What did Angie believe? She had been staring at her feet a long while now and she was keenly aware of his eyes on her face, though he remained quiet. Hours had passed within these three minutes, and finally she cleared her throat and answered him.
“What do I believe?”
“That’s what I asked you, yeah.”
She fidgeted with her rings and began to answer his question as best she could. ” Well, I believe in destiny. Fate. A union being written in the stars. Absolutely, I do. That doesn’t mean I believe everything always works out in real life like it does in those Hallmark movies.”
“And I believe you can meet someone and they light you up – instantly and bright as lightning – like something Tesla put together piddling with some spare parts on a rainy afternoon. But I don’t think it happens often or for everyone, and…” her voice trailed off and she looked down at her shoes again.
He sat silently, listening. She couldn’t tell if he understood what she meant but she hoped he had.
“And I didn’t marry mine. I feel guilty saying that. If I found that, I’d marry it. That lightning strike, you know? I would marry again if that happened. Otherwise I’m pretty sure no feet of mine are every jumping that particular broom again.” Angie grinned a little at herself and folded her arms across her chest, still looking down.
He sat quietly at the small dinner table, keenly aware that the humidity coupled with his nervous sweat had caused his elbows to begin to stick to her blue plastic tablecloth, curiously adorned with bright red roosters. He thought it might be the ugliest tablecloth he ever saw. It was uncomfortable too, but not as uncomfortable as the conversation, and not as pressing, either. He could tell she was uncomfortable, too, and he didn’t want to upset her. He wanted to understand everything Angie was saying – not so he could convince her she was wrong – but so he could convince her he was right, and to him, those were two different things.
“I’m not trying to get more information out of you than you’re willing to give me, Kiddo. One more question and I’ll drop it, alright?”
“What happened with the last guy that soured you on the rest of us? I’m not poking fun, I’m curious. I want to know how anyone could dim a light as bright as the one I saw in your eyes all those years ago. If I weren’t looking at you right now, I never would have believed it was possible.”
Angie squirmed in her chair. His words made her feel ashamed, like the slow, methodical draining of light had been her fault. She didn’t remember ever giving any man permission to crush her spirit, they just did it, and afterward she was left to do the best she could with what she had left inside of her. He made it sound like she had a choice. Like she volunteered for the abuse. Hell, maybe she had, in some way, but she still didn’t like to think about it that way.
She cleared her throat again and looked him in the eye, fighting back tears as she started to answer him again.
“I worked really, really hard to be what he liked. I thought that’s what marriage was supposed to be. I contorted myself into the shape of the woman I thought he wanted. I learned to cook his favorite foods, to clean the house like his mother cleaned it, to dress in clothes he liked to see me in. I even…”
She paused. The words were sticky in her throat, threatening to choke her, and she gulped. She was afraid he would leave when she told him, but she figured it was best to keep talking anyway. A half story is not the whole story and the truth was important to her. She hoped it would be important to him, too.
“I even watched the kind of porn he liked. Did things he wanted me to, you know, sexually. It was degrading, and sometimes I cried after, but I never knew that that wasn’t… normal. You gotta understand, there are so many parts of me – of my heart, my personality – that contributed to my need for his approval. I am a people-pleaser, a child of divorce, a Pisces. I want to be wanted and I love to feel loved. So every day I woke up and put on a show, thinking if my performance was good enough, he would want me. Love me. I didn’t realize all the damage I was doing to myself. I didn’t really know my soul was shriveling up until it had just about died.”
“Let me finish, please.”
“It never occurred to me that who I was, was enough. Never crossed my mind to expect a man to worship me, to cry for me, to write songs about my freckles. No man ever delighted in me like that – except for Grandfather. When he died I lost the one person who ever really loved me. I didn’t expect that anyone would ever understand me like he did.”
The memories that flooded her mind made her wince. She looked up at him just for a moment, but when his eyes met hers she quickly looked back down. He was looking at her, still and silent. The tears that had been pooling in her eyes were now thick streams of hot truth, flowing down her cheeks and falling in quiet taps onto that plastic rooster tablecloth. She stared at the salt and pepper shakers sitting on the table between them.
They were shaped like Charlie Brown and Snoopy, and they were her favorite set from her Grandfather’s collection. The yellow of Charlie Brown’s shirt had begun to fade to a dirty brown but in this moment she didn’t care. She was just happy to have something to concentrate on, something to keep her steady as she spoke. That’s Grandfather, she thought to herself. Always keeping me steady.
“Anyway, I just always tried my hardest to be pleasing to other people, especially men who I wanted to stay with me. I did it as a little girl with my Daddy and there I was, all grown up and carrying that longing over into my marriage. I wanted to keep him or I hoped he’d keep me, I don’t know. The trouble is, I was always living my life as someone else. So the man I married loved someone else, not me.
I’ve never actually been with anyone who wanted the me that I actually am. You see?
Then you stroll in here and tell me that you think maybe I’ll never belong to anyone, that I am “ungettable”, and I feel both vindicated and sad. I have always thought that about myself – that men love the vision of me, but not the reality. The fantasy, the pictures, the flirty girl in the bar, the woman who inspires them to write their greatest novel. That’s the me they all want.
The other one, the Angie who cries out in her sleep sometimes, the klutzy one who spills dinner on the floor, who forgets important dates and doesn’t always brush her hair, let alone look put together all the time. That’s a big part of me, too. I’d like to be loved for all those things. It makes me sad to think that no one ever will.
I’ve done it to myself, I know I have. Maybe I don’t take enough responsibility. Maybe I take too much. I wasn’t honest, so the marriage wasn’t good. My fault, right?”
She shrugged her shoulders and raised her head to look at him, his eyes still studying her face. She wondered what he was thinking but lacked the courage to ask him so she waited for him to respond. It was the most raw and honest she’d been in a long time, and it was refreshing. Scary, too, but not for the reason she expected. She thought opening up to him would be scary because it meant telling her secrets, but the scariest part of it was that she felt like he already knew all her secrets. From the day they met Angie felt known by him, she felt seen, understood. Even now, she wondered if his eyes could see inside of her, if he could hear her thoughts – or her heart, which was pounding wildly just behind the flimsy wall of flesh concealing it.
She didn’t like it, being seen. It made her want to run from him.
Part of becoming someone else is that you can protect yourself when the hurt comes, and the hurt always did come. With him, she couldn’t protect herself. That’s the kind of heartbreak people don’t see coming, the kind they don’t recover from. Angie didn’t want that in her life right now, or ever. She had been hurt too deeply by men who didn’t even know her. Now she sat across the table from the one who could guess her favorite books, knew the lyrics to songs she thought she might be the only person in the world to listen to, laughed at her obscure pop culture references.
This man would break her heart into a million pieces if she let him get a hold of it.
So why did she so desperately want to give it to him?