The Last Day
She checked the time; her daughter would be getting out of school at 3pm and she wanted to be the first in the drive up line, so they could leave quickly. It wasn't necessary to drive quickly; she didn't expect they would be chased. She was just ready to go.
The minivan was packed with suitcases and she'd been at the UPS store with boxes earlier that day. If it timed right, the boxes would arrive at the new house the day after she did. The new house, in the new city, in the new state, where they would start a new life.
She looked around one last time. So many years had been spent here. It was the only home her daughter had ever known. It was where they had become a family. It was where she had been abandoned, bereft and heartbroken, with no explanations and no recourse.
For the last five years, they had lived here together, but separate. When he started falling asleep on the sofa or in the recliner while watching TV, she had shaken him awake and told him to come to bed. Sometimes he would, but usually he just rolled over and went back to sleep. After a few months, she realized, they weren't sleeping together any more than once a week, and they hadn't had sex in … well over two months, at least. She said something about it lightly, thinking he would be surprised and make an effort to be close to her again. He didn't. He just looked away and went to the kitchen to get a drink. She started keeping track of how many nights he spent in the living room, until it got easier to count the number of nights he came to bed. That was easier, since there weren't any.
She talked to him about it more than once. She got angry so many times. She cried. She tried to guilt him. She tried to ignore it. She tried making bets for blow jobs, knowing she would lose, but he never collected. Nothing changed. Nothing reached him. Weeks turned into months. She woke up one morning, just before Christmas and realized they hadn't even so much as touched hands, or shared a goodbye kiss in over six months. She was sad and longing for him. It was like his body was there, but his mind and heart were absent.
After a year and a half, when they still hadn't had sex and he still wasn't sleeping in their bed with her, she got him alone in the car, where he couldn't escape. She offered him an out, telling him that she would leave, and leave everything here for him. She'd take the van and their girl and their clothes and start over in another town, an hour away. He could have the girl whenever he wanted, and they would be nice to each other. He refused. He didn't want her to leave, and he certainly didn't want to spend a day without their daughter. He couldn't explain why he was so absent, why he no longer had a libido, but he would try to fix it. He didn't want to be without his family, he loved them.
It didn't take two weeks before things had slipped into the same routine.
This went on in any number of different ways for the next few years. She was resigned, then sad and lonely, then angry and then he would make promises that he wouldn't keep. So she kept trying to start over, she kept trying to believe in him. And she so desperately wanted him to come back, wanted their marriage back, the deep and abiding love they had shared, the passionate, exciting sex life they had lost, and their friendship, the funny, understanding best friend he'd been for so long, she wanted all that back again. But it never came back. It was like he was living in a bubble that couldn't be seen or penetrated. He was there, but he wasn't.
They still talked, and took care of their daughter. They went grocery shopping together and had holidays with friends and family, and watched TV. If she took his hand, he would hold it. If she hugged him, he would hug back. But he never reached for her anymore. He never touched her of his own accord. And if she tried to kiss him, he would kiss her chastely back, and then walk away. He never allowed it go any further.
She finally told him that she was going to take a lover. They had been in a virtually sexless marriage for over four years now and she was sick of masturbating, and sick of feeling so unattractive and undesirable. It wasn't just her heart taking a beating from this empty marriage; it was her self-esteem, too. She didn't agree to be celibate during her marriage, he had decided for himself and she didn't get a vote. That wasn't fair. So she told him she would find an alternate solution to the problem. When he said he wouldn't stop her, but he didn't want to know the details, and he expected her to be discreet, her blood ran cold. He had always been possessive and somewhat jealous of her with other men. For him to just acquiesce to this 'solution' let her know in no uncertain terms that whatever he might claim to feel for her, their marriage was well and truly dead. She spent the evening crying in a hot shower, mourning her marriage. She cried herself to sleep that night in her bed alone, while she could hear him snoring in the living room.
The next morning, she started making an exit plan.
She rejuvenated her resume and started applying for work outside the state. She had searched schools and crime rates and wages and had found a lovely little town in Northern California. It was idyllic, and not too far of a commute to a larger metropolis, where she could earn a higher wage. She had to take care of herself and her daughter now.
When she found the job ad, it was like destiny. It was everything she was good at and the company was just big enough to pay well, but not so big that she would worry about corporate politics. The woman she was replacing was retiring and when they spoke, they got along well. She had a few phone interviews and the final over skype. They loved her and the benefit package was fantastic. They even put her in touch with a realtor to help her find a place to live before she took the position. It felt like confirmation that she was doing the right thing, but when she looked at her husband across the dinner table, she felt her heart clench at the idea of leaving him. When they passed each other in the kitchen, she put her arm around his waist and pulled his head down to whisper "Do you think you might want to come to bed tonight? I'd like to spend some grown-up time with you," and she licked his earlobe. He shivered and said, "Sure, that'd be great." Forty-five minutes later she walked through the living room to find him sleeping in the recliner. She sighed, bit her lip, and went back to her bedroom.
The next night, after she had accepted the position and started to plan her move, she sat on her bed with a notebook and a pen to write him a letter. She poured out her feelings. How amazing their beginning had been. How much she loved him still. How much she missed him (at this point, there may have been some tears that smudged her writings, but she tried to make sure it stayed legible). And then she listed all the ways in which she had tried to reach him, tried to tell him, tried to bring him back to their love and their marriage. It was a long list.
She told him of her concerns for their daughter. That she would grow up thinking this was what a marriage was supposed to be, and that was unacceptable. She wrote about how sad it made her that their daughter would not remember how in love her parents were, how they couldn't keep their hands off each other, how all of their friends were envious of the beautiful and unabashed way they had loved each other. All of those memories and moments happened while their daughter was too young to retain them. She would never remember crawling into bed with her mom and dad, because her dad was on the sofa. For that, she was truly regretful. It was an emotional topic.
Then she apologized. She told him she was so very sorry that they hadn't been able to fix it, that she would forever hold a place in her heart for him, but that she couldn't continue to feel the way she felt all the time without becoming hostile and resentful of him for leaving her alone in their marriage and never really trying to resurrect it. And she didn't want to feel that way towards him. She told him that it was the worst kind of torture to lie in their bed feeling lonely and knowing that he was asleep in the recliner not caring at all. It was a long letter.
She left the envelope with the letter inside on the coffee table, with the remote control on top. She hoped he would notice it when he went to turn the TV on. She checked the time, grabbed her purse and left her house keys in the bowl by the front door. She put her sunglasses on and walked out.
When he came home, he noticed it was quiet. He took off his shoes, got a drink from the fridge, and sat down in the recliner, kicking up the footrest as he reached for remote control on the side table. When his hands didn't find it, he looked around and saw it on the coffee table. He leaned over to grab it, and then kicked up the footrest again. He was an hour and a half into a Walking Dead marathon, when he realized that his wife and daughter hadn't come home yet. He checked his phone for a text message or voice mail, and when there was nothing, he looked around confused. He went into the kitchen to see if there was something ready for dinner. There wasn't. He went back into the living room and sat down. He looked around and finally noticed the envelope with his name on it. He sat back, paused the TV, and pulled out the pages of his wife's handwriting. He felt a sudden surge of anxiety pulse through him.
He read the letter from start to finish. His face changed as each paragraph shared its emotions. The last one, though, was the one that made him wince with reproach. He looked up at the ceiling, feeling tears sting at the back of his eyes. He swallowed heavily and pressed the heels off his hands against his eyes. The moment passed. He looked down at the pages and read the last paragraph again.
Jacob, I want you to know how much I hate that we've come down to this. After everything we went through to be together, and all the promises we made to each other, this is the absolute last thing I ever expected to happen to us. But I just can't do it anymore, Jake. It's been over five years now. I tried my hardest, but I couldn't make you feel a fucking thing.
He un-paused the TV and fast-forwarded through the commercials.