Heather-Celeste found herself growing close to Aria quite quickly. They spent more time together than H-C had with Elias. In the last several weeks she’d pondered the question Aria asked when they first met: are you related by blood or legally. That question magnified what seemed like Elias’ detachment and almost disregard for any commitment to her. Over the six years they’d been together, their relationship hadn’t seemed to grow deeper or closer in intimacy. Granted they had become very familiar with each other and good friends. In her experience, she had no problem with men flocking to her like bees to honey. Except Elias. She often wondered what the allure of this relationship was for her. Or was it that she was equal parts her suspicious, doubting Jewish mother and her rational African scholar father? Both educators, both with a different perspective on relationships. By the time her family had moved from Ithaca, New York, to Manhattan when she was nine, her parents seemed more like friends and colleagues than lovers. As a child the distance between her parents was a constant. As a teenager she vowed never to have a relationship like theirs. Instead she’d find someone who adored her. She eyed Elias.
Their routine included dinners, functions, movies, Saturday and Sunday evenings after 7:00 p.m. Rare overnights at Elias’ place, perhaps six in the six years they were together. They took some trips at her insistence and usually had a grand time, as Elias was garrulous and would inevitably engage fellow travelers to join them in conversation. H-C enjoyed this. He was very supportive when she had problems. This was the closest they got to real intimacy, H-C thought. When things went well in their lives, their relationship was merely mediocre and lacked passion.
He was writing a play loosely based on King George. Elias had made an impassioned argument to H-C for why he needed this alone time as an artist. As usual, she submitted. These past few years, her repeated submission to Elias’ needs without regard for her own had begun to take a toll. Each time she swallowed a gold fondant covered pill of self-doubt and dwindling self-worth.
There were issues she raised often with Elias. Regarding moving in so that they could be together more, Elias responded he was conflicted about giving up his place or having H-C come into his small home. Also, he argued he’d worked hard to appeal to his taste and her coming and changing things might breed some resentment. When the suggestion was made to find a place in Harlem to start fresh in new digs, the subject was tabled by Elias. H-C finally suggested they go to counseling to find some resolve. At counseling Elias would expertly avoid core matters by chattering about meaningless details or by instigating arguments. These sessions left H-C more confused, and suspicious.
After she made the comment to Aria awhile ago about families were made from time spent together, not just blood, she’d begun to deconstruct her own relationship with Elias, picking it apart piece by piece trying to figure out what wasn’t working, why they weren’t moving ahead with marriage.
She’d been bothered by her suspicions all week to the point that she felt like she needed to find some resolution for herself. She needed more information, a lead-in to open a conversation organically.
There was a movie, a story that centered on a long term relationship between a man and a woman. The synopsis went something like this: a man wouldn’t marry for various reasons. The woman ends up entering into a secret affair with the guy’s brother, then the woman and guy’s brother elope and move to France. The jilted man wakes up from a life of immaturity and realizes his loss. When he tries to enter into the dating world again, he has a lot of trouble and rejection, which is another wake up call. When he sees the woman after several years, he can’t bear it and moves to a remote island to do wildlife inventory. This Side of Me. H-C obtained the film for that evening’s video.
Settling in, they watched the movie after finishing dinner, takeout Indian, H-C’s favorite.
As usual, when the film ended there was the round of critique leading to flirtation. Both were attentive and selfless lovers, ironically. H-C appreciated this, it was the only time with Elias when he gave her his full attention.
“Elias you are a butt man, yes?”
“I like all the female body parts.”
“Oh yeah, well in the six years we’ve been together you have paid very little attention to my breasts.”
“You heard me. Tell me otherwise.”
“I touch your breast!”
“You pinch my breasts!”
“I thought you liked that.”
“Maybe sometimes but they’re made to be caressed. Like this.”
H-C took Elias’ hands and showed him how to caress her breasts without pinching them. He obediently followed her instructions, however H-C noticed that he remained unstimulated.
“Got it?” she asked.
“I think so. How does this feel? I’ll try to do better next time.”
“So what did you think of the movie?” asked H-C
“It was tragic. Left me with a lost feeling. That poor guy.”
“That poor guy made his woman wait and he wasn’t even woken up to his own indecision or confusion.”
“Well that’s a state of turmoil for any human being.”
“Do you think she should’ve been more patient?” asked H-C.
“More understanding of his state.”
“How long do you think you should wait for someone to work through their confusion? Or maybe the question is, is it fair for the partner to be in the dark about the confusion?”
“Good question. Doesn’t seem fair, but at the same time if she’s benefitting from the companionship, she could wait it out…”
“The good wife, girlfriend, woman, ever-patient. It’s a myth, and a damn crime. The danger is what’s on the other side of the decision. A long-term commitment or the decision to separate. Seems disempowering to me.”
“She’s waiting in the dark on someone else’s decision.”
“There’s ways to be empowered in those situations.”
“Well she can be more in the moment and get what she needs from relationship in the now.”
“Women are not like that. Women tend to be family-oriented even if the family means only your companion, but usually we’re searching for a long-term coupling, children, and commitment. Sure, initial relationships are about fun, but biologically as time proceeds we look for security and signs of long-term life partners.”
“Do you think the woman in the film was happy?”
“At first, but then she became terribly depressed and self-loathing. She thought his lack of desire for a commitment had to do more with the quality of person she was more than his confusion with himself. Do you think he was happy?”
“I think he was in turmoil and he was self-conscious and embarrassed. I think he felt like less of a man,” said Elias.
“What reasons would a man be afraid to just take the plunge, even in confusion?”
“Immaturity, fear of loss of independence, fear of failure, failing someone depending on them, lack of interest . . . I’m sure there are many other reasons.”
H-C and Elias snuggled in closer, offsetting the developing emotional distance.
“What would you do if I left you, Elias?”
“Do you think I’m confused?”
“I wonder why we haven’t moved in together, at the least. I wonder about long-term, what we’re doing, where we’re going? I do want a family someday. I think you’re confused about what you want. Are you happy?”
“Sometimes. Confused sometimes, Sad sometimes. Hopeful other times,” he answered.
Silence. They tangled arms and legs into a tighter knot.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me relative to you,” H-C lamented.
“Nothing. I’m just slow to move in relationships.”
“I don’t know.”
“Confused,” H-C went limp and a tear rolled down her left temple. Silence.
“Let me have some time to get it together. I love you so much. You are so important to me. I don’t want to fail you of all people.”
Silence. Elias daydreamed.
“I feel so ashamed of myself,” Elias said out loud obviously reflecting on his thoughts. H-C did not respond.
She was full.