You might be driving along on a road trip. Tunes jacked up with your whole library on shuffle. Turns out you got a lot of bad music. And a lot of great music you’d forgotten about.
Night has just fallen. You don’t have a destination or a timeline you need to adhere to. You’ll go until you feel like stopping. It’s a mild fall night with a little bit of a spitting rain but not enough so you have to roll up the window. The crisp autumn air carries the smell of leaves. It’s been a pretty good day. Generally. But you know there’s a shadow dancing around the edges. Something you’ve been working hard not to look at.
Random thoughts. Gotta take the screens down and put the storm windows up sometime soon. Shit, I forgot to fix that thing before I left. Maybe Cape Girardeau tonight. Haven’t heard this song in awhile. Wednesday. I’ll try to be home by Wednesday. Wow, when did this rain get so hard?
You pull over on the empty highway. You grab some napkins and start to swab. You hear the words from the song…
Baby, can you hear me now?
The chains are locked and tight around my door
And, baby, can you sing with me somehow…
And you forget what you were doing. And you remember you’re really just running, pushing, digging as hard as you can to get away. You’ve been doing it for for a year or more, trying to get away from the weight you’re carrying. It wasn’t a shadow you’d been avoiding. It’s a tumor, The black, toxic, seething thing you’ve been working so hard not to see.
She’s gone, She isn’t coming back. Not ever. You're sad. You’re angry. Sweet mercy, you are angry. You’ve known that and you’ve been playing the hero guy. The good guy. The nice guy. “I don’t want to be mad at her. I know she didn’t want to leave. I know she didn’t want to die.” And blah. And blah. And bullshit. And blah.
You’re not mad at her. You’ve never been mad at her. Yeah, she made choices you didn’t like but they were hers and she’d always been fierce and independent and determined. You’re not mad at that. You love that about her.
A marriage has a lot of components but way up there is a mutual obligation. To love each other. To comfort each other. To protect each other. You were supposed to protect her. You signed on for that. You revered that. Against all enemies. Especially, if the greatest threat to her was her. Then it was your job to fight her on her behalf. To lash out vicious and fearless and uncaring of the cost as you would against anyone who was doing her harm. That was your job. That was your obligation. That was your fucking responsibility. When someone you love is a threat to themselves, you fight that with all you have, even if it costs the relationship. That’s the cost, that’s the tariff, that’s what you owe for having the pleasure, the gift, the poetry of being loved by her.
But you didn’t. And you knew you weren’t. That’s the weight. Not that you came to the realization too late and then tried like hell. You knew it when it was happening. You held back. You were afraid of her anger and afraid she’d leave you if you fought too hard so you always backed down before that final, ugly confrontation could happen.
And you know...you know...as sure as you’re sitting here right now drowning in your sorrow and being crushed by the incalculable weight of your guilt, that she’d still be here if you’d done your job.
So you sit there at the side of the highway, waves of rain cascading down the windshield and waterfalling on to you through your still open window, knuckles white on the steering wheel, screaming your lungs out and pounding your head against the headrest, hoping maybe you can knock yourself out. You can’t. You just get a headache.
The best you can do, the only penance you can offer, is to live the longest life God will allow you to have, dragging that thing around with you. Heavy enough that it pulls you down, but just light enough that it can’t break you. So you have to carry it. All day. Everyday. Forever.