Allen didn’t react at first. He stood still, trying to comprehend what was happening between his parents. He looked in silence at his father, then at his mother. After a few moments, he decided that he loved them both equally. In his mind, they were the greatest parents in the world. “I love you,” he said to them. Then, seeing that his sister had defended his father and that his mother was in tears, he gave Ana a hug. “Don’t worry, Mom. No matter what happens with you and Daddy, I’ll still love you,” he said to her.
Rob resented the fact that his wife would be selfish enough to hurt her own children. Enough was enough. “When are you moving out?” he asked her.
“I don’t know,” she replied, dazed by her children’s opposite reactions, both of which tugged at her heartstrings. “I wish I could take this pill, like in that science fiction movie, and just forget about him. I wish we had never met,” she said in all honesty.
“You say this now. But as soon as you see him again, you change your mind and forget all about us,” Rob countered.
“He’s got this weird hold on me,” Ana said, placing her hand upon her heart, as if trying to relieve a muscular ache that accompanied her oppressive, conflicted emotions. She thought back to the melodious sound of Michael’s voice, to his mesmerizing gaze, to the overpowering fierceness of his desire. They lulled her conscience, controlling her will, as if by some inexplicable hypnotic force. Ana didn’t know how to explain this strange phenomenon to anyone, not even to herself. She felt like a willing captive, a contradiction in terms. Because Michael wasn’t just pleasant or charismatic. He was intensely charming. Ana felt gripped by the force of his personality, swept up by the whirlwind of his desires, uplifted by his vows of love.
Seeing the faraway look in his wife’s eyes, Rob felt disheartened. If even seeing the pain she’s causing their children couldn’t stop her, nothing would. “You’re free to do as you wish.” A flash of anger passed through him when he realized that Ana was hedging not because she felt genuinely torn, as she claimed, but because she didn’t fully trust her lover. “But let me make one thing very clear: if you chose Michael, it’s all over between us for good,” he decided it was time to draw some clear boundaries.
Ana nodded mechanically in agreement. She had made such major life decisions, yet she felt like she hadn’t chosen anything at all. It was as if a hidden force had been pushing her from behind or pulling her forward, towards her lover. “I don’t want to go but I can’t stay either,” she replied, stuck in the impasse that had paralyzed her from the start.
Rob stared at her unsympathetically. “I can’t feel sorry for you, Ana. At least you have no one to blame but yourself for your pain. The rest of us are suffering because of you.” His eyes flashed with hatred. But the emotion didn’t last long. Ana looked so lost, defeated. She didn’t look like a woman leaving an unhappy marriage to live out her dream with the love of her life, as she claimed. “Why are you doing this to us?”
“He loves me. I owe him this chance.”
Her answer triggered Rob’s anger again. “How does he love and respect you more than I have?” he demanded. “I’ve been loyal and faithful to you all these years. I’ve taken care of you and our kids. What has he done to prove his love? Other than declare it with words? Words are cheap, Ana.”
“The day I got kicked out of Tracy’s gallery, I felt horrible,” she recounted. “And you just blamed me for my bad break, as usual. But Michael was there for me. He helped me find other galleries.”
“Any man who wants to be with you for awhile will tell you what you want to hear,” Rob countered.
“His interest in my art is genuine,” Ana insisted.
“It may very well be, but I’m sure it’s no coincidence that he gave you all that attention right at the moment when he was trying to win you over from me. Only time will tell if he’ll be as supportive of you once you actually move in with him.”
“I believe that he will be.”
How it sickens me to hear this, Rob thought. She wants me to match Michael in devotion to her art. How could I possibly do this? When would I have the time? he asked himself. Should I quit work, apply for a government check and spend my time tending to her needs? And what about my own needs? “How much do you encourage me and my ambitions?” he turned the tables on her.
“You never want to share anything with me.”
“You’re not interested in what I do.”
The same old Catch-22, Ana observed. In that instant, she felt almost relieved to escape this vicious circle by moving in with her lover.
“If you had real confidence in your art, you wouldn’t need his goddamn flattery!” Rob burst out. “Look at the guy’s actions, not his words. If he had any genuine respect for you, he’d see how torn you feel and let you make your own decisions, without pressuring you.”
Ana bristled at this accusation precisely because it rang plausible. “Michael doesn’t control me. And he doesn’t flatter me either. He just encourages me to create the kind of art I want.”
She’s blind, blind as a bat, Rob thought. “All I can say is watch out for excessive flattery, Ana. Because those who feed your vanity generally want something from you,” he warned her. “I don’t understand what this guy wants from you, since you’re neither rich nor famous. All I know is that you’ve wrecked our marriage for a very shady character. Only time will tell if I’m right or wrong about him. But if things don’t work out between the two of you, I won’t be there to save you,” he repeated, hoping to get through to her.
“Yes, only time will tell,” Ana repeated.
When he went to sleep on the living room sofa that night, Rob contemplated their earlier conversation. She regards me as a safety net, not as her husband, the man she loved. I could never take her back even if she changed her mind, he resolved. There’s no way I could continue living in a marriage where I linger on as the pale image of Ana’s one true love. How often, and how pathetically, must I keep on telling her that I want to feel loved exclusively in our relationship? The fact that I have to point this out to her is a sign of incredible weakness and dispensability; an emasculated cry for a love that can never be forthcoming from the brutally selfish woman who forces me to ask for it in the first place.
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