(I hope I embedded this right. It's Chris Medina's song, What Are Words.)
Sara rounded on Tom, her stomach feeling like the bottom had dropped away. Tom sat there in front of the TV, his legs splayed out, his filthy shirt half open. He probably hadn't seen a comb in days.
"Why do you act this way?" she asked, shaking inside. She knew what was coming. The frost. He would turn the full force of his vitriol on her. Sara braced herself.
His eyes iced over. "What way? What do you want me to say, Sara? You always have something you want and you never can tell me what it is."
"That's because you don't care enough to want to know. You sit there watching football from the minute you get home right through dinner. You're on that couch until you fall into bed sometime after I've been asleep for hours."
"So what. I like football."
"Clearly. She's your mistress. She lures you away from everything else in the world, including me."
His laughter, derisive and cold, chilled her to the core. "You think football is female? That's rich. You're such a dim bulb. Anyway, football doesn't make demands of me. It doesn't try to 'talk' at me and make me do stupid stuff like take out the trash. Yammer, yammer, yammer, Sara. When did you get to be such a nag?"
Sara swore to herself she wasn't going to let him see her cry. That was for later in the darkness of their bedroom when she lay like a cold husk between the sheets. So many times before she'd simply given up and gone to hide in the dark to lick her wounds. She'd tried talking to him, but she always got the feeling that he was mentally trying to move her aside from in front of the TV so he wouldn't miss a play.
But now she was done. "Jam a fork in me," she muttered to herself.
"What was that?" Tom asked, never looking away from the running figures on the turf. "Hey, do something useful for a change and get me a cold one."
"Get it yourself. I'm out of here." She yanked on her hoody and caught up her purse, slamming the door behind her. Where am I going to go? I've got no money and a quarter of a tank of gas. The tin words echoed in her head.
Nowhere. I'm going nowhere. For years I've let my marriage slip away until the only thing left is inertia. We're like roommates who don't even like each other. We've got nothing in common and nothing to say to each other. How did that happen?
She unlocked the car and bounded in, slamming the door on the distant sounds of the match. "How I hate that game!" she exclaimed. And then she yelled it, filling the car with her anguish. She pounded the steering wheel until she felt something snap in the side of her hand. She swore and cradled her hand in her lap, breathing like a freight train, fighting back tears of anguish.
She could handle that kind of pain. It was the other, deeper, soul-sucking despair that threatened to devour her whole.
How did I get here from there?
She leaned her head back against the rest and closed her eyes, willing the pain in her hand to go away. Memories, like anesthesia, dimmed the ache in her palm.
She remembered when she'd first met Tom. He'd been a janitor at a school where she taught. Every day she'd looked forward to seeing his cheerful smile. He'd been nothing special to look at in his blue coveralls, but she could tell he enjoyed her company.
Tom sightings had gotten her through a messy break-up with an old fiancé. He'd been there for her when things seemed bleak. But that sadness couldn't be compared to how she felt now.
This felt like a true betrayal. The ex fiancé had been a passing fad--nothing invested, nothing much to ditch along the way. She'd realized almost as soon as the gold ringed her finger that marriage would never happen. Tom helped her figure out how to kick the other guy good-bye.
Tom had been so different back then. He'd looked into her eyes when they talked. She had loved the spark of playful friendliness she saw there--loved when it flared to passion. He'd laughed at her jokes and told her things he thought about. They'd shared dreams and plans and hopes for the future.
He didn't want to go anywhere or do anything with her. If there was a way to avoid making plans, he did. If he could get out of going with her even to the store, he would. He found excuses to do everything with his friends unless there was a game on. Then he'd hunker down like a bear in hibernation mode.
"Maybe I should just start driving and not stop until the gas runs out," she hissed into the night. "Maybe my marriage is like this old car: on its last gasp. It's probably ready to be junked." Her voice sounded shrill in the confines of the car. She stopped yelling and just sat there, hurting.
But Tom wasn't garbage. The man she'd married had to still be in there somewhere under all the scrap metal and greasy fast food wrappers and crusty old rubber bits. He had loved her then. And she loved him back. When he finally got up the guts to ask her to marry him, she hadn't looked back, or sideways, or forward. She'd simply said, "Yes." He'd been enough for her then. Why not now?
Because he cared then.
When did he stop finding me valuable? Why?
And then it hit her. "It's me. I've stopped thinking of him as my prince. I started thinking of him as the janitor instead of the shining knight who came to rescue me. I let him slip away. I let football edge me out. I let him make me a victim. And now he sees me as the cleaning woman instead of his princess."
She looked up at the crystal-studded velvet sky above her. She took an ocean-sized breath. "I will not bow to defeat. I am the princess, not the cleaning woman. I'm going to go in there and act like it. I'm going to be his queen and I'm going to treat him like the prince I thought he was when we first met."
She hugged herself and let the tears loose at last, washing away the grief and pain. She dug a wadded up tissue from her purse and dabbed away the evidence. Then she went in, climbing over Tom's outstretched legs. His glazed eyes caught her only as she passed him.
"Where'd you go?"
"Nowhere. Everywhere. I went to my castle."
He threw her a look as she slipped into the kitchen.
The crowd on the TV roared at a touchdown and Tom stomped his feet. "Yeah! That's what I'm talkin' about! Git er done!"
His mouth dropped open when she brought out a frosty soda and a bowl of popcorn. She sat down on the couch and handed him the treats. He stared at her like she'd suddenly grown a huge wart on her nose.
"Here," she said, cuddling into his side. "Thought you'd be hungry. Playing ref for the NFL is a thirsty job."
She felt his arm come around her and pull her close. She looked up to see him gazing down at her, completely missing a key play.
"I'm sorry. I've been a jerk lately." He leaned in and kissed her lips. It was the gentle, silky kiss she remembered from so long ago.
"Yes you have. I think you lost your way."
"Maybe. Okay, yes."
She put everything into the next kiss. The TV crowd went wild, like an invocation.