This may not make sense unless you read the 100 miles intro and go from there.
They were just words. Words. Letters strung together into words joined up to make paragraphs that said “I don’t want you anymore.”
Words built up over weeks, months…words she couldn’t say, only write. And rewrite and perfect and recompose until the arrangement of words on the paper said what she had needed to say but couldn’t find the courage to speak.
He’d thought they were going out for a nice romantic dinner. He’d thought that things were getting better, that they would heal, in time, that the two of them could repair the damage that distance and worry and children had cost them. She handed him the letter and bit her lip as his expression of hopeful expectation fell into puzzlement, then disbelief, then finally tears. His expression, his face, his eyes were killing her.
For a wild moment she thought of taking the papers out of his hands and ripping them into a million tiny pieces and throwing them into the air, like some sort of crazy confetti, taking his hands and laughing this off, stopping this ball that had already started rolling months before. But her hands froze at her sides, and the words stuck in her throat, and so she said nothing as he looked at her, then away.
How does one document the demise of a relationship? Or more accurately, the killing of a relationship with words, written on paper and etched indelibly into the heart of the reader. Even the tearing up of the letter into tiny bits wouldn’t erase the tears that tracked down his face, or the leaden lump the size of a baseball that had taken up residence in her chest.
He walked a short distance away, saying nothing. She stared at his back, his shoulders bowed, hands thrust deeply into his pockets. She remembered their wedding day, so full of promise and hope. She remembered how it seemed to fall apart, little by little, argument by silent argument, sharp words, little acts of inconsideration that piled up into this mess she was standing in this very minute.
What to say that had not already been said in that letter? She searched for something, some way to break the silence that had descended between the two of them. She felt suffocated by it.
“Did…did you want to, you know, talk about it? Do you have anything to say?” She ventured the question past the constriction in her throat. She wondered if he heard her, he made no move to turn around. Briefly, she imagined him suddenly taking her in his arms, whispering passionate declarations of how he couldn’t live without her, and he wasn’t going to let her go without a fight…something, anything to indicate that he wanted to do something about what she had said to him in her letter.
He sighed, and shook his head.
“Did you cheat on me?” He still hadn’t turned to her.
“No,” she answered him clearly. “No, I did not.”
“It wouldn’t matter if you did, you know.” He still wasn’t looking at her, but he turned and leaned his back against the side of the truck, letting his head fall back against the cold metal. “It wouldn’t matter.”
“It wouldn’t matter? What do you mean? Do you just care that little about me?” She demanded softly, her heart twisting.
He rolled his head to the left until his eyes met hers. “No,” he said. “No, I mean I loved you enough that it wouldn’t matter to me if you had.”
She squeezed her eyes shut as tightly as she could, standing there with her arms hanging at her sides, she could feel the hot tears forming. Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry, she commanded herself fiercely. She balled her hands into fists and wished that he would just come to her, enfold her in his arms and tell her that no matter what their problems were, they could work it out. She wanted to hear his voice in her ear, his lips in her hair, feel safe again in his arms.
But he just stood there, silent. It was a representation of the differences between them, between what they each needed that the other wasn’t able to give. A simple change in behavior wouldn’t fix anything at this point…it was as if they would need to become two different people.
Despite herself, she felt one tear, then another, slide out from under her lids. She turned away and pressed her palms to her mouth. She opened her eyes, wide, as wide as they would go and just let the tears flow. Her shoulders shook silently as she muffled a sob in her hands and looked up at the sky, black and brilliant with stars.
Behind her, he pushed away from the vehicle and walked around to the driver’s side door, opened it, and climbed in. He set his hands on the wheel and stared blindly out the windshield at the desolate parking lot where his life was ending. He knew what she wanted. He knew she wanted passion and impetuousness and words spoken from his heart, tender words that would melt her and make her stay…she wanted heat. Fire. He couldn’t. He just couldn’t. He tried pretending and it just felt false to him…like he was pretending to be someone he was not.
Her fire frightened him sometimes. He pulled away from her often, too often, for fear of getting burned. He knew she interpreted that as distancing himself from her, but he had no idea how else to deal with it. He knew that it was causing bigger and wider rifts between them and it seemed he was helpless to do anything about it.
He sighed and gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white on the black leather. He leaned his head forward until it rested between his fists. There, hidden from her eyes, he let his tears fall freely onto his knees, knowing that the gap between them was just too wide for him to hope to bridge.
He heard rather than saw the passenger door open, and turned his head to the side. She stood there, silent, her face shadowed but her wavy blonde hair lit into brilliance by the street lights overhead. She paused, one hand on the door, one on the back of the seat across from him. He knew it would be easy to reach out, take her hand, convince her that they could fix this, they could make it work, if only…if only…
If only they were two completely different people.
She unlocked the doors and spoke into the silence.
“Just let me say goodbye. And please, call me if you’d like to talk. About…about, you know, anything.”
He said nothing, just stared at her.
She waited a moment more, for a word, a movement, anything, and got nothing.
She opened the rear passenger door, where her son, her baby, was sleeping peacefully in his cushioned car seat. His head was pillowed softly on his palm, his little rosebud lips parted, as they did after he had fallen asleep with his pacifier which subsequently fell out.
She gazed at him and almost stopped breathing. What was she doing? How could this be happening? Stop! She felt like screaming. Can’t you just once, just once give me what I need? Can’t you show me a little of this love you claim to have for me? Please?
She closed her eyes briefly and tried to breathe over the tightness in her throat. Reaching out slowly, she hesitantly brushed a wayward curl from off his forehead, gently tucking it back with the rest. His brilliant blue eyes were closed, his lashes that were longer than hers were resting softly on the swell of his cheeks, his breathing was soft and even, and he would wake up none the wiser that his mother had just torn his world in two.
He would grow up never knowing what it was like to wake up to both his parents on Christmas morning, to have both his parents wish him well on the evening of his prom, to watch them grow old together gracefully (or not so gracefully) and learn how to love, from them. He wouldn’t know that.
She couldn’t stop the tears this time, and didn’t even try. She leaned forward and planted a soft kiss on his forehead, then his nose. She whispered softly into his ear, meaningless terms of endearment, meaningless words that were only meant to make his sleeping baby mind know that she had been here, that she was his mother, and she loved him, so, so much.
Quickly, before she totally lost it, she leaned back, gave his cheek one last brush with the back of her hand, and shut the doors. He had replanted his head on the steering wheel, not even looking up as the doors clicked softly shut. She gazed through the smoky glass at his silhouette, feeling as if he was a million miles away even though the truck hadn’t moved an inch. She raised one hand and set it lightly on the glass, seeing him finally stir, put the key in the ignition, and fire up the engine. He finally turned his head enough to look at her, but she couldn’t see his face. He kept his eyeless gaze on her while he threw the truck in gear, and she stepped back as the truck started to roll. It picked up speed and rolled away, away, away, red taillights saying a final farewell as she watched him drive away in the darkness.
With one hand to her heart and the other pressed to her mouth, she watched him go.