Over The Phone

“You want to get married?” It wasn’t a proposal. He wanted to know if that was what she was wanting.
“What!?” The pitch of her voice went up at the end of her exclamation as she tried to imply he was joking around — like, how did he expect her to answer that? It almost sounded like he wanted to know so that he could ask her to marry him — trying to feel her out. It rolled off his tongue like it was sitting there just waiting for a chance to roll off.
“No,” she went on, “Marriage only makes something that isn’t very good less good. It certainly shouldn’t ever be what’s used to try to fix a thing.”
He tried to build a case for how marriage could be good, and how they weren’t bad but finally gave in and said, “I guess you’re right.” He sounded resigned, or defeated. “I keep hoping you’ll come on to me.”
“Sexually?” she wanted to exclaim again but tried to keep her cool.
“In every way,” he said. “We get along. We laugh. We think the same about a lot of things.”
He was always prodding. She was always trying to dig out the truth. They never really got anywhere, but they couldn’t seem to let each other go. They were hashing over their history, twenty five years and counting — most of it over the phone.
“I just wanted to hear your voice,” he said. “I love to hear your voice. Tell me a little story. Tell me about the cats. I just want to hear you talk.”
“I thought you were tired and wanting to go to sleep,” she puzzled.
“I do and I don’t,” he said. “Just keep talking. I just want to hear you talk.”
She could tell he was trying to go to sleep while trying to listen and then he perked back up and started again with sentiments.
“I know I messed things up. If we start a relationship again, it’ll be different.”
She’d heard those words before and said as much.
“Yeah, I know,” he said, “But things will be different. I can promise you that for sure. I just want a good woman. You are a good woman. I’ve always known that. I don’t know why I messed things up so much. Why don’t you move back here?” he asked for the hundredth time.
“Why don’t you move here?” she asked.
Another stalemate.
“Everything we’ve been for most of these years has been over the phone. It’s crazy to think we could ever be, again, something that we’ve never been. It’s too late.”
“It’s never too late until you’re dead,” he said, without skipping a beat and completely matter of fact. One thing was for sure, he didn’t give up easily and his sweet demeanor hadn’t changed one iota. His voice was always laced with sugar and subtle and he always came to conclusions about their affair that were kind and thought out — eventually — like he’d been mining for gold. He never fought — sometimes she wished he would.
They said good night, he called her honey and they let the conversation end again, without much resolve — as if there should be some.
So many different kinds of love there are. They really can’t be labeled. They’re made up as they go. There was love between them. There was no denying.
Sometimes what you want is too close to see. Just the day before she’d been thinking of how a miracle could occur and there he was the next day, pretending to be one — or maybe he actually was one and she was just incapable of seeing that he wasn’t pretending. Maybe he was scared — too scared to tell the whole truth. Had they been holding places in their hearts for such a day as this? Too many similar moments. She was backing up, in her mind, at the thought that she’d been fooled like this before and by him. Then she tried to think if it was really he or maybe it was she. It takes two to tango. “I keep hoping you’ll come on to me,” rang through her head again and she wondered if she had all along been too resistant and unforgiving. Maybe the truth she was digging for, the whole truth and nothing but, was that she was the one the most afraid of giving in, of getting and had been all along. Had she always backed up too quickly and gone running? Maybe she didn’t think that she deserved it.
He had talked about how way back then he’d wanted it as much as she said she did. “I didn’t want you to leave,” he said. “I thought we were falling in love too,” and “I wanted it to work out. I didn’t want you to leave,” he repeated for emphasis it seemed.
He kept talking about all the time they’d spent together and she couldn’t put her mind to when he thought that was. She had to think that maybe he had been with her in his mind and hadn’t let on– all the times he’d seemed so far away — because, certainly, they hadn’t spent as much actual time together as he kept claiming — it was in his mind.
Now she was hashing over the phone call, still digging for the morsels of truth in all the dialog. “I don’t know how I would fit in with all of the stuff you do related to your kids,” she’d said when he asked her to move back. “It would just be you and me,” he said, “I hardly see them any more. It would just be us.”
There was that miracle thing again. Sometimes it seemed like he could read her mind and knew just what to say to please her. It wasn’t that she didn’t like his kids it was just that she always thought she’d have to take a back seat and that didn’t seem very appealing. If she was going to give in to a man, any man, she wanted what she wanted and she wanted magic moments just for them and plenty of them and not to always have to play for seconds. She understood having kids, though she had never had them of her own. But she’d had a single mother and had known full well what her mother had given up for her kids and how men always took a back seat and didn’t like it and didn’t stay.
Do we just play out what we’ve always known?
“It’s exhausting!” she thought , “trying to figure this all out.”
“There’s one thing about you that I don’t like,” he reminded her. They had discussed it many times.
“I know,” she said. “I can only say that it is because I get frustrated when I feel like I can’t communicate with someone. When I think I’m not being heard and respected.”
“Where did you get that,” he asked, “Your mother, your father. Was your father mean?” He was hoping she could change that thing about herself. She assured him that she likely couldn’t as it was a condition of the way they were together and that if he couldn’t change the way he didn’t listen or respect her, she likely wouldn’t change either.
“See, when things get hard, you want to change the subject.” Now she was reminding him.
He tried to listen harder and understand. He was doing his best to make the effort.
Would they ever get better or should they just settle for over the phone? The same question for twenty five year now. When was it ever going to end. According to him, whenever one of them was dead. That was getting closer all the time too. Who could know.
She couldn’t help wondering if they could jump in and do it again, this time with more maturity, maybe their new-found happiness would overcome all their little issues. It was always fun to think — though not very likely even though they almost never get through a conversation without a guttural laugh that goes on and on from each of them laughing at each other laughing. It’s hard to fathom how a thing like that can’t overcome any kind of other little trouble.
The next thought that came rising up was why they keep trying to make it more than it already is. Isn’t it good enough to still be talking after twenty five and counting?
He wanted her to come on and she wanted him to come and get her. There’s some kind of trouble in there somewhere. The problem seems to be the follow-through. Neither one seems able to make a bold move and each of them thinks that they have made one, somewhere along the line. What in heaven’s name, will ever be the fix. Maybe it is like any drug, someone had to hit the bottom first and bounce back up — looking for the one who’s always been there. It’s just a matter of wait and see, which of them will hit the bottom first.