In the Dark

A Short Story by A T Mann

"Damn!" mumbled Helen under her breath, as he rolled over, turning away from her in the night. She thought, "Why is it that I always attract guys with these resistances? It's like I miraculously attract the same soul in different bodies, time after time. Well, maybe that's just the way it is, or they are, these days. I guess I just have to live with it." She heard his breathing become regular as he drifted off to sleep.

Her relationship with Hector had become more and more constricting in time, even though when it began she thought that he was finally Mr. Right. He was so handsome, in his uniquely stiff and awkward way. He was tall, about six feet, and bony. Even though he had little or no obviously conscious style sense, clothes looked good on him, almost whatever he wore. That was infuriating; and at least it made him lovable. He looked like he had wandered out of an advertisement in a more casual and less highly branded version of Vogue. She had instantly liked his curly black hair, his larger-than-life nose and the contrast it made with his light gray eyes — they made him look much more exotic than he was in reality. He was that endangered and reviled species in our modern world, a northeastern WASP, yet his looks belied his politically incorrect, dead white man lineage. This contrast in his appearance, which showed that somewhere back in the not so distant past someone had fooled around, was, as far as she could see, his saving grace.

Not only that, but he actually expressed his feelings about everyday, mundane things in such a way that she felt free to be herself, probably for the first time in her life. When he was frustrated, or irritated, or just plain angry, he defused it in strange and creative ways. It never spilled out onto her or at her. And he didn't maker her out to be the cause of all his worries. He adored her and seemed instinctively to shield her from the awkward, isolated, intimacy-challenged and offensive moods she knew most guys had — those defensive tactics that belied insecurity and naïveté as far as women were concerned . He had developed his own unique channels through which he could let his frustrations out. He used his workouts, his time at the computer at work, even just walking down the street, as ways to get the petty irritations out. She would see him look serious, furrow his brow, and kick at the ground, all the while apparently talking to beings that hovered over his curly head, babbling away at them animatedly even though she knew they didn't really exist. He apparently didn't care, even when she witnessed it, and he saw her seeing it. He never talked about it to her, but she could see his interactions with this virtual Greek chorus of soundless voices. It was as though he had a continual and eternal panoply of advisors and scapegoats surrounding him in the aethers, beings that were somehow able to take his very real, quite human, irrational and odd feelings, transmute them, and return him to a state of normal health and well being. He argued with them, assuaged them, convinced them, pleaded with them, and cursed them. Yet he always presented himself to her as balanced, the real goods, despite his interludes with the invisible. She loved that about him.

She envied him these aethereal allies, but of course she didn't believe for a minute that they were real. They were obviously just "projections." She had learned this in her therapy sessions a few years ago and finally, now, in her late 30s, thought she understood what projections really were. She knew his projections weren't real, even though they were real, and therefore not projections, to him. She wanted to let him continue to have his fantasies, although she wondered whether they were some kind of early warning of a later and more serious psychiatric disorder. Should she risk it? Was she opening herself up to a potential maniac? She felt it was important not to talk about it to him, because he might misunderstand, or take it personally, which was the last thing she wanted, even though she desired more than anything that he take everything about her very personally. She had set up a strange paradox for herself: the trait she most valued in him was the very quality she didn't feel able to talk to him about. She was unable to allow herself to be with him in the very ways he was with her. She wanted some similar conversation in her own life, but didn't dare try or even allude to it, as though it might pollute her.

Although she continually talked and had conversations about what she felt, Helen had for decades shied away from talking too much about her real feelings. She had lost touch with them to the extent that she didn't know what they were: she could talk about them with more reality than she could express them. The secret dreads she buried within had, like they had for so many of her woman friends, crystallized in some glacial form, moving so slowly that it was imperceptible anything was happening at all in there. Everyone told her it was important to show those deep feelings they knew she carried, but she sensed that if she did, Hector would know how crazed she really was and how powerful her inner life was, and would either run away or die to her. She always felt that by talking about her real being, she would somehow give herself away, expose too much for comfort, and promptly send them packing. And in the past, it had always happened, sooner or later. No matter how long it took; at some point, her dreaded poisoned arrows, like the frigid stares of the Medusa, were loosed into her lover's hearts and they froze in the headlights of her intensity before they bolted into the forest. It was only a matter of time.

She felt the need to protect him from her sexuality in the same way that she wanted so much for him to be able to be there with and for her, to meet her in that magical place between their bodies, where their souls merged into one, and their bodily fluids mingled with such electric intensity. Her sensual appetites were strong, but unpredictable and perplexingly intermittent, even to her. She would go for days or weeks without so much as a thought of sex unless reminded, but when the right mood happened, and its causes remained mysterious to her, she could think of nothing else until she was satisfied. She could then seduce the proverbial postman. But that also brought a problem. She sensed, without really knowing or communicating it, that if she really insisted on being loved the way she knew she wanted to be, it would create so much stress for Hector that he wouldn't be able to handle it. She even stopped wearing the tantalizing clothes that she knew would turn him on because they seemed also to turn everyone else around her on. But why couldn't she even talk about it, especially to this man whose inner voices were certainly no less strange or cryptic? It was infuriating.

So, she allowed herself to moan internally, to receive gratefully what she felt as the ineffective offerings she was given, rather than insist on the deeper cravings she really needed slaked. She had to imagine a satisfaction that somehow, insidiously, removed her from the very sexuality she was experiencing. What a paradox! She came out of these supposedly intimate times feeling used, feeling unsatisfied, but also feeling as if it were her fault that their union wasn't everything she and he needed of it. And this in turn delayed her frequency too. It led to a weirdly loopy temporal torus of absent satisfactions in their relationship, like they were coupled DNA strands that enticingly spiraled around each other without ever touching.

And yet she was so loving, so lovable, and so ripe. Her body yearned for satisfaction and showed it through the lushness of her breasts, the rounding of her hips and the swaying of her walk. All the signals were in place and calculated for unspoken heavenly bliss and more. But her ripeness was somehow negated by her more controlling traits, and she came across as a perfect woman who was unable to manifest as such. She hid her beauty in embarrassment. This was her burden, and by extension, his frustration and her nemesis.

She had been raised to be a strong woman. Since her father left so early, and her mother had done so well in raising her alone until her twenties, her only real role model was Mom. Her mother, so insistent that she not repeat the same vulnerabilities she felt and which had caused the end of the relationship she had wanted so deeply, took it upon herself from her early years to teach her daughter to "hide her real light" in such a way that she was strong and almost invulnerable on outer levels. But, ironically, she learned to be too tough, tougher than anyone she encountered in her life. In some funny and perverse way she had always felt like her mother was forcing her to be the very person she warned her against: her father. The control, the sense of having a career that she could always use to protect herself emotionally and financially from being too dependent upon men, were all traits as she became older, she realized were the very traits her legendary and absent father possessed.

Her mother saw more and more clearly that as her daughter conformed to the ideals she had wanted her to manifest, she became more like the father her mother loved, but also hated. Her ambiguity extended, enwrapped and penetrated Helen. The man her mother had loved and opened up to was the man who abandoned her — even if it was in his death, it was his choice, she felt. No wonder Helen felt like she couldn't do anything her mother was happy with: she was in herself both her mother's missing and misguided husband and yet attracted male partners who were this man, flaunting their likeness before her, enticing her to repeat inherited family patterns. And no wonder her mother increasingly found refuge in her bottles and in the shattered mask of a face that betrayed her inaccessible anger and rage.

As he drifted toward sleep, Hector experienced yet again his strange dilemma. He wanted to reach over, to touch her tenderly, to nestle against her curving back, to caress her glowing shoulders, but couldn't. How many times had he gone to sleep with this lack of intimacy weighing heavily on him? He knew that he functioned best when his sexuality and feeling nature was exercised regularly, and he had probably gone overboard to make this happen, again. But, infrequency led frustratingly to erratic activity, rapidity of welling feelings and a dread that he wasn't able to stimulate Helen, to make her truly happy, to satisfy her deeply. Why didn't she want him? Did he please her or was he withholding? Could he retain intimacy for longer than three minutes? He had had for the first time to ignore the inner voices that asked these perplexing questions. He just could not tell any more.

Hector tried to be everything to her. This led to increasingly vivid discussions with his angels, those voices that had accompanied him since his earliest days. He wanted to talk to her as openly and freely as he talked with them, but whenever he tried he felt analyzed, got tongue-tied, became hauntingly aware of all his insecurities, and realized painfully that the dialogue he wanted and had with his angelic choir would never happen with Helen. Would she think him inadequate? Would she brand him as a hopeless New Ager? As flakey? And why was it that the voices told him that if he really made contact with her, if he actually became a part of the zone in which she lived, felt and moaned inside, released it all, in the place where he would finally find her, he would die to his old self? He just couldn't understand.

They are two souls; lying facing away from each other, half-awake in reverie, linked inexorably in the frustration and madness that is their love. Each craves the very being the other carries in their being, sees each other as in mirrors, but each resists the understanding that that is the case. How maddeningly probable that the only closure will come through the very loss that will bring their relationship to an end. As he realizes this, he can only say the curse that comes automatically from his heart to his lips: "Damn!"

©ATMann 2002

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