“Do you know what,” he said, “it’s gonna have to wait. I don’t feel well, and I’m just gonna go to sleep.”
To his wife, these words initiated the physical sensation of a free fall as everything her mind had built up to over the day came crashing down in that instant. Even if this kind of off-hand, last-minute rejection over the later years had become par for what could only by objective standards be referred to as their long-winding course together, it still took her by surprise, and not because she was slow to catch on or by any stretch naive or without intelligence, had she not excelled at the intricate art of risk management, been highly skilled at assessing both the width and depth of the field of possible outcomes with a careful eye on those adverse scenarios that only occurred once in a thousand years but had devastating effects when they did, she often asked herself when she needed affirmation, no she wanted his promises to come true with all her heart and believed that qualifying that wish with the unfavorable odds it might deserve would be like throwing a lottery ticket away before the drawing of the winning numbers had even taken place.
“Okay,” she said once she hit the floor of her mind, “it’s okay.”
Her husband and anyone in possession of their full faculties could hear and see that was not a true statement, her face flushed with anger and her frantically collecting her things to prepare an escape from the kitchen where this abrupt end to the evening was taking place. He was well aware it was a minefield he had to navigate, a delicate act of not pushing her so far away she would never come back, and not pulling her so close he would have to have sex with her. He was a genuine man; most people found him friendly, bright, and decent, if not the most adventurous or colorful member of the species. He did love his wife, and she loved him. And she was not bad or boring in bed, quite the contrary and perhaps therein lay the lack of the rub. It would be an effort, it had been a long day, his allergies were acting up, and they both had to get up early tomorrow. All reasons that could more than justify him backing out at the doorstep, reasons that had shown their efficacy many times before and therefore, he was convinced, also were valid tonight.
“Even if it is not okay,” she added.
This was the truer her speaking, the one who had promised her that she would stop pushing her needs to the bottom of the list, stop absorbing every little and large conflict with her body, stop turning her intuitive understanding of other people’s motives and emotions into her own, stop her obsessive-compulsive drive to fix everything she perceived to be a problem, especially if it wasn’t hers, as it is a Sisyphean task and no enabler has ever cured an addict, and just plain stop.
“What do you mean?” he asked in a voice teetering between indignance and woundedness.
Once again, he felt the door against his mental back. Over time these doors had shot up all around his mind. They were fire exit doors that could only be opened in absolute emergencies, the kind with a big bolt across them and a blaring alarm going off when touched. They kept him safe, they kept him from having to take leaps, they kept him in, they kept him kept, they kept him from fighting losing battles for what he wanted, from even thinking about what he wanted because closed doors they were.
His wife knew this was the tipping point of the conversation. She could either assume the familiar position of the responsible party by apologizing for what she had heretofore deemed an unnecessary passive-aggression thereby abandoning herself like roadkill on the side of the 405, or she could swerve around this invitation to stick to a well-established tradition, all of her own doing, and keep going where her inner compass guided her.