by Steve Caplan
Daniel stared at the television screen with unfocused eyes and shivered. It must be below fifteen degrees in here, he thought. He wrapped the blanket around himself tighter and debated whether to make another pot of coffee. Although he believed that the coffee might help warm him up temporarily, the thought of leaving the partially heated bedroom for the cold, drafty kitchen helped convince him to stay put.
The television blared on, but Daniel was unaware of anything but the deepening gloom tearing away at his insides. The cold penetrated through all parts of his body, generating chilling waves that propagated from his feet to his head. Daniel cursed the icy winter again and again while forcing himself to imagine the coming of spring. Once winter ends, he thought, everything will improve. Then I'll be able to get out and perhaps even meet new people. In the meantime, the damp winter was static and held little hope for Daniel.
It was now almost two weeks since Suzannah had left him. Daniel felt abandoned, lost, even bewildered. After having lived together for five years, he felt that he deserved more than a two-page note which lacked, in his view, any real explanation. "I need some time to be by myself," Suzannah had written. Daniel knew that these were words empty of any real content. On the other hand, he reassured himself, she didn't specifically write that she wouldn't be back. There were times when he would read the letter over and over, each time finding hidden meanings and hints of their upcoming reunification. Other times, Daniel would reread the letter and sink into despair.
In the apartment, everything reminded him of her. He would pull out the photo albums and count the number of photographs of the two of them together. He would take her laundry out of the hamper just to refresh his memory of her scent. He forced himself to remember the summer nights they had spent together watching video films and making love long into the night. Daniel tortured himself by thinking of the last time they had slept together; could that have been the very last time ever? At the time, of course, he had not known that it would be the last time. He had not even had the slightest inkling that Suzannah would soon leave him. Had Suzannah already known that she would leave him shortly afterward? If so, how could she have responded to him? Was it all an act? If she hadn't yet planned to move out, then how could she possibly sway from love to indifference in such a short time?
The days went by ever so slowly. Daniel found it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. Once he had risen, he couldn't wait to get out of the flat. The dark, empty quiet of the apartment bothered him deeply. However, once he arrived at work, Daniel would already be waiting anxiously for the end of the day. At home, he would reason that she would call him at the office. When he received no call from her at the office all morning, he began to persuade himself that she would not make such a personal call to him at the office. He would ache to go home and check for calls on his answering machine. In the evening, the cycle would reverse itself.
Work was both a burden and relief for Daniel. At times, he was able to concentrate on his job and push his suffering away from his conscious mind for minutes and sometimes even hours. However, little things would always force him back to self pity and reliving his current troubles. The radio would remind him of the weekends when they used to listen to concerts together. The ring of the phone would cause him to jump with a mixture of despair, hope and irritation. Even his workmates would serve as a constant reminder that he was now alone while most of them were married.
One evening Daniel sat huddled on his bed with the television on, wishing over and over for the telephone to ring. "In Zaire," the news anchorman read swiftly, "another fourty-three people were reported to have died after contracting the Ebola virus. World Health Organization officials warn that unless effective quaratines are maintained, the spread of the virus may be imminent".
Daniel thought to himself, "I wish I would die from this Ebola virus. Perhaps if I were being buried she would feel something for me". Daniel caught himself quickly and realized how warped his perception had become. No, I don't want to die yet, he thought. It's amazing how little the deaths of tens of Africans mean to me. In fact, if the devil himself were to give me a choice between saving the lives of fourty-three sick, anonymous Africans, or saving my marriage, I probably wouldn't hesitate long.
"In our studio this evening, " continued the mellifluous voice of the anchorman, "we have with us Professor James Stenton, director of the Department of Viral Illnesses and Internal Medicine at Kyle General Hospital."
"Good evening Professor Stenton". "Good evening Dave". "Professor Stenton, what are the chances that the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Africa could lead to the penetration of the virus into our country?"
Daniel thought, "They're no better than I am. In fact, they are worse. I can admit at least that in my present state I find it extremely difficult to pity anyone else, even those who are physically suffering and in life-threating situations. At least I'm not hypocritical. Noone else really cares what the hell happens in bloody Africa either. All they're interested in is whether this virus has any chance of getting into our country and directly affecting us."
Spring finally arrived, bringing with it erratic weather. Daniel's moods seemed to emulate the untamed seasonal weather. He had some good days where Suzannah could be totally forgotten, but there were also those difficult days where Daniel didn't feel as though he had any reason to climb out of bed in the morning. Nevertheless, the days gradually became longer and brighter, and Daniel could feel that his life was slowly starting to come together again.
Two separate building projects that Daniel had designed had been highly acclaimed and Daniel's boss had hinted that there were three more tentative plans to be drawn up. Daniel thought that it was amazing that any of the plans he had drawn up over the past three months could possibly have been good; he only vaguely remembered sitting with the clients and plotting the designs. He now felt a professional pride that even during those dark times he had still been able to go through the motions of work and even succeed to a reasonable extent.
During this period, Daniel began to invest more time at work; since things were going well, he began to feel very comfortable at the office and to enjoy both his work and his steadily-improving reputation. In contrast, the improvement in Daniel's personal life was much slower. He still hadn't moved out of the apartment even though he conceded to himself that after three months, there was not much chance of Suzannah returning. Although it was logical to find a smaller, cheaper place, Daniel could not yet break away from the apartment emotionally. Most of her belongings were still on the premises. If he were to give up the flat, he felt that he would relinquish any remaining hope of their getting back together.
With the coming of spring, Daniel slowly began to take interest again in various sports and recreational activities. He played tennis with Bob now and then at the tennis club, and was invited to Sally and Jim's place for dinner. He began to feel a very strange sensation of freedom; there were no parties that he was obligated to attend, and it was easy to politely refuse any unwanted invitations. Nevertheless, he felt that these feelings were only a small consolation for the loss of a relationship that he would readily have renewed.
One Monday morning at the office, Daniel was pouring himself a cup of coffee when Tim, the computer analyst, remarked, "You're really burned, where have you been?"
Daniel replied, "I went on a two day hike with a couple of old friends. We forgot to bring sun screen with us. Does it look that bad?"
"I think it'll peel off quickly, but you better stay out of the sun. Speaking of the sun, I saw Suzannah at the beach on Sunday with Martin Stuhl. Have you guys got your divorce yet?"
Daniel felt the current shoot through him like a bolt of lightning. It was as though he had a thousand migraine headaches all at once sweeping through his forehead, each pang at a different phase and giving him a jolt of pain that racked his skull.
The next few weeks were living hell for Daniel. He couldn't even remember how he had gotten home and to bed after Tim's naive observations. Daniel could recall very little of the two weeks that followed; he got out of bed for only the most basic necessities. The most routine procedures became tiresome struggles; it was difficult to chew food and swallow, to shower, shave and even brush his teeth.
Sally helped by bringing over some home-cooked meals and literally forcing Daniel to swallow a few mouthfuls. Jim came by almost every day and tried his best to talk to Daniel, but it wasn't easy. After a few days, he decided that professional help was needed and brought a psychologist friend over to Daniel's flat.
"How's he coming along?" Jim asked the psychologist when he came out of the bedroom after the fifth meeting.
"He'll be up on his feet soon, but it's going to take some time until he gets back into peak form. After his wife left him he underwent a tremendous shock, but managed to suppress most of it. Unfortunately, he did that by building up what we call 'false hopes' that his wife would return. Can you believe that more than three months went by since his wife separated and it never even occurred to him consciously that she might have left him for someone else or at least begun a new relationship".
"He never talked about her anymore. I really thought that he managed to overcome the separation by now".
"Well, he had overcome the separation, to some extent. On the other hand, he still harboured hopes of their getting back together again. As long as he blotted out any thoughts of Suzannah becoming involved with anyone else, he could still maintain a thread of hope. It's like the old saying: what you can't see can't hurt you. However, when at work someone mentioned that he had seen Suzannah going out with somebody else, the bubble burst. The main aim now is to make Daniel face the reality that Suzannah isn't going to come back to him. At least it certainly doesn't look as though she will. As soon he he is able to bear the pain of this reality, the process of healing will be faster."
As the weeks wound by Daniel slowly began to return to his daily routines. Work was piling up up at the office, and the three weeks he had been at home added extra pressure to the daily workload. However, he was beginning to catch up and felt that things could only improve from here on. The constant workload was good for him, in a way, too. It gave him a sense of self esteem that had been sorely lacking since Suzannah had left him. At least in the professional world he felt worthy of respect.
Daniel finally began to feel that he was starting to accept the change in his life. It was like the death of a family member; at first there was a period of denial, and slowly it begins to sink in. Daniel even started to consider looking for a new apartment. He wrote down several promising telephone numbers from the newspaper advertisement section, but couldn't yet bring himself to call.
The tennis matches with Bob were renewed, and Daniel even went out for dinner with Sally, Jim and a recently divorced friend of Sally's. Unfortunately, that evening didn't work out very well. Sally's friend was a fashion designer and Daniel was unable to feign any interest at all in her work. On the other hand, Daniel felt that this was nevertheless an improvement; at least he was 'rejecting' a potential relationship for the right reasons, and not because of any attachment to Suzannah. He could even 'prove' to himself that this was so; he found himself quite interested in the new graphic supervisor who had smiled at him several times from behind her coffee in the conference room at work. He made a mental note to ask her out to lunch next week.
Summer arrived and Daniel wondered when Suzannah would finally come to collect her things from the apartment. He was now actively looking for a new place and didn't feel that he wanted to carry any of her possessions to his new flat. He wanted to start fresh. He thought to himself, if she can't face me herself, then let her send some of her friends- if she hasn't abandoned them too. He caught himself speculating how it would be to speak to her after all this time. She would probably be somewhat embarassed, he thought. After all, she ran out on me without a word and hasn't made contact in over five months. Is that normal? Daniel imagined how he would handle such a meeting. He could imagine her voice on the other end of the line, 'Hello?'.
Daniel could hear himself answering in his detached, icy cool, professional voice, 'Yes?'. Daniel practiced the inflection on the word 'yes' so as to give nothing away. The word was repeated over and over in Daniel's mind, each time with more and more nonchalance. He didn't want to give her the slightest satisfaction in thinking that he was or ever had been waiting to hear from her. He would be so formal, that anyone evesdropping would never have suspected that they had lived together for five years. In fact, it would have been difficult to suspect that he even knew her at all. Alternatively, Daniel considered taking a gentle, forgiving tone, such as one is used for reprimanding a generally good child who has done something bad. Daniel would say to himself, "Yes, Suzannah, how have you been?". It was a difficult choice to make, but Daniel knew that either way, such behaviour by him would show Suzannah that he no longer needed her.
One evening Daniel was starting to organize his possessions for the upcoming move when the telephone rang. Daniel picked up the phone and said "Hello?". "Hello, Daniel, it's Suzannah". No planned response could compete with Daniel's heavy emotions. "Please," he cried out, "come home Suzannah. It's not too late. I'm sorry. We'll start again; it'll be better this time, I promise..."
Daniel ranted on and on and didn't even notice that the line was dead.