Seven years was a long time to be in a wrecked marriage. Maya likened her existence these days to a kind of permanent post-trauma, where she was consigned to forever tip-toe around in her own personal life, picking through her relationship with her husband for signs of compassion like she might search the debris of a catastrophe for something – anything at all – salvageable.
When she thought about their digression from where she was now, she determined her last and perhaps only feelings of optimism had occurred at the altar, when she’d believed fervently in their ceremony and all it represented. How she’d cried during their promises to cherish and protect, and how brightly her conviction in their future had burned. When Stu delivered his vows, he’d stood so tall and strong… she would never have believed such sincerity could fade. However, she fast learned it would last only as long as it took them to walk out the cathedral doors after the reverend pronounced them mister and missus.
“The guys are going to steal me for a quick pub tour before the reception, okay?”
Stu whispered in her ear. “Mother!” he called over his shoulder. “Take Maya home to rest before dinner, all right?” He placed a swift kiss on Maya’s temple and was gone, leaving her struggling to cover her anger with an over-bright smile.
Really? He was so hard up for a scotch he would abandon her on the church steps to toss one back with his buddies? She turned to her new mother-in-law to decline her offer of company and avoid the very real possibility of a bridal tantrum in front of her. Maya’s best friend, Kate Blake – along with Maya’s sisters, bless them – intervened.
“We’ve got you,” Kate murmured so only Maya could hear, and then more loudly, “We’ll see everyone at the dance!” She flashed the milling guests a grin, and along with the other bridesmaids, pulled Maya toward the church parking lot and into one of the cars.
Her girls had taken good care of her, too, plying her with humor and champagne until she set aside the bitter resentment that had her fuming and willing to skip the reception altogether. She even believed Stuart’s disregard for her at the church was an aberration, although truthfully, she knew better. No one else was surprised either, Maya noted. Which depressed her.
But she’d pretended everything was fine, both at her wedding reception and all the public gatherings thereafter through the years. Stuart’s willingness to leave her side for any and all excuses continued to embarrass her, even if she could plausibly attribute his departures to their busy schedules and need to stay in touch with a large circle of friends and associates. And she was determined to prove everyone wrong, to earn through forbearance if she must the casual, bedrock-like intimacy that drew her to the idea of marriage in the first place and convinced her she needed to keep trying.
She was thankful the palpable doubt she’d felt from her friends and family – and if she was being honest, herself – no longer distressed her to the extent it had in the beginning, when she was forever steeling herself against anger and tears; when she felt destroyed for days after one of Stuart’s blithe escapes. His constancy in this area had inured her, eventually blunting the sharp stab she used to feel when faced with his lack of devotion.
Her medical training helped in a morbid kind of way, too, partly because medical school and residency took everything she had to give. She didn’t have the intellectual or emotional resources to brood when she faced, every day, twenty hours of class and studying; or when she worked back-to-back twelve-hour shifts on rotation for her residency. In light of these demands on her time, she’d come to view her relationship with Stuart like she would a patient who came into her emergency room: it was anemic and listless but alive, while others were rushing through the doors with fragile aortas and potentially fatal knife wounds. She focused on the truly dying, telling herself she’d get to that other guy as soon as she could.
Still, over the years, she’d come to suspect there was nothing more she could do, that she would either have to leave – an unthinkable prospect – or accept her marriage as it was, which was barely a friendship. She never believed she would be the kind of woman to settle for an apathetic husband, partly because she’d assumed at first Stuart’s love for her would draw them closer once they’d married. It hadn’t. And that he didn’t love her – at least not in the idealized way she thought he should – revealed more of her own ugliness than Stuart’s. She knew her pride hurt more than her heart; and she understood her determination to stick it out was a testament to her desire not to fail, not because she loved Stuart as she should.
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