Outside my window headlights whiz past. Their colors merge and dance through the haze created by the car’s exhaust as we sit hunkered in trying to stay warm. Light snow falls. Gentle flakes falling to welcome December, a month known for joy, hope and optimism. It should be beautiful.
Their beauty is lost on me.
A couple pulls up beside us, parks, and emerges from their car laughing as they close their doors and head inside. The neon light of the sign we’ve parked under casts a pink glow on the dashboard. There’s a slight flicker to it. One I’d rather focus on than the conversation at hand.
Above the heater’s hum he breaks the silence, continuing our conversation, “For the last few months, I don’t think you even like me. I think I annoy you. That I hurt you often. That I’m a source of pain, not joy. When was the last time we even went on a date that didn’t end in tension or an argument? I wonder if you regret your decision to marry me.”
I hear his words and go still. I see a tear trickle free down his cheek and every hair on my body snaps to attention.
A familiar skip of a heartbeat makes my chest ache. I tense, straightening my spine and shifting in my seat. Inside my thoughts start whirling, lining up to play defense. The conversation feels familiar. I’ve had one like it years ago. It didn’t end well.
In the ensuing silence, my team of overactive inner workmen jump to attention, scrambling into action to protect my heart. I picture them wielding their bricks and mortar with practiced efficiency as I brace for what could come next. The foreman barks orders, “This is the moment we’ve trained for men. Go, go, go. Overload those wheelbarrows with bricks. Stir that mortar faster. Forget precision, just get that wall up on the double. The bad news is coming, we can’t leave a flank exposed.”
Time slows as my mind races to catch up with what I’ve heard. The heater hums, filling the silence as my nails cut half circles into my palms.
Outside his window the couple returns to their car, parcel in hand. The engine roars to life and they pull away.
Watching their taillights fade, I frantically run through possible responses, digging through my quiver of word weapons. Sarcastic sass. Dismissive impertinence. Defensive argument. Deflective blame shifting. Brooding silence. Self-pitying despair. Wounding guilt.
Each one has been sharpened to perfection by past painful life moments. I need only notch one into my bow, let it fly, and duck down behind my wall. Safe and protected.
I reach for deflective blame shifting, take aim, and lift my eyes to face him.
I see a second tear slip free and get wiped hastily away. I gaze at his face, my favorite face. I remember his baggage, his past hurts, his scars and pause.
I remember his insecurities, his fears, his hope in me and soften; hands unclenching as I really see him, still beautiful in pink flickering neon light.
Inside the foreman holds up a hand. His crew stops, ears cocked ready for their next order. Behind them the wall around my heart remains only half built, vulnerable.
“She won’t do it. It leaves her too exposed. Too vulnerable. She will appear imperfect,” one bricklayer whispers to his colleague. They all stand to rapt attention waiting for me to speak.
I take a breath, set down my bow, and reach for him.
“I’m sorry,” I say as I grab his hand. “The last few months have been hard for me, oddly emotional and at times overwhelming. You bear the brunt of that because you’re my safe place. The best decision I ever made. Not one I regret. Never one I regret. You are my joy, not my pain.”
I nervously wait, letting my words sink in, praying they don’t precede deeper pain and this instinct is right.
Our eyes meet. The silence is both deafening and oddly peaceful. We are alone in it, connected in a cocoon of warmth as the snow falls outside and the world buzzes around us.
“I love you,” comes his reply. “It isn’t always easy, but we are in this together.”
“Yes. Together.” I reply.
He puts the car in reverse just as the neon light finally holds steady. It won’t be the end of the conversation, we have a number of things to work through, and yet I smile as we pull away, picturing my foreman inside, shoulders slumping as he breaks the news to the crew they may soon be unemployed.