Happy Equinox, everyone!
Some relationships definitely leave you shaking your head thinking “What in the world are they thinking?” Why do people stay together when they are so obviously unsuited? I suspect many people could not answer that question themselves, though there must be something keeping them together. More than that, why do so many women, educated, intelligent women with the ability to manage for themselves, stick around with men who are destructive to them? If you can figure out the answer to that (and I can’t), you probably have a wonderful future on the self-help circuit.
Today I gave you a story that will have you wondering just that…why?
WITH HIM OR WITHOUT HIM
Without him, she’d had some wonderful times. She thought things would only get better with him. How could she have been so wrong? Her life, so stable, so ordered, so rational, was now the biggest mess she could imagine. Nothing he did worked out, and he was so good at leaving the messes for her to clean up.
Nicole opened the door, unsure she wanted to go home. The call had sounded so frantic, so…needy. Matt always sounded needy when he had done something wrong and needed her to make it right. She steeled herself, and stepped into the waiting cab. At least she didn’t have to search for a cab today; he called at the best time of the day to make the trip home easy. She glanced at the driver, giving him the look she had that let him know she’d rather not talk. Cab drivers always wanted to chat with her, because she was friendly and pleasant, but she didn’t feel like she could be pleasant right now, and she hated to be unpleasant to people who were just trying to earn a living. He got the message, and the only words she had to speak were to give him the address.
The tumult began as soon as they turned onto her street. Ryan, the kid from two doors down, recognized her in the cab and came running, waving his arms. “Dr. Turner! Dr. Turner!” The cab screeched to a halt to avoid hitting him. Nicole thrust a few bills at the driver, mumbled to keep the change, and practically fell out of the cab.
The sight that greeted her was…well, not what she expected, even from Matt. Her house was on fire, and a crowd was gathered. Flames roared out of the upstairs window, and firemen were training their hoses on it, hoping to contain it before it destroyed the neighborhood. At least he had enough sense to call the fire department.
Mrs. Adams bustled up and grabbed her son, afraid his curiosity would get him scorched. “I hope you don’t mind I called the fire” she said.
Nicole deflated. Matt hadn’t even managed that. Where was he? The crowd was dense enough that there must be people from other blocks, as well, but Matt didn’t seem to be around. “Have you seen…”
“Over there.” Mrs. Adams pointed.
Matt was standing on the other side of the house, staring at the flames as though mesmerized. He was rocking back and forth and singing. Nicole moved closer, not sure she was ready to interact, but knowing she needed to face this. Matt’s face was blackened with soot and he smelled like smoke. Her eyes burned as she got nearer, both from the fire and from the smell of his clothes.
She recognized the song. It was an old Talking Heads song, Burning Down the House. He was singing “I’m an ordinary guy burning down the house”. Nicole wanted to hit him, but she shoved her hands in her jacket pocket and waited for him to notice her. She was afraid if she spoke, she would scream, or maybe cry. She knew neither one would evoke a positive response, so she waited for him to speak.
Matt jerked his head her way, appearing to notice for the first time that she was there, but she had a sense he had been aware of her from the moment she arrived. He had to have heard Ryan screaming her name; they probably heard that in the next county. He gave her that grin, that lopsided grin that once turned her to mush, the grin that she had learned was something he could put on at will, usually when he was in trouble.
“Sorry, babe. It just…you know, happened.”
That wasn’t hard for Nicole to believe. When Matt was around, all sorts of things just…happened. He was a jinx in so many ways, and now he was her jinx. She didn’t seem to be able to get rid of him. She had put him out so many times, and somehow he always turned up again, and somehow, in some way she didn’t quite understand, he always managed to talk her into taking him back. She supposed it was her penance for forgetting her vow that she would never let any man be more than a footnote in her life.
“You want to tell me?”
“Not really.” The lopsided grin was in evidence again, a sure sign that whatever he had been doing, she would not approve.
“I think you should.”
“Well, you know, it’s those…well, those…okay, it’s all those damn books you have. Why do they have to be everywhere? A guy can’t even light a candle without spilling fire on some book that isn’t fit to read anyway. I guess…I didn’t get it out in time.”
Nicole understood more than Matt told her. She knew he resented her education, resented that she was a doctor while he was chronically unemployed. When they first met, she thought that was cute. He wanted to be a man, he said. He wanted to be the man. He said it with a tone that suggested he was kidding. She had learned that he was not kidding. He was always getting angry about her work, wondering why she wasn’t around to take care of him when he needed something.
For the first time, she realized that these little crises he created were his way of bringing her home, making her take care of him. It wasn’t a cry for help, it wasn’t just innate clumsiness, and he wasn’t a jinx. She looked into his eyes and saw straight through to the twisted mind behind them. He was actively messing up, creating chaos that would bring her back to him, make her take care of him, make her be the woman he thought she should be. Now he had burned down her house.
“What…I didn’t think you’d be here today. I thought…didn’t you have a job?”
Matt shook his head. “Job fell through. Some jerk that’s married to the boss’s sister…he wanted to go out today. I went all the way out there, wasted time and money, and no job. So I came home to take a nap.”
One of the firemen came up to Nicole. “This your house? Lady over there says you live here.” Nicole nodded. “You might wanta find a place for your cat. I think she’s scared outta her wits.”
Her cat! Nicole had forgotten Bubbles. She wheeled, ignoring Matt and his stupid excuses, racing for the box where the firemen had locked the poor girl when she came flying out of the house in terror. She rescued Bubbles, and cradled the cat in her arms while she glared at Matt. She didn’t want to speak to him any more. She wanted to watch Bubbles scratch his eyes out. She decided it was best to keep some distance between them.
The firemen were able to save most of the house, and the onlookers moved away, no longer interested once the excitement of watching someone else lose their belongings ended. Nicole slammed the door against Matt as he tried to follow her into the house, hoping he’d get the message. She moved around each room, checking, finding nothing wrong until she got to the living room. Her bookshelves were empty. The table by the couch had been stripped of the books. The television table now actually held a television, her books moved from their usual spot. In the dining room, the bookshelves were also empty. Nothing else seemed to have been disturbed.
She raced up the stairs to the library, which was apparently where the fire had started. Firemen were searching through her things, looking for evidence to indicate what had caused the fire. She stopped at the door as she realized the room was full with all the books that had disappeared from somewhere else. Someone had moved all her books to this one room, the room that caught fire. There was little question who that would be.
Bubbles squirmed, and she put the cat outside the room and closed the door. This was no place for an animal who liked things to be the same when she got up as they were when she went to bed. This room, one of Bubbles’s favorites, was not going to be the same, never again. It was almost gutted. There were a few books left that had not been destroyed by the flames, but they were soaking wet from the water, their soggy pages sticking together and their spines sagging. The curtains on the far wall were charred but intact, but the curtains on the front window were gone, along with most of the wall. The wall paper in the hallway had been smoky, and she suspected her bedroom, just across the hall, would probably smell until she could get professional cleaning.
Matt had stopped pounding on the front door. He apparently had not had his key when he ran out, so shutting him out had kept him out of her way, but now he had remembered that the back door was unlocked, and he was leaping up the stairs two at a time. He raced into the library and grabbed Nicole around her waist in a familiar embrace. She shoved him away.
“Ah, baby, is that any way to act? I could have been killed.”
“You weren’t napping in here, Matt. Even you would not have been able to sleep comfortably in this room.” Nicole had removed the chairs from the library several weeks ago because Matt kept getting coffee and beer on her books when he napped here.
“I came in here because I thought I heard a noise. I had a candle.”
Nicole swung to face him for the first time since she had picked up Bubbles. “There are lights in here. You don’t need a candle.”
“I didn’t want to turn on the light. It might…be dangerous. You know, if there was a…someone...thief…murderer…you know.”
It was the first time Nicole had ever hit him. He had hit her often enough, but she had never hit him back. She didn’t handle her problems with violence, but she couldn’t help herself. This was more than she could deal with diplomatically. He balled up his fist, ready to hit her, but dropped it again when one of the firemen looked his direction.
“You the owner, bud?”
Matt nodded, then shook his head. Nicole had given him a look that suggested he better not lie today. She stepped forward and identified herself as the owner of the house. The fireman nodded, and asked her if she would mind coming downstairs to look at something. Matt followed them, but she growled at him to back off, and he stayed behind with the rest of the firemen as they poked through the rubble.
The fireman who had spoken to her led her to the kitchen, and laid something on the table that she didn’t recognize. “That yours?”
Nicole shook her head. “What is it?”
“It’s one of those fire starter things. You know, for fireplaces or grills. Thought you might use it for…well, lots of people have them. You know where this came from?”
Nicole shook her head again. “Why?”
“Looks like the fire was deliberate. You know anything about that? Like, you have insurance, or something?”
Nicole almost cried. It only confirmed what she already suspected, but until they told her, she could almost pretend it might not be true. She told the fireman about her bookshelves being empty, and showed him the living room and the dining room. Also the television, which prior to today had been in the small room Matt used for his “rec room” as he liked to call it. Mostly just a television and a computer for playing games, but she humored him and called it his rec room.
“There’ll have to be an investigation. Insurance may decide not to pay. Thought you might like to know.” The fireman’s gruff manner softened. He spoke kindly. “This is…well, you didn’t know anything about this, did you?”
Nicole did cry now. The tears flowed as hot as the fire that destroyed all her books. It wasn’t just the loss of her books. It wasn’t just the fact that Bubbles had been so frightened. It wasn’t just the fear she had felt that she would lose her house. It was the realization that Matt…the man who once made her feel so good…Matt had done this to her. Matt had destroyed what he hated about her, tried to turn her into what he referred to as “the little woman”.
“Your husband…” the man was beginning.
“No, he’s my…boyfriend, I guess”, Nicole corrected him.
“You might wanta get that guy some help. Or maybe just punch him again. I suspect he needed that.” The fireman grinned, but it wasn’t a grin of humor so much as a grin of sympathy.
Nicole nodded. “I think…maybe I’ll settle for…throwing him out for good.”
“I never do understand why you women keep some of these men around. I mean, you get a good man, it’s a great thing, ‘specially if you’re a good woman. But you get someone like him…why?”
This was something Nicole had often asked herself. She gave him the only answer possible. “I don’t know.”
She had a wonderfully stable life without him, now that he was finally out of her life.