Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Indie Ink Writing Challenge: "Strong Like Tungsten"

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Wendryn challenged me with "You've been keeping a bottle of champagne for five years, waiting to celebrate something specific. Tell the story leading up to finally getting to drink the champagne." and I challenged SAM with "?"Art imposes order on life, but how much more art will there be?" -Bob Dylan"

I was never a drinker. It wasn't that I had anything against it. I didn't have an allergy, or any moral compunctions about it. I have never had a drinking problem. I didn't get drunk easily. I just never enjoyed it. It never became a habit. I kept some on hand for entertaining on holidays, but it generally just sat there until the next celebration rolled around. I always felt like I had to apologize for this.

I had bought the champagne without telling Elin. If she noticed, she didn't say anything. I tucked it into the bottom of the dark wood wine rack in the corner of the basement, covering it with the bottles of moderately priced red and white wine that Paul at the liquor store had recommended. I let it rest there, my dark, cool secret behind the boxes of college textbooks and old tax returns.

I stared at the bottle, the black glass with fading beads of condensation, the pretentious looking French script, the expensive liquid slowly becoming flat and worthless inside. It actually didn't taste good, but I could feel the alcohol starting to take effect the more I swallowed. It had a pleasant, flattening effect. That was what I was looking for, so I kept tipping the bottle and taking in more of the fizzy liquid.

I had awakened this morning to unaccustomed silence. They told you never to go to bed angry, but we had, another variation on the theme that was driving a wedge into our ten year marriage. I opened my eyes to an empty bed, with her side of the closet yawningly empty, stripped of her suits and dresses. A note in her precise hand, left on a Hello Kitty post it note on her alarm clock, said only, "I can't do this any longer."

I didn't blame her. Once we had settled ourselves into mid adulthood, and our friends started to slip into the haze of parenting, Elin agreed that it was time. What followed was a nightmare of doctors and drugs, side effects and painful shots. We were tormented by friendly advice, colleagues and relatives advising vitamins and rest, nostrums and methods of all sorts. Nothing worked, and we both began to resent the onset of the bitter, coppery smell that came without fail, reminding us how we were failing to heed our genetic call.

It was a peculiar sort of feeling, faceless but infuriating. No one understood unless they were going through it, and if they were, they didn't want to talk about it any more than you did. Once you want something and you can't have it, suddenly you see it everywhere. Elin had it much worse, attending countless work showers and child parties, feeling like she had to explain herself constantly. I knew a version of the same struggle, smiling at children visiting the office, watching secretaries grow heavy with child, listening to meltdowns in the grocery store. I listened to the new father stories, swallowing my anger, pasting on a fake smile and grinning through it. You couldn't be angry at anyone, because it wasn't anyone's fault.

We tried everything our budget would allow, and stretched for a few that we couldn't. Elin's moods darkened as time went on. Her body darkened and swelled with fluid. She cried, raging at me behind closed doors, cursing her fate. I swallowed my own fury, our still new relationship unable to bear the weight of both of our angers. It was hard not to feel inadequate, despite every doctor claiming that we were healthy, that there wasn't anything more we could do except keep trying.

Both of us logic bound, college educated creatures, there had to be something, so we both engaged in research, adopting every maxim, every strategy, every technique and supplement. Nothing worked, our biology letting us down, over and over, day after day, month after month. We snarled at each other, talking leading to fighting, resorting to silences that kept the tense, wary peace. It became a presence between us, huge and unknowable, invisible, but strong as tungsten.

We still made love, the Holy Grail of my teenage years becoming a grim, joyless task. It was mechanical, following the plan, doing the deed at the appointed hour. It was no longer love, no longer expressing in sweat and sound our eternal bond. It was as mindless as excretion, as erotic as changing the oil in a car. We stopped talking about it, the way we stopped talking about everything.

Now she was gone. She was probably in her sister's spare room, sleeping on the couch in her office, watching our nephew Sam while Kate telecommuted to her marketing job. I could call her, try to explain, beg her to come back. But the champagne I had bought to celebrate a completion of this journey put a haze over my own needs and wants. I took another slug from the bottle, and set it down unevenly. It could have spilled, but it didn't, and I laid back, closing my eyes to a room that was too quiet and a house that was too empty.