I never really know what to say
“What if I’d loved the other one more than her?”
“What other one?” I asked, distracted by the acrostic puzzle I was working on. I started my response unthinkingly half-aware. By the time the words formed in my mouth I knew exactly what she was talking about, only then it was too late to stop them from tumbling out onto the kitchen table and spilling on the floor between us.
“You know what I’m talking about.” I did know, so I didn’t dare say anything else. Her words were bigger and meaner than mine; they chased mine across the kitchen floor, under and through the table legs. My words had almost seen their day when then the cat cornered them both, flicked at them, batted them around like blind mice.
Weekly the therapist told me that the best thing to do in cases like this - and it was always a case like this- was just to listen. The therapist made it seem like if I just listened the right way my wife would divulge. She’d flood open and wash out all her questions. Just listening was hard. I waited awkwardly to see what she’d say if I gave her the space to talk. Mostly though, I didn’t have a damn thing to add to this conversation that we’d already had a hundred twenty three times.
For a while she didn’t take my quiet bait. She was drying dishes. We’d used the pretty ones with the robin motif- the ones we both like best, but avoid using for fear they’ll break. Her drying was so methodological I set a mental metronome to the sound. In my head I counted the towel swipes until I couldn’t hold it together any longer. The space I created with my silence became a giant pit at the center of the kitchen. It was a screaming dark abyss of silence and it scared the hell out of me. I thought of sacrificing myself, throwing myself in to spare her.
“But you know there isn’t any other. There never was.” The therapist had told me to never start a counterpoint with the word “but”. It negates what the other person has just said. It trivializes the importance of their feelings. But I obviously hadn’t taken that to heart.
She stopped wiping the dishes long enough to whisper, “I don’t think I ever loved her.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I said, “I don’t know what to say.”
For a long time she stared out the window, the one above the sink. Maybe she was studying the pattern of freckles on the wings of a sparrow in the next yard over. Maybe she was planning on yanking up the garden radishes, finally. Her thoughts were quiet, but not faraway. And the longer she was quiet, the smaller the kitchen hole became. It fell in on itself. It shrank down to a dinner plate, something the cat would skirt around, but not fall into. It folded to an origami robin’s egg, a wine stain, a caviar pearl, a quiet sigh.
“I never really know what to say.”