“Our marriage was ending. Was it something I did?”
She looked at him, trying to understand what had just happened. “Was it something I did?”
He sipped his coffee. “No, it wasn’t anything you did.”
She could smell the mayonnaise from the tuna salad he was eating. “I didn’t think it was going that poorly.”
“It wasn’t,” he said.
They lived in a three-bedroom house in a tree-lined suburb. Had they not lived there, neither would have noticed the place. They had some friends she didn’t really care about and participated in activities that people their age were supposed to enjoy.
“I still love you,” she said.
He took a bite of the tuna salad and another sip of the coffee. “I love you, too.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t say.”
When she married him, he was sad. He had been sad for a long time before that, too. He was sad in ways that she couldn’t comprehend, even though she wanted to, and it was a terrible shame. “We can’t throw this away. We can’t throw away what we have.”
He moved his fork around in the tuna salad. It had been left out of the refrigerator for a while and its odor was intense. “We do have a lot, that’s for sure.”
They weren’t one of those couples that argued. They discussed problems in a calm, rational way. “Can we talk this over?” she asked.
He shook his head. “No, we can’t.”
She wanted to cry. For most of her life, she had wanted to cry. When she married him, when she gave birth to their daughter, when they bought this house together–how she needed the tears that never came. “It’s very important to me. We’ve worked so hard on this.”
He was always a thousand miles away. When they touched, which wasn’t that often, it felt like rubbing together two pieces of tissue paper. There had been passion in the beginning, but it waned after a few weeks. “I did everything I could, honey,” he said.
He never called her honey, so his saying that just now bothered her. In fact, when she thought about it, nearly everything he did bothered her. The way he rushed to open the mail bothered her. The way he left his towels on the floor in the bathroom bothered her. The way he never turned off the computer bothered her. “Yeah, you gave it the old college try. You gave 110 percent,” she said.
He sighed, and his sigh bothered her. “Don’t be glib. This is serious.”
It was as serious as any of their other quarrels, she supposed. “It’s a real tragedy.”
“I can’t tell you how bad it’s been for me,” he said.
She nodded. “I’m sure it has been. Just awful. I don’t know how you can stand it.”
“Look, you’re not making this easy for me.”
No, she wouldn’t make it easy for him. Why would she do something like that? “Yes, I’ve held you back. I’ve stifled you.”
“I’m not saying that.”
“Well, what are you saying?”
“I’d like a little more time for myself. For my hobbies, you know?”
“Your hobbies?” she asked. “What is it that you do, anyway? What do you need so much time for?”
“It’s”—and here he choked the words out, because what he was about to say was stupid and hurtful—“my NFL draft league. The league where we have fantasy drafts modeled on the NFL draft. I wish I could spend as much time on that as I used to.”
In other words, he wanted more time to write a bunch of names and statistics on a dry erase board in the basement. He and five of his closest friends were obsessed with the NFL draft, which they analyzed tirelessly until it occurred. None of them had watched a football game in years at any level, because their work on the draft consumed most of their waking hours. “You don’t even have a job. You sit in the basement compiling those numbers, and I go to work at the hospital every day…”
“I’m so close,” he said.
“Close to what?”
He thought about that for a minute. Close to the next draft, perhaps. It was only a few weeks away. He was almost perfect last year, right down to the five first round trades. “I think I have it.”
“Have what? Nobody even pays you,” she said. “Why look for a position with a football team, put your research to use?”
It didn’t make any sense, yet the fantasy draft league was everything he ever wanted. 40-yard dashes. Shuttle runs. Bench press repetitions with 225 pounds. “It’s not like that. I couldn’t do that. It’s just…this is my year, honey.”
She realized then that she hated him. He had lost himself in a frivolous and empty activity because that was the only place he felt safe. She couldn’t compete with his fantasy league. “And you want more time for this?”
State University’s pro day was in three weeks. He had a good feeling about State’s hot young receiver “Toe” Beans. A few weeks earlier, Beans had run the 40 in 4.26 at an unofficial tryout for the Cleveland Spartans. Granted, favorable winds might have influenced Beans’ time, but it was one of the fastest ever recorded. “He’s a sleeper pick for sure,” he said to her.
“What? What are you talking about?”
He put his head in his hands, staring through the cracks in his fingers at what remained of the tuna salad. “I want what’s good for me, honey. What’s good for me isn’t what’s good for you.”
“Are you crazy?”
“I can’t go on like this,” he said.
She placed a hand on his shoulder, which was the wrong thing to do. “Are you crazy?” she asked again.
“I can’t,” he said. “I just can’t.”