Their Differences

He heard her last breath depart. She’d stopped breathing in the same practical manner she’d completed other tasks, “That’s it. All done.” He touched her. She didn’t feel like herself, he could feel the her of her had moved on. Just as he’d used to fear in the early days when they’d argued, she’d left, gone, no amount of remorse would bring her back.

The decades had gone by so fast. One day they were young and carnal and the next they were grey and frail. He’d been convinced that he’d go first or they’d go together. He never considered that she would go before him. He thought she’d always be there. He was accustomed to her.

He purposely rattled around in the early mornings so she’d wake up. Unless she was hanging on to residual anger from the previous day, she’d open her eyes to listen for a moment before she announced, “I love you.” Her declaration was always fresh, an important new discovery. Even when he was annoyed or impatient to get on with the day, it was reassuring. She marked his place in the world.

She’d been so determined about everything. She was emphatic that there should be no “wailing and wringing of hands”. Her bon voyage was for family only, and even then only the family she wanted- invitation only with a velvet rope and a bouncer if necessary. It would have been a lot harder for him if she hadn’t been as organized. She’d researched every detail and left directions. She bypassed a will entirely. Her accounts were payable on death and her tangible assets were distributed while she lived.

She’d never been able to rationalize what her grandfather had done to her father. He’d left him only one dollar from a sizable estate, that provided handsomely for the remaining heirs. It was an old legal tactic accompanied by the cruel words “through no error or inadvertence”. She’d thought it was the epitome of callousness. She’d always said she wanted everyone who mattered to know exactly what she thought. Over the last weeks she’d reminded him, repeatedly, that she’d left instructions in their strong box and documents in their bank safe deposit box. She didn’t want him to worry.

He was worn out from anticipatory grief. He didn’t know what to do with himself. She’d be disappointed if she could see him procrastinating, wanting to put it off. He went out to the garage, to her potting table. He got down on his creaking knees to move the pots on the bottom shelf aside. Her argument, that this was the best place for the strong box, had been as amusing as it was sensible. What “invader”, she’d wanted to know, would think to look through her “pretty” flower pots for a strong box? If the house burned down the box would remain unscathed in the garage. He’d given in to her logic. It hadn’t mattered to him. She was the one who kept track of things and made sense of their life.

He pulled the box out and jiggled his, seldom used, key in the lock. There it was, in a heavy cream colored envelope, the stationary she’d always used exclusively for him, marked “Just in case”. He set it on the potting table while he replaced the box and pots. He walked slowly across the driveway to the screen door, seeing things for the first time as he imagined she’d seen them. The flowers were wildly bright, accompanied by whirligigs and wind chimes. He cried to think of her. He was happy that she’d lived through a final summer. When she’d worked, she always took her vacation in early August “just before summer starts to fade”. Sobs heaved from him as brokenhearted tears rolled down his grey whiskered face.

He heard the screen door bang shut as he entered the kitchen. He drew a glass of well water from the tap as he looked out the window at the bird feeder, then around her kitchen where she had exclaimed many times, “I love home.” He went to the table and he sat down, knowing this would be the last time he heard from her. He opened the envelope and he read.

Please don’t feel guilty, don’t have regrets and do not take up drinking again; you weren’t very good at it the first time around.

I loved you so much in the beginning. We just knew, remember? We knew separately, at the same time, that the other one was THE ONE. It was uncanny. We were connected at the heart and joined at the pelvis, all thrust and grind until we could barely walk then we’d do it some more. No one lived in our world but us. Strangers  stopped us on the street to remark on our bubble of happiness. I thought it would last forever.

I was woefully unprepared for the responsibilities you assigned to me. I had no idea how the world worked. I thought my job was to entertain, that you would manage the tediously difficult tasks. I learned, not for myself but  because it was important to you. There was so much to keep track of. You changed me but you didn’t change. You were able to continue being true to your inherent person, the man residing within. 

There are many things I wish hadn’t happened. I wish I had never tried to have babies. I didn’t know how to do it. I was catatonically afraid. You and that awful OB-GYN forced me to go to the psychiatrist after my body rejected the first baby but before I aborted the second one. You took me there, spoke privately with him, as though I were not a grown adult, and deposited me on his couch without further ado- she’s broken fix her. That’s how I felt, like a possession. It was a defining moment. I knew then that I was less than last. I allowed you to be first. 

The psychiatrist was a receptor. He heard me. I suppose, in the beginning, I represented income, describing objectively that I had misplaced myself, tucked away in a safe spot in the attic or a dark, dry corner of one of our closets, lost and sadly missed. I made the choice to abort that second baby. I felt as though my body was sheltering an alien, draining more of me away until there would be nothing left at all.  You didn’t understand. You didn’t want to know so I stopped trying to tell you. I accepted my position.

It was a matter of survival really. I knew who I wanted to be. Just like everyone else, I wanted to be special to someone, special to you. I learned through trial and error that I, alone, knew the yearning of my secret heart. You made the suggestion that I ought to go see my “paid pal” again. It was dismissive and derisive all at once. You gave me permission to share part of who I was with someone else.

I wanted you to want to know me, that’s all. Those years of appointments became one long unsatisfying tryst, a coupling lacking in desire, something to fill the time. I hated that I was doing to him what you had done to me. Life demands maturity.

I created a routine that allowed me moments of happiness in little pockets of loveliness. You demanded less of me or I found a way to circumvent those demands. I didn’t leave you because I knew what you wouldn’t admit, you relied on me. I don’t believe dependence is the same as love. I don’t. Maybe for you it is. We’re different.

Since you’re reading this you must know everything is in order. It’s all taken care of. The details are in the strong box and I put a copy in the bank safe deposit box in case the garage burns down.

I loved you with all my heart.

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About elroyjones

Married, no children, responsibly self-directed, living happily.
This entry was posted in Autonomy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to Their Differences

  1. Ray Colon says:

    This was sad and disturbing. But mostly, it was beautifully written.

    With this post, you’ve managed to capture a lifetime of regret, of choices made and love undone, of the inability of people to see the things that are right in front of them, of secrets kept, and of the evils of settling.

    Her letter left as many questions as it answered. Had she considered sharing her thoughts in the present, or did the hurt that she carried with her prompt her to want to deliver one final salvo when she was gone and there could be no fire in return?

    A terrific piece of writing. Really.

    • elroyjones says:

      Thanks very much, Ray. I enjoyed writing this story, it practically wrote itself. A lot of doors were left slightly ajar, possibilities for the future, if there is any spare time in the future. Tax season and the various insurance audits drive me right up the wall- you’ll see the headlines, “Woman of Certain Age Goes Beserk, Shreds Everything In Sight, Even Cash!” I don’t know how you manage.

  2. This is just amazing. You took me through the wringer with this one. Very sad, but such a strong piece of writing. I will read it again, this time with a writer’s eye to see what I can learn.

    • elroyjones says:

      Thank you, Darla! I talked with my husband a little bit about it and told him that, while I drew from the best parts of what we have, it is in no way representative of our relationship. All I could imagine was that he would find it after I made an untimely and tragic exit. I have a “Just in case” letter in our strong box that I update each January; it’s on my list of things to do in the near future. Other than that, I really don’t know where the story came from, it wrote itself. I consciously made her sound lovely from his POV, then destroyed what they had from hers. There is a lot of miscommunication in every relationship, times when what we are faced with is not at all what we imagine.

      • From reading your blog regularly, I know how much you and your husband adore each other (so real and wonderful). I knew the story was nothing near what you two have. Thanks for the writing lesson — I’m inspired!

  3. modifiedgirl says:

    I was just passing through and I stumbled upon your hauntingly beautiful entry here. I think I’m going to grab a cup if tea and stay a while if you don’t mind.
    P.S. It has been my experience the best of written things are the ones that flow out of nowhere, such as this.

  4. Ummm… wow and… holy crap… That was awesomesausage and deep and moving and… wow summed it up pretty good.

  5. Doug says:

    Read this awaiting Vikings v Packers kickoff. Then thought about it for three quarters. With the Nordics toast, I re-read your post, then ran it through text to speech.

    I was curious. Did the “ just the facts ma’am” presentation of giving up the ghost and subsequent baton passing of the strong box differ, markedly in tone, from the first person “just in case” sudden body missing missive…

    Well, with help from a newly discovered and Holiday gifted baby bourbon I belched a loud a satisfying no.

    Which I think is remarkable. Being in pain and being of pain is the bane of the endless textual scrimmage between affect and effect, which is why I do and do not believe you when you responded to a commenter, that, this piece… practically wrote itself.

    Unlike me, you have learned to think before you write. Nice post.

    Regards and a howdy to the husband.

    Doug

    • elroyjones says:

      I swear this piece took about an hour to write. It came to me while I was in the livingroom with my husband in the evening. I try not to write while we’re together because I like to be in the moment, in case we don’t have as many moments as I’d like. I actually wrote the husband’s voice, on scrap paper, while my husband watched a game. I resisted the urge to get up in the middle of the night to finish it. In the morning, after my husband left, I entered what I’d written on WP and wrote the letter from the wife. I do think about what I’m writing and once I’ve finished I read the whole mess aloud so I can hear it. If it trips me up while reading aloud, I cut.

      I will give you your claim that you don’t think before you write BUT every word is mindful, which leads one to believe that there is plenty of thinking happening WHILE you write.

      As you know, I am very pleased when you read, comment, and praise- thank you!

      Reading your comment again and laughing at the baby bourbon bit.

  6. A lot to process, but right now my favorite part is “the her of her had moved on”.

    And the velvet rope and bouncer, of course.

    Very strong. Tougher than a tug or yank.

    • elroyjones says:

      Hi, Tim. Yeah, I really liked the her of her too. The velvet rope and the bouncer are part of my Hippy Hill vernacular. I’m always threatening the other occupant and various siblings with the velvet rope and the bouncer- “I am gonna die someday and you people will NOT be invited!” she said with barely restrained hilarity.
      Were you ambushed by her letter?

  7. Peggy says:

    I was ambushed by the letter. I’m trying to figure out what she was thinking when she wrote it. They loved each other so totally so why the guilt trip at the end. Or, is it just my reading of it that produces the guilt trip and it isn’t meant to be there?

    • elroyjones says:

      She loved him but she could not see how much he loved her so she spent all of that time looking for something that was already there. I’m not sure exactly but she may have had to unburden herself and explain what she did.

  8. John says:

    Thank you very much for making me start my day with a lump in my throat. 🙂

    I enjoyed your story — very moving, thought-provoking and leaves one with a dull ache.

  9. These are all just ordinary words we all use — but you sure as hell know how to put them together in just the right order. Beautifully done. But you should at least pretend you struggled with it, for all our sakes.

    • elroyjones says:

      Your Czarness, when I am moved to write fiction sometimes the words fly; however, I am not often moved. I read an interview piece this weekend in which an author discussed his “process”. Mind you, he’s an accomplished writer with academic and commercial success, as are all of the writers he discusses his “process” with, but discussing the “process” is a bit much for me. The oldest descendent (whose ONLY saving grace is that he has an inflated opinion of my intellect) gave his girlfriend (a stubborn strong willed person, who is a good influence on the oldest descendent, allowing me hope for the future of the bloodline) a knowing look when I told them I thought revelations regarding an artist’s personal life diminished the art. I feel the same way about the “process”.
      It took me a while (decades) to learn that “ordinary words we all use” are usually the most effective for me.
      Rest assured that much of what I have written has been a big shitting pile of words that could not be salvaged.
      I wondered what you’d think of this story.

      • I think a lot of us would love to see you moved more often to write fiction, dipping as it were back into that big shitting pile of words and coming up with another gem. Let the words fly. I could have said much more, but by the time I read the story, two dozen others had already said all the intelligent stuff. One of these days, my timing will be on, and I’ll be the first to comment, leaving all the others scratching their heads, wondering what they can say that I haven’t already said so well.

      • elroyjones says:

        You make me laugh, which is the main reason I am so fond of Your Czarness.
        Your timing is perfect as is your delivery!

  10. judithatwood says:

    My God, what a powerful story. Submit it somewhere, get it out where more people can see it. The message is beyond any one certain time — it is all times, all people, all circumstances, and you have molded them into a single thought. Congratulations, my friend. Never doubt that you are a gifted writer.

    • elroyjones says:

      Thanks very much, Judith. Once I get done doing whatever it is I am doing, to promote the purchase of groceries and toilet paper, I may submit this story. I like it quite a lot and I agree with you that it could have appeal to a broad audience. We’ll see if the spirit moves or if she just sits on her duff thinking about it!

  11. George says:

    Flawless. Absolutely, positively, 100% believable . . . and so, ‘you.’

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