She lay on an ugly brown couch in their cramped undecorated living room. She liked watching their small TV when there was time, letting herself go in a world created by someone she didn’t know; loved losing herself in the plots that would erase her mind until the tears finally came. She hated that every program inevitably reminded her of who she used to be; of what she had given up for an idea.
The tears always came when the heroine did something spontaneous or unplanned, for she knew that the woman was a portrait of someone she could have become. If only she hadn’t been so determined to believe that Derek was the man she often dreamed of. He looked like the man she imagined – dark wavy hair, artist’s eyes, dimples. It was even better for her when she learned that he loved to write as much as she did. It was the thing that drew them together, but lately, it had become the thing that was tearing them apart. It seemed he required a quiet and unopinionated woman for a partner, and though she had been willing to become that in the beginning, she was becoming afraid of losing her voice.
He had been out of a job lately – a starving artist, he said – always working on his book, but never writing anything down. He would get defensive whenever she tried to talk to him about his writing, her interest annoying him into silence. Then the flames that were his words would burn her, coiling around her dreams and turning them to ash. She wished that the pain he caused would at least leave a mark, so she could show someone her torment. But she had left everyone for him. Left everything for him. It was only now, after eight long and brutal years, that she realized she couldn’t take it anymore.
She brought her attention back to the television, where the heroine was now bungee jumping from a bridge of impossible height. The look on the girl’s face was so genuine that Elizabeth forgot she was an actress, that none of what she was seeing was real. Her tears slid over her trembling lips and down her chin. There was only one thought in her mind: She needed to leave. For good. Her heart beat faster as her decision became final. She stood up from the couch and shouted to the empty room, “I’m leaving!”
“Where are you going?” He asked as he walked into the door. Surprise forced her back down onto the couch and she gazed up at him in silence. This was not the same man who had left without a word that morning. It was as if she could finally see what she had been blind to for so long. She had hoped he was the broken romantic that she could fix with her love. She had made herself believe that she didn’t mind being poor, that she didn’t mind working two jobs so that he could have the extra room as a creative space. But she did care. It was then that she realized they had not even embraced in weeks.
He didn’t bother to wait for her answer and was already in the kitchen, wrapped in his own thoughts. She walked casually into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, buying time before she told him that she was leaving. He came over to her and, thinking he was going to hug her and apologize for something – anything – he had done to her, she almost forgave him. Instead, he grabbed the jug of milk from the top shelf, ignoring her presence completely. She closed the fridge to face him, ready to tell him, but he was already saying something else.
“I feel . . . as if the greatness of a brain like mine isn’t exulted in our dismal society. It is hopeless trying to explain my great ideas, for no one sees things in the same way I do. It is just useless for me to even try. I know this because I have tried. Useless. Everyone is useless.” He poured himself a glass of milk and turned to her, waiting for her empathy. Instead, he found a small unfamiliar smile playing about her mouth.
“I know how you feel, sometimes. But remember, we all think differently, Derek. It takes patience and courage to incite change. I have patience . . . but only recently did I find the courage. There are excitements I am missing out on . . .” but he continued speaking as if he hadn’t heard her at all.
“It is impossible for anyone to understand. Even you, Elizabeth, who tries so desperately to understand me, you fail. It is simply useless.”
She straightened her spine, quickened by anger. It was an emotion she had not let herself feel in a very long time. But it was time. She opened her mouth, considered yelling at him at the top of her lungs, but changed her mind. He wouldn’t hear. Just as she was supposedly ignorant of his greatness, Derek was impenetrable. It was useless to try to reason with him. She turned on her heel and went into their room to begin packing. He watched her go, aware of a new independence that had invaded her step. He thought about following her for a second before continuing to chug his milk. She would never leave him, he thought, never in a million years.
In her room, Elizabeth had already packed everything she wanted to take with her: her music box, her journals and her father’s engraved ballpoint pen. She didn’t want anything she had gotten since she had met him, and these were the only things that remained of her old life. The only things she had decided to keep. She looked around the room for a small trinket that would serve as a reminder to never let this happen again. It wasn’t until that moment that she noticed Derek had never given her a thing, not one trinket of his affection. The affection she had deluded herself into thinking existed. One final tear slipped down her cheek before her face hardened into a resolute neutrality that would get her through the rest of the night. She picked up her cellphone from the bedside table and called her mother: “Mom . . . I think I need you to come get me.” She could feel her mother’s relieved smile over the phone.
She was there within the hour, and all Derek had for her was confusion. “What have I done? Why are you doing this to me?” he asked as she walked toward the door. She considered answering his questions, considered fighting with him. But the fight was out of her, she knew it would be useless, only a waste of time. Fighting would mean that she cared, and she didn’t. Not anymore. Her heart had been set free that day, and she was not going to let it be caged again. She smiled at him instead – a full, brilliant smile. He couldn’t remember the last time she had smiled at him that way, but it only made him angry. How dare she be angry when he was so morose, so alone in a world that did not understand him.
She held the smile for a moment longer, and left him there, clueless. Mother and Daughter drove in silence while each contemplated Elizabeth’s new freedom. When they arrived at her old house, the house she grew up in, she went straight to her old room to set down her things. Her room was dark now, with the soft blue light of the moon coming through the window on her right. She dropped her things on the floor before dropping her body onto her old double bed.
Suddenly, she was laughing. She was alone, but it didn’t bother her in the least. She laughed until she couldn’t breath, her body releasing eight years of pent-up joy. Her own giggle was unfamiliar to her and, instead of making her sad, made her laugh harder. In five minutes, her mother was in the room wondering if everything was alright.
“I think so mama, I really think so.”
Two years later, Elizabeth was happy again. She looked up from her notebook and her eyes wandered to the bookstore across the street. She found herself laughing. In the window, there was a large display featuring an up and coming author who had just written a book titled “She Took My Heart.” It was by Derek Purnell. She laughed again, the corners of her eyes watering.
“It’s quite a terrible read, that Purnell book.” said the cute english fellow who sat at the table nearest to her.
“Oh? Please, tell me more.” She laughed and gestured for him to come sit with her. He picked up his copy of Nouveau and pulled up a chair, smiling warmly at her invitation.
“Except for the marvelous woman who managed to break his heart, it is complete drivel, I tell you!”
They laughed together, eyeing one another over the table.
“Can I get you a coffee?” he offered.
“I would love that, thank you.”