Today’s http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/02/22/daily-prompt-tainted-love/ – the best and the worst break up story
Forget closets. The place where gay men hide with the women they married, is in the cupboard under the stairs. This is the dark space where we keep those things we want unseen by the rest of the world. Her friends and family don’t see what’s in there, in fact, it’s probably best if they don’t. Explaining to them what is in the cupboard is just too hard: she doesn’t have the right words to say it, and they don’t have the experience to hear it. They can’t understand this.
The woman has a home, and because she loves her home, she wants to keep it just the way it is. She accidentally married a gay man and so she lives in her cupboard under the stairs.
Home is her comfort and salve, the retreat when the rest of the world is too cold, too unfriendly, too busy, too quiet. It’s where she knows where the tin foil is, and that the upstairs bedroom door slams when the back door is open, and where the carpet is loose on the fifth rise, and where the single, simple act of putting a key in a lock is a single, simple act of breathing in. It’s where the people she loves live all the time, or sometimes. And the sometimes remind her of the all-the-times. The pillows smell of their hair, their shoes sit by the front door refusing to run themselves upstairs, their pictures smile in their frames, their finger prints smear the bathroom mirror and an odd sock waits patiently in the washing basket for its partner to be found under the bed.
She’s gone into hiding in the cupboard under her stairs to keep her home safe, and the door stays shut, held by an invisible, closed loop. He tells her what the closed loop marriage means: the two people who love each other most in the world stay married, but the gay one gets to have sex with anyone they want, and the wife chooses to go along with it. She knows all sorts of marriages survive like this. But for the woman who married a gay man, she knows the loop is a delicate thread, a contract in which both parties agree the rules, and from which both parties derive some benefit. Clearly for him the benefits are considerable: he gets to have his cake; he gets to eat his cake.
But in the dark, she can’t be sure what her benefits are. Are the compromises she is making of equal value, in this equal marriage, to the preservation of her home?
The woman does a lot of thinking in the cupboard under the stairs. She has known for many years that the tiny words us and we have always meant her and him, that while she struggles to find the words to describe her life, she uses the words us and we as shorthand for all their shared experiences, to convey to the rest of the world that they are a couple, that they know each other, understand what the presence or the absence of a look, a touch, a word or a quietness means. She has barely noticed the tiny words, and she took for granted what those words mean. But one day her husband used those words, us and we, when talking about another. He didn’t even notice it, and he didn’t mean to hurt her, but in that moment she knew how painful and powerful those words could be. The intimacy that once existed between them has gone, because intimacy simply can’t be shared.
He doesn’t notice that as he walks through the door, he brings with him an unfamiliar smell. This isn’t the smell of sex – it’s the smell of other, an awareness that this is something different, like a child on their first day of school bringing back on their hair and their clothes unknown children and unknown places. This is the smell of someone else’s home, where the man she loves has lain on another’s bed and left his smell on another’s pillow.
In this cupboard, he says that this is the best way, that this means he won’t be promiscuous, that he will have a “monogamous” relationship with one man, who in turn, is faithful to him. He will say “This isn’t about love, it’s just about sex”. And this is her unbearable paradox: she should feel reassured that she is still loved, but hurt that he would do this to her, for someone he doesn’t even love. And thenone day he says that he is “fond” of this other person, and suddenly she longs for it not to be love. He has begun something new and exciting: he can’t wait to get ready, to go out, to be wanted, to want, to be thrilled, to be alive, but none of these feelings are for her. He thinks when he is at home, he is just the same person he used to be, but she knows, that what she knew, has gone.
They talk and talk and talk and talk. He cries. She cries. They are closer than they have ever been. She comforts him in his transition because he’s her best friend, and yet she hates him, and wants to find some punishment through her words and actions that will show him how much she is hurt. She feels bloodied and scarred but there are no wounds for anyone to see. They spend hours under the stairs negotiating the rules. They agree not to talk about when he is going out and when he will be back, and then after an interminable month she demands to know when he is going out and when he’ll be back, and month after month regretting both choices, but at a loss to know whether there might be a third. She wants to know and she wants to not know, she becomes obsessed by this person. She knows that nothing she can say, do, wear, lose, gain, embellish, reduce will make any difference but she tries them all. She needs to know that it wasn’t all a mirage, that once she was loved and wanted. And she spends hours in her dark cupboard analysing every event, every absence, every business trip, every bad traffic day, every friend.
The closed loop is a noose. It restrains and restricts both of them from having a life. She knows one day he will fall in love, and he’ll want more. He has already begun to move away from what was, and although he hasn’t yet realised it, she knows he can never come back because everything from now on is actually better. He has put on a new pair of glasses and suddenly the world shines: everything he has denied, tried to deny, failed to realise, is in sharp focus. It feels right, he feels right. He can’t stay in the cupboard under the stairs because there is just too much happening outside. He begins to bend the rules, he begins to justify what he does, he begins to open the door and let the light in.
And then, it’s not just him who comes out. Her friends are curious, scandalized, shocked, unsurprised. They tell her they knew what she didn’t, that she was deluded because she couldn’t see what was obvious to them. They know her home you see, and they think they know all the dark places. They don’t. They talk about how hard it must have been for him and she agrees, because this isn’t about her. She feels unloved, unattractive, undesirable, a failure, stupid and exposed. She sees his life begin, and hers end. She no longer cares about preserving her home because it is no longer the salve of comfort and love. She forgets where the loose carpet is on the stair and her feet slide out from under her, and there is no longer anything to catch hold of.
It’s been hard to leave the cupboard, because although it’s dark, at least she knew she was in there with him. She chose, at all costs, to make it a place of comfort, to be at home with the spiders and the wellingtons and the Christmas decorations. But once the door opened, her choice to stay was taken away. She has to leave, and find somewhere new.
And then one day she does. In her new home she knows when to duck when she comes down the stairs and she knows where the tin foil is. It is still a place where people that love her come, and they still smile from their frames, and they still leave their fingerprints on the mirror. But now the single, simple act of putting the key in the door is a single, simple act of breathing out, and in this home, there is no cupboard under the stairs.