I wondered why? They told me that we were to be married. Me, a 23 year old woman, young, attractive, educated, and I was already in a relationship with a different man. He was 64, short for a man, wrinkles, white hair, but his jaw was firm and his body upright. The weight of his years had not yet made his figure into the burdened mass of geriatric life. He was wealthy, but our marriage wasn’t about a late life crisis, it wasn’t about and old man using money to buy a trophy wife, or to capture a wild bird and to put it in a pretty cage. He had to marry me, it was an obligation. I didn’t understand it, but he had a social contract with my family to marry me and to take care of me; I was obliged to marry him and be taken care of.
I don’t remember when I was approached with the betrothal, and the wedding happened immediately following. My gown, my maids, the hall, everything was taken care of. He bought me a beautiful ring, a diamond that any girl would be proud of. I wore my ring and moved into his illustrious home, modest in decoration, but wealthy in architecture. Walking around, I could not believe the exquisite taste of this man, my husband. If in a room the wallpaper was patterned, the furniture was of a softer nature, accenting the light and darks that danced from the walls. The shadows from the tables didn’t linger, but complemented the curves of the wood casings. Everything was as beautiful as a painting that you can look at for hours everyday and still feel inspiration glow from the brushstrokes. Around these rooms I walked alone, every day, too afraid to leave, and too shy to talk to my husband.
On occasion we did speak. It was something like a passing conversation that two mild acquaintances would make when meeting on the way to work on the metro. After breakfast he would do his business, and I would contemplate the new turn in my life. I was free to roam around the town at my will, shop for whatever I liked, and come home at my leisure. I wasn’t expected to cook or clean or mend or to do any of the traditional wifely duties as we had people to take of those things; my chief obligation was to be his wife and to be taken care of. It was so simple and yet so horrible. The death of my emotional core, the stillness of my passions, the coldness of my being were all results of my marriage and being taken away from the life I knew. All I wanted was to be with the man I loved. What were clothing, jewelry and cars without the deep passion of a lover’s arms? The warmth that travels circularly from my body through his and back to mine is enough to keep anybody warm even during an arctic freeze.
As the days dragged on I could not stop thinking about the man I loved. I was living in a dream-like state. The distance from my husband spread to incorporate everything else in the world. I had no care to eat, to sleep, to do anything, so after a few months I finally broke. I have never been the kind of person to go against my word. A promise was something to keep, and the bond that a marriage holds I have always felt to be so important that even faced with death I would not be unfaithful. But then I had always thought of marrying for love, not because of an obligation. I had begun to rationalize that the bond of marriage was not as important as I had believed it to be; the bond of love was worth more than any legal document, and besides, I had already fulfilled my duty by going through with the wedding. As long as I didn’t seem to the world an adulteress, I was performing my duty with all supposed diligence. I had decided to go to my love.
We began to see each other sparingly. Both of us were nervous of the situation and how my husband would react if he were to suspect. After all, the normal reaction of a husband would be rage. In many cases, even if the wife did promise to break all ties with her lover, jealousy would undoubtedly follow and the wife’s luxury of her husband’s wallet would be dismissed, and the adorning home would inevitably turn into the elusive tower of isolation accompanied only by eternal suspicion.
After I had been married almost a year, I had resolved myself to spending the rest of my life married to a man and loving another. The love I felt for my bedroom companion was worth the lies I told my husband. I barely touch the old man, but once in a while he would put his arms around me and try to hold me and I could feel his warmth. He was tender and yet held me with enough strength to remind me that he, too, was a man. It wasn’t so much his advanced ages that I resented, it was the lack of love I felt for him. How could he, with the blank emotions I gave him, continue to show me love with every movement of his body and glance of his soul?
One day I came home very late. It was raining and my clothes were wet. I was glad for the rain, it washed off the smell of sex from my person, and I felt that in a way it could cleanse any guilt I might be harboring. I rushed into the house, expecting my husband to be asleep in his own room (we, like family sitcoms from the fifties had our own “chambers” for personal space and rarely needed to present ourselves in the other’s room) when I almost bumped into him as he was leaving the den, glasses in one hand and a leather bound book in the other. We didn’t speak, but each knew where I had been and to what purpose. He told me with his eyes the he was sorry our obligation made me feel like I was forced into doing what I was doing. Without words he made it clear that he wouldn’t say anything on the subject, but would still have loved me without the bond of marriage. That moment, while clutching my shawl close to my body for warmth, the guilt that I should have been feeling during my affair pierced my heart and I apologized to him with the words that could only be expressed in our silent conversation.
With a new feeling surging through my body, I could not help but to doubt if what I was doing were right. But how could it not be? My husband understood that I was in love with someone; he understood the importance of following that love. One night, as I was re-dressing after an evening of passion and guilt, I asked my lover if he were alright with what we were doing, if he could handle not being the one married to me but being my adulterous companion. I asked if he would continue to love me the way he had been loving me in the years to come. Was our love strong enough to justify adultery?
Sliding his hand across my collarbone and up my neck, my lover looked me deep in the eyes and asked me why I should have such childish worries. Of course he had no intention of leaving me. We were together first and would never let a contracted marriage end our relationship. Besides, he thought that I was sexier as a married woman, the wedding ring and late night rendezvous added such an allure to my already lustful body that he could never end the affair. I was so relieved. I knew, though his manner was slightly superficial, he was only trying to be coy, and playful, setting me at ease. He reassured me in the affirmative everything that I wanted to be reassured of. I asked him why he loved me so much, I didn’t deserve this amount of happiness.
He didn’t love me. I don’t remember exactly what he said; I stopped listening after only a few words, but he told me that he didn’t love me and never had. I walked home that night, in high heels, a dress, diamonds glittering around my neck and down my ears, a perfect target for some hard-off mugger. But in the late night air, still crisp with the bite that winter had brought, a mugging had never crossed my mind. I doubt if I could have even felt anything from it. I even avoided the light cast off by the flickering street lamps. The dull illumination they created reminded me of an interrogator’s lamp breaking me down, one adulterous flaw after the other, leaving me naked and exposing my sins to the world. I felt most comfortable in the shadows for in the shadows I knew that nothing was to be trusted; everything was a lie; just as my life was a lie.
How could I have been so foolish? I believed so much in our love. What was love if what I had felt for him wasn’t? Could it have been love, just an unwise or immature love? Is it possible to love someone when they don’t love you back? When I got home my husband was waiting for me. He asked if I were alright, it was very late and he was worried and that something had happened. I apologized for making him worry and said that I needed to go to bed, I was foolish and thought that a walk would be much better than a taxi ride, obviously I was wrong and my bed was the only thing for me.
He walked towards me as if to try to comfort me, but I drew back, not so much because I didn’t want to be touched by him, but more because I felt too miserable to be touched. The idea of being comforted, of being told sweet nothings or given hope of tenderness was too much to bear. I was learning a lesson that the world was cruel, men were incapable of anything more than lust, and women were romantic children wishing for impossibilities. I realized, then, that I was lucky. I might have been married to an old man, but he was a rich old man and didn’t demand much, if anything from me. My only jobs were to spend his money and look the loving wife when in public.
I spent about two weeks trying to act like things were normal. My logic was that if I spent time out of the house as usual he would never notice a change in me, for there was nothing that he knew of that could have changed. I never really expected to fool him over my break-up, just as I never expected to fool him over my affair. He knew, and just as my eyes were heavy, so were his. I never talked about my lover and therefore never told him why it ended; my husband must have assumed something like he had broken it off and that I were mourning my lover’s absence. In truth I broke it off, he was still willing to remain passive and continue with the affair, forsaking love and the prospect of a happy life together. Whatever choices I made, for good or for ill, I wanted them to be in pursuit of a higher state of being, for whatever that thing is that we call love and happiness. I ended my love affair.
One day in late spring, when the earth was warmed but the air still breathed a cool breeze across your face; I was walking along the dock down by the lake. They sky was a soft blue, the water a sweet blue-green; clear in spots to the point that one could see the minnows swimming close to the wood. I walked up slowly to where our boat was docked and put my hand in my husband’s and whispered, “I’m sorry”. Without looking at me, but holding my entire body in his presence, he said for the first time aloud: “I love you”, and I understood right there what real love was. For the rest of our lives together I never felt safe except for in his arms, and I never felt as much trust as I did in his eyes.