This story is by Kimberly Gamauf and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
The house is quiet. Quiet like the darkness of night at 3 AM. No cooking dinner tonight as Tom is traveling. I’m settling in for the evening with a new book, popcorn and a glass of wine. I love hearing the crackling sound of a binder on a new book when you open it. An evening to sit in the quiet and…..my cell phone is ringing. Tom is calling me?
“Hi, I didn’t expect to hear from you this early in the evening.”
Is he kissing someone?
Who is he with?
She just told him his kisses were nice?
I know her voice.
There are no words right now and no measure for the shock I feel. How long has it been since I took this call?
My mind just can’t put rational thought around what is happening. And time, time has always been a reliable measure for my days and activities. How can time possibly measure this right now? How will time ever measure this?
I listen to them kiss. I feel like I can’t breathe!
I am trying to find something in this that feels familiar. Possibly I deserved this? Did I really do something in my own life that would be the explanation for this awful moment? Am I not enough for Tom?
I feel numb. I don’t want to move. My body has ceased to function in the way I know it. I’ll sit here and wait. I’ll wait for my body to tell me what to do. My mind, my mind is still trying to start up. It’s like a car that has run out of gas and the driver doesn’t know it and continuously turns the key only to hear nothing. There is no start up thought for this situation.
Almost 34 minutes have past. I’ve slumped deeply into a sadness that feels so heavy I can’t get it off of me. In the midst of feeling this sadness, reason and rationale are trying to make their way into my mind uninvited. The thoughts are coming at me. The questions are trying to bust open all of the doors that shut down quickly when the call came in. My body is trying to fight them off. I’m running now, will I make it? I get to the bathroom and start purging. All this awful pain and these thoughts! My body continues to tell me this is bad. What to do? What to do? I can’t find the words to confront him. I don’t want to confront him. I want it to go away. Yes, I want it to go away like the bag of trash it is on garbage day!
He ended our call. He ended our call only after he left her and drove to his hotel room as I heard his phone gently rustle in his pocket. I can hear the radio playing. The rustling has stopped! He’s taken the phone from his shirt pocket and seen that he accidentally called me 34 long minutes ago. So he knows, now he knows. He is human enough that momentary panic will wash over him. And then, the questions anyone would ask in this situation start coming. How is it possible my phone dialed her number? How much did she hear? Is she hurt? Is she angry? And then, Tom goes to work on thoughts of how can he spin this situation? He’s probably in a chaotic state trying to recall what I might have heard. It must be difficult to try and remember what happened when you are caught. And Lee….my stand-in tonight at Tom’s business dinner. What were you thinking?
How long has it been, an hour since I took the call? There is so much unknown at this moment. I’m calling him!
“Did you know you dialed me, Tom?”
“Tom, do you know how long I was listening to the two of you?”
“Tom, I’m just sick…..sick about this!”
“Maggie, I really hate the two of you at this moment!”
“What, you cannot be serious? You hate Lee and I? No Tom,”(I am terse.)“you hate getting caught doing something, anything, you shouldn’t do.”
“Maggie, you knew Lee was going to the business dinner tonight. This isn’t about getting caught! I am actually mad at you! While your sister is taking your place at dinner, you are my wife and should have been here instead. You coming to these business dinners is much more important!”
“I am amazed at that remark.”(I’m calm.)”You really hate being caught so much you would absolve yourself of any responsibility?”
“Tom, I don’t know where you and I stand right now! As for Lee, being my sister for 49 years makes this so awful. It’s just awful!”
“ Maggie this was stupid. I don’t even know how it happened. Honestly, I don’t know how it all started. I don’t know what happened? You should have been here instead.”
“Tom, this is how you explain what I heard on the phone? I am still so shocked at this I can’t even tell you what I think.”
“Please Maggie, let’s not make a big deal out of this. She doesn’t mean anything to me.”
“Tom….really!”(Shouting!)”You think this is about what she means to you?”
“ I wonder what Ethan would say? I wonder what Ethan would say…to you? I doubt Lee has told her loyal husband anything.”
“ Tom, all I’ve got right now is a request. Don’t contact Lee anymore…for anything!”(Arrogance)”Can you do that for me?”
“Maggie….”(A very long inhale/exhale.)”Yes.”
I hung the telephone reeling about Tom minimizing it all….. again. And the condescending tone he used to make himself feel elevated in this pile of shit!In this very moment a strange sense of calm has washed over me. The kind of calm that forces a person to stare into space sitting perfectly still. Is it our past? Tom has manipulated so many situations and turned the tables like a Lazy Susan putting me at fault every time. Is this what has stopped me in this moment? Maybe. I am reminded of a movie I watched several years back about a husband who tries to manipulate his wife into thinking she is going mad. His skill is flawless in the beginning. His wife Paula feels off balance in her thinking and she questions her judgement. It isn’t until someone comes to their home and confirms something Paula thinks she is seeing that her sanity is restored. She goes onto defend herself against her husband. I’ve felt like Paula many times. This vial skill of gas-lighting, constantly manipulating facts beyond reason! Tom has practiced it on me so many times. And here it is again, in this ugly, messy situation. I am beyond the stage of disbelief. In the past, I have ignored him, fought back with no success or just let it go to keep the peace. It always ends with me letting it go. This time it feels like a hurricane has blown away my ability to cope with any of it! There is no ignoring, no fighting and no keeping the peace.
I turned my morning phone call with Tom into a business as usual call. I could hear the relief in his voice and he apology was insignificant, as usual. I accepted it with my words only.
And then there is Lee. How I dread this call I’m about to make to her. I’ve wondered in the last 12 hours what they might have looked like? The two of them kissing. Were they leaning into each other? Did they embrace? Stop! Make the call.
“Hi Lee, it’s Maggie.”
“ Morning Maggie.”
“Wanted to thank you for being Tom’s dinner date last night. His schedule has been impossible and I just can’t make all of the events with my own commitments. He really appreciated you being there.”
“I’m happy to go anytime Maggie.”
“So, what do I tell myself going forward about you and Tom?”
“What are you talking about?”
“ Tom is not good with secrets. He told me about last night.”
“He told you?”
“Yes Lee.”(I’m agitated.)“Just how did this whole thing start?”
“ I’m not really sure how it started. I am sorry it happened.”
(Loudly.)“Did you even think for a moment that you were involved in something that could hurt so many people, especially me? Do I tell Mom, Dad, your husband and our brother and sister about this?”
(In a feeble voice.) “ Maggie, no. I am truly sorry. I feel terrible about it.”
“Lee, I imagine I wouldn’t say anything different than what you’re saying if I were in your place. After all, you are counting on me aren’t you? You’re counting on me not to say anything to anyone. Isn’t that what sisters do? Keep secrets?”
(Long inhale/exhale)”Don’t have any contact with Tom. He doesn’t know that I have called you. I’ve asked him not to contact you. In other words, Lee let’s go back to the way it was before last night.”
“Maggie, yes of course.”(Sigh.)“I’m so sorry.”
There is honor in my family when one member asks another member to do something. I’m working from that honor and checking the cell phone records each month. The thing is, you can never go back to the way it was when something like this happens. I’m the one with the secret. The ugly secret!
About 3 months have passed and I carry Tom’s response around like a 500 pound boulder on my back. You really never change the perspective of a gas-lighter. Especially one with an ego that fills the entire room in any conversation and manipulates the truth in his favor, always. And when questioned, his ego is so fragile that being right is his only way out. There is no trying to argue this with Tom. I won’t change his perspective. And now, I don’t want to change his perspective.
It isn’t important that my family knows. What Lee thinks doesn’t matter. Our relationship is changed forever. She will have to struggle with her own guilt. I don’t have to fix it. The last drop of tolerance has left my body. I feel it in my thoughts. The tolerance for a man who knows nothing outside of himself! I’ve made a reservation at our favorite hotel. I sent flowers to the room and had a bottle of our favorite wine delivered. I know he will be thrilled we are doing something like this since it’s been a tense few of months.
And here is the Bounce, the kind of bounce that involves recovering from a blow quickly. A blow so cruel in the moment, you feel like you’ll not live beyond it! Living beyond it will be the telephone call I get from Tom at 5:05. Tom will feel like the two of us are moving back into our couple space with this planned weekend. And for the first time in my life I will relish hearing the words,“You Bitch!” Tom will open the folder and won’t be hurt that I am divorcing him. He will be mad he didn’t think of this first! There is a bright pink sticky note attached to the bottom of the first page. It reads, “What you say doesn’t matter anymore.”