That night I prayed to God I would die in my sleep. Eyes exhausted from tears, I fell to my pillow. I dreamed I was inside someone’s home: An illicit surgeon cut open my abdomen to operate on one of my pumping, bleeding parts. Next thing I knew I was sewn up. I feared my sutures splitting open like a torn shirt and my insides greasily sliding from the small incision onto the carpet floor. I woke the next morning, frustrated by my unanswered prayer, still sensing the residue of my disturbing dream.
* * *
Before Jeff and I started dating, I was locked in, what I thought, an impenetrable physical and emotional bubble. I avoided any sort of contact, emotional or physical, without a sense of trust. That was what was so extraordinary about the fact that I could touch Jeff ’s arm like it was an extension of my own, like he was a brother or a parent, like we shared blood. He was familiar in so many ways, and he felt like home. “I feel this in my heart,” I’d say, “Do you?” I see now that his “yeah” answer was a pacifying lie. I let my sutures pop and split, and my guts now lay on the floor beneath him. I thought I was safe, but he was an illicit surgeon. He didn’t know what he was doing. So, in those four months I was intimately exposed to a stranger I thought I was safe with.
I should have known better. But Jeff cradled me from the beginning, rocked me, and told me he would keep me safe. It was everything I’d read about in books and seen in the Audrey Hepburn movies. He was the first one to call. He was the first to grab my hand, so I was sure he wanted to touch me. He kissed me first; he was my first kiss. He was the first to mention that word, the loaded word we’re all terrified to say. I loved him back. When he came to visit in Austin for a week, we sat on a mountain overlooking the lake. It was here he was the first to say unofficially that he’d marry me.
Sometimes when we’d talk over the phone, I’d scrounge for words. He said he loved my silent moments, but I am not just silence. As we became more intimate, he learned the things I wasn’t saying.
I don’t ever fold the clothes I put in my drawers. His were folded, methodically organized, and fit neatly in his drawers without forceful shoves. I opened myself wider: I have twelve dollars in my bank account and owe 450 dollars to the school bookstore. In jest, he said paying off my loans was a burden. I sensed his seriousness. I let myself spill: If I don’t know the answer to something, I’ll make one up to protect my pride. He could pinpoint the moment I’d do this. “Did you make that up?” he’d accuse me with a chortle; speaking in the same tones you’d address a child. I became less and less unspoken: I got a D on my close reading in American Lit, and I’m supposed to be an English major. Write outlines and study harder. I was unlocked: I cry often. He never cries.
Jeff knew the secrets I never let anyone else know. Though it was liberating to reveal myself to someone so completely, I failed to realize the danger in it.
The morning of my birthday, before brushing my teeth or getting up from bed, I texted him to apologize for crying over the phone the night before, and ended my message with I love you so much. His typical immediate response did not come. In an English class, Jeff ’s unresponsiveness overshadowed any discussion which may have been going on about Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds.” I ate lunch by myself, placing my phone on the tray where I could watch its activity, where I could look for the little blue envelope. The entire day, he did not respond.
That cold night, I lay isolated in my room, on my side, covered by my dark brown comforter and checkerboard heating blanket. My phone was sandwiched between my ear the pale pink pillow beneath. Because of Jeff ’s winter internship with Disneyworld and the month and a half of having to corresponding with him over the phone this way, I developed this nightly ritual. “Hey Jeff, are you okay? I feel like something is different.”
My bed parallel with the only window in the room, I fiddled with the strings of my blinds, repeatedly clicking the knob against the sill. I was reminded of the last time I asked him this question, a little over a month before. The question led to a two-hour discussion and a three-day break, so he could “figure things out” and “have some space” while he did. During that small break, I had torturously prepared myself for the end. To my relief, he called on a Wednesday with the decision he had made to make me his forever. From then on I gave myself to him with complete confidence. I had solid ground to walk on. I had finally found my husband. My body cringed as I waited for his reply this time; I was anxious to hear it, but mostly terrified.
“Huh…” was the response. “So what’d you do today?”
I stopped clicking. “…Are you serious, Jeff? Don’t change the subject.” I faked a chuckle and turned onto my back. I thought about how I had just spent 368 dollars to go visit him in Disneyworld six days prior, how he talked to me then about what we’d name our children.
He allowed a long pause before sighing a dawdling sigh, and replied gently, “I’ve been feeling differently.”
I clutched the phone with my right hand and sat up on my bed, my back resting on the wall behind me. “About us? About marriage? What?”
“About everything. I’ve been having doubts again.” There was a gap in his speech and I waited, my grip on the phone became slippery with sweat. My ear cartilage grew sore from the pressure of the earpiece. “Honestly, I’ve had them the entire time. I was planning on going to the temple this Saturday to pray about it.”
“You already went. I thought you got your answer then.” I needed his final answer now. It was as though I had been dangling over a cliff for days. I needed gravity, clarity, something solid.
“I think I might have been talking myself into everything.” Did he talk himself into loving me? Into loving my silent moments? Into visiting me in Austin and meeting my entire family? Into calling me every night? Were all of his calls obligatory? What about the e-mails? And the letter he mailed me telling me he would never be able to find anyone better or more beautiful? I never needed to talk myself into loving him. This was betrayal.
“ Jeff, if you’ve been having doubts this entire time and have been talking yourself into everything, don’t you think you’ve received your answer?” I didn’t want to wait until Saturday for him to get his answer, I needed it now. I deserved it now. I couldn’t dangle from this cliff any longer.
“Yeah,” he said with a sigh. Yeah. Not I don’t want this to be my answer, or I love you, or I can’t picture my life without you in it. A sharp zing shot from my neck into my ears, and my insides pulsated with shock. But this was not an Audrey Hepburn movie.
“So, is that it?” I moved the mouthpiece of the phone up toward my forehead, keeping my ear on the earpiece. I was angry and hurt. He didn’t deserve to hear me cry.
“Can I just say two things before we hang up?” He went on, but all I really listened to was the blood thumping in my ears.
“ Jeff, I never had any doubts about how I felt about you. I don’t ever want you to talk to me again.” I nodded my head. In that nod, I talked myself into the rightness of what I had just said. I knew I’d cave if he talked to me again; I knew I’d give him a second chance and I deserved better. “Don’t call me. Don’t text me.” As much as I wanted to deny it, I had felt this coming.
“Okay.” His voice was soft now. Okay.
“Have a good life, Jeff.”
Not waiting for a goodbye, I snapped my cell phone shut and threw it onto my bed. My breath grew heavy and uncontrolled. What had just happened? Why? My entire life had been planned out for the next three years—I’d finish school and live in Rexburg until he graduated, I’d go with him on his internships and make him turkey sandwiches without pickles for him to take to work, I’d have a boy named Dominic, I’d fold his clothes for him—I swore to him I’d fold them. That life crumbled in an instant. I had to make new plans. With the thought of that, my face warped into the ugly cry I haven’t cried since childhood, mouth draped open into a tunneling frown and brow crumpled into my head. I thought about my weekend in Florida —flashbacks of sharing a bowl of Cheerios, laughter, lying on a hammock at the manmade beach of the Polynesian. The joke was on me. I had been on a vast red stage for four months, dancing my heart out for him in a ridiculous costume, twirling and lobbing my awkward body. I sang to him, I shouted to him from the stage, thinking he was with me doing the same. But, mid-turn, I discovered him missing. I felt humiliated in the deepest sense. The illicit surgeon scoffed and laughed at the secrets on the floor—the ones I didn’t choose to have. I ardently wished to disappear from the surgeon, from Jeff.
That night I prayed to God I would die in my sleep.