All Things Bright and Beautiful
She watched him at the gym. He worked out on the bench in front of her lifting free weights while she walked on the treadmill. She liked his arms, the way his biceps bulged as he lifted, and the way his dorsi muscles resembled an accordion opening and closing as he bent down and added more weights. She cast a glance at his pectorals protruding from his chest, pushing hard against his thin nylon shirt. He lifted with the grace and pride of a peacock spreading its colorful plumage. Her art instructor, who talked about the beauty of lines and form, would have loved his body, the way the outlines of his muscles projected against the ripples in his back.
She imagined those massive arms enveloping her, she melting into him, surrendering to him the way a puppy surrenders to its mother, and she sped up her walk to a trot. When he saw her watching him, he smiled slightly. She demurely returned his smile and cut her eyes away. He put the weights down in front of him, rose from the bench, giving her an underarm glance. She missed her step and had to grip the handle to stop herself from falling. Feet on the bench, body on the floor, he performed push-ups. Her heart fluttered and she forced herself to slow down her walk on the treadmill.
Later that evening, he stopped her in the parking lot. They talked about how they liked working out, and the gym. He told her he had worked out in other gyms and was a trainer at one time. She told him she liked the classes in that gym. He told her that she had good form on the treadmill. She smiled and told him she hadn’t been working out long. He didn’t laugh at anything she said, and she felt encouraged to talk. She asked what he did. He told her he worked with computers. He smiled when she told him she worked in a bank. When she said she loved to cook Italian food, he told her he loved Italian food and touched her shoulder. His touch sent an electrical surge through her and she almost lost her balance. She asked if he lived nearby and told him she lived four blocks over. Standing before her now in that parking lot, he made her perspire and her heart flutter. Though she tried hard not to, she found herself taking him home.
She had prayed hard enough and often enough in the hopes that God would bestow on her a man; her yang; that one person to whom she could give her love, someone whom she would marry. When no one came, she relished in loneliness, and over time became complacent. But now her prayers were finally answered.
He stood taller than she wanted, and the gap between his front teeth made him seem impractical. Soon, he proved himself different. He stayed with her giving her his love, making her know that she was his and he was hers. She prepared a place for him in her apartment and in her heart. She knew everything about him. He even told her about his wife and why he wanted a divorce. She smiled at him every morning when she watched him shave, the rhythm he created with scrape, scrape tap, and turn on the water and rinse. She took joy in the way he held the spatula making egg whites for her before work. She rubbed the callus on the bottom of his right foot that sometimes made him limp. She liked the excitement he showed when she was made head teller at her bank, and when he talked about their future and the four children they would have when they married. She was so happy with him. He was the one, the one she had prayed so hard for.
During that first year, he took up all her time and she stopped attending church, withdrew from the Wednesday Night Suppers and discussion group, the Bible study class on Saturday morning, and even stopped attending the early morning Sunday services. She had a
strong desire to be in his presence, engulfed in the persona of who he was. He made her feel full, and needed. He showed her how to ski, encouraged her to take a class on gourmet cooking like she always wanted, went with her to a class on personal finances and taxes, and complimented her each time she made a gourmet meal. He told her how much he loved and needed her, and let her see that he couldn’t do without her.
At the end of the year, he came home from work and told her that he was going back to his wife. She felt a pain in her heart, much like something pushing down on the lever igniting an explosion and causing the destruction of the bridge and the train to crumble. She stood there watching him, lips apart, puffs of air escaping from her lips, wanting him to help her stop the train from running off the track and down into the canyon. He told her that his wife refused to give him a divorce.
The next morning, he packed some of his clothes and a few personal items and left her apartment. She couldn’t tolerate it and didn’t say good-bye to him at the door. She felt hurt, betrayed, and didn’t try to hide it. As she watched him walk toward his car, suitcase in hand, she gazed down at herself and touched her arms, legs, torso, head, making sure they were intact. She sensed herself ripping apart as though half her soul, mind, and body had separated from him. Now, she was left feeling only half a person.
After he left, at first, she cried herself to sleep almost every night. She talked to him, pretended he was still in the apartment, and prayed every night that he would come to his
right mind and return to her. But the sound of emptiness resonated throughout her apartment and she felt the walls of her large-size apartment closing in on her. As the months continued, she tried to forget the things that they shared together, the walks they took in the evenings, holding hands as they whispered to each other. She tried to forget how he loved her big, green eyes, the way they lit up when she was happy, or seemed dark when she was sad, and how they would each race for the bathroom in the morning. She even slept on his side of the bed so she wouldn’t have to look over and see that he wasn’t there.
Just as she had put him out of her mind, and the smell of his aftershave had finally dissipated, he returned. She knew her prayers would come true and delighted in the fact that he had chosen her over his wife. He took up the same space in the dresser as before, and she moved her clothes over in the closet and gave him his space back. He put away his toothbrush and they continued just like two people who never had a break.
That morning after he returned, he rose early and made her egg whites just the way she liked them, just the way he had before. And, she was happy, ecstatic, and jubilant that he had returned to her. She thought about his wife, but their marriage wasn’t the same as what she and he had. She felt that he had just made a mistake in his life, a serious one, but a mistake. She knew he was the right man for her and she had to have him. He had to be hers. During that time, he welded together the brokenness of her heart piece by piece, telling her how sorry he was, how much he loved and needed her. And she was whole again. She believed him and trusted him and the two of them continued their relationship. She told him about the new teller that she had to help hire at the bank. He told her about the computer program he had helped develop. She talked about her new recipes that she found in cookbooks, and he told her about the office move, how long it took, and about his new office.
On the last day of the month, he told her his wife had called him and that he needed to talk to her, get things straight with her. He promised to return later that evening. For the next two weeks, she tried to find him, thinking something had happened to him. She tried his work, but the number had changed and she didn’t think to ask him for the new number. When she called his cell phone, she was only able to leave messages. She left plenty. She phoned the hospitals, but no one by his name was admitted. She drove around looking for him, hoping to see him, run into him somewhere. She went to the gym eager to find him, not knowing what she would say, but he was not there. She pondered about asking the people at the front desk if he had been there or better still, ask his workout partner at the gym who often spotted him, but she thought better of it. She would appear too desperate and she didn’t want to embarrass herself.
Just when she had given up on his return, he came back to her. He opened the door with her key, sat next to her on the couch, and held her in his arms all night long. They sat there together, the two of them, without saying one word. She didn’t know what to ask him and, obviously, he didn’t know what to say to her. He tried hard to put things back the way they were, to make things as normal as possible, the way they were together. But she had pulled away. She knew he could see she was now different. Even though he continued to tell her how much he loved her, she no longer felt free and she withheld her feelings from him. He got her up every morning made her favorite breakfast, picked her up from work just as he usually did, but she no longer kissed him, her thank you for loving her, and slowly she erected a fortress around her heart. They argued more often and he found that he could not please her as he had in the past. Even his egg whites that she loved so much were no longer tasty.
Three months later, he was gone again, this time without telling her. She walked through the apartment and saw that he had taken some of his clothes, his music system, the radio, and left her the big screen TV, the couch and bedroom set. She stood at the window and looked out, but his car was not there. She found what was left of his things, t-shirts, aftershave, pants, a bag and several other things, and put them in a big black plastic bag. She sat at the front door holding onto that black plastic bag and crying. Later on that evening, when she was all cried out, eyes sore and burning, she took all the things out of the plastic bag and put them back in their places. Her heart told her he would return and when he did, she would make him get a divorce and ask him to stop seeing his wife. She wanted him, needed him, and she would make sure this time.
Six months passed and he still had not returned. She changed gyms and started her exercise program, went back to her church, rejoined the committees. She rearranged the furniture in her house. In her heart, she continued to wait for him, still had hope, but her mind told her that she would never see him again.
One day, when she was at her new gym, she saw a man working out with massive biceps and pectorals that bulged out of his shirt . . . .