I’ve just finished up the last few revisions for Anika takes the long way home up soul mountain. To give you a little taste, here’s a random chapter from the first third of the book.
Chapter 15: Things you don’t reminisce about over lunch.
We end up having a civil lunch, like she wanted. Jenny talks about her kids and avoids the topic of her husband Mason; I talk about being back in Ohio and avoid my mom’s cancer diagnosis. Once I stop resisting, we fall into comfortable conversation and banter with less effort and in less time than I expected, and she even makes me laugh a few times.
The whole ninety minutes she’s there goes like that, friendly and jokey things that snake around all the things we don’t talk about, but the past still there, bubbling beneath the surface like a fucking dormant volcano, and I can feel it and I know she can feel it and it’s shitty because as soon as Jenny leaves, kids in tow and one last glance over her shoulder to give me a friendly wave, the volcano erupts. Everything that goes unsaid rushes to the surface, and it’s all I can fucking think about for the rest of the afternoon, a whole list of unanswerable what-if questions, impossible thoughts that will land you in a fucking mental hospital if you’re not careful.
Which, case-in-point: Marty McFly shows back up in the middle of all my reminiscing, shoves me into the DeLorean, even though I tell him I don’t want to go. But he’s insistent and it doesn’t help that the restaurant’s slow as fuck and I don’t have anything else to do except lean on the podium and think about the past.
Back to the future: Ten years ago. I’m twenty-eight.
I drop my gym bag by the front door and walk over to the couch, where Jenny’s watching TV and sipping a glass of white wine. An empty Chinese food container sits on the coffee table in front of her, chopsticks jammed into a mound of white rice still in its box, a cracked open fortune cookie next to it.
I lean over the couch, kiss her cheek. “Hi, babe.”
“You smell nice,” she says distractedly, not looking at me.
I climb over the back of the couch with my shoes still on, even though she hates it when I do that, and land next to her heavily. “I know you like it better when I shower before I come home.”
She sips her wine, still won’t look at me when she says, “As if you ever come home.”
I frown. “What’s that supposed to mean? We had a game tonight. The team went out for drinks afterward; I came home. I thought you’d be happy to see me.”
She puts her glass down, covers her face with both her hands and shakes her head. “I am, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I’ve had a long day.”
I reach an arm around her, about to pull her into my lap, but she pushes my arm off.
“Don’t,” she says.
“Don’t try to make me feel better.”
I huff out an acidic laugh. “Oh, right, because it doesn’t make any fucking sense to try to make you feel better after you just said you’ve had a hard day.”
“I didn’t say I had a hard day. I said I’ve had a long day.”
I want to say, Is there fucking a difference?, but I manage not to. I reach for the fortune peeking out of the cookie, because I need something to fiddle with if we’re going to do this right now. Take the time to think before you act, the fortune reads cryptically.
I rub the little slip of paper between my thumb and my forefinger, and for once I try to think before I speak. After a moment, I ask her softly, “What’s happening with us, Jen?”
She stares straight ahead at the television screen.
I crumple the fortune in my fist. “Talk to me. Please?”
She runs a hand over her head, finger-combing long blonde hair to one side, and folds her legs up beside her. Still doesn’t look at me.
“You’re never home,” she says at last.
“It’s basketball season. Travel is part of the job. You know that. But we had a home game tonight, and… I’m here now, aren’t I?”
She lets out a long breath. “I made it through college because I kept telling myself — because you kept telling me — that it would be different once we graduated. We wouldn’t have to keep doing the long distance thing. We’d be together at last. We’d be in the same state, the same city, under the same roof, sharing the same bed.” She glances at me long enough to meet my eyes, then looks away again. “We’d build a life together.”
Now I’m confused. “We do sleep in the same bed. And we are building a life together.”
“No, we’re not,” she says sharply. “You’re building a life. I’m working as a secretary and coming home to an empty house every night.”
“Baby, come on. That’s not fair. You know things are busy during — ”
“Do not fucking tell me again that things are busy during basketball season, Anika!” she shouts, hands curling into fists. And I know she’s really mad now, because Jenny never, ever cusses. “You’re never here. No matter what time of year it is. We’ve been living here for six years, and how much of that time we’ve actually spent together?”
I don’t answer.
“Do you know how many friends I have here, besides Cindy from work?”
I don’t answer again.
“All I do is sit here, on this couch, and wait for you to come home every night. When you come home.” Her voice drops, cracks. “I’m lonely, Ani. I miss my family. I miss Ohio.” She gives a humorless laugh. “Hell, I even miss winter.” She turns to face me, holds my gaze. “And I miss you.”
“But I’m right here,” I choke out, fighting back tears. “I’ve been right here the whole time. You’ve been the one pulling away — for years now. And it’s like it doesn’t matter how many times I reach out for you. The more I reach, the more you pull away.”
“I pull away because it’s like you’ve forgotten how to listen to me. To see me. Every time I try to tell you that I don’t like Phoenix, that I wish you were home more, that I wish we had more friends here, all I get is excuses. ‘Baby, I’m trying to build my place on this team.’ ‘Baby, I’m so tired when I get home, I don’t want to go out.’ ‘Baby, what do we need a bunch of drinking buddies for when we’ve got each other?’ Baby-this, baby that.” She shakes her head, eyes welling with tears. “I can’t keep putting my life on hold for your life, Ani. I’ve been doing it since high school, and I’m tired of it. I don’t even know who I am anymore; it’s like the only thing people know me as is Anika Singh’s wife. And that’s not enough for me. Not anymore.”
“I never asked you to — ”
“I know. I know you never asked me to be your little housewife. Not directly, at least. But that’s what our relationship has always been. For the whole ten years we’ve been together, it’s always been about me following you. Me waiting for you. And I can’t do it anymore.”
“Baby…” I reach out for her again, but she shrinks away from my touch. I’m not sure which hurts more — the fact that she won’t let me touch her, or the fact that she’s been feeling like this for way too long and I’ve been utterly oblivious.
I sit back on the couch, giving up trying to hold her, to comfort her. I straighten out the fortune that I crumpled in my hand, smoothing it against my palm.
Take the time to think before you act.
And it hurts to ask the question I know has to be asked, because I don’t know what the answer is going to be. “So what do you want to do?”