It was heavy on his mind, wouldn’t allow him to rest or find the peace that seemed to find his wife with ease. Looking at the digital clock on his nightstand, a despondent look fell upon his gentle face as he read ‘3:12 a.m.’. It was becoming like clockwork, made him wonder why he’d even bothered trying to sleep after these moments.
Atop his chest, she lay, clinging to him as if she hadn’t just spent most of the day trying to push him away. The thought tickled him, then it annoyed him. And suddenly he felt smothered. Found it hard to breathe, grew too hot for comfort. The cool air that flowed around their bare bodies was replaced with heat that seemed to swell around him, her body grew heavier against his.
Josiah made slight movements, slowly removing himself from the embrace of Rachelle. She then lay unbothered in a deep slumber, oblivious to his desperate need for fresh air and a chance to breathe. To think clearly.
Static from a record played through filled the space that seemed to grow smaller by the second, clothes tossed about the room in a careless fashion. The only light, that of the moon, peeking through the blinds he’d closed upon their arrival, dancing at his feet as he placed them on the carpeted floor.
They’d made love, and once again, Josiah was unsatisfied. And once again, he couldn’t pinpoint the very reason he felt this way.
Looking over his shoulder, he watched for a few seconds as Rachelle’s chest rose and fell, her now messy curls covering her face as she nestled into her spot. She was content, certain that all was as it should be, once again. Confident that she’d gotten her way.
To Josiah, something was missing. It no longer felt right.
Standing, he exited the bedroom and headed across the hall. Walking into the bathroom, he cut on the light, startled for a moment at the less than pleasant sight of his own face when he glanced at the mirror. Stress from that day, that night, and the fight that led to a half-hearted attempt at making up; written all over his face as small bags became deep, dark circles.
He closed the bathroom door behind him and leaned against the sink, staring at himself intently as a wave of anxiety washed over him. He was losing weight, he suddenly noticed. He couldn’t even muster up a real smile if he wanted to; something that had never been hard for a man that lived and loved life to the fullest.
Something just wasn’t right anymore.
“How do you talk to a woman that refuses to communicate properly?” When no answer came to mind, Josiah shook his head and decided he wouldn’t dwell on the issue any longer. At least, he’d avoid it until he could think of something Rachelle would be receptive to. Something she would take the time to listen to. Something she would, at the very least, try to understand.
Turning and opening the small cabinet where they kept their towels and toiletries, he grabbed a small and a large towel, tossing both over the shower rod. After grabbing a new bottle of his body wash, he moved back to the shower and cut it on. Tested the temperature a few times before deciding it was perfect.
Dropping his boxers, he kicked them aside and stepped in. Standing directly under the shower head, he placed the palm of his hands against the wall and allowed the hot water to beat against his back, cleansing away the anguish and despair that seemed to overtake him a little too often these days. His tense shoulders softened, relaxing before they dropped. He took a step back, allowing the water to hit his face for a few seconds before he finally grabbed the towel, body wash, and began to lather up.
Something had to change.
When the alarm sounded at 6:45 am, Rachelle extended her arm and grasped nothing but an empty space. Leaning up on her elbow, she squinted a few seconds before focusing on the sight before her.
It was the fourth time in a week she’d awaken to find Josiah missing and his side of the bed ice cold. Looking towards his nightstand, she saw that his keys and wallet were gone. She exhaled sharply, irritated. Peeling the sheets back, she threw her legs over the side of the bed and stood, looking around for her robe.
“He always wants me to provide tabs on where I am but will sneak out of the house dead in the middle of the night without even thinking to wake me.” She mumbled to herself from that point on, finding her robe by the legs of the record player. She quickly put it on, tying the belt securely around her thin waist. Taking a few moments, she moved around to pick up the clothing they’d discarded carelessly the night before.
An action she couldn’t control or contain; a smile crept across her face as bits and pieces replayed in her mind. Wild nights of passionate love always made up for the few light patches she felt they’d experienced in their years together. They left her satisfied, filled with an unquenchable desire and need for her husband when the end drew near. Last night was no exception. And, lately, it seemed that it was when she wanted him most that he was unreachable. Nowhere to be found.
Before she could get herself worked up, she pushed the thoughts aside and made room for concern.
There was a change in Josiah, one that had been subtle in the beginning. Now, if he wasn’t sneaking out early in the morning, he was coming home late in the evening. Running, hiding, avoiding… anything but what she felt he should have been doing.
Exiting the bedroom, she made her first stop into laundry room. Tossing the dirty clothing into the washing machine, she added some detergent and set it on a quick cycle. Closing the door, she made her way to the bathroom. Taking care of her hygiene, she extended her shower by fifteen minutes, using the time to put herself in a better mood for the day.
It was as she sat on the side of the toilet, applying lotion to her body, that she wondered how it’d gotten to the point where he felt the need to run off so often, and with no explanation. Though her mother would have tried diligently to convince her so, Rachelle was certain that infidelity or the attention of other women were not the cause of the change in Josiah. He was too faithful, too loyal, if there was such a thing.
“Maybe it’s an early mid-life crisis.” But, like there were things you couldn’t mention to a woman without sounding insensitive, she was certain that was a thought you never brought up to a man.
As she dressed a few minutes later in their bedroom, she decided that she would pick his brain over breakfast. He would surely be back by the time she finished.
She brushed her hair into a ponytail, applied a light amount of makeup and sprayed a bit of the perfume he loved most; deciding she looked good enough to make quick runs if she had to leave the house at any point.
The instant she stepped foot in the kitchen, the phone began to ring. Bracing herself, certain of who it was, she counted to five before picking up the receiver. Placing it at her ear, she waited another three seconds before speaking. “Tolbert residence.”
“Hmm… you’re only awake and moving around this early when that boy is out doing God knows what. How many times is it this week?”
Rachelle shook her head, failing to understand why her mother was still so set against Josiah. They had been together for fifteen years, married for ten and in all that time, he’d never done anything to show or prove that he was no good for her.
Josiah, in Rachelle’s opinion, was one of the greatest men she’d come across. A pure blessing in a sea of misfortunes, if she had to be honest. Outshining the dealers, hustlers, fools, and deadbeats she’d been raised around, that she’d been coaxed to date as a young teenager. He was the type of man most parents wanted their daughters with, yet Marlene never had a kind thing to say about her son-in-law. “Tuh, you wouldn’t catch me with a man that can’t or refuses to make me happy.”
And that’s why you don’t have a man, Mama, was what she wanted to say. Rachelle held her tongue, speaking softly instead as she replied. “I am very happy, Mama. I’ve been happy since I was nineteen.”
“Your mouth says it, but nothing else says it.”
“You’re on the outside looking in. You don’t know what goes on over here, and I’m so glad that he’s always been adamant about us never divulging our personal business to you or his parents.”
“I’m sure it would only confirm that I’m right in my opinions.” Marlene scoffed, getting comfortable in her recliner as she rested the phone receiver between her ear and her shoulder. “Lord, I can’t begin to tell you how glad I am that there are no kids between the two of you. I’ve been having dreams, and I feel a divorce is near.”
“I’m praying on it. Because you need a fresh start.”
Without thinking about the consequences of doing so, Rachelle hung up in her mother’s face. Though Marlene wouldn’t care less about how her words landed and stuck, Rachelle wouldn’t dare admit that her feelings were just hurt.
Unable to lull himself back to sleep at any point of the early morning, Josiah opted for a drive around town. It, like the shower and attempting to get more rest, did nothing. But he felt grateful to have gotten out of the house.
Walking into the kitchen, he caught sight of Rachelle standing next to the phone, her arms folded across her chest as she stared at the floor. He thought he could see a tear or two welling in her eyes, but that would have meant that she’d showed some sign of emotions for once. A rare sight.
Expecting to hear a mouthful about leaving without letting her know, he braced himself before speaking. All he got in return was a whisper, almost inaudible as she finally moved. He watched as she pulled items from the pantry. Watched as she moved back and forth between the sink, the stove, and the cabinets to grab bowls, plates, pans and utensils.
Though he usually got no reply, not a satisfying one, he tried his luck with approaching his wife with a question. “Chelle, are you okay? Are you upset?” It seemed as if she hadn’t heard him, so he stepped to her when she rested at the counter, cracking eggs and separating the yolks from the whites. “Chelle,” He gently placed his hand at her shoulder, keeping a small distance between the two of them.
“I was asking if you were okay. Is this part two or a continuation of yesterday?”
Rachelle stopped, drying her hands on a paper towel before she turned and threw her arms around Josiah.
This took him by surprise, left him unsure of what to do as he wrapped one arm around her. “I only went for a drive, I promise.”
“I just,” She sighed. “I love you. I don’t say it enough.”
That was a start, and very true. It also let Josiah know all he needed to know about the mood she was in. She only ever felt a need to reinforce her feelings with words when someone spoke negatively about his place in her life. He also knew that a seed had been planted. Whether Rachelle acknowledged the negativity behind that seed and who planted it would be another problem. “If it wasn’t disrespectful to do so, I’d ask you to block your mother’s number.”
Rachelle pulled away, neglecting her previous task. She took a seat at the kitchen table, looking at Josiah.
“Can we talk?”
He exhaled, speaking in a low and soft tone. “Depends. Are you going to listen to what I say, take my thoughts and feelings into consideration? Are you, in turn, going to open up and tell me how you feel? Are you going to give me the chance to listen and correct my actions based on what you tell me?”
“Isn’t that how our talks go? Why is this something you have to ask me?”
“No, Chelle, that’s not how any conversation we have goes. And it’s a rational question for me to ask because communication for us is often one-sided. Every time I try to explain to you what’s going on; where I go, what I do, what I’m feeling, and what I want or need from you… you brush it off like my feelings don’t matter. Or as if I can’t have feelings because I’m a man and I’m supposed to be hard all of the time and accept whatever. Then, instead of telling me what’s on your mind, what you need and want, you somehow make it about any subject or issue but the one at hand. And you use that tactic to start and justify a fight. A million fights, almost always over nothing. I’m not in the mood for that. Not today, not ever.”
“Gee, life must be so hard for you, Josiah.”
He remained silent for a moment, keeping his voice low and even when he finally spoke again. “It’s hard dealing with a wife that would rather fuss and argue like a teenager, instead of sitting down and talking to her husband like the adult.”
Rachelle looked him in the eyes, extremely offended. “Excuse me?”
“I’m just being honest, Chelle. We fuss every day over nothing of substance, and if you drain me enough, I just go ahead and give in and we ‘make up’. That’s tiring because I feel like nothing’s being solved.”
She sat back, a bit stunned. “What is there to be solved? We don’t have real problems.”
Josiah shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe you don’t feel that we have problems. But I think we do. And we can’t work through them because you always have a wall up. I try to talk, you clam up and shut down. And I think I know why, but you won’t ever admit to it.”
There was a roll of the neck, a genuine ferocity in Rachelle’s eyes that he had not seen since they’d first gotten together. “Whoa, whoa, why is this all on me? Have you evaluated yourself the way you think you’ve assessed these presumed faults of mine?”
“Yes, yes I have.” Josiah scratched at the back of his head, deciding to jump while he had the chance. “I think something is wrong with me, but I can’t figure out what it is. I don’t think we’re on the verge of divorcing, but something is off. And it’s enough to shake and cause everything we’ve built to topple over. I feel it, and I can’t figure out what it is, or why it feels off. And as much as I want to be like you, like we were in the beginning, thinking that good sex will fix everything… it just doesn’t.”
“Who acts like sex fixes everything!?”
As Rachelle raised her voice, Josiah kept his low. “You do. It’s why you start those ridiculous fights, and that was alright when we were twenty, discovering what we liked and having a good time. But people grow, and we change, and we’re supposed to learn to work together and adapt to make life enjoyable, not stressful for one another.”
“Are you bored? With me, this marriage?”
Rachelle nodded, clearing her throat to force back the lump that wanted to form. “With me?”
“With being stuck where we are, on two different pages. I’m not feeling all of these different things and thinking that I want out or that there’s something better for me. You’re it, you’re who I want, you’re who I want to make this work with. There’s no question or doubt about that.”
“Then what is the doubt, Josiah?”
“Can we make it when we don’t give ourselves the chance to work through it. I’m telling you there’s something off. I don’t want there to be, but there is, and I want us to work together to find it and fix it. But I also feel like you won’t, because Rachelle Tolbert does not communicate unless it can be turned into an argument over nothing.”
She sat quietly, looking away from Josiah every so often. He kept his eyes forward, on her, awaiting her reply. And just like he thought she would, she closed herself off. “Maybe it’s just something you need to work out with yourself, Baby. I don’t feel there’s anything wrong.” Excusing herself, Rachelle rushed upstairs.
Josiah sighed, heading to their guest bedroom. Having at least gotten some of his thoughts off his chest, he felt sleep would find him quickly.