Son of a bitch, why’d this downpour have to start when I got out of work? I turn off my car and get the umbrella. As I reach for the door, I feel my phone buzzing in my pocket. Oh, it’s Laila.
“Hey jaanu, what’s up?”
“Hey Kaiz, just wanted to give you a heads-up: I’m giving Fatima a ride home, and we’re probably gonna get something to eat along the way.”
“Oh… okay. Wait out the rain if it’s bad, I don’t want you hydroplaning on the way back.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be careful. Anyway, bye.”
I let out a deep sigh as I unlocked the door and made my way inside. Wait, what’s that on the floor? Oh, the photo must’ve fallen over. I pick it up and put it back on the table with the ornaments; the photo being one of Laila and I on our first date at the church carnival. Fuck man… it’s been ten years since we first met and got together. I can remember the day I first met her with such vivid clarity to the point where it honestly feels like just yesterday: I was standing by the parking lot after school, and she asked me who I was waiting for. At that point in time, we were both freshmen in a school completely distant from all the people we knew in middle school. I was the introverted nerd who was deep into his metal phase, and she was the social butterfly who had a hard-on for electronic music. It was at that moment we became friends and then from that point forward, we were almost inseparable.
We would immediately seek each other out the moment our classes ended just to talk shit on our boring teachers, sit together during lunch while sharing music with only one pair of headphones between the two of us, gush about all the shit that we had in common, or even smoke some hash after school while munching on some White Castle shortly thereafter. Anyone who saw us, from passing students to the teachers who we talked shit on would often quip about how close we were. Eventually, we both decided to just say “fuck it,” and we officially became a couple. From that point forward, the rest of high school was effectively one giant, euphoric blur. We watched movies together, snuck out at midnight to smoke some hash and fuck, cut last period so that we’d have that extra hour to be around one another before her dad came around to ruin the fun by picking her up.
When we graduated high school and started college, we both got married and started renting this flat as we lived out the fantasy: we’d get home from classes, or sometimes work and make dinner. She’d cut ass on me for not knowing how to sauté properly and I’d cut ass on her for not knowing how to mince an onion properly, laugh at all the stupidity that aired on MTV or cheer on the senseless violence that shit like Thursday Night SmackDown! or Monday Night Raw entailed. I’d get jealous when she started commenting on Edge’s body and she’d get jealous if I was talking about Tori Wilson’s ass. Ultimately though, it was all part of our shtick and we’d both go to bed happy. Great life, right? If I was looking from the outside in, I would say so too. At the same time though, that’s not the reality by any stretch of the imagination.
As I’m microwaving some leftover chicken soup, I hear the door unlocking followed by the sound of stiletto heels hitting the hardwood floors. Laila’s home. She briskly walks into our room and shuts the door, leaving behind the faint smell of her rose-scented perfume that’s almost completely overpowered by the smell of chicken broth. I let out yet another deep sigh and take out the bowl before the microwave starts beeping. I grab a seat and just start staring at my own reflection in the bowl.
I’m not sure when I began to feel this way, but now… I’m not even sure if I can say that I love her anymore. I mean, it’s not like I’m not attracted to her; we wouldn’t be fucking at all if I needed a pill to get it up. We’re still largely compatible and I honestly do care about her. At the same time though, there’s something that’s been off for the last few months, probably years if I think back far enough. We operate on two speeds: either we’re insufferably in love with one another and won’t leave each other alone except when we’re at work OR we’re just frigid – the only conversation between us being simple formalities, like letting one know the other is okay. One of us would get a hair up our ass about something, and the next thing we know, there’s a rift that forms between us. We’d stick to our own sides of the bed, one of us makes dinner, the other eats out, that kind of thing.
Sure, one of us would reach out and bridge the gap after some time passes but the rift is still there waiting for the next collapse which will take longer to fix than the last. When we fight, we both get ugly. She reaches straight for the stones and brings up shit from the past, the opportunities she passed up because of me, etc. and I follow suit. If either of our families gets involved in the matter, forget about it. We both hate our families and our in-laws, but they hate the people their children married even more. Venom from all sides and the damage is still there even after they leave.
I finished my soup and ran the bowl under some water before leaving it in the sink. I walk over to our room, and I see her trying to sleep; she’s on the far side of the bed with her back turned away from me. It’s gonna be another one of THOSE nights… I close the door and slide under the covers, lying down on the opposite side with my back facing hers.
There’s no response; she’s either knocked out or just purposely ignoring me. I let out yet another deep sigh, and try to fall asleep
We’re mutually paranoid about the other going astray. We’ve been married for years and neither of us have ever cheated, but that doesn’t stop her from getting defensive and protective of me when we go out to a party and I give one of my platonic friends a hug. What’s more, I can’t even say that I don’t do the same because I’m the exact same way. Doesn’t matter if it’s someone I’m also friends with, you’ll bet that we won’t get our arms off of each other if we’re both hanging around one of our friends of the opposite sex. Maybe it’s a good thing that we don’t have any kids.
She likes the idea of having children but she doesn’t like the idea of either of our parents trying to get involved in their lives. I, on the other hand, don’t want to have children, period. Yeah, I like being the cool uncle who plays video games and pulls pranks on my nieces and nephews or take them out on the town but I don’t even know if I have the mental acuity to put up with all the shit, the vomit, the noise, the teenage angst, the paranoia of not knowing whether or not I’m doing the same shit to my kid that our parents did to us, etc.
All things considered, there’s been more than enough dysfunction to match the affection we have for one another. Even if we leave this flat, move somewhere far away from our families and other such problematic relations, what’s left of our own daemons? What if we end up an old, dysfunctional married couple stuck together only because we’re in too deep to separate now? What will happen if I just straight-up tell her this? I want shit to get better between us, but at this point in time… I don’t even know if it can.
As we’re both going through the motions of our morning routines, I turn on the TV to get the weather report. Fuck, I must’ve missed it. Wait, what’s this commercial? It’s an ad for…marriage counselling? An idea just popped into my head.
“Laila, look!” I exclaim.
“What is it?! I’m trying to find my purse.”
“An advertisement for marriage counselling, maybe we should go?”
“Pay $100-something an hour for some shrink to talk to us because our HMO won’t cover it? Fuck that.”
“Come on, aren’t you tired of all this bullshit? If we both wanted to leave, we could’ve left a long time ago.”
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?!”
“I mean that I’m tired of us sleeping on opposite sides of the fucking bed after we argue. I’m sick of us ignoring one another after a long day of work. I wanna go back to the days when we were newlyweds still madly in love with one another.”
At that moment, she drops her car keys to the floor and just stares out the window. There’s a pit forming in my stomach, and I don’t like it one bit whatsoever.
“Kaiz… do you really mean that?” Her voice is soft and it’s quivering, like she’s about to cry. That pit in my stomach is just getting bigger at this point.
“Yes, a thousand times over. I want us to stay together, but only if we’re both happy. Otherwise, why are we still doing this?”
“You bastard, I fucking hate you for making me ruin my makeup after I just got out of the shower…” She has her head turned away from me, but I can see her tears mixed with mascara hitting the window sill.
“Is that a yes?”
“I… I don’t know, I have to think. I’ll let you know when I get back from work. In any case, get out of the way. I gotta wash my face… go warm up the car otherwise we’ll both be late!”
She runs to the bathroom and pushes me aside but as she’s going to wash her make-up off, I could’ve sworn she was starting to smile. But what if she wasn’t and I’m just reading her wrong? That pit in my stomach is still there, but there’s another feeling that’s matching the dread… something hopeful. Hopeful of what, though? Hoping that we’ll get better or some subconscious hope of becoming single again? Either way, this is gonna be one awkward drive to work.