Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Chapter XVI: in search of feeling

Note: In case you are new to my blog, or have forgotten the story since it has been so long since the last chapter, you can find the preceding chapters here - start reading from the bottom at Chapter I.

With my tears not yet dry after a fruitless search for my recently rescued German Shepard, Mitch and I pulled onto I-15 and pointed the car toward Las Vegas. He made vague and clumsy efforts toward comforting me with hollow promises that his family would continue to roam the streets of Cedar City in search of Meeka even while I stared out my west-facing passenger window and watched the familiar sage brush covered by tired and crusted week-old snow spreading out toward the gently rolling pine covered hills. I crawled further back into myself as the freeway curved west, then south again rapidly dropping in altitude as the snow disappeared and the sun began generating warmth as neared the desert. I couldn't speak. I was beginning to question whether what I thought or said or did or felt mattered at all.

We continued along the freeway as it split the red sandstone buttes I always viewed as the welcome sign to my grandparent's home and sped past the familiar exit. I continued to stare out the window toward the stark white temple where we were married just three months earlier - a day time had warped further into my past than the calendar claimed. A bitter wave of nostalgia washed over me as better memories of this same drive plagued me.

Mitch was in good spirits despite his frustrations with the gutless 1979 rusted Mystery Mazda that refused to run faster than 55 mph unless we were free falling down a steep incline. Before we reached the Virgin River Gorge with its towering red cliffs, steep inclines and narrow switchbacks, Mitch asked me to start the book on tape we had packed. I acquiesced as it allowed me to continue to stare out the window and blocked out the fights I wanted to pick. I fumbled through a bag in the back seat and popped the casette tape into the boombox I had earlier placed on the back seat. The car never had a tape player so this was our solution. Despite the large, bulky speakers, we strained to hear the pompous British voice reading Interview With a Vampire over the wind noise of the car.

I wanted to ask Mitch about Meeka again and why he let her out without walking outside with her. I wanted to ask him if he was really going to make me go to my friend's wedding alone, I wanted to ask him why he always felt so far away from me.

Instead, I turned my body further toward the window straining to pick out rock climbers on the cliffs and watched for familiar cars at the one wide pull-off in the Gorge to see if any friends were climbing the Gorge. Trapped in that car I envied the freedom of those climbers to walk up to such daunting slabs of sandstone and pinch tiny ledges with their fingers and sticky rubber shoes and feel - really feel something. I longed to be there with them, to force my feet into the exceptionally small shoes that perfectly traced the high arches of my feet and have someone check my harness to make sure I had remembered to double back my belt and give the rope a firm upward tug to check that my knots were correct. I wanted to step into the cool shade of the cliff I was facing and smell the dusty odor of raw nature. I imagined myself testing the face of the wall, running my palms across its rough texture in search of a starting point and giving myself a final stretch before calling to my partner "on belay?" and stepping onto the face after I received the confirmation of "belay on." Even as the climbers faded from view and the cliffs were replaced with the flat open surface of the Mojave Desert, I thought of each move up the face of that wall - my right foot gripping with the outer corner of my toes, heel raised as it held my wait while I stepped my left foot up near my knee and felt strength and freedom as I envisioned that faithful moment of transferring my weight to my left foot and rising a few feet as my fingers gripped at tiny outcroppings above my head until finding purchase. One move after another of jamming a leg in a crack here, pressing down with the heel of my hand on a ledge to mantle my feet to match my hands, resting briefly on a jug hold to catch my breath. If I could just be on that face, I imagined, I could feel the surface of the rock, feel the still cool air moving through my lungs, feel my heart pumping in my chest, feel the excitement of moving through a challenge, feel the crispness of the shaded air around me, feel the contrast of my sweating body, feel the joy of touching God's creation so intimately. At the top was sunshine, above the canyons cool shadows; at the top was warm air, following the cool; at the top was an expansive view of the world; at the top was freedom.

Instead, my craven soul remained trapped in a numb shell of a body slouched onto the car door, not feeling the glass pressed against my forehead or the raw edge of the seatbelt strained across my neck, shoulder and chest even as I longed to breathe deeply atop a cliff.

Mitch likely attributed my silence to melancholy over the loss of my dog, or perhaps he thought I was listening to the book he had chosen. In any event, he did not try to understand my distance and I resented him for it.

That night the distance was augmented by the awkward sleeping arrangements. We stayed with the same older brother who left us homeless for a night over spring break earlier in the year after he refused to let us stay at his house since his wife somehow thought that meant we would have sex on his couch. Despite being married, his brother still didn't seem to trust that we were legitimate and put us in a room with a twin bed with a trundle bed despite the fact that a perfectly good pull-out couch existed elsewhere. Sometime between my reverie in the Gorge and climbing onto the trundle bed a foot lower than my husband, the dam broke and thoughts and worries and fears came spilling out. I begged Mitch to go to the wedding the next morning then begged him to just touch me and I spent the night awkwardly straining my arm up toward him in a desperate attempt to feel.

The next morning nothing was said as I showered and dressed for the wedding, Mitch just didn't get dressed. He drove me to the temple unshowered and unshaved in sweat pants, a flannel shirt and a baseball cap. If I had been thinking clearly I might have realized it was better for him to not go given his recent antics, but I was selfishly embarrassed and humiliated by the very idea of going alone - some sort of widow to causes unknown after three short months of marriage. The bride was my best friend, my roommate, my brides maid - the only person other than Mitch with whom I had spent the bulk of the year. There was no way I could not go to her wedding. But walking into the temple that day as Mitch drove off with a vague promise to return before it was over, my heart sunk even further into my stomach.

In the chapel waiting room I sat next to Gretchen's mother and began the first lie of the day - Mitch was sick but hoped he could make it later. I don't know if she believed me or not but she obviously sensed my pain because she pulled me into the details of the day and both before and after the ceremony she invited me to help Gretchen in the brides dressing room. It helped to have a purpose although I wouldn't allow myself to feel anything out of fear of letting out the truth.

When we exited the temple, to my relief, Mitch was there waiting. I asked if he was feeling better and he rolled his eyes at my lie. Wearing a dress two sizes too big so the sleeve and hem line could be long enough for my long limbs, I smirked through photos, unable to conjure up a full smile. In photos I appear to be resigned to a life of making excuses for the man with a forced hand around my waist, even as he kept his distance and my empty eyes stared blankly into the distance.

5 comments:

critts said...

I'm so glad the story continues! I've been eagerly awaiting the next installment!

Beck said...

Hooray! The next chapter!
This one had my stomach all in knots. I can't wait for the final one, where you walk away and start living your REAL life.

Emily said...

I'm so, so glad you've continued the story. It gets more intense with each installment. Keep it up!

Tiffany said...

As usual, you've painted such a clear picture. Bravo.

autumn said...

I still feel really upset about the lost dog. Excellent writing.

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