December, 2004. Lyon, France.
I’m lying on top of my green-and-white-striped duvet, on a twin-sized mattress that sits on the floor of my rented bedroom. The room is small, and aside from the mattress, its only pieces of furniture are a white wooden desk and a bookshelf. A rolling rack, like you’d find outside the dressing room at a discount retail superstore, serves as my closet, and the room’s textured walls are ornamented with only a mirror and a print my flat mate’s sister left behind when she moved: an impressionist-style painting of a girl standing alone in a field, with the wind catching her long brown hair and her skirt, as she turns her face away from us and gazes into the distance.
I prop myself up on my elbow and look at the man sleeping next to me. His “bed,” made up of chair cushions that lost their frame years ago, but which have been lovingly recovered to match the turquoise curtains, is even more hobo than mine, and he is lying on his back with his lips parted, snoring lightly as he sleeps off the last of his cold. I want to kiss him, but only in moments like this; never when he’s awake. During the day, he always seems a little too tall, gangly, almost awkward; his red hair, once bleached, now frosted, sits a little too high on his forehead; and he argues vehemently that “tomato” does not rhyme with “potato”, and that “trashcan” is the most nasal, obnoxious, American-sounding word in the English language. And he presents these arguments through crooked teeth.
But, I tell myself, Hugh Grant has a gap between his front teeth, and Adam’s is no worse. And just a few nights ago, lying in these very beds, Adam had professed his love to me in the same awkward, stutter-y, stumble-y way that Hugh does in all those movies I’d been watching with my flat mates over the last few months. And with every movie, Adam’s little bed has migrated closer to mine; our late-night-conversations have gotten later; our episodes of spontaneous hand-holding while walking the cobbled streets of Vieux Lyon have gotten longer, with fingers now interlaced instead of clasped. There are no butterflies here; there was no coup de foudre. In fact, he doesn’t even remember meeting me when my flat mate brought him to a party last September. He thinks we met the next morning, in my kitchen, when he was making poached eggs for the three of us girls, to thank us for letting him crash on our floor. And I’ve corrected him, because I think it’s funny, but the truth is, I hardly noticed him that night either. He was just another guy, drunk, obnoxious, fawning over my pretty flat mates. The only difference between him and the others was that he spoke English.
But it’s me he loves now; it’s me he’s told his innermost thoughts to; it’s me for whom he now skips the parties in favor of watching Finding Nemo on a tiny laptop screen. Maybe romance really is this non-remarkable sense of contentment, this ability to just be. So, awkwardly, so as not to touch him and risk waking him, I lean across the narrow wooden moat between our beds, and I kiss him on the lips.
February, 2006. Llandybie, Wales.
No sooner is Adam in the door and halfway to the couch to kiss me hello than I snap, “I have to get out of this house.”
He sighs. He’s gotten used to this. “Aren’t we going to the gym in an hour?”
“I don’t mean now. I mean in general. I can’t sit here day after day doing nothing anymore!” I pull my legs up under me and hug the faux-suede throw pillow to my chest. Some days, it feels like my body is going to wind up stuck in this position, a ball in the corner of the plushy blue couch Adam and I picked out on when his parents took us furniture-shopping for our new home. 12 Kings Acre has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a closet-sized kitchen balanced by a spacious living area, and even its own backyard plot. Yet somehow, it feels like I never leave this corner, next to the sliding glass door, where I spend nearly every day reading the New Yorker and trying to soak up as much sunlight as I can – a futile effort, given Southwest Wales’s incessant cloud cover.
Adam sits down next to me and holds me. I make no effort to accommodate him. “Your mum came by again today,” I go on. I assimilated my language months ago – my mother is still “mom,” but his is “mum;” “tomato” still gets a long “a,” but “trash can” has become “waste bin.” Things are easier this way. “I don’t know why she doesn’t call first.”
“It is her house,” he reminds me gently. “When my parents bought it, they didn’t think we’d be here forever. Just for the year while I finish university. Then you’ll be back home with your car and all kinds of things to do, and I’ll be the one with no friends and no job. At least until after we’re married.”
I look down at the ring we picked out in Paris last summer. I want to continue my rant about his mother showing up unannounced, inviting herself in, expecting to be offered tea or coffee, and then complaining to Adam later about how I didn’t drop everything to play hostess to her, but I leave it. He’s right, after all. This is only temporary. And they’ve tried to make me comfortable, with the New Yorker subscription, and the fully furnished townhouse, and overpriced little jars of Skippy peanut butter.
Make me comfortable – it makes me sound like a terminal invalid.
November, 2007. San Diego, California.
“I just don’t know what happened to the girl I fell in love with,” Adam says. Tears are choking his voice, and I hate his accent.
The therapist smiles at me expectantly. She is way too smiley, this girl, and I wonder why her professors haven’t corrected her yet. I also wonder why she doesn’t answer for me, since she’s holding our introductory paperwork, wherein I answered the question, “What do you hope to get out of your counseling experience?” with, “Nothing. I’m already done here.”
I turn to Adam, seated on the opposite end of what feels like a very long sofa, and try to be kind. “That girl wasn’t me,” I protest. “This is me. And if you can’t love me as I really am, then let’s just give up now.” So much for kindness.
Adam and I have been in California for just over a year, married for just under one. I feel guilty, because I should have stopped the wedding before it happened. While he was home last December, for Christmas and to activate his fiancé visa, I spent multiple nights in a row out partying with my old college roommate. We drank, we danced, we kissed for the camera, and I remembered what it felt like to be young, to be really alive. And I realized, at the end of that week, that I hadn’t even missed Adam, who, as it turned out, doesn’t like any of my friends, doesn’t like me going out without him, but doesn’t want to come with me, either. I tried to explain all this to him at the time, but he cried. And I loved him, and it broke my heart to see him hurting, so I took it all back.
Now I’m not even sure I love him anymore. I’m not even sure I can feel anything. I just want out.
“I just want out,” I say to the therapist, and then shoot a pointed look back towards my husband. He looks as though I’ve just slapped him in the face. “I can’t live like this, as your little housewife. Or your puppy who you can tell to come, sit, stay. That’s not who I am. I’m sorry if that makes me too American for you, but I promise you the ‘girl you fell in love with’ was not me, and you just need to forget about her already.”
We leave the counseling center in silence. I take his hand and hold it the whole way home, fingers clasped instead of intertwined. Then I get back in my car and go out to happy hour with my girlfriends.
But when I come home from work a few days later and he asks if I can gather my things and move out of our apartment by the end of the week, I fall into his arms and sob.