Where You Go
Copyright© 2011 by Robert McKay
Cecelia and I have learned over the years of our marriage how to avoid cutting each other to pieces. It used to be that I'd continue shouting at her, trying to overpower her with volume; she would follow me if I tried to disengage, using her enormous vocabulary to tell me exactly what she thought of me at the moment. Our mutual bullheadedness nearly destroyed our marriage when Darlia was two years old, and out of that came changes. We both have tempers which we control better than we used to, but which still flare up occasionally. That hasn't changed. What has changed is what we do. I stomp out the door and walk for a while, until I calm down. Cecelia lets me go, rather than following me with the rest of what she wanted to say. It's not ideal, but it's kept our marriage together, and that isn't chopped liver.
As I stormed off across Inez Park in the winter afternoon, I thought of how Cecelia had known exactly where to put the knife when she wanted the cut to hurt. Her tongue can be a scalpel, and sometimes she employs it with all the skill of a first class surgeon. And now she'd employed it on me. Yes, I was feeling sorry for myself.
First Larry gets murdered, and then Jeremy makes it almost impossible for me to get the access I need, and then Rudy takes out after me, and finally Cecelia grinds salt into the wounds. I felt, as I walked in the cold through the quiet neighborhood, as though the contempt of the entire world had unfairly landed on my shoulders.
But in the cold weather I couldn't continue the pity party forever. I hate cold, and no matter how many clothes I wear I just can't stay warm enough when I'm outside in the wintertime. The cold of the waning afternoon seeped into me, and I found myself at the intersection of Pennsylvania and Menaul cold and unhappy. I could keep walking, but I'd just get colder. I turned disconsolately toward home.
I was calming down; I was coming to my senses. I wasn't calm or sensible yet, not entirely anyway, but I was no longer in a blind fit of anger. I could think of apologizing, I could think of trying to explain to Cecelia that I really didn't need her riding me on top of everything else. I constructed sentences and paragraphs in my mind. I suppose we all do that at times, thinking of what we might say or ought to have said, and I suppose that everyone else finds, as I do, that when the crunch comes all our fantasies vanish in the haze.
I was getting nearer home, and calming down still more, working off energy by winning virtual arguments in a decisive fashion. And the reduction in my anger enabled me to recognize something that I'd missed earlier. When I'd snapped at Cecelia it had been out of the blue; there had been no warning to her that I might be angry with her or that I might bite her head off. And the look on her face was not one of sorrow or reciprocating anger, but of utter shock. She had received a blast that she hadn't expected.
I saw in my mind that devastated look on her face. And I knew then that all my fantasies of winning a return engagement were so much hogwash. I might, when my temper arises, say and do stupid things that hurt Cecelia, but I never want to. If I could change just one part of me, it would be my temper, for it has led me to injure her more than once – and I would cheerfully agree to the amputation of both arms and both legs if that were necessary to prevent me from hurting her.
When I got to the house, I stood on the walk for a moment, gathering my courage. The shame of what I'd done to my wife made the next few steps, up the walk and into the house, seem dreadfully difficult. But I had to take those steps.
I took them. I unlocked the door, and hung up my coat, and put my hat on the rack. Cecelia was in the kitchen, doing something that apparently involved cabinets and drawers. I sat on the sofa and pried off my boots to reduce the artificial height advantage they confer; Cecelia is only an inch shorter than I am, but sometimes seems so tiny that I wanted her eyes on a level with mine.
I walked into the kitchen. She was standing at the counter beside the stove, motionless for the moment. I could tell from the way she held her shoulders that she dreaded what I would say; she knew that I hadn't been outside as long as it normally takes me to walk off a mad. When I realized that she was afraid of me – or at least afraid that I might say something else hurtful – my vision went blurry, and a tear tracked down my cheek.
I stepped up behind her and put my arms around her shoulders. I bent my head down beside hers – we were as near the same height as made no difference, for she was wearing shoes, yet it felt like bending down to her – and whispered, "I'm sorry, Cecelia."
She turned her head slightly to meet mine, and our cheeks touched. She must have felt the wetness on my face, for she asked, "Are you all right, Darvin?"
"No, my love. I said a stupid and hurtful thing, and knowing that I hurt you has hurt me. Look, Cecelia, I'm sometimes an idiot, and when I am I talk like an idiot. Can you forgive me?"
She turned in my arms, so that my hands now rested on her shoulder blades and she looked into my face. "Darvin, I will forgive you as often as you need me to."
I kissed her forehead. "I need you to now, Cecelia."
She touched her lips to mine, and still touching, they moved as she said, "Then I forgive you now, Darvin."
We hugged each other tightly, and I felt her hands twisting in the fabric of my shirt, her knuckles rubbing against my spine. And the thought came to me, out of the blue: I wonder how many times she'll have to forgive me before this is over.
I was up and at 'em early the next morning. Before I left I put a note for Cecelia on the dining room table:
"I was an idiot yesterday. I can't apologize enough for biting at you the way I did. I'll be home when I'm home. I love you."
Sometimes things work out better with notes, at least that's how it is with us. Usually we solve everything – or at least settle it – face to face, but I had the feeling that the out-of-the-blue nature of my outburst the day before had hit Cecelia harder than either of us had realized at the time. So though I had to go, I left her with an apology; the last she would know of me would be that I was sorry. We've both done the same thing a few times over the years, and I know that when I find one of her notes I can't keep my mind off it, and when I do see her I'm much less likely to still be upset.
It's not that we manipulate each other, or want to. We love each other too much for that. It's simply that by now we know each other pretty well, and do what we can to ease whatever pain we inadvertently cause each other. Though the methods might not be the same, I bet every happy marriage has the same kind of practical arrangement.
I had my list of names with me, the list from Larry's address book, and my first step would be check out the two names I'd been uneasy about. At least that was my intention, but as I got underway I realized that the people involved wouldn't be likely to start the day until noon or thereabouts. One of the great problems of detective work, whether official or private, is getting together with people. Cops at least can flash a badge, or a warrant if necessary, and go into a house or an office or a gym or whatever and talk to people – if they can find the person they want to talk to. People go to work, they go to lunch, they go to the gym, they spend a lot of time on the road, perhaps it's a job that sends them running around the city or even out of town. When I finally catch up to someone I then have to persuade a secretary, or receptionist, or some other gatekeeper, that it's really appropriate for me to talk with the person in question. Or I have to persuade the person himself. Legally I can't knock down the door if someone looks at me blankly and shuts it in my face. There isn't much that's as time consuming as interviewing a whole list of people, and the actual interviews aren't necessarily what uses up the most time.