“Hi there,” Rob entered the room noiselessly and touched her lightly on the shoulder. Startled, Ana turned around. “Do you have allergies?” he asked her, surprised by the redness of her eyelids.
Ana quickly wiped away her tears with her sleeve. “I was just thinking about how much I miss you.”
Rob’s demeanor changed from serene to apprehensive. Was she going to engage him in one of those draining “us” conversations? he wondered. “Yeah, well, you hardly seem that eager to spend any time with me anymore,” he made a preemptive move, unwilling to take the blame for their mutual estrangement.
“With the kids around, it’s difficult to find much time for ourselves,” she responded quietly, not wishing to provoke an altercation.
“But even when we do, it doesn’t change much.” Not wishing to dig into the roots of their alienation, he abruptly changed the subject: “Michelle’s going to have a sleepover with Natalie tonight.”
“That’s fine,” Ana responded, still contemplating his earlier comment. “What do you think has happened to us over the years? We used to be so close.”
Rob shrugged with a sense of resignation. “That’s life. We have kids, work, more responsibility, less time for one another. It happens to most couples.”
“But does that mean our interaction had to become so…” Ana searched for the right word, “…sterile?”
The harshness of the term wounded her husband. “I wouldn’t go so far as to call it sterile,” Rob countered. But her comment rang close enough to the truth to trouble him. “Marriage or even just living together for a long time tends to put a damper on the infatuation one feels in the beginning of a relationship,” he generalized.
But Ana wasn’t convinced. She looked into Rob’s amber eyes, those “doe eyes,” as she used to describe them back in college. “We were so much in love. We couldn’t have imagined this erosion of intimacy ever happening to us.”
“Yeah, well, intimacy takes energy and time. We haven’t had much of either since the kids were born,” Rob reiterated his earlier point, convinced that his wife had a tendency to romanticize reality.
Ana sat down in a yogi position on the carpet. “Do you mind if we continue talking for awhile?”
Rob took a seat on the floor across from her. He wasn’t too eager to pursue their conversation, sensing in Ana’s tone an emotional neediness that always made him feel viscerally uncomfortable. “Alright,” he nonetheless acquiesced. “But I still have some things to do this afternoon. I was planning to use the next few hours to work on a couple of songs.”
Ana had a pleasant recollection of their first year together, when Rob had serenaded her with his lyrical, emotionally charged love songs. Back in college, she saw in him a creativity that she had hoped to encourage throughout their marriage. But within a few years, they each went their separate ways. Rob stole a few moments here and there from his overcharged business schedule to squeeze out a few drops of solipsistic inspiration for his music. Ana devoted most of her time to artistic creation, which filled her with a mixture of elation and despair. Although it was pleasurable to paint, material success was much too tenuous. “I’d love to hear your new songs,” she said. “You always used to share your music with me. How come you stopped?”
“I hardly have time to compose anymore,” he replied, sounding dejected. “Besides, you stopped being interested in my music once you became more involved in your art. It seems that every time I wanted to share with you my songs, you started talking about your next painting. You may not be willing to admit it, but you’re more of a diva than a muse.”
Ana couldn’t disagree with this characterization. It was entirely plausible that she had become so caught up in her own art that she had ignored her husband’s timid efforts to reach out to her. “If I’ve behaved that way, I’m truly sorry. Because I’ve always admired and wanted to bring out your creativity.”
“Apparently not enough to place it on a par with your own,” Rob retorted, his inner frustrations trickling out under pressure.
What a waste of so much time together, when we could have been closer, Ana thought. Leaning forward, she gave Rob a kiss filled with a sense of devotion which even years of neglect and months of infidelity hadn’t completely dissipated.
He was surprised by his wife’s sudden display of affection. “Is anything wrong?” he asked her.
Ana’s mood was so fragile that even the gentleness of his tone unhinged her. “I don’t want to lose you,” she whispered.
“Do you know something I don’t? Did the doctor tell you I have a terminal illness?” Rob tried to make light of her strangely dramatic comment.
Ana shook her head. “I just wish we could at least try to focus again on each other. To see if we can reignite the love we felt before.”
Rob read her conciliatory statement as a reproach. “And I wish you had a real job with regular hours rather than staying at home to ponder the sad state of our relationship.”
“But I’m not blaming you for our problems. I know they’re mostly my fault,” Ana said reassuringly. “You’re the father of my children and our provider. I just wish you had also remained my lover, my fellow artist and my wild child.”
“For a long time now, life’s crushed the living juices out of me with a ton of responsibilities,” Rob retorted, his tone more sad than defensive.
Ana recalled a poem he had written. It had made her realize that there was so much more to Rob than met the eye. “Do you remember that poem you wrote in college? About how having a job, a wife and kids would take over your inner, creative world until nothing was left of it but a worm infested corpse? I thought you were exaggerating …”
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t.”
“But couldn’t we tap into some of that creativity together?” Ana viewed art as a litmus test that would tell them whether their marriage had any chance of being saved from the grip of her new love.
“Not the way you’d like us to,” Rob responded, to her disappointment. “You’re so demanding, so intense. You’d like to have hours a day to compose and paint. You want to discuss every spark of inspiration. If we were independently wealthy and childless, maybe we could do that. But even then I’m not sure that I’d get into it quite as much as you do. You need to accept the life we have now.”
Ana looked into her husband’s eyes: “Do you?”
Rob hesitated for a moment. “Part of me does and part of me doesn’t.”
“What do you mean?”
“I love the kids and don’t mind devoting most of my time to them. But I’ve always told you that I wish that I had a situation similar to yours. I wish that you had sacrificed your creativity and took on a real job so that I could try to fulfill my artistic ambitions.”
“You mean by composing music?”
“Sure,” he shrugged. “Or maybe even writing a novel, who knows? When I was young, I had so many dreams. Just like you.”
“But you’re still young. It’s not too late to start now,” Ana tried to encourage him.
Rob shook his head. “It’s not about my age. It’s about our lifestyle. The way our lives are organized. If I did what you do, we’d all starve and our home would be repossessed by the bank.”
“Couldn’t smaller steps help?” she persisted. “Will you play for me your latest song?” Her eyes implored him to open up to her again.
Rob walked to the closet and took out his guitar, the same one he had used to serenade Ana during their sophomore year in college. She recalled how many dreary winter days in a sparsely furnished dorm room his music had illuminated. And now, as she found herself on the brink of eclipsing their love, her husband’s features reassumed their former youthful innocence and serenity. Rob tilted his head slightly upward and to the side as he sang, reminding Ana of a little songbird, as she used to call him. His mouth curled into an oval when he hummed the melody of the refrain, “tu tu ru tu tu.” Ana felt the spark of desire reignite. Rob’s rounded lips begged to be covered by hers, then slowly licked, then kissed again. The sunlight shone so brightly through the window that it enhanced the brown luster of his hair, its luminous glare masking the “distinguished” white strands that had sprouted the last couple of years above his ears. In that instant, Rob became once again the gentle young man she fell in love with years ago.
Did you ever wonder, he sang,
Why did I go
I didn't have to leave you
Like everyone knows
And do you think about me
When you're alone
Do you ask yourself each evening
Where it went wrong
This wistful song with a soulful melody captured Ana’s mood, as if it had been written especially for her. She focused on her husband’s delicate fingers, small and thin, moving rapidly upon the guitar strings with a facility that used to mesmerize her as much when he was playing musical instruments as when he tenderly caressed her.
Cause I didn't want to leave you, Rob went on,
I didn't want to hurt you
I didn't want to see you cry for me
“Please let’s do everything in our powers to save our marriage,” Ana said at the end of his recital with a sense of urgency.
“Why? Are you planning to leave me?” Rob’s voice wavered between amusement and concern.
“I’m just touched by your song. It brings back so many beautiful memories,” Ana expressed only part of the truth. Ultimately, she lacked the courage to tell him why each note and each word of his song resonated with her current thoughts and feelings.
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