“Get off me. Your body is too hot.” He yelled and shoved her so hard she fell off the bed onto the hard wood floor. The fierce tone of his voice was ugly and shook her awake in the middle of one of the hottest nights in July.
Marva was stunned into disbelief. She lay on the floor for a moment trying to figure out if she was having a nightmare. She slowly moved her legs and arms to check for anything broken or bruised. Her body appeared to be okay but she knew that things were unraveling faster than she could comprehend. She wanted to cry but her mind was caught up processing her situation. She’d had many heated arguments with Bob, but there had never been physical abuse. Making love earlier had been so tender and complete. She had snuggled under his armpit and fallen into a deep sleep — only to be awakened by this insanity.
Leaning on the bed Marva pulled herself up to her feet and looked at her husband; he was sleeping soundly with quite a rhythmic snore. She stumbled toward the living room, and hugged her body in one of the sheets they had tossed on the floor during the fury of their intimacy. Each step she took away from the bedroom was like walking, in a bad dream, on floors covered in her Aunt Mabel’s homemade jelly. Unlike the slow gait of her body, her mind was racing uncontrollably.
She so wanted this marriage to work. She wanted a family. She wanted this love — the love of her life — to be right. She didn’t want the chaos of a failed relationship. She had lived through her parents’ divorce. Her father and mother had taken turns raging at each other until they parted in a heated court battle that split her brother and her between them. She hadn’t wanted to go with either of her parents but had no choice as a 12-year-old.
She and her brother remained close over the years even though they were living apart most of the time as they grew up. They got to live together when their grandmother took them for the summer and Christmas holidays. They kept in touch throughout the year and were actually good friends. She was grateful over the years for his devotion. She had her grandparents to thank for that.
So Bob’s seesaw attitude was all too familiar. How could this be happening to her? The reality of it all kept her from falling as she felt her way along the dark hallway. All of her thoughts collapsed with her as she slumped onto the maroon leather couch. Closing her eyes, she searched within for some answer for this assault.
God, how can I fix this? she thought. Think. Think. Think. Her thoughts kept repeating like a revolving door going nowhere.
The reality of this kind of rejection was hard to take. Putting distance between herself and the bedroom was the only protection she could think of at the moment. Marva reached for the light on the table beside the couch and was surprised to see Nebbie, the black cocker spaniel, on the far corner of the couch. His eyes slowly blinked. The tilt of his head and his expression begged the question, “What are you doing out here? These are my sleeping digs.”
Marva watched as Nebbie reluctantly lumbered off the couch and ambled toward the screen door. His walk mimicked her dazed condition. “Is it time to go out for a pee?” she said aloud. He sat waiting for her to move in his direction, but she ignored him. Time alone was what she craved. Marva fished through the ashtray looking for a butt worthy of being smoked to its core. No luck.
She cursed relationships. Every hour, every day there was something to deal with. There seemed to be no foundation to lean on. Even her old standby, avoidance, failed her this time.
They had been married for five years this Labor Day. They had met in college eight years ago on a debating team. They hit it off immediately even though they were on opposite teams. They had much in common. They loved traveling and had planned to write a book on how to vacation in some of their favorite places. They had chosen special summer retreats each year, keeping notes to support their goals of being successful authors. It was a labor of love. They married on St. John in the Virgin Islands in August four years after they met.
The book writing took a back burner as the reality of making money took first place. Bob finished law school and Marva landed a director’s position at a prestigious stock brokerage. The first year was heaven, both coming home spilling over with stories of their day, sharing and loving each other unconditionally, or so it seemed.
An unplanned pregnancy changed everything. Bob did not want to interrupt the future of being solvent and was adamant. So Marva reluctantly gave in and had an abortion. Things never went back to the serenity of that first year.
His attitude this summer had given her a crash course in arguing about nothing. Marva had suggested they spend their two-week vacation in Montauk, but Bob countered with a variety of negative excuses, in particular because the vacation period was over the July 4th holiday.
He hated the crowds and fanfare. “You know Nebbie gets freaked out during the fireworks,” he’d say with dripping sarcasm.
His choice was Watch Hill, Rhode Island. “It has ambience and just enough activity so I can relax,” he said. God! He was the king of self-absorption. It was all about what he wanted; they had argued for days. All of her attempts at negotiating failed. It would always end in his walking away from heated conversations, attempted hugs, and lovemaking when she initiated it or just plain getting up and leaving when she came into the room. They finally both agreed that they would research several spots, including Montauk and Watch Hill, to find an affordable rental house. Bob watched their spending habits like a dog in heat, so he believed his choice would prevail, hands down.
Marva had won because a homeowner in Montauk came in below their budget. The victory was a hollow one. She had felt trapped as soon as they arrived but never said so, for underneath was the pain of all the preceding scenes she had endured.
The beach house was old but stable. It sat on a corner road just off a private beach, and the owner accepted dogs. The Rhode Island landlord would not allow dogs in the house, let alone on the beach. Bob went nowhere without Nebbie. He’d had the dog for years and found that leaving him in a kennel changed his personality, and it took months of hard work to get Nebbie back to his old self again. Besides, the kennel fees were too expensive.
So here they were in Montauk. As she mulled over their predicament she still could not justify his actions tonight. She opened the door and moved to the porch, drinking in as much air as she could to clear her thinking.
The sound of the waves hushed her anxiety. The soft breeze brushed her face and she was tempted to drop the sheet so the consistent movement of the wind could embrace all of her. It blew over the small bushes in the yard and made a soothing whoosh sound as it lifted the leaves. It felt like 95 degrees. This July was the hottest ever on the East Coast. There was no escape from the heat during the day. The house absorbed the days’ sun and took on an oven-like quality at night.
Why the landlord had not put in air-conditioners was beyond her. They were certainly paying enough rent to cover the cost of an increased electric bill.
That’s the one thing that Marva did not check before signing the contract. Bob was furious, and they argued yet again about that. He screamed at her, “Pay attention to details, Marva.”
She decided to walk down to the beach. As she walked, she realized that there was no escape from a lot of things in her life that summer. She took small baby steps in her wrap, mummy-like. She was still groggy and uncertain about what to do. The moon was luminous and low and its face seemed to smile at her as if pleased by her presence. She felt like she could reach out and touch it. It seemed to bathe away all her fears. She knew that was wishful thinking, an illusion, not a reality. She was scared down to every cell in her body.
The sand was still warm from the midday sun. Marva’s toes meshed with the gritty grains. She sat, letting go of all the thoughts running through her head.
She turned to see Bob walking toward her. He was completely naked. His muscles glistened in the moonlight. His workouts paid off. He stood next to her, then said, as if nothing had happened, “What are you doing out here? I missed you, baby.”
Marva shrugged. Bob had an uncanny knack of ignoring the reality of his part in any issue. “Can I have some of that sheet?” he asked her.
Out of habit, she opened the sheet, and Bob folded his warm body next to hers. She felt separate as he snuggled. Looking serious, Bob said, “Sorry about tonight, honey. I really didn’t mean anything.”
Marva didn’t answer him. She just closed her eyes and felt a chilled sense of resolution coming from someplace inside her. Perhaps the ocean waves and gritty sand gave her the strength she needed. She wasn’t sure how long she sat there with him, but soon she felt an unwavering need to move.
She slowly unwrapped herself from the sheet and started the walk back to the house. She never turned to see if Bob was following.
Bernice Gordon is a registered nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan who uses weekends and evenings to write. She is working on a memoir about her grandmother.