Monday, March 7, 2011

"Sweet Heart" by Christina Murphy

It wasn’t that he was angry—just, as he liked to say, unfulfilled. Anger did not give him the permission he needed to be unkind to her, but unfulfilled vaulted him into a new category. Unfulfilled, he was misunderstood, and someone must be to blame for that. Not that she was, by any means. But no one could convince him of that. Whenever he was unhappy, it was always because his life had taken the wrong turn in marrying her. None of it was his fault even though he had left a marriage and a child behind, and obviously the decision was his. No, that did not matter. What mattered was she was not living up to his expectations and, after all he had sacrificed in leaving his wife to come to her, didn’t she owe him?

We all had known her for a long time. She was a very sweet and very honest woman who largely thought in practical terms—except, of course, when it came to love. Then she was like the rest of us, trying to cope and do the best you can while your heart speaks a language you don’t understand. She was taken with him. None of us saw in him what she did. We all thought he was self-centered and that nothing was more important to him than getting his way. His way was wrapped up with that she should be making him happy. Never mind that he was seldom happy for long. And never mind that he was hugely critical of her and unkind, embarrassing her in front of friends with his criticisms and complaints and his sense that if she would just obey, everything would be all right. None of us could imagine how long-suffering she could be until we saw her in action. She took it upon herself to protect him from revealing his true pettiness and worked hard to have others see him as the public self he had created for himself—kind, understanding, supportive. It was all an act, on both their parts, but hardly anyone ever saw through the pretenses.

So, was it a surprise that he left her for another woman who thought he was a saint and later learned how angry he could be at life and at her? Yes, it was a surprise. It caught her off guard and destroyed what was left of her faith in herself and in relationships. Not that she ever let us know. She had control of her emotions, and none of us would have known what she was going through. Except the one night she went by the house of her former husband and his new wife and stood across the street, watching. An hour or so later, she crossed the street and stood by the large elm tree in their front yard. She had a note that she thumb-tacked into the tree: Hearts do break, it said. Someday you both will know.

On the walk back, she cried. It was perhaps the first time ever that she cried in front of others. And there was an ice cream parlor across the street that she had passed many times. Behind the counter was Miss Doris, content to scoop out the various vanilla, chocolate, peppermint, and butter pecan flavors that people longed for. Miss Doris was smiling as each child’s face lit up with joy and small pink tongues lapped up the sweetness.

She was tempted to go inside and be a child again with a large cone of sugary ice cream, and she would have done it had she been able to stop her tears. But something about watching Miss Doris made her sadder. There was not enough ice cream in the world to satisfy the hunger of the children and adults lined up for scoops of marshmallow heaven or strawberry morning. Even if Miss Doris added sprinkles and candy chips, peanuts or gummy bears, there just wasn’t enough. More and more would be needed, and soon Miss Doris would have scooped out all the huge ice cream tubs she had, and, one by one, the people would all abandon her—moving down the street to the next ice cream parlor and the next server who would attempt to make all their longings fulfilled.

No comments:

Post a Comment