things. 

            “I’m getting a bit sleepy.  So, can I call you again tomorrow?” she asked.

            “I have a meeting tomorrow night.”

“Oh . . . when will you be back, then?

“Um, I don’t know, really.  I’ll call you.”

            “OK.”

            Uncomfortable silence follows.

            “Well, have a good night.”

            “You, too.”

 

From: Him

Sent: Friday, February 23, 2007 8:17 AM
To: Her
Subject: RE: I am still having...

 

Good morning.  Sorry I didn't catch up with you last night.

 

 From: Her
Sent: Friday, February 23, 2007 8:24 AM
To: Him
Subject: RE: I am still having...

 

That's OK.  I am glad you're alright.  I thought to myself, "Gee, I blew up her phone tonight!"  Maybe I am silly.

 

From: Him
Sent: Friday, February 23, 2007 8:35 AM
To: Her
Subject: RE: I am still having...

 

No, you did not blow up my phone.

 

 From: Her
Sent: Friday, February 23, 2007 8:37 AM
To: Him
Subject: RE: I am still having...

 

Thanks.  You seem to always affirm me.

 

 From: Her
Sent: Friday, February 23, 2007 9:24 AM
To: Him
Subject: RE: I am still having...

 

I am a bit nervous and frightened by what I am going to do this week.  Yet I am excited, too.  Weird, huh?  Scared and nervous, yet giddy. 

I went for a long walk outside last night before going to bed.  Rain last night, bright sunshine today...really symbolic, don't you think?

 

From: Him
Sent: Friday, February 23, 2007 10:30 AM
To: Her
Subject: We're leaving soon...

 

. . . I hope to chat with you again sometime soon.  :)

 

From: Her
Sent: Friday, February 23, 2007 11:03 AM
To: Him
Subject: RE: We're leaving soon...

 

Have a good trip!

 

From: Her
Sent: Monday, February 26, 2007 10:00 AM
To: Him
Subject: RE: here

 

I am really scared as it approaches the day I venture out on my own.  I have appointments with a tax accountant and a lawyer this week and move out next week into my own apartment.  I don’t know what to say.

I miss chatting with you…

 

From: Him
Sent: Monday, February 26, 2007 10:12 AM
To: Her
Subject: RE: here

 

Wow!

You move quickly when you start.

 

            Is she moving for me?  He gave it a lot of thought.

 

From: Her

Sent: Monday, February 26, 2007 10:26 AM

To: Him
Subject: RE: here

 

Well, I can’t drag out the inevitable. I have people close to me telling me to wait a few months, a few years, etc, but if I don’t do it now, my comfort zone may compel me to rationalize and undo all that I have decided based on considering all of the possible collateral damage (your term!) both ways.  It’s right for me, and I can’t put it off.  I will do everything to provide a smooth transition for him but ultimately he’ll have to be responsible for his own feelings and actions and I will have to take responsibility for mine – as I am already doing.

 

I am frightened some, but feel elated, too, at least emotionally.  I know this is the right decision for me.

 

            Perhaps, she thought, I am doing this on account of him.  Well, not for him, but because of . . .

 

From: Him
Sent: Monday, February 26, 2007 10:27 AM
To: Her
Subject: RE: here

 

Good luck.

I wouldn't ignore the concerns of those close to you, but you are the one who will have to make the decision.

 

            Twenty minutes of passing glances and odd silence later . . .

 

From: Him
Sent: Monday, February 26, 2007 10:46 AM
To: Her
Subject: hmm

 

I guess I'm just a bit apprehensive that you might be going quickly or have expectations that I can't live up to, etc.

Please make sure that your motive is really that you are needing the change, not that you expect me to be able to give you anything at this time.

 

From: Him (text msg)

Sent: Tuesday, February 27, 2007 4:48 PM

To: Her

Subject: I hope all goes well.

 

I hope all goes well. In my thoughts.

 

From: Her (text msg)

Sent: Wednesday, February 28, 2007 4:58 PM

To: Him

Subject: You have my number

 

You have my number if you want to call

 

               Text messages come and go, but the threads of tension between them grow taught, thin. 

 After a time, the communication is all but severed.

 

From: Her (text msg)

 Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 10:19 AM

To: Him

Subject: RE: Hope you are having a

                                   

 I've lost 19 lbs the last 3 wks. Combo of anxiety and my will 2 change my life. Be good to yourself. 

 

               His cell phone rings, days later.

               “I can’t lose you.”

               “I don’t want to lose you, too, but I don’t know . . .”

               Silence.

               “I love you.  I want to spend the rest of my life with you.  But I’m leaving him whether or not you ever want to see me again.  I’m doing this for me.  You were just the catalyst, but . . . I want to be with you.

               “I just don’t know . . . ”

               “Well . . . I said it.  I’ve shown you what’s in my heart.  It’s all I can say.”

               More silence.

               “OK,” he responds.  “I have to think it through.”

 

*             *             *

 

Four months later . . .

 

               “What?”

               “I killed someone.”

               “How . . . how did . . . it happen?”

               “It was when I used to volunteer for the hospice patients.  Some of them were so ill, and their families kept them on life support.”

               “What happened?”

               “I . . . it was so wrong, watching them suffer like that.  They were in so much pain . . .  It seemed needless.  So I ended their suffering with a shot.”

               Inside the room, only the sound of their breathing and the droning of the air conditioner broke the intervening silence.

               “Are you telling me the truth?”

               “Yes.”

               They lay there quietly, holding onto one another, each with their own thoughts.  The sky outside brightened, and soon he prepared to leave.

               “I’ll call you later,” he said.

               “Well, I have a lot going on today.  I meet with my friends later, and we are going out tonight.”

               “What time will you be home?”

               “I don’t know.  Maybe late.  I’ll call you.”

               As day turned to night, all the man could think about was her.  He bought her flowers and called her on the cell phone.

               “Hey, I got something for you.  Where are you at?”

               “I am just getting ready to leave.”

               “Can you meet me at Wal-Mart?”

               “Meet you?  I don’t know if I’ll have time . . . ”

               “I want to give you something.”

               “Give me something?”

               “Yeah.”

               Silence.

               “Alright.  I’ll be there in a bit.”

When her car pulled in to the end of the parking lot, he stepped out and walked over to her.  She remained within.  He handed her the flowers through the window, spoke to her for a few minutes, before watching her depart.

               His phone rang one final time later that night.  It was the woman.  She was tired and would not be able to meet him.

 

*             *             *

 

Days later, he was finally able to catch her at work.

“What’s wrong?  You don’t call, you don’t answer your phone . . . ”

“I can’t do this.”

“What are you saying?”

“It’s not your past, it’s . . . ”

“Than what is it?”

“I don’t think I can trust you. What you did-”

“What!”

“I’m . . . I’m sorry . . . ”

“But I accepted you as you are-”

“What I went through, it’s not the same,” she explained.  “I paid a price for my wrongdoing.  I pay it every day.  But . . . you . . . ”

He just stared at her.

“ . . . you never paid your price.  You never accepted the punishment for what you’ve done.  It’s . . . it’s just . . . you’ve never taken responsibility, and I don’t think I can be with someone who won’t take responsibility.”

“OK.”  With that, he turned and stepped quickly out the door.

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