Love Will Not Save You

"In the Conservatory," Édouard Manet, 1879

 

 

 

 


 

 

You Will Forget Many Things When She Kisses You

 

The day you put the stroller together. You will forget how you put it together in the living room with the dusty light shafting onto the old carpet. You will forget the swirl of thoughts that day—her speechless walking through the house, her silent and maneuvering presence, the force field between you like the space between flipped magnets. And your happy swearing at the confusion of plastic and metal parts before you. Feeling its strollerness when the canopy was attached. And the wheels. It would be something to take you out there with the baby. On your spring walks with him in the stroller, he would see the helicopter seeds fall from those trees that they fall from.

When she kisses you, you will forget that she watched you from the frame of the doorway in the kitchen, eating uncooked oatmeal flakes straight from the cardboard cylinder, as you attached the last of the rubber wheels.

You will forget that you mistook her attention for interest. That you stood up slowly and groaned and rubbed new life into the small of your back, that you spread your arms into Ta-da! and looked at her.

You will forget what she said then. That she swiped her index finger along her gums for the remnant oatmeal pasted there; that she capped the cylinder of oatmeal, set it on the counter and suggested you hang onto the stroller box, that you not throw it away.

Just in case, she said as she walked past you on her way to the bedroom to watch TV.

You will forget that you asked, Just in case, what? That you followed her into the bedroom with your heart hammering against the skin of your chest, as though there weren’t a rib cage to protect it.

Just in case, she would say again. You never know.

But we picked it out together. Do you not like it? Is there something wrong with it? Would you rather we go back for the other stroller? The one with the smaller wheels.

That’s not what I’m talking about, she would say.

What could possibly happen that would warrant my keeping the box, then? you would say.

You never know, she would say again. Things happen.

When she kisses you, you will also forget the night you woke up because you heard teeth biting tinily at the skin around her fingernails, her lips and tongue dealing with pieces of skin, infinitesimal drips of sound. She was sitting up against the headboard, wide awake. You will forget that you looked at the clock and said, It’s three-thirty, Babe. What’s wrong?

Do you realize what we have gotten ourselves into? she would say. She was awake at three-thirty thinking this.

You will forget this.

You will forget that she said, What’s to stop me from leaving for a couple weeks and having this kid somewhere else and giving it to a couple who will be enriched by it, instead of destroyed? she would say.

This marriage doesn’t mean anything to you, she would say. Does it?

Why do you want this child so badly? she would say. I’m the one who has it inside me. Moving and living inside me.

I’m nothing but an incubator, she will say. You’ve schmoozed your way through life. You schmoozed me.

Then she will tell you she does not want you there when this kid is born. I don’t want you to see me having this kid, she will say. That’s what she calls him. This kid.

When it comes out you can have it, she will say.

When she comes into the bathroom and scratches your legs in the tub—when she leans over and kisses you, towels you dry and pulls you into the bedroom and shows you how round and beautiful she is, when she kisses you as though she loves you, you will forget many things.

 

Sting

 

The first time she tells you to go, she will still be wearing her pregnancy sweater from Benetton. You will have washed and washed and washed it (because you have become the laundry guy) but like her pregnancy tee shirts, it will have taken on the permanent smell of cocoa butter. It will have become discolored and dirty-looking from something like two hundred fifty nights of cocoa butter application. She had read or heard somewhere that cocoa butter was the thing to protect a woman from stretch marks, and so she began to erase this minor proof of him before he was born.

The smell of her tee shirts, the smell of her sweater sickens you now, but still you find yourself putting her tee shirts to your nose after taking them from the dryer. It surprises you that she insists on wearing them still. If you had read in a book that a new mother insisted on wearing her pregnancy clothes you would assign some literary value to that insistence, but it won’t square with those hundreds of nights of erasing.

Neither are you free of blame. Many of those nights your own hands smelled of cocoa butter, too, you accessory, you accomplice. But it was the only way you could be a father then.

On Sunday mornings now, for three weeks running, you have selected a tee shirt of hers for throwing away. For stuffing into the garbage can in the alley behind your sad and dark apartment.

The sweater, though, will not be so easily disposed of. You will have to wait for the summer for that. She will be wearing it the first time she tells you to go.

I’m not going anywhere by myself, you will say.

You say this same thing the second time she tells you to go.

You can take him with you, she will say.

Later, she will tell you she only wanted you to argue. By then, though, you will not trust her any longer. You will not believe anything she says.

And because you had waited nine months to hold your son—because you had waited for nine months to finally have some claim to him, because you couldn’t do shit about her sadness and hatred and sickness when he was growing inside of her, because you had hundreds of nights that abetted that erasing—you will begin to pack your things the minute she says, You can take him with you.

She will sit on the couch in her ugly sweater with her arms folded across her chest and pretend you are not walking around the house packing stupidly for a life you had not properly prepared.

 

What you should bring are the diapers, of course. All of them. And wipes. Take all of the formula from the pantry. Take all of the bottles. All of his onesies. Take the baby bath and his towels and bibs and washcloths. While you are packing his things in the empty stroller box you decide that you will call your sister; you will stay at her apartment for the night. And while you are packing the White Sox baby uniform in the box, you know that your father will be angry at you for not calling him, but on the chance that things will work out with your wife one day, you need to protect your father from this night as well. He is a keeper of grudges. He is a good man—he would have put you and your son up for as long as you needed a place. He would cart you around on the weekend to all of the apartments he circled in the real estate section of the Chicago Tribune—but he can hold a grudge for a good long time.

Your sister, though. She always knew this was a bad idea. You will call your sister.

 

For a moment, you think living alone with him will not be so difficult as you at first thought it would be. For one, you would not have to breastfeed him. He wouldn’t know what to do with a titty if it poked him in the mouth. You say this in a whisper to your stillsleeping son: You wouldn’t know what to do with a titty if it poked you in the mouth, would you?

You think this statement is probably not true, but you say it anyway. For one, your wife hates that word, but you are very mad at her now so that is why you do not say breast.

There is this, though: breasts seem to help with holding. For the short month you were all living at home as a normal family except for the three days she did not come near either one of you, you witnessed how easy it was for her to stop his crying. If he was in a real crying jag—if his breaths were raging in two tracks below the cataract of tears—and she was home and not sad or angry or depressed or parked in front of the mirror in the locked bathroom picking scabs from her skin and floating them in the toilet and then flushing them away or forgetting to flush them—she might reach toward you to take your son from your arms, if she was in the mood, and all he would have to feel against his stomach would be the still-swollen fullness of her aching breasts and he would stop crying. The two tracks of his breath would catch in softening gasps and his tears would subside and stutter back toward the double track and then they would merge and the two tracks would become one and the house would be quiet again. It would almost be enough to wish you had breasts.

You will not hate her for the ease with which she can stop him from crying, though.  You would not wish that he would not fall for the trick of her breasts. You know that you would fall for it, too, if you were a boy. You would fall for it even now.

During those three days, and in the middle of every night, though, when he wakes from his baby dreams for want of a mother, he will have only you. Only you to go through the checklist of reasons why a baby cries. Only you to cover his ears to the sound of her door closing to the sound of him. Only you. You and your father’s love. A love which a boy doesn’t understand right away. A father’s love, you think, is a flat love. A misunderstood and breastless love. It disheartens a father. You will begin to think that a father must earn his son’s love, too.

In the middle of the night he will just have to get so tired he stops crying on his own. You can play that song by Sting, The Shape of My Heart, a thousand times, but it will only be the passage of time that makes his crying stop.

You will not be finished packing, but you know that your wife will have fallen asleep on the couch in her ugly sweater—you will be able to feel it—and you like the idea of her waking up and finding you gone, you and him both. You tell yourself you will come back for the rest of his things. You will take the stroller and put it in the trunk, but you will come back for the changing table and the clothes he will grow into, you will come back for the tot-walker and the high chair and for all of your own things. You have a feeling, though, that you will never be finished packing. You will come back for the rest of your things when she is gone. Each time she comes home she will come home to an emptier house. If you read that in a book it would make literary sense.

You will lean on the doorframe of his bedroom and watch him sleep in his bassinette. You do not want to wake him; there will be so many days you have to wake your son—you will have to wake him for school one hundred and eighty times a year—you do not want to wake him.

You will realize then that you are crying. Not like a baby, though. Like a man.

You have no idea, you will say aloud to him. You will look at him sleeping on the side of his face. At his tiny lips which have puffed and curled into a crooked kiss from the pressure of his sleeping pad, and you will say, You have no idea.

You will promise him then that you will never tell him about this day. That you will protect him forever from the story of this day.

 

 

Then You Will Know Darkness

 

After five weeks of silence—after managing to eat and work and sleep and transition from middle school basketball to volleyball and celebrate a tenth birthday, all through only a few emails and notes on the kitchen counter—you realize that she can go on forever like this. She can stare at you and in a million years never blink. You will begin to say things out loud to yourself while you are walking to work or while you are driving on the Eisenhower.

She can go on forever like this, you will say.

You will put in the Coldplay c.d. and before he gets to the line, sinking like stones, you will slap the dashboard so hard it will sting your hand. How did I fucking marry you, you will say. You will feel the pain of that slap on the underside of the knuckles of your fingers for a long time. You will say it so many times.

She can go on like this forever.

But on a Friday in May you will realize that you cannot go on like this forever. During the week, with both of you working and shopping and driving Sonny to basketball and to volleyball and to 16th Street to play block tag, it is not so hard to live without talking to your wife. But on that Friday in May you will think you cannot get through another weekend not talking.

And so you will call her on your cell and when she picks up you will say, It’s me, and she will say, Hi.

It will seem like she has said more than that one syllable. After weeks of not talking you will almost think that somehow things have returned to normal. That Hi will make you feel like she is a normal human being. Maybe, you will think, there is nothing to talk about. Maybe everything is fine.

No. No.

I can’t fucking do this anymore, you will say, and she will be silent.

Look, you will say. I am not going to kill myself. I am not going to hurt you. I am not going to do anything drastic. I just want to know what the fuck is going on.

And she will be silent for a while.

Are you there? you will say.

I’m here, she will say.

And then she will say, Okay.

Okay, what? you will say.

 

You will remember exactly where you were when she finally tells you. You will be in the shadow of the overhang of the Chicago Historical Society.

Okay, what, you will say.

Okay, you want to know the truth, I’ll tell you the fucking truth, okay?

She will say it like you have been a pain in the ass tormenting her with requests for the truth for years, which is pretty accurate. She will say it like she can’t believe you are so stupid for not already knowing the truth. She will say it like she has been protecting you from the truth, and that you are so stupid for not knowing that she has been protecting you from the truth, but you fucking asked for it like a pain in the ass child who does not know when to let up.

When? you will say. When will you tell me? Like a pain in the ass you will ask her when.

Tonight, she will say.

Okay, you will say, I’m walking to my car and will be home soon.

She will not say goodbye. She will hang up the phone because you are a pain in her ass. And also you are so stupid.

Of course, you will be relieved. You are prepared for the worst. You are prepared for her to tell you she doesn’t love you. That she never did. That she loves Brian. That he is her soul mate and she has loved him since before she knew him and she has been sleeping with him since before you were even married. The night before you got married, in fact, she slept with him. You are prepared for that.

On the way home you will remember that time her friend Kim came over and you were in the bedroom with Sonny, trying to get him to sleep. They were laughing and drinking at the table and talking about how she cheated on her first husband with Brian. And she flashed back and told how she felt when he first met Brian. “He was so beautiful,” she had said. She had never met anyone so beautiful.

At least it will all be over, you say out loud. At least it will all be over.

 

When you get home, though, nothing will be different. You will wonder if you had a conversation with her on the phone in front of the Chicago Historical Society, or did you imagine it? She will make you ask her to tell you again. Your bedroom will be as dark as the inside of a closed mouth, and she will make you ask her again.

 

After she tells you what he did to her, nothing will be better. You won’t press her for details. You are stupid and you are a pain in the ass, but you are not that stupid.

He is dead now, her grandfather. But you would like to kill him.

He is dead now. But you are not. You are in bed with her. Your wife. And maybe now that she has revealed it, things will be better. There are bad people in the world, but you are not one of them. You can deal with this, and maybe something will heal inside of her now that she has told you. Maybe she does not love Brian, after all.

What you will not realize for years is that it is just another idiocy of yours to think that maybe this truth is somehow better than if she just loved another man. This will not even occur to you.

You will lie there thinking, We will get through this. It has never been darker in this room, but we will get through this.

For years after, you will ask yourself, Should I have held her that night? Do you hold someone who tells you this? You won’t remember holding her, which means—was she crying? Because, wouldn’t you have held her if she were crying? Maybe not for that kind of crying. Maybe she would have pushed you away if you had tried, but you think you would at least have reached out to hold her if she was crying.

There is more, you will tell yourself. Even in the darkest dark it has ever been in that room, you know she is not done with the truth.

And then it will get darker.

There will be one more thing.

You remind her of him. You touch her like he did. You sicken her with your touch. With your fingernails scratching her back and always moving to her ass, you sicken her.

Then you will know darkness.

In your own bed, in your own room, in your own house, you will know darkness.

You will never wonder again, could I kill a man? Of course, you could kill a man. You could put your hands on his shoulders and bounce his head against a brick wall and no one could stop you. You could kill him with a knife or with a rolling pin or with a drill. Absolutely.

But the darkness will be this. Even if you could do it. Even if you could go back in time to kill an old man in any of those better ways than he ended up with—even if your murderous return trip through time was successful, your wife would still be in bed with the man that you killed.

And still it darkens.

When she tells you to leave the bedroom, to leave the bedroom and close the door because you sicken her with your fingers on her back, always moving to her ass like a predator, you should leave. Even though she will hate you for leaving her, even though she only wanted you to argue, to beg her to let you stay, to see what you would do—you should leave. In a million years, if a woman tells you this story and asks you to leave. You must leave.

 

 

Someone to Kill

 

In the morning, nothing will be better. You will know the truth, but nothing will be better. You will listen to your iPod on the way to work and “The Only Living Boy in New York” will come on. You used to love that song, but every song you listen to that day will be ruined by what you know. All music will rage below the words of every song. You will wish that you knew your wife when she was a girl. When she wore little socks. And yellow. You walk to work and pray for your wife who was never a girl, and you will look through the park for bad guys. Let a bad guy cross my path, now, you will ask of God. Be a good God, for once. Just let one bad guy cross my path now, God, so I might have someone to kill.

 

 

billy lombardo is the author of three books of fiction, including How to Hold a Woman. He is the co-founder and managing editor of Polyphony HS, a student-run international literary magazine for high school writers and editors.
 
tags: Culture, Gender & Sexuality, Poetry & Fiction   
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