This couple is at a transition point in their lives.
Will their love and faith be enough to help them navigate through it?
Tears On My Heart
I glanced around the examination room at the pictures and small sculptures placed artistically among the medical paraphernalia. I crossed my legs and waited for the nurse to return to officially end my doctor visit.
A short, curvy woman with skin the color of cinnamon entered. Extra. That’s what I thought when she entered with big curly hair, big earrings, artistically overlaid finger nails—extra. She smiled and immediately began to chatter.
I smiled, my attempt at displaying patience. I was tired and while I loved my doctor, I hated examinations.
“You know Mrs. Fenty, it’s commendable how regular you are on your check-ups. I noticed you even had a HIV test ordered. I can’t tell you how smart that is. I’ve been married fifteen years and my husband just confessed to me that he is attracted to men.”
My brain came to an abrupt halt as those words hit my ears. She didn’t seem to notice as she went on to share how this disclosure had affected her and their marriage.
“He begged me not to leave him. He told me it wasn’t a lifestyle he wants to practice and is begging me to not give up on our marriage. At first I have to admit I was afraid. But his honesty with me has moved me to stay.”
I hoped that my mouth hadn’t fallen unhinged. My eyes had widened as I sought to grasp all that she was sharing with me—a complete stranger. I attempted to recall some word of comfort, scriptural or otherwise but only managed to draw a blank.
“Destiny,” I said, glad I had managed to remember her name despite the shock I was sure I was in, “I can’t imagine the gamut of emotions you’ve been through this past year. But I admire your faith. Here’s my telephone number. Please call me if you ever need to chat, or vent—maybe we can meet for lunch.”
I stood now and awkwardly reached toward her to give her a hug. I pulled my lips into what I thought was a reassuring smile and took the discharge paper and doctor’s instructions from her. She returned my smile, thanked me and assured me she would call. Yet something in her eyelash enhanced eyes told me she never would.
I walked past the patients in the waiting room and once I entered my car, I sat a moment and sent up a prayer that despite all I’d been through in my marriage of twenty-five years, that wasn’t one of the problems. I didn’t know what I’d do if my husband suddenly confessed that he was attracted to men. I sighed, shook my head and carefully backed out of the parking lot.
Two years later
Tears slid down my face as I held in painful sobs. I felt his hand attempting to comfort and reassure me gently rub my shoulder.
“Leah, I’m sorry. I think it’s the new meds that I’m on.”
I nodded my head frantically seeking to reassure the man that lay beside me. Strangely, the idea of making my husband feel worse because he couldn’t perform sexually, hurt me more than the idea there might be something about me that was no longer attractive to him.
“I know. It’s been that way for a while now,” I whispered. I grasped his hand and rubbed my thumb across his hand now. “You should rest, we both have to get up early in the morning.”
“Again, my sweet, I can’t say how sor—“
“Please—it’s okay. Let’s not speak of it.”
I closed my eyes to hold in the tears that continued to flow even as I prayed for sleep to take me. My heart was breaking and I didn’t know how to stop the doubts from rising unbidden to my mind. I couldn’t help but to feel despite his protestations that somehow he’d fallen out of love with me. The worst part was I didn’t know when or how things had changed. Nor did I know how to fix it.
My mind replayed the last year between us. He seemed to work late more and more often and I couldn’t remember the last time we’d been out on a date. This was hardly the way I envisioned our marriage to be at this point. But then I’d always been the more romantic between us. Maybe I was simply being unrealistic. After all, it wasn’t like we were in our twenties anymore. Maybe our sexual needs were changing. All I knew was in this moment my heart was aching and I was feeling rejected in ways that matter to any woman. If he was no longer interested in me sexually, could it be he was attracted to someone else? I didn’t want to believe that, but I had to face the fact that on some level, it was one of my worst fears—although, thanks to the woman I’d met a couple of years ago, it wasn’t the worse fear.
I finally pulled my hand back from her shoulder. I could tell she didn’t want me to touch her now. Somehow through no fault of my own I’d hurt my love and there was nothing I could do to fix it—at least not tonight.
Once upon a time there would have been alternative ways I would have attempted to please her, it wasn’t that I was opposed to them tonight, it was just that I was also in a state of shock. How could my buddy just not be working?
My wife was beautiful—the kind of beauty that radiated from inside, out. There was nothing fake about her. Her skin glowed like satin beneath the moonlight. I had already laved her skin with my tongue. I had her sighing and panting waiting to be taken higher as she anticipated coming apart before me. I loved watching her, smelling her and making love to her was like a drug to me. The idea that this wasn’t what it used to be between us hurt me to my core. Now I had to consider if the blue diamonds were in order for me. There were so many side effects. I wanted to shake my head, I’d be risking more side effects to counteract the side effects of my other meds. Except this particular side effect—not being able to make love to my wife was a deal breaker. This wasn’t something I wanted to live with. And the hurt that I saw reflected in her eyes told me everything.
She hadn’t yet begun to think less of me as a man. What she had assumed was that she was less than in some way in my eyes, which hurt me more. The idea that my queen would think that I loved her less, was less attracted to her—well there were no words to articulate the failure I felt.
Something had to be done. It was just that simple. I had many more years of bliss I wanted to experience between the breasts and legs of my queen. However there was no saving tonight and for that I had nothing but regret.
I smoothed my hand down the skirt as I turned back and forth, checking out my reflection in the mirror. It was the second outfit I’d tried on that morning and I still wasn’t satisfied. I just couldn’t help but think I only looked old. I raked my hand through my hair, attempting to fluff the curls that only flattened on top as soon as my fingers were free. I sighed in resignation, but decided to simply turn away and go on with my day. I had some errands to run today and they wouldn’t get done with me pirouetting in front of my mirror all day.
I walked down the steps of my home, deliberately not looking at the mirrors on my wall. I wasn’t liking the woman I was seeing there anymore. The problem was, I wasn’t sure how to change it.
I ran by the bank and then the grocery store. As I passed by several people, I couldn’t help but to feel invisible. I wasn’t a flirt, but I tried to remember when the last time was that I’d gotten a second glance—from anyone. Something about that shook me to deep within. I didn’t want to be invisible. I wanted to matter.
A couple of hours later, I sat at my kitchen table and glanced out the window. Sun rays danced on the boughs and I sat mesmerized at its beauty that I got to enjoy year round. It suddenly occurred to me that even in nature there were changes and all of them were beautiful. I stood suddenly and grabbed my purse and car keys and headed for my car. I was going to end this pity party right here and now. If I wasn’t happy with how I looked, then maybe I should change it.
Bernice stood with her hands on her hips looking at me in astonishment. “You want that much cut off?”
I swallowed and then raised my head and stared her straight in the eye. “Yup.”
“Leah, you know how long I’ve been doing your hair? I been taking care of it, loving it and growing it out for you all these years and now you’re telling me that you just want it chopped? Just like that?”
“Bernie, I told you what I want. Now will you do it, or do I have to go somewhere else?”
“Humph,” Bernie grunted before she finally ran her fingers through my silver streaked brown hair. “Okay. Here goes!”
The first clip was terrifying. But with each clip, I took a steadying breath and was determined that no matter what it looked like, I was going to revel in the fact that I was courageous for one afternoon. It was a step in the right direction. And if I didn’t like it, I would simply buy a wig.
But an hour later, when Bernie turned me around, I was in awe. I loved it. She’d cut it low on the sides and the back and full in the top, with hair pulled toward my face in a layered bang. It immediately enhanced my clear brown eyes. My cheeks made me like my smile—the smile that was now being reflected back at me.
“I can’t believe it!” I said as I stood now walking closer to the mirror. “I love it Bernie!”
She stood smiling with me. “Leah, I can’t believe it, but I love it too! It’s taken ten years off of you! You look gorgeous!”
“Do you think Jason will like it?” I now asked nervously. Jason had always loved my long, wavy tresses. Maybe he wouldn’t like the drastic cut that I had impetuously made.
“Girl, if he don’t, he better learn to. I know you worry about pleasing your husband and that’s good Leah, but sometimes you have to step out the box. If you love it, he will learn to.”
I bit my lower lip as I stared at the new me. I raised my hand to my hair and played with my bangs, then slowly I smiled. “Maybe you’re right, Bernie, maybe you’re on to something.”
I leaned forward and lit one of the tapers on the table. I gave everything one last glance. I was very happy with the way my eggplant parmesan turned out. A bowl of crisp, colorful salad sat beside the vibrant floral centerpiece in the center beside a crystal cruet. Lastly, I turned and walked into the kitchen to bring the chilled champagne, after all it was a celebration of sorts.
As my grandfather clock chimed on the hour, I realized it would only be twenty minutes before Jason usually walked in the door. I ran up the steps and slipped out my silk Caftan and slid on the deep red open backed pantsuit. I slid my feet into some matching sandals and glanced admiringly at the ruby toe nails from the that matched my fingernails from the Mani-Pedi I’d let Bernie talk me into getting. I walked over to the jewelry box, given to me by my mom and pulled out my anniversary ring and then added a gold herringbone bracelet. I added some small hoops and then spritzed on my favorite Chanel perfume. I smiled again at my new self and headed toward the steps. Excitement filled me for the first time in a long time. I wanted this evening to be perfect. Even if it didn’t conclude in us actually being intimate. I wanted to see some spark in his eyes, some recognition of attraction that I used to see there. Seeing that would make today a success.
I stepped inside the front door and was instantly aware of the Italian spices that drifted in the air. I followed the aromas to the kitchen and stopped at the dining room table set romantically. I now swallowed with difficulty. She lit candles and put out champagne. I began to swipe my hand down the side of my face. It all looked so impressive but what if the evening ended as it did the night before. I could tell that Leah wasn’t convinced it was a side effect of the new meds. I wasn’t exactly sure myself. The doctor had simply mentioned to me it was a possibility. All I know is last night I was tired. Several departments under my purview were under much scrutiny at work. I needed to pull my supervisors together and streamline whatever processes they had in place to ensure the custodians were cleaning the hospital better than it was. At this point several departments had gotten poor reviews. I had to get to the bottom of where the weak link was.
Nancy Wilson was singing in the background and a bead of sweat popped on my forehead. I heard Leah humming upstairs. So far she wasn’t aware that I’d entered the house. I turned and found myself easing toward the door and suddenly I was outside again. I moved toward my car, started it and went back to the office. There were plenty of reports for me to work on, but that wasn’t my urgency in the moment. I just needed to be anywhere but inside my house trying to figure out how to play the lead in a play that I hadn’t composed. My heart felt heavy with guilt, but I simply couldn’t face my beautiful wife. I couldn’t bear to disappoint her again and more than that, I couldn’t face that what was important to any man, might be dysfunctioning. No, at fifty-five, I wasn’t ready to face that at all.
Thirty minutes later, I sat at my desk and stared at an old picture of me and Leah on a cruise we’d taken ten years before. We still looked young. I picked it up and mentally compared it to the present silver streaked versions that we faced today.
Where had the time gone? It seemed like yesterday I fell in love with her. I was ginger brown and I used to tease that she was the color of butterscotch. Her clear brown eyes would often stare at me adoringly beneath thick lashes which made me feel that I could conquer the world. When we started out, I made very little money as a custodian, but she made me feel like a king. She always told me it was a stepping stone to whatever I wanted to do. She was right, and while we were nowhere near rich, we lived a very comfortable life. With her by my side, I grew in confidence and with each year, I was promoted from crew chief to supervisor to manager and finally to department head. It hadn’t been easy, but the qualities I honed from my wife and my faith, kept me humble and taught me to be reasonable. Who would have ever known that those qualities could sometimes trump certain degrees I didn’t have.
To be in the arms of my queen was a joy. I loved every inch of her, from the top of her head to her cute little toes. I craved her and for years the chore was waiting until I could be in her arms again. We’d wanted children, but when they didn’t come, we began to cherish the intimacy that we enjoyed without interruption, that our friends began to envy. Then one day she called. She was pregnant. I felt my heart drop within. Maybe that was the beginning of when things changed. In retrospect I guess there really was no choice.
I didn’t want to sit at the dining room table. I had planned in my mind how the evening would proceed once he came home. I instead sat on the sofa that faced the front door. I tried to pose while seeming casual. I envisioned his shocked look when he saw me and then saw myself smiling alluringly as I walked toward him where I planned to kiss him passionately before taking his suit jacket and leading him to the dining room to surprise him with the meal. Just the thought of it made me smile. This was the effort that I had slacked up on. I was a queen and I should have been treating my man like the king he was. I glanced now at the clock and then the front door. The sound of the hands moving on the grandfather clock seemed louder than usual as I anticipated the footsteps of my husband reaching the top of the porch steps before sliding his key into the lock.
After the time seemed to drag on, I finally stood and walked to my CD player where I placed a Nancy Wilson disc and placed it on the player. “You Better Go” began playing and eased my mood a bit. I walked toward the kitchen and decided to pour a glass of wine to make myself relax. My heart began to hurt just a little. I fought the disappointment that began to descend upon me. I wanted to still believe there was something salvageable about the evening, but I knew somewhere deep within that it was a wrap. He wouldn’t be home anytime soon and by now my mood had begun to flip. I continued to sip my wine and let Nancy serenade me until the clock chimed the nine o’clock hour.
With no Jason still, I decided to wrap his plate up and reheat mine. I sat now at the table, alone. My cell phone suddenly alerted a text notification. I picked it up and saw it was from him. “Sorry babe. Got pulled into an impromptu meeting. Don’t wait up for me.”
“I can’t make you love me” began to play and tears filled my eyes now. Had it come to this? Had Jason really fallen out of love with me?
I pretended to be sleep when Jason eased into the bedroom. He walked into his dressing room and then I heard the shower turn on. I glanced over at the clock. It was close to midnight. Where could he have been until this time of night? I hardly believed that he was in a meeting this late. Terror clutched my heart. I wondered what I should do. Should I confront him tonight? He’d never given me any reason to question him in all the time we’d been married. I wanted to trust the man that had stood by me all these years. But didn’t I have a right to know? My heart began to ache as my thoughts went back and forth over what to do. In the end, I reached into the top drawer of my bedside table and grabbed my sleeping pills. I popped a couple into my hand and reached for my bottled water. I decided tonight wasn’t the night to confront him. Tonight was the beginning of my investigation.
It didn’t surprise me that Jason was gone by the time I awakened the next morning. He would want to be gone so as not to have to make any explanations of the night before. I seethed with anger and resented for the second day that once again I was consumed with negative emotions. It wasn’t healthy. It flashed in my mind that exercise was great for anxiety. I stood before the mirror on my bureau. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Losing twenty or more pounds couldn’t hurt either. Whatever it was going to take to bring my husband back to me would be worth it. I had invested the best of my life to this marriage. I wasn’t willing to give up on it. I had decided if it was going to end, it wouldn’t be because I hadn’t given all that I could to it.