The loneliness was the hardest thing. It gripped him like shackles, sucked his movement as though he were walking in inches of cold, wet mud and weighed him down in a way that would have had Jacob Marley’s ghost cowering in fear. It seemed that every waking hour was haunted by the alone, the singular, the lack of connection. At three in the morning it pressed on him with the weight of Earth on one buried alive.
His wife had left him months before. It wasn’t the first time this had happened. They had met and departed, split and reunited nearly a dozen times in the last three and a half decades. Only one of their separations had been his doing, all the rest had been on her head. Meeting as children she had first left him when their relationship was young and its roots shallow to better pursue her career. School, jobs, move after move, from city to city, State to State, time-zone to time-zone, she had left him and he had followed.
In their first half decade together they danced and flitted around one another, approaching and retreating in the way youngsters often do in courtship, and he had left her because he’d been certain there were greener, richer, more fertile pastures available to him. Tasting other grass, drinking from cool, clear, fast running and refreshing streams and frolicking with other mares had shown him the error of his ways and he had slowly reestablished a solid, loving relationship and they married while still young but no longer children.
This pattern of her leaving and him following continued for the next thirty years. Her vocational talents were sought after and staying in one place held little allure for either of them. She would forge ahead, be immersed in work while he watched the children, tidied up a house that had once been a home and prepared it for sale. This template had been used successfully three times before but this fourth was proving to be far different and more difficult for him.
After seventeen years this house had become a home, he had established roots that were stronger than any other he had know previously and that made the thought of leaving difficult. Worse, in the past he had been forced to focus his energies outward, to care for their children and work at a job that was demanding of his time even if it fell far short of showcasing his talents; but now there were no children, the nest was empty and he had begun to slowly reel back from the long hours of tedious work that he thought burdened him.
And it certainly was true that work burdened him. Fresh from college he had started at a job that required not a lick of higher education. At first his work had been his passion but over the ensuing years it had become a job and then as the flatness of his occupation made itself known he became less and less enthralled with what he did. For a man who enjoys creating, who feels a great need to balance excitement with a predictable schedule, performing the same job for thirty years is a comfortable stint in Limbo, a Purgatory where there is little suffering balanced with an equal amount of pleasure. Being with coworkers was a relief from his loneliness but work made up less than 25% of his time. The rest of the 130 hours in a week he was alone.
For twenty years he had focused on wife, children, work. His world revolved around the necessity of doing. Five years previously, when his older son was away at college and the younger was working part-time while finishing high school, he had rediscovered theatre. The effort required, the schedule, the practice and rehearsal coupled with social interaction across the spectrum of age, ethnicity, world view and economic class captured his heart. Theatre was where he felt most at home, alive and energized. The friends that he made, the passion that he shared with them renewed him like nothing else. Of course playing with beautiful women was a reward in and of itself.
Creative, talented, vivacious females made him feel young again. Returning to the stage just shy of his fiftieth birthday he enjoyed the company of the youngsters of both sexes but appreciated his position of getting to better know so many delightful women in ways that were not readily accessible to a monogamous, married, middle-aged man. Acting was the bright spot in the dull, solitary position he had found himself in for the last half year and while he enjoyed the company of many there was a particular actress with whom he was enamored.
She wasn’t particularly beautiful nor especially young anymore and she certainly did not posses the greatest wit he had ever encountered but she sparkled effervescently and this champagne like quality was delightful contrast to her inclination of striking out in martial fashion with sharp, painted claws. He had seen her use them, sometimes indiscriminately raking innocents over the coals with the talons that resided behind her straight, white teeth. He had observed in horrid fascination her forked tongue lash out prematurely, injuring all within range of her rage, disfiguring both those who had offended as well as those who had the simple misfortune of being at ground zero when the bombastic tirade of acidic rhetoric was loosed like dogs of war. Oh that tongue! Equally at ease cajoling or praising others, a weapon, a tool and a reward all wrapped in one desirable oral phallus.
Her tongue; so quick to brush an ear when whispering sweet secrets. Those lips that restored vitality through artificial respiration as she breathed life through that sensitive organ that could feel and hear but neither breathe nor speak, lips so plump, moist, luscious and tempting. He had embraced those lips as one sips Communion wine, a simple taste as they greeted or left one another before or after rehearsal or performance: A tease, a hint, a microsecond encounter with rapture, ecstasy, eternity. He had tasted, and in his loneliness he knew that he wished so to drink deeply of the full, rich body that was this vintage Cabernet sauvignon.
His desire and loneliness haunted him. During his waking hours images of her appeared unbidden before his eyes. Her smile, a lingering drink after a show, the feel of her pressed against him in quick, chaste embrace, all punctuated his empty, solitary hours. Had he been observing rather than experiencing the grip this infatuation with her had over him he likely would have smiled cynically and made an unkind remark about midlife crisis, but as he was the one snared in the net of unrequited, inappropriate and illicit infatuation the pain was too real, the wound quite raw. He had seen mighty men tumble in their pursuit of lost youth, men convinced that the musk of new romance would renew them to former days, men turned lunatic by the beguiling shape of a tantalizing creature a generation younger and he had promised himself he would never fall into this trap, a pledge made and broken by a hundred million men before him.
His days were weighted with the ache of loneliness but the hours after midnight and before dawn were the most damned. Now was the time he felt the greatest need for human contact, for touch that was physical, spiritual, emotional. Should he call her, the woman with the lips of wine, the one for whom he longed? He thought about the young and beautiful woman, reminisced about his wife so far away in space and time. One a time-zone east of him while the other was nearly at hand.
Loneliness gripped him but he knew better than to call his wife at so early an hour. She had never been the most contemplative nor nurturing of women and there were few in the world who would respond well to a grown man a thousand miles away calling in the darkest hours to complain of loneliness. This was a desperate moment. He longed to feel the touch, to be reassured that he was loved and cherished, appreciated and desired. They had pledged before God to uphold a bond that would keep them together, he needed reassurance that their pledge of fidelity was real, strong, immortal. He needed help in fighting back the weight of the Earth on his entombed soul.
Unable to sleep, unsure of a direction he rose from the king size bed he had shared with his mate of thirty years, went to the study and turned on the computer. Without thought to consequence or reaction he decided to unburden his soul to the one woman he thought most of. He began typing and sent this email to her:
“The loneliness was the hardest thing. It gripped him like shackles, sucked his movement as though he were walking in inches of cold, wet mud and weighed him down in a way that would have had Jacob Marley’s ghost cowering in fear. It seemed that every waking hour was haunted by the alone, the singular, the lack of connection. At three in the morning it pressed on him with the weight of Earth on one buried alive.
His wife had left him months before. It wasn’t the first time this had happened…”