I don’t know how we ended up like this.
I don’t know how our I love yous turned into goodbyes.
The only thing I know is when the change occurred. When the exact moment was that this had to end. When the love was all that we had left, and even that was slipping, quickly.
When, despite all of our efforts, we both knew being apart was the only way.
It was the toaster.
We had just gotten home from the tree lighting that occurs every December in our little town. Going to this tree lighting ceremony was where it all began; our first date, back in 2016.
Maybe we moved too fast. Maybe the reason we failed was because we didn’t wait a few years to get married, but when love is so powerful and overcoming, who wants to slow things down? I loved her so much, and when that love consumes you, three months is more than enough.
Or maybe people simply change.
During the lighting, we got our hot cocoas from Little Coffees and Teas, just around the corner from the park, as we did every year. We stood, one of the closest people to the tree, behind three young children (likely siblings) staring up at the eight-foot triangle in awe.
I looked down at the three of them, in turn, in awe, knowing that it was a subtle glimpse of the future I desired: three children, with my beautiful wife by my side.
When I looked over at her with a grand smile, however, she was looking at the children with a sadness in her eyes; a sadness that was nearing regret.
It’s not to say that we haven’t had that conversation. I mean, we’re married, for Christ’s sake. The longer we were together, though, the less excited she seemed for our future, and unfortunately for me, my heart grew more heavy with longing as the years went on.
“Are you okay?” I leaned over and asked her.
One thing to note about my wife is that she is a horrible liar. She either sounds too tense in delivery, or avoids eye contact to an extreme.
This time, it was both.
We watched as the tree grew colorful and listened as the crowd cheered, usually being the loudest of the bunch.
After the ceremony, I kept my head low as we made our way to the car. I took the last sip of my hot cocoa, and tossed the paper cup into the trash just outside of the park.
As we drove home, there was silence. The Christmas tunes that we would always play on the drive back lingered in my mind, and my wife looked out the window mundanely. There seemed to be no thought behind her eyes, as if there was no tradition, no importance, to the night.
I won’t lie to you: it hurts. It didn’t only hurt because it was tradition, however. It hurt, more than anything, because I could feel her pulling away from me.
In fact, I had felt it for a while. That night, though, I was nearing out of reach.
She sat her purse down on the kitchen counter, and hung her coat up on the rack. She turned around, and weakly smiled at me; her face could not lie, either.
“Are you sure everything is alright, darling?” I asked. I had felt the drifting, too, and I knew that we could never go back to what it was. Yet, I still loved her deeply, and I wasn’t quite ready to let go.
There was a long pause as she looked at the floor, seemingly embarrassed. And then, I felt her make the choice: “Of course I’m not okay.” There was a heavy impatience present in her voice. “We both know that this, us, is not working anymore. We’ve been avoiding the truth for too long.”
“But, we can fix things. I love you, and I don’t want to give up on this.”
“And I don’t want to keep trying.”
One thing about me: I can lose my temper pretty quick. I do consider myself to be a good, loving person, and I would never hurt anyone I did love. Nonetheless, sometimes you just have to throw something, you know?
Anyways, at this point, I was feeling impatient myself. My patience was not thin from trying, however. It was thin because of her lack thereof, and I was done being the only one putting in effort.
“How can you say that?” I asked, my voice raised and out of control. “You stopped trying a long time ago, and I’ve still been doing everything in my power to make this work.”
“This has been broken for a long time. It takes two to make a marriage, but it also takes two to break it. Don’t act like you’re the victim, here. It’s both of our faults.”
She walked away from me, grabbing her purse and coat again, and told me she was going to get some air. My fingernails dug into the palms of my hands as I grappled with what to do next. I decided the best way to make things work was to make her stay, so I grabbed her wrist, and tightly.
“Don’t go anywhere. Let’s just talk.”
“Let go of me!”
“But I love you. I just want things to be the way they used to be.”
As she struggled to release my grip, she uttered the words, “They can’t be.”
And it broke me. So, I let go.
She went to the kitchen counter once again, and grabbed the first item we owned as newly weds; our first shared possession. She unplugged the cord from the wall and looked directly into my eyes.
Then, she threw the toaster to the ground with all of her strength, one tear seeming to want an escape from her eye.
It shattered. The knobs on the front of the contraption were spread across the floor, and the metal from the inside was ruined.
“Let me go!” The tear fell, on its own, and hit the weak object. “Let us go. It’s over.”
She walked out the door, and, helpless, I collapsed. I hugged the toaster until I was completely barren of tears. I collected the little knobs and stared at them in my hand for what seemed like a brief few minutes, but was likely much longer.
With no expression in my eyes, I picked up the toaster, stood up, and threw it in the already-overflowing garbage.
And then it was over. She was gone.
“Wow. That must have been a hard reality to come to terms with, undoubtedly. Nonetheless, I’m really proud of you for sharing. It feels like you’ve made a lot of progress here, don’t you think?”
The shrink looks at me with a smile that proposes a victory. I know she doesn’t believe she’s fixed me (she says, the only person who can do that is yourself), but her eyes suggest that I’ve grown; that although I’m still broken, we’ve made progress.
Yes, I could tell the story. That’s not because I’ve moved on, or grown okay without her, though. I close my eyes on the sofa, and pretend she’s next to me. I walk through the store, only collecting half of the grocery list, convinced we’ll meet at the checkout.
I pretend my shrink is her, because those deep conversations are probably what I miss the most.
No, I’m not any better, and I haven’t made any progress.
I’ve just turned it all off.
With all of this, however, deep down, I knew that it had to end. I knew that it had to be over, because (one thing I have learned in therapy is) love is not all it takes.
I think of what to say in response, considering agreeing with her. Then, I realize that I am in no position to lie, and I am so weak with regret, that I don’t think I can.
So, instead, I ignore it.
“People really aren’t what you expect, are they?”