old (2008), Uncategorized

the first unpleasantness

Sitting in the Mexican restaurant three blocks away from his house (and four from hers), he begins to talk about a friend of his, one who almost cheated on his wife last night; they both blame the entire situation on the wife’s lack of support, interest, and willingness. Thinking he wants her advice, she says, “It’s my experience that people, generally speaking, should do the right things independently of whether others do the wrong ones.”

“You don’t know anything about men,” he snaps. “And you’re bringing your own shit into this, or else you wouldn’t say that.”

For ten minutes, all she does is nod and listen while he rambles on about the friend and the wife and the situation. Because she has never before just nodded and listened, he rambles even more, self-consciously, at a quicker and quicker pace, until he is frenzied to a finite place in which he realizes the awkwardness of his insult and pauses to apologize.

She takes his hand in hers to offer up the possibility that he is too close to this situation, and too tired, and in too much pain, to allow her to do anything other than listen, and they are both saddened and spent. After dinner, he drives her home, where he walks her to the door, perhaps out of guilt. When she nuzzles into his neck during their customary good-bye ritual he says, “my world is crumbling with all of this pain, and I am deeply sorry,” what she tells him — and she is being honest — is that she is strong enough to offer up compassion with her convictions.

Though it is tempered by the shock of this first unpleasantness, the evening ends refilled with hope, and she believes for the first time in what she heard many years ago: love is a policy, not a feeling.

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