He calls me, sometimes, and he tells me that he's disappointed. So, so disappointed. But fuck that guy. I don't need to be in a relationship right now, and certainly don't need an abusive one. The phone rings and I pick it up because I have to, because I can choose not to listen to him but I can't ignore him, not exactly. I hold the handset between my cheek and my shoulder while I watch reality television on the couch and I listen to him berate me, tell me that I should be ashamed of my life. That I need to come back to him, to submit to him. I don't reply except to swear when my favorite contestant gets thrown off of Top Chef. At some point he hangs up but I don't notice for a while. It gets easier every day.
He was always overbearing and demanding but there was a time that he complimented me too. He would tell me that he loved me and that I was special and that out of all the universe I was the thing most important to him and that I would never get caught and I should pick up more manure and gasoline on the way home. They never cook that kind of stuff on Top Chef. And I did what he asked because he did ask, nicely, and the compliments and feelings that I was important kept me warm at night until one day they didn't and I asked him, meekly like a woman should be, if this was really a good idea. And then he yelled.
It was snowing outside, frozen and cold and lonely with the trees like skeletons and what I wanted more than anything was to read a shitty book in a house that didn't smell like homemade explosives - that smell took weeks to go away because it soaked into the nice butcher block counter - and instead he yelled at me for not doing what he asked me to, for questioning him at all. That worked pretty well, at first. It wasn't as warm and fulfilling as being told I was his most perfect love but it absolved me of responsibility. I can't question him, he's yelling! See how authoritative he is? Clearly this isn't up to me.
In bed that night, with my fingertips stained from our vicious cooking project, the lack of his booming anger made the silence open up like a chasm and I could hear my own voice in the darkness saying, "If this is what he does when you say no... it wasn't really asking before." And that voice inside me, just little old insignificant me, was more right than he ever was. So I asked him to do something to prove that he loved me. Something special. That made him mad again, because I was questioning him still after all that we had been through together, but then I pointed out that it never really felt like we were together at all. Certainly I had never seen him. And I hung up the antique phone.
And it rang again, and I answered because that's what you do when he calls. You answer.
But I told him again, do something. Something miraculous, for me. Something to show that you love me, and that you exist, and then maybe we can talk about building more bombs. Only maybe, though, because there's more to life than high explosives and sometimes I could go for a root beer float or something. I felt silly then because it was the middle of winter and I didn't really want anything cold. I didn't even want a miracle, I just wanted him to back off for a while. He yelled that he was The Lord My God and I would listen to him and obey him or be cast into the lake of fire and then of course all I could picture was how nice and warm that would be and how sick I was of Nebraska.
And you know, he didn't do any miracles. He stopped calling for a while, and then when he started again it felt like he was drunk-dialing me. He was incoherent, and emotional, and abusive. I couldn't really do anything about it since the phone was already disconnected - had never worked since I bought it at that pawn shop at all - and if I didn't answer it would just keep ringing forever. I could always throw it out, but then he might start calling on my cell and I go through my minutes fast enough as it is.
I'm too tired to sleep and still on the couch and nothing good is on cable but the sagging springs of the couch have lowered me down into my little nest of blankets and so I'm just watching a rerun of some special on the Travel Channel. The phone rings and I hold it to my ear but there's nothing on the other end. I get this image of him crying somewhere, alone, and I feel sorry for him even though he's abusive and a murderer and the biggest monster that ever lived because deep down I don't know that I have a choice. He made me this way, to love him.
"Are you alright?"
Yeah, he says. But I don't like those new clothes you bought. Your skirts are too short and your necklines are too low. It's immodest.
"I like them. I look good in them. I don't need your approval."
I don't like the world anymore. I don't understand it. Things were better when people just wanted to not die. That's all I wanted, just for people to hunt the other animals and build little shelters or freeze to death or whatever. I don't... I don't understand art. Or humor. It's all stupid.
Then he sighs, like only god can.
"I know. But I'm not going to blow anything up for you."
You could be forgiven, he says.
"Fuck forgiveness. If anyone needs forgiveness it's you. I'm not doing this anymore."
There's just silence on the line.
"No more talk of bombs, or infidels, or ending civilization. But... if you need to talk... you can call. This was nice, not yelling for a change."
He whispers something just before the line clicks and goes dead. I can't be sure but I think he said he lied about not liking my new clothes. I shouldn't encourage him, but I say a little prayer of thanks anyway - just for the good things in my life. He'll probably never change, and talking to him is terribly unhealthy of me, but... at least for now the news isn't about explosions. For now.