Monday, September 10, 2012

In The Trenches

This story originally appeared in Playground, an online literary journal that no longer exists.
                              In the Trenches
            I know he's gone even before I roll over and feel the empty space beside me. It has been a year since we have slept the way we did when we were first married, our bodies all curled up next to and around each other so that sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night unable to identify my own hands and feet. There's something about the chill of a half-empty bed that you can sense down to your bones.
            A year ago Jason stopped sleeping and began digging trenches.
They're not very big; nothing like the ones you see in movies that can hide a whole battalion along with a colony of rats. These are only a couple of feet deep and he always gets tired and gives up before they get too far across. I used to worry when I woke up in the night and saw him out there with his shovel, but he told me things were fine. This was just his way of letting off steam. I accepted this answer less because I believed him, and more because I wanted to. After a while you can get used to anything.
Jason and I have been married ten years. When you have made vows to stay together until one of you is dead it does not sound like that long. When you realize that is the time it has been since someone has wanted to know the name of your childhood pet, or explored the Braille of your body without already knowing everything it says, it can feel like a lifetime. It's not that I stopped loving Jason, or that he did anything wrong. After that much time together though it's hard not to eventually feel like you want something else.
I hadn't planned for it to happen. I guess most people don’t. It was summer, and I had been invited to a party hosted by one of my friends who Jason didn't like. I went alone, and spent most of the night talking to a boy I had never met. I call him a boy because he was in his twenties, and more than ten years younger than me. He had to put his hand on my knee before I could tell that he was flirting. It did not seem conceivable that he could be attracted to me.
I do not know why I gave him my number. It was probably because he asked. Over the month that we saw each other his most alluring quality was his ability to pretend that I was not married.
He lived on the first floor of a three-story apartment building, and when I came over I had to knock on his bedroom window so that he could come out and open the front door. The first time I went over the whole process felt like a parody of an affair. I did not have much time before I had to be home, and I thought we would immediately jump on each other. Instead he handed me a High Life and asked how my day was. It was strangely domestic, which was something I had assumed I was trying to escape. Now I don't know what I was after.
Jason and I had met in college. He was in a fraternity and not someone I never thought I would be attracted to. I was a film student and had fallen into the habit of sleeping with every floppy-haired boy in my department. Despite their obvious lack of real interest, I had convinced myself that if I were persistent enough I would end up with one of them. Instead I started dating Jason. I resisted calling him my boyfriend for the first year we were together. Eventually though, the force of his love overwhelmed my doubt. The others left, and he stuck around. When he asked me to marry him I figured part of being an adult was accepting what was in front of you over what might never be there.
When I finally confessed I wasn't sure if I wanted him to leave me or forgive me. I told him I still loved him, and that it would never happen again. I know at least one of these things is true.
I still think about the boy all the time, about the way he liked me to scratch his back as he fell asleep, about the ugly fake fur robe I would wear around his apartment, and how he said it made me look like a Russian model. I think about the backyard where I imagined us having coffee in the morning, knowing we never would, and about the last conversation we had before I told him we could not see each other again.
            He was lying in bed with his eyes half closed, and I had just finished getting dressed. I leaned over and kissed his forehead.
"I'll miss you," I said.
"How can you miss me? I'm right here."
"I said I will miss you, not I do miss you."
"You won't miss me? Well then I won't miss you either."
            It was the world's most depressing Abbott and Costello routine, and the disappointment that I felt let me know that I was already in over my head. When I called to tell him we were over, part of me had hoped for a fight. Part of me wanted him to tell me that he loved me and needed me to leave my husband, that we could live in his one bedroom, and spend every day fucking, eating frozen food, and drinking beer. Of course, he didn't say any of this. He told me that he understood, and that he had had a great time. He wished me the best. I hung up knowing that I would never speak to him again.
            Jason and I are past the point where it is a struggle to get through each day. We are past the point of fighting. I still have to check in with him when I am out after work, and he gets upset any time I don't respond to his calls within ten minutes. I am starting to think it will always be this way, and I guess I can't really complain. I chose this. I know that at some point we'll be fine again.
I throw off the sheets and walk over to the window. The moon is hiding behind some trees in the distance, and I can just make out Jason’s figure, shovel in hand, working away. For a minute I stand there wondering what he could be thinking about, then my eyes begin scanning the rest of the land. Over the years we have allowed most of it to become overrun by brambles and holly bushes, insects and weeds. The few acres that are left have been torn apart by Jason and although he always fills in the holes he makes, it's not hard to distinguish the areas he has dug up from the rest of the plot. Staring down it looks like a body that had been mutilated and then received grafts with the understanding that no matter how much it appears to heal it will never be quite the same.

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