Thursday, March 4, 2010
ANNIVERSARY DINNER (end)
The silence was worse than the fight. And knowing I had hurt her was worse than the silence.
I let my eyes drop from her face to a spot on the floor half-way between us. My body was drained, my mind blank. And through it all, Susan stared silently, her eyes dead, refusing to hint at what she was thinking, what I needed to say.
“When do we come first, Bock?”
Finally. A clue. I played out the options in my head. You’re always first. I hadn’t exactly acted that way. What was the other option?
I finally broke the silence. "I know I've taken you for granted lately. You're really important to me." I crossed the kitchen and stood in front of her. "But this television thing is tough. I've got so much to learn to catch up with the rest of the photogs. I've got to pay my dues. And it's still new."
“That’s what I’m talking about! Why do you always do this?”
“Do what? I’m trying to explain.”
“Why do you always make this about your job?” Susan sighed. “This isn’t about cameras or tape or news. This is about having a life. I’ve got a job too. But you don’t see me hanging around the hotel for hours after my shift. I have a life outside of work. I thought you did too.” Another tear rolled down Susan’s cheek. It was obvious she had been holding back these feelings for a while.
I wanted to tell her – to explain – but I didn’t know, myself, why I spent so much time at work.
“What is it that makes you spend night after night in that station instead of at home? Is it me? Am I smothering you? Did we move in too soon? Do you need your space?”
She brushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear while she waited for me to answer. I didn’t have a clue what to say. The last thing I wanted was for her to move out.
She dabbed at her eyes with a dish towel. “I’m not asking you to spend every waking hour with me. But a phone call when you’re going to be late would be nice. And once in a while, I’d like to be able to plan a nice date.”
Susan leaned back against the sink.
Thick, heavy silence filled the room. The kitchen was only eight feet wide, but Susan felt an ocean away. I didn’t know why it even mattered. We had only known each other six months, but what she thought about me and my non-life mattered more than I wanted to admit it. My heart pounded inside my chest. "I wish I could explain the rush I get from telling a good story.” My head reeled as I searched for exactly the right words. “Its adrenaline and anticipation and butterflies . . . It's like a first kiss."
"Oh, so when you're kissing me, you're thinking about work!" She turned away from me and slammed her hands on the counter top. "Fucking brilliant!"
I put my hands on her shoulders and tried to turn her to face me. “No. It’s – ”
She pulled away. "That's what you said." She answered into the kitchen sink.
"It's . . . the excitement of creation."
“So, now you're god.”
"Just forget it. You wouldn’t understand.”
“No, I need you to understand something.” Susan sighed and slowly turned toward me. The anger in her eyes had softened. “I’m not trying to take you away from your job. I know that you love it. I see it on your face every day when you walk through the door.”
A whisper of a smile crossed her lips. Susan dangled her hand limply next to mine. My heart raced as her fingers brushed against my palm, and she let my hand wrap around hers.
“That excitement in your eyes why I come home every night. I work all day dreaming of the smile on your face when you get home. I want that smile to be for me, not some city alderman running for re-election. I can’t wait for you to come in with those big, blue eyes sparkling like a kid who just pulled one over on his teacher. But I don't get that when you don't come home.” She slipped her hand from my grip. “This all happened too fast. You need time to sort out your life.”
My chest ached again, but this time it wasn't the bruise from my falling camera. I knew exactly where she was going. Things had moved fast between us, but it was that passion that kept me going. Susan's belief in me and her support made facing the mistakes I made every day at work bearable.
Brock, call me at home. The small voice pager on my belt could not have squawked at a worse time.
I ripped it from my belt and sailed it across the kitchen. It hit the wall and broke into three pieces. At least it silenced the ASSMAN.
Susan frowned. “You better answer that. Ken sounds like he means it.”
“The ASSMAN can wait.”
“It's okay, call him. He probably wants you to go in early and work late tomorrow.” She tried to smile.
I put the phone on speaker and dialed Ken’s number. I wanted Susan to hear me tell him where he could stick his late-night page, but she retreated to the bedroom. Ken answered on the first ring.
“Great fushing story!” He was smashed. “Why didn't you tell me she was sho good?”
“I tried, remember. But you didn’t want to hear it.”
“You guysh did great! I always knew you had it in you. See you at work tomorrow.” And the phone went dead.
Silence hung in the room like the smell of cooked cabbage.
I walked over to the corner and gathered the pieces of my voice pager. The speaker lay near the wall under a small knick it had left in the paneling. The belt clip landed a couple feet from it near the stove. I picked up the cover to the battery compartment from under the kitchen table last and sat down to put it back together. Why couldn’t relationships be that easy?
I sat at the kitchen table, afraid to disturb the uneasy peace, and rewound the day. I had finally found a small degree of success at work. Ken’s phone call should have been great news. I should have been happy. But all I could think of was how I had wrecked Susan’s night. And the more I thought about that, the more I realized she was right.
Why hadn’t I just called to tell her I’d be late? Stupid question. That would have been admitting that I’d rather work than go out with her. Even though that’s the way it looked, it wasn’t the case. Telling a good story was like catching lightning in a bottle. It was urgent. If I didn’t do it right then, the opportunity would be gone forever. Susan, it seemed, would always be there.
I’m not sure how long I sat in the quiet of the kitchen asking myself if I really believed that and why it was that my mind worked that way. The longer I sat there, the heavier the silence became until it was unbearable. I had to do something, but what?
I pushed away from the table as quietly as I could trusting that the words would come to me when I reached the bedroom. I met Susan in the hallway. Evidently she was thinking the same thing. We stood there for a while, each waiting for the other to say something.
It had always been my experience that in situations like this one, the first person to speak was the one that lost. For some inexplicable reason I was more worried about losing Susan than an argument. I took a deep breath and looked her in the eyes. “I've been a dick lately. I should have called tonight.” I paused hoping my apology would sink in. “I'll do better. Don’t move out.”