We have a story today by writer Kristine Esser, a cautionary tale about relationships, called Broken Silent.
I finally decided to turn the shiny knob that had “hot” inscribed on it all the way to the right, shutting off the blistering liquid. I climbed out of the tub, and wrapped myself in an old floral towel sitting on the edge of the toilet. Standing and looking through the small patch of wiped-away steam in the mirror I recognized the unattractive towel along with the steam rising off my shoulders from the sweltering shower I had just taken.
Opening the door from the bathroom I stepped out to see my boyfriend, Ben, sitting in the Goodwill-bought lazy-boy. He looked at me from afar and smiled. A quick grin did the trick, and I walked into my room. It was dark and chilly in there, and I felt the strong need to just sit on my bed for awhile, cool off, and kind of catch my breath.
I had to think of my plan to face Ben with the growing problem of me being lonely with him being gone constantly. This was not always a problem in our relationship but one that came after we graduated college. Ben and I both attended a rather large university in Indiana. We met our sophomore year when we lived across from each other in the dorms. He was cute, got straight A’s, and was very gentle. While I was the cute party girl who passed most of my classes, but always looked good. These things changed after we started dating. I got him to loosen up, and not be so serious while he made me take life a little more seriously. His mother died not too long before we started dating, and I sometimes got the feeling I was a replacement. This did not bother me as much as it might have some other girls. I enjoyed being loved whole heartedly. Of course, this was over three years ago and situations have changed. He was gone with his job all the time having a great time while I had to stay at home, go through my daily routine without him, and be miserable. It was time to talk to him about a break.
After some time, I stood up slowly and dropped the towel to the floor. I paused for a moment looking at the ugly thing. The corners were tattered and frayed with strings hanging from the center of the towel. It was so hideous. Why keep it around so long? That towel had to be at least a decade old. I remembered having that towel in my childhood when the biggest problem of the day is what game to play next. I remember having it with me at the beach and numerous pool parties back when it was cool. I really wasn’t sure at what point the towel became disgusting but it was definitely time to throw it out. It had lived its life.
I went through the dark cedar drawers, and found some grey yoga pants and an old college t-shirt. After slipping them on I decided it was time to walk toward the door of my room, and let myself out to see my boyfriend, Ben. It was time to leave the safety of my room, and to enter the dangers of my blond hardwood floor living room; after all, he is waiting for me.
I stepped out, and walked down the somewhat short hallway. Today, however, the hallway seemed freakishly long. I touched the white walls of the hallway, and thought about all that they had witnessed. It was like the old saying I had heard all my life. What did they see? What would they see today? I prayed it wouldn’t be anything horrible. I hoped it would not see tears or any kind of sadness. I hoped they wouldn’t see anger or fury. But I knew that was all a lie.
“There you are baby,” Ben said with his arms outstretched. He was motioning for me to come sit down on his lap. He was really happy to see me. It had been awhile since we saw each other last. He left for the summer for one of his many odd random job assignments. This time it was in Colorado for a summer camp helping needy children. The company he was working for thought it would be a great fit for him, so they decided that this would be his next assignment, send him half a country away to work with kids he didn’t even know.
I couldn’t help it but I was always upset when he left, which seemed to be all the time now. I adored him when he was there with me in Chicago but felt this overwhelming feeling of frustration whenever he left. Anger would boil over inside towards Ben, but I was not sure why exactly. It’s somewhat irrational for me to feel this way, but it’s just how I felt. However, I knew it would be like this from the beginning. He had signed a contract with the company right out of college for the next five years of his life. It had only been a year after graduation, and the constant leaving and returning was now taking a toll on both of our emotions.
Sitting in his lap, and curled up under his neck, my wet hair made a spot on his old cotton shirt. I bought that shirt for him when we were sophomores in college. It was our first Christmas together, and we made love all night with our cheap, but meaningful, gifts surrounding us. Now it was visibly worn with cracked-print lettering. It seemed like he wore this shirt at least once a week. Or the weeks I happened to see him anyway.
“You smell good. Is that a new shampoo you’re using?”
“Yeah, it was on sale. Do you like it?” I replied while pushing back the ringlets of wet curls away from my face.
“Yes, I do,” Ben stated with closed eyes. Silence then started to engulf the room. I looked around the space, and couldn’t find life of any kind. Sometimes one can see a breeze or draft of some kind through the room, but there was nothing. The TV was off, and the roommate was gone. Deep breaths were all I could think about taking during that moment of deadness in the room.
“When do you leave next?” I had to say finally.
“Asking so soon? I just returned from Colorado yesterday. Let’s enjoy this a little bit.”
“I can’t, I need to know.”
“I am leaving again in three weeks to go to China. I will be there for seven months this time. But I am sure I can fly you out for a weekend or two. Maybe you could take a couple of days off of work too. Do you think you can do that with your job?” He said.
He knew I could not take off of work. He knew I had just started this job with my dream PR firm about nine months ago, and vacation time for entry level employees was not something they gave out. Irritation crept up inside of me once again. He knew I couldn’t get time off work, and he was leaving again, so soon, for such a long time.
“You know I can’t get the time off of work,” I answered with pain. This burning feeling then came from behind my eyes. Anger started to rise up inside of me, but I tried to stay calm.
“Well can’t you talk to someone?” He said now starting to lean forward.
“No. I told you I couldn’t take any time off of work right when I first took this job.”
“I never see you and I don’t like it. We need to change this,” He said looking into my eyes now.
“Yeah, I don’t like it either, but I am not the one leaving all the time. And I don’t know how you want to change this. We both have obligations,” I replied sternly.
“I just can’t go on not seeing you like this.”
“Something has to change…” I said trailing.
“Yes, something does. I love you Jessica. I want you always with me. I know this isn’t possible but I want to make this situation better. I am not happy seeing you this few and far between, and I know you are not happy either. What can we do? Do you want to move out with me? China is such a beautiful place.”
“I don’t want to move to China! I want to be here! In Chicago! This is where my dream job is, and believe it or not I got it! This is where my family is. I don’t want to move to China. I want to live here.”
The room fell silent again. We both looked around this time at the seemingly deceased surroundings of the apartment. Everything was perfectly still. Not even a visible wind from outside the window was present. Every being in that room was eerily motionless. The tissues in the Kleenex box didn’t move. The TV was off, and so was all the technology that went with it. I eyed the vase on the coffee table with the dead flowers in it.
For some couples this might have been considered an awkward silence, but for us it was becoming somewhat of an acquaintance these days. This was not the first time we had this discussion. This also was not the first time this silence befell this particular living room. However, this time seemed peculiarly stationary and stuffy. Of course previous discussions seemed to have answers, while this one did not.
We both kept looking around the room, and then turned our attention to each other’s hands. Ben’s fingers were touching the inside palms of mine. He went from the palm of my hand to the tip of each individual one of my fingers. My hand remained lifeless like the room. I never moved my hand, or even my fingers. I just watched as he drew with his fingers onto mine. Once he had gone through this a couple of times, I knew it was my time to talk.
I closed my eyes and inhaled, “What are we doing?”
“I don’t know. What would you like to do? How do you think we can fix this?” he said.
“We’ve tried everything, Ben.”
“It seems like it,” he was now looking down into what would be his lap if I wasn’t sitting on it.
“There is nothing more we can do right now. The time you’re away is ripping us apart,” I said while trying to look in to his eyes.
“I know,” was the only counter he could muster.
“I think we need to take some time apart. We’re just not happy doing what we are doing. I think we just need to take some time for ourselves, and make sure this is the relationship we want, you know?” I could now tell tears were coming to the surface in his eyes, and I could now feel them coming into mine. I felt Ben’s hands on both of my thighs tighten, and his chest puffing out.
“No, I don’t want to. I know I want to be with you forever Jessica. I know this sucks now, but we can get through this. I promise!”
“Ben…no…” I said while shaking my head.
“Why does it have to be like this? Why Jessica? What did I do? Did I mess everything up?” He screamed question after question until his tears took his voice in a red mess. His hands grew tighter.
This was when I knew that now was the time to get off his lap. It was tough breaking away from his grasped hands, but as soon as I could I quickly stood up with tears running down my face. For a moment I wondered if I was making the wrong choice. Ben had been nothing but good to me. And now I was breaking his heart, God, I’m a bitch. Then turning around so my back was facing Ben, I wiped the few spots of tears away from my face.
“Ben please…just try and understand…I just need…”
“No.” Ben said as he brushed away his tears with the palms of his hands. He reached forward to grab my wet hair, but his saltwater hands with my damp hair made his fingers slip. He reached to grab me again, but I slipped, and fell to floor making more noise than pain. Ben looked furious, but stunned.
I was breathing heavily. He had never tried to hurt me before. He had always loved me, and did for me anything I wanted. He even made me vegetable and rice soup for me once from scratch, but now he was standing over me in throbbing heartache and rage.
“I love you with all my heart, and this is what is going to happen now? You want to leave me? That’s not how this works. I am the all-star, and you’re the one that couldn’t get even a B in college algebra. I loved you! And you’re leaving me?!” passion was now blazing in his eyes. He picked up the flower vase spilling out all of the death flowers. He raised it over me as I lay on cold hardwood floor crying, and ready to scream. Soon all I could see was red pouring over my eyes, and a kind of hot pain rushing all over my face and hands as he hit me three more times with the broken vase.
Ben then put on his sandals and left my barren apartment. I twitched when he slammed the door behind him. He wasn’t the slamming door type. Or so I thought.
I reached to touch the walls again. They were still cool. I crawled into my room for the phone, and I noticed that I left the ugly towel on the floor from my shower from just a half hour ago. I gathered up the towel, and pressed it against my face. It wasn’t soft anymore, and it was a lot coarser than I remembered from yester year.
By the time the ambulance arrived, the towel was soaked with blood, and the paramedics asked me to give them my towel so they could get a better look at the injuries. After handing them my old towel they placed it in a medical waste bag.
Kristine Esser is a somewhat recent graduate from Purdue University. When she isn’t writing or composing material for her poetry blog, she's walking her dog, and continuously baking.