Copyright© 2012 by Robert McKay
It was over a week later, on a Wednesday, when Frank took me by the hand after I'd done the supper dishes and led me into the living room. He held my hand as he and I sat down on the sofa. "I've been thinking," he said. "Tyrone was right."
I was gratified to hear that. It had taken him a while, but he was saying it on his own. My husband was growing and learning, just as I was, and it was good to see. But I needed to ask a question. "Right about what?"
"Our sexual relationship ... or the lack of one. We are married, Gen. But we're not acting like it."
"That's all right, Frank. I'm willing to wait until you're ready."
"But you shouldn't have to. You should be able to receive from me, but I haven't been giving."
That was a sign of growth too, the fact that Frank was thinking of me rather than of himself. He had never been selfish, but for the months of our distress he had thought only of himself, and now he was emerging from that self-centered life. I squeezed his hand. "Frank, I'm not going to impose on you. I know that probably you could respond physically if I ... touched you that way. Probably you would. But I want your heart as well as your body. I want you to love me, not merely give me sex."
"I know. I've been thinking, as I indicated, and one of the things I've put a lot of thought into has been my own attitude toward sex. I realized that all along I'd thought it was merely a physical thing. And then when you ... misused sex ... the realization that it is not merely physical destroyed me as much as anything did."
I thought irrationally of the passage in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" where the dying man remembers a writer named Julian, and how no one thing had destroyed him any more than any other one thing that destroyed him. I couldn't remember the exact quote, but the language in which I remembered it was close, I knew. Julian had, of course, been F. Scott Fitzgerald thinly disguised, as Hemingway's custom was ... and the passage I was thinking of made more sense in context than it did flitting through my head.
But Ernest Hemingway and his writing wasn't the point. I wrenched my mind back to the issue. "Perhaps for men things are different," I said, trying as I spoke to understand what I was talking about. "Your response is so ... automatic ... that perhaps it's easier for you to believe that sex is primarily or even only physical."
"Perhaps. But it isn't, Gen. Between husband and wife it ought to be about so much more. And for me, it wasn't, at least not until your confession. And the weight of the sudden knowledge was too much for me."
I caressed Frank's cheek with my free hand. "My poor husband," I said. "You had to learn it in such a terrible way..."
He nodded. As much progress as he'd made over the months of our counseling, that reserve was still there, a wall that it was difficult for him to look around. I knew that this whole discussion was very hard on him. "It was terrible, and I think my previous attitude contributed to the pain. It was as though I'd never understood love, and then when I did understand it the mechanism of comprehension was pain."
Now I nodded. Frank's formal diction sometimes clarified things for me. "I caused you that pain," I said. "I've apologized, and I think you now know just how sincere my apologies have been. I won't repeat all that now. But I want you to know that more than ever, the fact that I hurt you causes me pain."
"I know it, Genesis. I think that realizing that has been as much a factor in my ability to accept you again as anything else. I remember that during my rage I couldn't – wouldn't – accept your apologies as sincere. I made myself believe that they were nothing but the cynical, hypocritical pleas of someone who's been caught."
"But you didn't catch me. I told you myself."
"I know that. I knew it then. But I wasn't rational, Gen."
I stared at him. Frank Carter was the most rational man I'd ever known. He brought his intellect to everything he did. For him to say openly that he had acted irrationally was a confession almost on a par with the one I'd made, and was for him probably almost as shattering. I put my hand behind his head and pulled him close and kissed him. "I know what an honor you're doing me by speaking to me so openly," I said in a whisper. "Thank you."
His eyes dropped. "It is painfully difficult. But I love you, and therefore I have no choice." He swallowed. "I don't mean," he said, raising his eyes again, "that I'm doing it only because I have to. But my love compels me to do it, for you."
I'd never been much of a Bible quoter. I had tried to memorize Scripture, and done moderately well, but I never could remember an apt verse. But that time I did, and I said it very quietly: "'The love of Christ controls us... ' Yes, I know what you mean, Frank. Love is a more powerful force, after all, than obligation."
He nodded. "I had hoped you'd understand. But we've deviated from our topic. What I have been leading up to is this: Tonight, and any night you wish, you need only let me know you desire it, and I'll ... give you what you want." Even in private, even between the two of us, Frank was so reserved that he couldn't say it bluntly. I had always admired his innate modesty, and I still did, but I now knew that there was also an artificial barrier there, the barrier behind which he hid his emotions.
I brushed his dark hair away from his forehead. "Frank, I won't be crude – I don't like that and neither do you. But I'm going to leave off the euphemisms, and tell you simply how I feel." I took a breath, and felt myself blushing. "I don't know whether I will desire you tonight. I have felt that returning, but I can't put my body on a schedule anymore than I can do it with my heart. But I do love you, and if I do desire you ... I shall take you in my arms and gently let you know."
Frank's eyes grew suddenly brighter, and for a moment I thought he was going to cry, but he held himself in. When he spoke his voice was almost normal. "I appreciate your gentleness, Gen. I desperately need you to be gentle right now. I feel..." I held my breath, knowing that discussing feelings was something that came to Frank with enormous difficulty. "I feel ... fragile ... these days. I feel like just a little touch, a breath, could demolish me. I need a gentle wife, Genesis. Please be such a wife for me."
I lifted up his hand, and put mine to it, palm to palm, and laced our fingers together. It was a spontaneous thing, something I'd never done before, but it was solemn too, a sort of oath-taking gesture. "Frank, my love, I will be as gentle with you as you need me to be. I promise you this, Frank."
He held himself in the same position for a moment, and then disengaged his hand and put both arms around me. "Thank you, Gen. Thank you for everything."
I'd been thinking about that coming Saturday for a long time. It would be the first anniversary – if I can use that term for something so somber – of my confession of adultery. I didn't know if Frank would remember, but I couldn't forget. And I determined to do something, however small, to mitigate the sorrow of the day.
Frank was off, of course, his schedule having been remarkably stable. Apparently his work was of such high quality that his superiors were willing to accommodate him in areas where usually there was less flexibility. Now that I was thinking straight again – or at least straighter than I'd been thinking – I could understand that. Frank had always been a very good administrator, and in the churches he'd pastored things had run smoothly. It was no surprise that the "store" he ran operated smoothly as well.
I'd teasingly bullied him into going out for a walk before lunch, while I ostensibly prepared the meal. I did, in fact, work toward that end, but it was cold cuts and French bread, something fit for a picnic. No doubt Frank was expecting something else, but I knew he would appreciate the simple fare better than he might at first realize.
When I was done slicing salami and tomatoes, and setting out mustard and mayonnaise, I took one other step. Frank wasn't back yet, so I put those things which needed to stay cool back in the refrigerator, and covered the rest, and waited.
Frank came in the front door just after noon. He was just slightly sweaty – it was June, but a breezy day so it wasn't too hot. I rose and met him, and gave him a serious hug. I held him more tightly than I'd intended to. Our lives were melding again, with our physical relationship back on tentative track, but I still had within me a fear of losing him that I'd dealt with – or hid from – ever since the day of my confession. I made myself release him, and looked up at his face, which bore a slight smile.
"What is this, Gen? You act as though you're a lovelorn teenager."
"I sometimes feel that way, Frank. We're rebuilding our marriage, and sometimes it feels as though we're building it for the first time."
"I think in some ways we are." He tucked a curl behind my ear, and ran his fingers through my hair, snagging my curls and pulling gently. "Let's eat, Genesis – I'm hungry."
"We'll do that, Frank, but first I need to show you something." I reached up and disengaged his hand from my hair, and led him by it through the kitchen and out the door to the back yard.
"What is this, Gen?" he asked as we descended the steps. And then he halted. I looked up at him, and his face showed the joy I'd hoped to instill in him. "Where did you get it, Gen?" he asked, his voice almost a whisper.