I don’t walk daintily; I rush. I hurry, scamper, scoot, and altogether sprint. I rustle, breaking trinkets buried in the couch cushions and shattering lamps haphazardly peering over table edges. It doesn’t matter. I get to the stairs and haul ass, tripping several hundred times before they end. Finally I reach the door where I hear the subtle “pat-pat” of a weak knock. Breathe. In. Out. Breathe. And then I wrap my white-spotted knuckles around the doorknob, turning carefully. Gently, I pull the door toward me and step back.
But it was too high-pitched and not warming, too sickly with affected love and not quite nice enough for coming home after bitching business brats and pure un-success on every front. I don’t know, of course. I assume. Ready for the worst, I have the oven pre-heated, the table set, the music soothing, the smiles waiting and several hundred kisses at the ready—
And he walks in, somber and sedate. Something in the wrinkles on his quiet jacket make me think it wasn’t good. Something calculated, plotted against him and he had no recourse. Maybe it was paperwork. Or maybe just the fucking stapler that never seemed to work. It didn’t matter. I reached out with both hands to take his coat off. He didn’t move.
“Are you ok? Do you want to sit down? I could get you a drink if you want.”
He still didn’t move. He looked up at me with the shadow of a smile. I knew that gleam, that unpretentious glimmer in his eyes. It was defeated tries at making bad things better, letting all the torture of the day roll onward, outward, away. But where some days I saw the smile grow, dimples widening and lips revealing happiness, today I saw them fade. They came slowly first, as he looked at me, and quickly turned back to stoic desperation. “Life is shit,” his face read, “and I cannot seem to undo it.”
But I am known for reading more into things that really happen to be there. Comforting myself for his sake, I ignored the failing grin and led him to the living room. We sat stiffly side-by-side, until I curled my arm around him. Slowly, gently, I squeezed his side and rested my head against his shoulder. His body was cold—frigid, even; I could not for the life me find warmth. Even my hands, the same hands that had spent the afternoon cooking, baking, preparing over burners and inside ovens, were turning cold. I wanted nothing more than for him to know, inside that deep depression, that if nothing and no one else, I needed him. And, God willing, he would see I was there for him.
But minutes passed and quiet froze the chance at conversation. He stood up, walked over to his favorite chair and fell into it as though the effort to sit with any poise was a waste of time. The absence of him next to me took minutes to understand; my arm still stretched across the cushions where he sat. He looked at me. I looked at him. Three seconds, and each of us could see; misery was not a sometimes trial. How can something innumerable, unnumbered, unending be quantified?
I looked away. I had to. There was a monster staring at me, a shell of merciless, brutal strangers who had infected the person I loved. And I thought, for just a moment, a brief and careful moment, what certainty they had.
“I know you’re not happy. I try. I’m trying. I swear to God, I’m doing everything I can to make things better for you. But you don’t seem to care. Are you fighting this anymore?”
His eyes never left me, but his lips never opened to answer. He was pale, sickly, half-dead. Something was eating at him from the inside. And I couldn’t tell how much he cared.
“Do you remember when we used to go ice skating?” I asked, staring blankly at the stained and torn carpet beneath his feet. “You were always nervous. I remember, because you asked if it was ok if you held my hand. I could never tell if you asked because you were really scared of falling, or if you just wanted to be close to me.”
His eyes followed mine. He slowly began to fidget with his jeans. But no smile.
“You never did. I think you were actually the first one to skate on your own. There were times I had to watch you from the side of the rink because I needed the balance. But you were out there on your own, laughing and waving at me as you sped around in circles. One time, as you were circling around, you grabbed me off the wall, and pushed me in front of you. All we had done was hold hands. Then, suddenly, you had your arms around me, guiding me in front of you. Before long, our strides were in sync and we were coursing across the ice together like pros. I didn’t know I could skate. I still don’t think I can. But I could then. Somehow, I could.”
Daring a glance, I looked over at him. I struck something good, something funny for him. The corners of his mouth wiggled. He rubbed his nose. Uncertain still that he wanted to laugh or smile, that it was even worth it, he kept fidgeting with zippers and pocket corners on his pants. I smiled to myself, looking back at the patterns on the carpet.
Suddenly, breaking the silence like the thunder of a lightning storm, he started laughing. Reaching up, he ruffled his hair and put his head in his hands. He kept laughing. And for several minutes, I could do nothing but watch him and smile.
Finally, he looked up at me, his eyes bright and smile beaming. “Let’s have some dinner,” he prodded. “I hear somebody’s been busy in the kitchen.”
Laughing, I stood up and walked over to him. Reaching out with both my hands, I pulled him up from the chair. Fingers entwined, we looked at each other in silence. He smiled first, then pulled me off to finish what I had begun.
And now I know, whatever the horror, however long it will take before smiles reappear, I will never stop trying. And in trying, loving. And in loving, being everything I know I am meant to be – boyfriend, lover, and friend.