Fire and Lies
By Lynn Ingram
Searing sharp poker red, blazing and blinding and burning.
All that and more, and still I don’t quite capture the color of that night.
Words won’t accurately speak the intensity of my anger.
Or my pain.
I had gone to spend the night with my mother after she’d come home from surgery. I’d spoken to him on the phone, from her house. It was just the sort of conversation you’d expect; how was Mama, please tell her hello and give her his love, what did we have for supper, what time would I be back tomorrow.
And then: He asked me if he had court in the morning, because he was laying out his clothes and didn’t know whether or not he’d need a tie.
He never ever chose his clothes the night before.
Something was wrong.
I really did try not to do it. I really tried not to get in that car. And I really couldn’t shake the awful and unrelenting sense I had that I needed to go. So I drove my mother’s car, to make sure no one saw me spying in the middle of the night. Even though I’d taken her car for anonymity, I still parked far enough down the driveway so that even it wouldn’t be seen. Then, in the inky black night, careful of roots and stumble places and leery of crawling things, I picked my way down that dirt road.
And I saw her car, right there by the house. I bent double, my stomach churned into a rising rotten mass – and because I had to know it all, I walked right up beneath the bedroom window and listened to them. There was no mistaking what I heard.
She sounded just like me. And worse, so did he sound, speaking to her, the way he sounded when it was to me he said those words.
Want to know what’s sadder than the drive I made that night to see if some other car was in that driveway, if some other woman was in the bed I shared with him?
That night wasn’t the first one that had found me slipping down that dirt road to look for those answers. Nobody, even me, wants to know how many late nights – and sometimes, sleepless early mornings – I walked that road, suspecting that she was there, needing to check just to be sure, just so I could find some bit of sleep and know that, at least for that one night, he was still mine.
I remember thinking, the first time I decided to take that dirt-road walk, that I was doing something very crazy. I knew normal people didn’t do things like that, that if I even thought I needed to do it, there was something very wrong with the relationship I was having – and something very wrong with me for staying in it.
And I ignored those little voices that tried to whisper me back to something that resembled sanity, and I kept ignoring them until they very nearly vanished, for good.
Passion? Was it passion that drove the four years I spent with him? Oh, yes, it was passion, the paperback novel bodice-ripping kind, and it was hunger of the rawest sort, and crazy need that blurred all the lines and every boundary and made good sense and logic irrelevant.
And I called it love, and I thought I would die without it. Probably I did have the idea of dying right, only for the wrong reason: I was killing my own self, one cell of confidence, one bit of self-esteem, one ounce of self-respect at a time. I did everything I knew to hold on to him and that thing between us that I named love. I did it all – right up until the day I knew that if I held on any longer, or any harder, one day there would be nothing left of me.
So I let go, and I walked away.
And something in me did die.
Yet I believe in resurrection, and I’ve been now, for quite a few years, about the business of breathing new life back into the all the pieces of me that fractured and shattered apart during those years. This mended woman is painting a different picture of passion and love, and reason and good sense as well.
Do I want that blinding crazy consuming “gotta to have him” feeling again? Oh, yeah, you bet I do – and what’s more is this: I’ll have it. Only this time, I’ll have it with a man who doesn’t need to control me to make himself feel important, who wouldn’t dream of putting another woman in my bed when I’m away from home, who wouldn’t suspect that I’m unfaithful when I’m 30 minutes longer at the grocery store than I said I would be, who wouldn’t need to belittle my accomplishments or my interests to keep me in my place – and himself in his chosen spot, which his insecurity dictated must always be a few rungs further up the ladder.
I sit in wonder sometimes that all those ugly and tawdry things – and more, so very much more – were the landscape of my life with that man, and that I normalized all of it because I had to have him. I laid the name of love all over that fire we lit between us, and I very nearly immolated myself in the blaze.
I’ve learned a thing or two about me since then, and about what love really looks like – and I can tell you this: That was not it.
Love builds up rather than tears down, and love respects rather than belittles. Love supports rather than controls. Love sows seeds of trust rather than doubt.
Those things will be the kindling for passion when it next appears in my life.
And I’ve got a brand new box of matches, waiting, right here.
About this writer
- Lynn Ingram would rather dance than eat three times a day – unless it’s steamed oysters that are being served. Lynn works as a clinical psychologist and part-time instructor in the psychology department at UNCW. Either or both of those jobs might account for why she recently tried to change the TV channel with her cell phone instead of the remote.