'Almost Like Nothing Really Changed'
A Short Relationship Story About Survival
I think I love my wife. Gloria is my ideal woman who I used to drool over when I was 12-years-old. However, with the news of my possible promotion buzzing around the office, it’s getting harder for me to remain faithful. It seems no matter how much I flash my wedding band, the women just seem to flock to me. The two photos of us that sit on my desk, which were taken on our wedding day and honeymoon, don’t really help either. Instead of being discouraged, women act as if they’re paperweights and just push them aside when they come into my office to speak to me. It’s not entirely their fault, though. My smile and kind gestures can be a little misleading, I guess. But, I’m just naturally a caring guy, which is one trait I failed to change after saying, “I do”.
Back in my player days, no matter how many women I talked to at the same time, I made each of them feel as though they were the only one for me. However, when I met Gloria, my rule playbook became non-existent, and I fell in love.
After that, our parents rushed things. Six months after graduating from college, we were engaged. Even though we were engaged, I found myself still thinking about other women. Yet, in my heart, I was certain she was the one. So secure in herself, she wouldn’t get upset if she saw me glance at another woman, unlike the others I had dated in the past. Sometimes, she would even surprise me by commenting on the beauty of the other woman. That’s the confidence she possessed. While at times it drove me insane, I would just fall deeper in love with her.
However, that was in the beginning. Now, Gloria is so caught up in her work at the firm, she barely notices any of that stuff anymore. Even though I love her, it’s still not enough to control this man’s wandering eye.
Both good-looking individuals, we had reached a level of success that many people could only dream of obtaining. If one of us decided to call it quits, we could find another partner with no problem. The only thing is if I know this, then Gloria must know it, as well. So why hasn’t she stepped up to the plate and started giving me the attention I deserve?
I tried to talk to her about having kids; we only tried once. This should be the other way around, right? It’s usually the woman who decides she wants to have children because the husband isn’t showing enough love. However, that wasn’t the case with us. I’m the one who wanted a little son or daughter to spend the weekends with since Gloria spent most of her time locked inside the home office buried in her work. After the first time of trying, Gloria thought it would be better if we waited a year or so. It’s like she delivered double rejection to me. No attention from her and refusal to birth a child who would.
Honestly, I thought all the stress she experienced on her job would prevent her from getting pregnant anyway. Once, when I brought up my concern in an argument, she blamed me for her not getting pregnant, even saying the reason was because I probably had a low sperm count. So, I decided to make a doctor’s visit, and I couldn’t wait to show her the letter of proof that my sperm count was more than adequate to do the job.
Maybe now I could get her attention and convince her to give me the life that I truly desire.
The sun peeked through the clouds this morning as if it was foreshadowing what my day might be like––uncertain as to whether it would be a bright or gloomy. The sun warmed my face as I turned over to the left side of my bed that had been vacant for so long. The pillow was cold and stiff to the touch. I must have washed it a thousand times. Yet, the scent of his cologne still remained. I longed for us to be together again––a couple, husband and wife. But, for now, we were separated, and all because of that one crazy night in college. Who would have known it would bleed over into my life after college?
I haven’t seen Robert in about a year and was shocked to find out he had finally decided to speak to me again. Despite knowing he was coming to visit me at noon, I was still in bed. The clock showed it was nearly ten o'clock, and I hadn’t started brunch yet. Nor had I showered or picked out what I was going to wear. Ever since Robert called me from Chicago explaining his visit for this weekend, I had been planning this day for months in my head. So, you would think I would have decided on what to wear a long time ago.
Instead, I had consumed myself with wondering if we would get back together again or if this would be our final goodbye served with divorce papers. Either way, it would be refreshing to see him again, to touch him, and to smell his cologne. Or did he have a new scent of cologne? Did he even like the same foods? For all I know, he could be a totally different man now, almost like a stranger coming into what was once a home that we shared.
I started to experience the same pain in my stomach that I felt the night Robert walked out of my life. You know, the feeling like you have butterflies in your tummy that are trying to get out. I knew I had to start moving, or else, I would start to fall back into a depression.
I rolled out of bed and walked straight over to my iPad dock to put on my favorite playlist. Music always seemed to help me relieve my stressful thoughts, and it kept my mind from getting the best of me.
Then, I walked to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, and took out the meat that I had seasoned the night before. I pulled back the aluminum foil and inhaled the herbs and spices as they permeated the air. I warmed up the oven to bake the chicken and placed a bottle of white wine in the freezer to chill.
The clock read 10:30, which meant I only had an hour and a half until my doorbell would be ringing. So, I went to the bathroom and started my shower; steam showers were another type of therapy that I used to lower my stress. While allowing the water to reach the temperature I desired, I stepped inside my walk-in closet and tried to find something that screamed, “I really missed you” but not, “I want you to have your way with my body.” This was very hard since I owned party clothes and work clothes, but nothing in between. I didn’t want to be too revealing with my appearance. Then again, being too formal wouldn’t be good either. So, I settled for a typical black dress. Even though it revealed a little bit of cleavage, it still came all the way down to my knees.
I jumped into the shower, and the hot water bounced off my chest, helping to ease the tightening I was experiencing in that area. As the water slid down my face, I started to have a flashback of that very night.
I was reading when Robert swung the bedroom door open and screamed at me, demanding that I tell him who I was having an affair with so he could kill him. I looked at him in shock; I had no idea what he was talking about. I had never seen so much rage in his eyes. They were bloodshot red, and he reeked of alcohol. I figured he must have been at the bar drinking all night after work.
“Baby, what are you talking about?” I said, jumping up from the bed.
He started to punch the walls and knocked over our wedding picture that was on the nightstand, shattering it to pieces.
“I went to the doctor a week ago for my routine checkup, and the doctor was pressuring me about getting tested. I laughed it off, but he was so persistent about this new health campaign that I figured, "What the hell?’"
"Well, why the fuck did I receive the results today that I’m positive for HIV? We’ve been married for three years, Gloria, and I sure as hell didn’t step out on our marriage! So, tell me, who’s the bastard? Who is he? Tell me!” He yelled.
My heart sank as I looked him dead in his eyes and replied, “I never cheated on you! I just don’t understand.”
“Well, I got tested before we started sleeping together, and you vowed you did the same,” he said, breathing heavily with anger. “We both came back with negative results, so explain this to me.”
A large lump formed in my throat as I fought to hold back the tears. I knew this conversation was going to go from bad to worse.
“I never really got checked because I only had one sexual partner in college, and we used condoms every time,” I managed to say all in one breath.
At first, he didn’t look at me, and I started to wonder if he had even heard me. But, I soon got my answer when I felt his hand strike the side of my face, the force causing me to fall to the floor.
“You lied to me, Gloria? I can’t believe you!”
He grabbed a duffel bag and filled it with a couple of things, all the while cursing and calling me things way out of my character. Then he walked out the door.
The next day, I came home from work to find Robert and his things gone from our apartment. We didn’t even get a chance to talk it out like a normal married couple. He just left.
My fingertips started to wrinkle. That’s when I realized I had been in the shower for entirely way too long. After stepping out, I threw on my robe and ran to the kitchen to check the chicken. I pulled it out of the oven to find that one of the pieces had started to burn.
This is exactly what I get for revisiting my past, I thought with a sigh.
I put on a pot of water to boil for the rice that I would serve with the chicken. Then I went into our bedroom and stared at my reflection in the mirror. Having been under so much stress this past year, I had lost a little over 40 pounds, which resulted in the black dress hanging loosely on me instead of clinging to my curves.
Not wanting to share our sacred news, our families still did not know the reason why we separated, and Robert’s boss did not understand why he suddenly asked for a transfer to the Chicago firm. There were a lot of unanswered questions that were about to be resolved … Hopefully. Then, the doorbell rang.
Robert stood there with a bouquet of my favorite flowers, lilies. He had lost a lot of weight, too. We must have stood at the door for about five minutes without saying a word, until I smelled the rice burning. I let him inside.
“Still burning rice, I see. Nothing’s really changed,” Robert said, breaking the silence.
I managed to let the corners of my mouth turn up a little.
“Are you hungry?” I asked.
“I think we should talk first,” he replied.
I agreed. I didn’t know if I should sit next to him on the couch or sit in the single chair. My knees were getting weak, so I took a seat, but not beside him. Robert watched me the entire time. I guess he could sense his presence was making me uneasy.
He looked down toward the floor and started to speak. “Gloria, I first want to apologize for hitting you, which was wrong of me. I vowed to never hit you, and I promise it won’t happen again. But, you vowed to never lie to me, and you did. Our time apart has given me a lot to think about, but I can’t answer these questions alone. I need some answers.”
“Robert, I’ve been going crazy thinking about that night you walked out of my life. I felt stupid, ashamed, and empty. I was just as shocked as you. I had no idea I had HIV.”
“But, Gloria, how could you lie to me about something so important? How could you feel it was not important enough to get checked?” Robert asked in a raised voice, which made the hairs on my neck rise.
“It was a stupid mistake, okay!” Tears started to fall from my eyes, and with each passing second, it became harder for me to speak. “I should have gone to the doctor sooner, because then, maybe I wouldn’t have ovarian cancer.”
Robert’s eyes widened, and he dropped his head into his hands. We sat there quiet. I felt like I had been stripped. The secret I had been hiding was finally out. The reason why I had become so distant from my family and was burying myself in my work was now out. The many nights alone crying in bed, with this secret hovering over me, had finally been lifted off my shoulders.
“Gloria, I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”
“How could you know when we haven’t spoken in a year?”
Robert stood up from the couch and walked over to me. He pulled me up by my hand and hugged me tightly. I needed him more than ever now. His embrace was comforting. I hadn’t been touched like this in so long, and it felt good. I began to wonder what the future held for us. I wondered if he was only being nice to me because I revealed I had cancer, or had he really missed me and just wanted to hold me?
“Let’s go out for some fresh air and grab some lunch. I think we both need a change in scenery,” Robert suggested.
At that moment, I felt like things were back to normal. Even if it was for a little while, I had my husband back to comfort me during this hardship. It was almost as if nothing really changed.
We ended up going to Benihana’s, our favorite restaurant on 57th Street. The food there was amazing, and we got to have our chicken and rice, unburned. If Robert was only there with me because of sympathy, he did not show it.
After our meal, we walked through Central Park, reminiscing about past times before either of us made six figures and when we could only afford to go to fast-food restaurants. Having someone to talk to and share my deepest secrets with felt good. Even though we were practically strangers from our time of being apart, the original chemistry that brought us together in the beginning remained untouched, almost as if it knew we would rekindle the flame again.
The sun was setting and the trees were swaying. Robert had told me through our phone conversation months ago that he had only a couple of hours to spare for this day. Yet, we had nearly spent the entire day together. I wondered if he realized how many hours we had been together.
I wanted him to spend the night with me, allowing a great ending to this day. I wanted the spot on my bed––our bed––to be warm again. I wanted to feel the warmth of his body against mine. I wanted him to touch me in places that had been abandoned ever since the day he left. I then felt a drop of water on my face. Was I crying again? No. Thank goodness I wasn’t. The wetness on my face was from the drizzle of rain that had started to fall from the sky.
Robert stopped and looked at me. “Should we go home now?”
I tried to hide my excitement, but I’m sure it came through when I smiled and replied, “Yes, I think we should.”
Thanks for reading!