This story is by Rachel Payetta and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
“I hate you.”
I couldn’t believe the words had actually left my mouth; as much as I wanted to say them, I didn’t realize I would have the nerve to utter them. I wanted to say the words, to drive a nail into the coffin of our relationship. And yet, they felt repulsive, like my body rejected the idea that I could loath this person whom I loved so deeply. As much as I’d hoped the words would make me feel better, more in control, less hurt – they didn’t.
Joseph remained silent after the venomous words left my lips. The silence angered me even more. My breathing came out in staccato huffs. The faster they came, the more it felt like my chest would explode, like I would never be able to take a deep breath and fully exhale ever again. I couldn’t stand looking out of the same window as my husband; turning my body away from him, I pressed my knees up against the door and tried to fix my eyes on the scenery passing by outside the passenger window. But, I couldn’t see anything; the pitch blackness outside matched the atmosphere inside – cold, dark, and depressing. My eyes darted around, looking for something to focus on to avoid giving voice to the words that were violently tossing about in my mind. My search was fruitless. I couldn’t see a thing beyond the heavy raindrops that assaulted our windshield, pelting our car and the road before us. The more I thought about the situation, the tighter I clenched my fists. How could this be happening?
I didn’t have to contemplate the question very long; Joseph had just pulled into our driveway. He put the car into park, but didn’t turn off the engine. Neither of us spoke, and neither of us looked at the other. With the words we hurled at each other tonight, it was no surprise. And yet, there was so much more that needed to be said. Dare we even attempt it? The air soon felt thick, like our anger and frustration were swirling about, waiting to grasp us both by the throat and squeeze until our bodies went limp, with no more fight left within us, with no life left within us at all.
There was no response from the other side of the car as I moved my hand to open the door. I got out and was about to shut the door when Joseph decided he had something more to say.
“I hate you?” he began incredulously. “You really feel…,” his voice trailed off, the result of the hurt I’d caused when I uttered those three little words. He cleared his throat, his hands tightened around the steering wheel, and without looking at me continued. “I would never. No matter what. I could never…,” he trailed off again, but I knew him well enough to finish the thought: no matter how angry he became, he would never say such hurtful words. Apparently for me, though, it was something I could fathom to say. That knowledge cut through my heart and made me more sad, hurt, and angry than before.
“Just…shut up,” was all I could muster. I couldn’t listen to us anymore. What he said hurt me; what I said hurt us both.
“Maria, come on.”
“Joseph – shut up!” I slammed the door to make my point. If I had to listen to either of us say one more word I was sure I would do even more damage with the poison-tipped arrows that seemed to be effortlessly shooting out of my mouth tonight.
Joseph had enough as well; he backed the car out of the driveway and was now disappearing down our quiet suburban street.
Inside our home, I let the tears fall freely. Never had I known such pain; it felt like two opposing gravitational forces were grappling over who got to tear my heart out of my chest. How was it possible to hate the person you love, the person you’ve pledged to love for the rest of your life? I had no strength left. All of the lights were left on, my purse found a home in the middle of the floor; I couldn’t even be sure that I’d locked the front door. I simply found my room, collapsed onto the bed and questioned the decision I’d made to share a life with someone I had come to hate. And who, I’m sure, in this moment hated me.
How did we get to this point? How could we say such horrible things? Was there any coming back from that? Would we even want to? Were we ever truly in love to begin with? It didn’t seem possible that love could turn to hate. As the tears flowed and my thoughts wandered, I slowly drifted to sleep.
An annoying ringing woke me out of my sorrowful slumber. Hazy-eyed, I searched the house for my purse, finally finding it on the floor in front of the still-open door of our single-story, ranch-style home. A home we’d just purchased the previous summer – the first home we bought as a couple. The phone buzzed, alerting me to a voicemail message. Looking down at the screen, I saw that I had six missed calls. I dialed my voicemail, entered my password, and waited.
“Yes, Mrs. Rossi, this is Sandy from St. Mary’s hospital. I’m calling in regards to your husband, Joseph Anthony Rossi. Please call us back as soon as possible. Our number is 767-269-8015, and I’m at extension 5.”
My hands were shaking as I wrote the number down on an envelope freshly arrived in today’s mail. A bill, no doubt. Taking a deep breath, I dialed the number and reached Sandy, an ER nurse at St. Mary’s. There had been an accident; I was the emergency contact. For the second time that night my brain was in a fog; this time, though, it was fear, not anger that clouded my mind. I grabbed my purse and drove my car through the blossoming cherry tree-lined streets of our small town.
Driving was probably not the best decision given my current state of mind, but it was the quickest option. Thankfully, there were few cars on the road, and none of them were cops. I swerved around the few dawdling drivers who attempted to slow me down, squealed my way into the hospital parking lot, and rushed through the ER doors, completely drenched from the springtime storm.
“Hi, I’m Maria Rossi,” I said to the first person I saw in hospital scrubs. “My husband Joe…Joseph Anthony Rossi…is here. You guys called me.” I really had no idea what I was saying at this point, and the nurse made even less sense. Seeing the blank, worried stare that masked my face, I was directed to Nurse Sandy who took me aside to a quiet part of the waiting room.
“Mrs. Rossi, your husband was in a serious car accident.”
“Well, um, is he…is he…um…,” was all I could muster, while my trembling hands gestured in an attempt to get across the question I was trying to ask.
A sigh of relief escaped my lips.
“…but he’s in critical condition.”
My breath caught in my throat again.
“He wasn’t responsive when paramedics arrived on scene. He has some major injuries and has been taken into surgery. Once he’s out, it isn’t likely that he’ll wake up for some time. But it’s good that you’re here,” she said, squeezing my arm reassuringly. “When the doctor gives me the go-ahead, I’ll take you in to see him. Like I said – he won’t be awake but you can talk to him and be with him. Presence of loved ones is really important in times like this.”
I couldn’t look Nurse Sandy in the eye. I wasn’t a loved one…not anymore. Would my presence really help him, or would I just make things worse?
Nurse Sandy offered me some coffee; I shook my head “no” as tears began slipping down my cheeks.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, embarrassed at my display of fear and pain in front of a total stranger.
“Don’t be sorry. It’s perfectly natural,” she said, her kind smile setting me at ease as far as my embarrassment was concerned. “Bathroom’s down the hall if you need it. I’ll be back to check on you in a bit.”
I nodded at her as she checked her pager and headed back into the emergency room. Inside the bathroom, hot tears cascaded down my face. My body shook uncontrollably as I leaned against the wall and slowly slid to the floor, grasping my knees and rocking my body in an attempt to control the violent tremors overtaking me.
“Oh God,” I whispered. “Please don’t let him die. Please give me a chance to apologize, to tell him I didn’t mean it, not really. I didn’t. I couldn’t. I beg you – please let him live and allow us both the chance to forgive and heal. I know what I said put a nail in the coffin of our relationship, and I probably even dug the grave. But please, don’t let us bury anything tonight. I’m not ready to let go of him or our marriage. Please, please let me fix this.”
I stayed in the bathroom awhile longer, afraid that if I left, I would find out that God had decided not to listen to my prayer. Finally, though, I began to feel as if I needed to be close by, easily found. I walked to the sink, splashed cold water on my face, and took a deep breath.
I walked through the sterile corridor of the hospital to the waiting room, where others anxiously awaited news of their loved ones. No one made eye contact. What was the point? We were all feeling the same thing and there was nothing to be said. Our joined presence created a camaraderie that was comfort enough…for now.
I don’t know how long I sat and waited; it felt like forever. It probably was. Nurse Sandy checked on me periodically, her gray-blonde hair perfectly framing her rosy cheeks. She was a pretty woman, with sparkling eyes, the skin around which would crinkle with kindness and concern every time she smiled down at me. At one point, in my delirious anguish I thought she had a halo. It didn’t matter if she did or not; she was a real-life angel, a kind soul there to protect us all from the sad realities we were facing.
Eventually, Nurse Sandy led me to a room where my husband lay in silence. The only sound was the heart monitor’s occasional buzz and the whirring of the blood pressure cuff as it slowly pumped and released air. When Nurse Sandy was finally assured that I was ok to be left alone, I pulled a chair up to my husband’s bedside and took hold of his hand, careful not to disturb the IV needle.
“Tony…Tony…Tony…,” I whispered, calling him by the name he preferred, the name used by those who loved him. There was no response. I didn’t know what to say to him. In my uncomfortable state I started absentmindedly tugging on the hairs of his arm. “Love tugs” he always used to call them. It was a nervous habit, like when a child pulls on their mother’s dress for comfort and assuredness. Normally, whenever I did this, Tony would pull me into a bear hug. That wasn’t possible now. Would it ever be?
“I’m so sorry,” I said, fresh tears forming in my eyes. I sighed and held his hand once again, squeezing it. “I love you.”
And, very gently, he squeezed back.