Only Touch Me Gently
You never really knew what it felt like to fall.
It happens too slowly. You forget your feet. They’ve shifted, slipped, run. The floor is lava. Everything is moving but you can’t see it. Objects are moving so quickly but you are moving in slow motion. You’ve never noticed that there’s time when falling. There is so much time; to catch yourself, decide: protect your body. Feel the weight of your body. Finally know what 125 pounds feels like – understand gravity. Protect your face but it burns, stings. It’s already damaged. You remember that the floor is not lava. You never really knew what it felt like to fall; to be pushed from your feet; to feel the hand; then the fall. And then the floor.
You feel the impact and wonder how you got there. Feel the carpet and remember the day you picked it out, think about all of the swatches you touched. You think about how long the two of you walked through Lowe’s; how hard it was to choose the fan that you are staring up at as opposed to the one that looked just like it with slight differences. You stood in that aisle for twenty-minutes. He had you close your eyes. “Imagine our bedroom, think about how hot it was last summer,” he said.
“I remember,” you giggle.
“Remember when the A/C went out? We needed a fan.”
“We had that tiny one,” you smiled, eyes still closed.
“We were dying,” he paused, “Think about that, open your eyes, and pick one.”
You opened your eyes and picked the bigger one in an instant. He turned to you and caressed your cheek with the same hand that has just knocked you to the ground, then kissed your other cheek. “Good choice. I’ll go find an attendant,” he said.
You look up at it now and see the dust collecting. It is more of a greyish color than the white it used to be. The gold trimming is chipping and one of the lights is out. The carpet is still soft, still white, which was never a good idea because it stains too easily. It was softer the day they put it and the fan in. He insisted on testing them both that night. You remember the way the carpet felt against your bare skin, the feeling of the gentle flow of air that wrapped around him then made its way to you beneath him, just barely brushing your arms. You remember looking up at him as you are now. You no longer see the smile from that day and the hand does not caress your cheek the way it did then. So, you take a minute and feel the floor.
You feel the floor and think of how you got here, think hard.
It was December 2018; you were having dinner downstairs. It was your anniversary, so you cooked together. He usually cooked but you wanted to be gushy today. Eight years ago today, you had your Christmas wedding that no one came to. Only the minister, the best man, and maid-of-honor showed because they loved you and had to come, and you were paying the minister. Everyone who was invited sent gifts with cards full of congratulations and apologies for not being able to attend. You didn’t blame them. Who has a wedding on Christmas day?
There you were eight years later, married and cooking an anniversary dinner. He layered the macaroni as you cut the apples for the pie until he said you were doing it wrong and put you on ham duty; which consisted of you sitting on your phone and playing Candy Crush until the timer went off and you had to check it again. He bought a bag of green beans because he said you had to have a vegetable. He had decided to sauté them just before you started cutting the apples wrong.
After dinner, you watch the wedding video of the two of you opening gifts while drunk, with your only two real friends and laughing at all of the heartfelt apologies. You watch yourself give your friend the third blender you opened, and she holds it up for the camera with pride and a drunk smile. “Thanks, Uncle Danny!” she exclaims. His best man laughs, the camera shaking in his hands, then goes over to kiss her, turning the camera towards them. They are barely in frame, but you get the idea. You sit on the living room floor between his legs, with your back leaning against his chest, your feet tucked under the coffee table in front of you and sipping on the wine from dinner. You offer him your glass but he only drinks white and has his scotch anyway.
Your friends had their Thanksgiving wedding only the month before and had a few more guests than you did who actually showed up, because they promised a quick ceremony and lots of food. He opens another bottle of wine for you because your glass is running low as you watch yourselves make Pina Coladas in one of the many blenders that you had opened that day. You hold your glass up as he slowly pours the wine, then turns to place the bottle on the end table just behind him. He kisses you on your cheek and brushes it off while moving your hair to the side. You smile because you always smile when he does that. “I’ve always loved these curls,” he says.
You smile again for good measure and rub his leg with your free hand to acknowledge him since he cannot see your smile. You watch your drunk friends struggling to pour their blended concoction that was nearly sixty percent alcohol into the gifted coffee mugs you opened about fifteen minutes prior to this part of the video. He laughs when the cameraman/best man trips over the toaster that had just been pulled from a box and placed on the floor. He laughed in the video, too, just before your drunk maid-of-honor stumbles over to him to see if her shiny new husband is okay. The two of you stand in the background. You are still in the dress picked out of a bridal magazine, and he is in the tux he picked up a week prior. He kisses you through the veil that somehow made it back onto your head over the course of this video, then it cuts out. But before it does, you see it, and you remember that feeling, remember when you were happiest and when you really loved him. Loved him the most.
“Do you remember what happened next?” He kisses your neck and you can smell the scotch on his breath.
“I do,” you say, just like you had back in 2010, a few hours before that video was made. It doesn’t feel the same.
“No, that was before that part,” he laughs.
“I think you’re drunk.”
“Head upstairs. I’ll put the food away.” You get up and make your way to the kitchen.
You take the containers out of the cabinet and hear him stumbling up the stairs. “Be careful,” you yell and hear a soft, “Yeah,” come from the staircase. You manage to stuff everything into containers then into the refrigerator, turn the light off and make your way upstairs. As you get to the door, you hear the ticking sound that the fan developed about five years ago that you never bothered to get checked. The door is cracked so you knock, trying to be cute for him. He calls for you to come in and you see him lying on the bed as bare as the day he was born. “Paint me like one of your French girls,” he laughs before his arm slips from under him. You laugh and say, “What are you doing?”
“Waiting for you.”
“And what happened to your clothes?”
“They ran away,” he giggles.
“You’re so drunk right now.”
“I know, but it’s okay. Come here.” He opens his arms to you.
You walk over to him with false reluctancy, slowly passing the dresser next to the door and you glance over at the lamp in the corner that he must have turned on. The room is barely lit, because it is too large for that lamp to make much of a difference especially with the curtains drawn. He sees you looking at the lamp. “Mood lighting,” he says. You make yourself laugh and look up at the fan as he pulls you close to him. You didn’t want it directly above the bed just in case, by some random twist of fate, it fell on you in your sleep, so you had it placed just beyond where the foot of the bed would be. You stand there in front of him and feel the heat between his legs and the air from the fan above you. He stands up and kisses you as he fails at trying to discreetly undo the zipper of your dress. You think back to when you stood before him in that magazine wedding dress and he skillfully undid the zipper, tracing your silhouette as he brought the zipper down; the touch of his hands felt like the best feeling in the world. Here, in this moment, those hands feel so familiar, like something you have felt a million times and will feel again. Nothing new, familiar. You giggle and he huffs, “Just give me a minute.”
“Take your time.”
“No can do, missy, gotta get this done before the day is up or it doesn’t count.”
“Count as what?”
“Anniversary sex.” He points at the clock on the wall next to the television stand in front of the bed. Then finally gets the zipper undone and the dress falls.
“We have time, it’s only 10,” you say
“Time flies when you’re having fun” he says way too close to your face then kisses your forehead. He looks at the rest of your clothing and you can see him contemplating how hard it will be to unhook your bra. “I’ll let you handle the rest of that,” he gestures at your clothes then turns to grab your phone from the nightstand where you left it before going down to eat. He pushes it towards you. “Unlock,” he says.
“Where’s yours?” You look at the phone checking for the small green notification light to blink.
“Dead,” he says, and points to it on the other nightstand on the other side of the bed.
“What are you doing?” you ask, still waiting.
“DJing.” He gives you a drunk smile.
You look for the light again, nothing. You breathe and unlock your phone and hand it back to him then watch his face as he searches through Spotify and picks a song. You notice it as soon as it comes on, “Like That” by Carmody, the song that you two danced to after the video cut out. You feel your body melt. It remembers that day, too. This song, the look in his eyes. It’s the same now, but a little more intoxicated. You have gotten the rest of your clothes off by the time he puts the phone back on the nightstand. He sits back down and pulls you to him again.
“This view never gets old,” he smiles as he looks up at you. You push him playfully. “Come here.” He pulls you in and you sit in his lap facing him. Take a moment and look at the face of the man before you and remember the moment when you married him eight years ago, remember when you loved him. You lean in and kiss him and allow those kisses to keep spontaneously replicating themselves, one after another. The song restarts and he wraps his arms around you tightly and starts to stand. You latch on with your arms and legs and look down at him. He lays you down on the bed and hovers over you. You glimpse the spinning fan as you look up at him, feel the air that brushes past him. He starts running his hands along your body like he is trying to trace your outline. You love the gentle feather-like brushes of his hands against your skin, coupled with the sweet lingering tastes of wine in your mouth and the scotch in his, mixing with your kisses. You run your hand along his chest and appreciate his disdain for the concept that dadbod is a thing that can be attractive. It serves as his only motivation for frequenting the gym so strictly and you are okay with that.
As he takes his hand back up your leg, he lifts it gently, suggesting that you arch them. This was your favorite part. The song has played about five times and becomes background noise. His kisses get softer and slower. He allows himself to brush against you between your legs and you feel how hard he is. Then he stops the kisses, looks into your eyes and places his hand on your cheek like it is the most precious thing he has ever seen. He kisses you again quickly but you try to hang on, chasing his lips with yours as he pulls them away. Then he starts to hover, his lips just barely not touching yours. You stay there. Ready for his next kiss, lips open just enough as he hovers. Waiting for the right time, you start to hear the song again in the background even though it never stopped playing. And without warning he begins to push himself inside of you and you let out the breath that he has been waiting for. That first, small spontaneous breath that says it all. This was your favorite part, he starts off slow, gently. You used to love gentle, but you have had gentle for eight years. You start to move your hips against him, faster, trying to get him to do something different. He notices and picks up the pace. Breaths start to get faster and more frequent. You move your hips against him and you moan as he gets deeper each time. He takes one of your hands and pins it against the bed next to your head. You close your eyes, because now he has caught on. You feel him pick up speed. Pushing harder and deeper, he leans in and kisses you as you try your hardest to focus on this moment, this feeling, on him. He keeps going and it gets better. He takes your other hand and pins it on the other side of your head just like he did the first one. You lift your legs and wrap them around him, raise your hips and breathe. You feel his breathing get heavier and feel the heat coming off his body as he begins thrusting faster and deeper still. Giving you every inch of him. You never knew it could feel like this with him. He has always been so gentle. Today he’s not. He is strong, forceful, aware of every breath you take, of how tightly you’re squeezing his hands. You take a minute to think, remember that you do Kegels; start, count to thirty, relax, repeat. You hear him breathing more and moaning softly under his breath. You both get close to climaxing and he whispers in your ear that he loves you and you know he means it. You pause, then respond with a soft mhm and he kisses you softly.
After the song has played about ten more times, you share one last kiss then go to shower together. He gets out of the shower first, he always does, saying he can only take so much of the hot water before you burn his skin off. When he goes into the bedroom, he notices that the music is still playing so he brings you your phone, holds it up to you and says “Unlock,” just like before. You don’t think. You just wipe your hand on the towel hanging next to the shower and quickly type in your pin before pulling the curtain closed while he walks out, fiddling with your phone. Then you hear the music go off. You enjoy the hot water and steam for about ten more minutes, then finally get out for the sake of the water bill. Making your way into the bedroom, you see him sitting on the bed still looking at your phone. You see his fingers moving and assume he is just using your lives on Candy Crush. He looks a bit downcast as you walk past him to the dresser to get your pajamas. “Yeah, that’s a hard level,” you joke because you are happy, genuinely happy. He doesn’t respond. You get dressed and walk over to him. “It’s okay, I’ve been on that level for like three months,” you smile but when you lean in to kiss him he jerks away putting his hands out.
You don’t understand. “What’s wrong? Did something happen while I was in the shower?” you ask.
“Who is Alexie?” He asks, quietly.
“Alexie?” Your stomach drops as you remember that name, think back to the shower and notice the small green light blinking before you unlocked your phone.
“Don’t do that. Who is Alexie?”
“He’s just a friend, from work.”
“Do all of your work friends tell you how much they wish they could be fucking you under the mistletoe today?”
“Don’t try to come up with some lie. Just tell me why. If I was such a predictable bore, a fucking ball and chain three months ago, why are we still here right now?” He reads the words off the screen and you don’t know what to say.
“Now isn’t the time for the quiet game. I want to know how long you’ve been sleeping with him. I deserve that much.”
“I’m sorry,” is all you can manage to say.
“Sorry? You’re fucking sorry?! Don’t stand there and lie to me. How can you still try to lie to me when I already know?” He stands and walks away from you to the other side of the room.
“I… I… I wanted…,” you start to become choked up
“YOU WANTED HIM! Especially on October 17th when you said that you liked the way he touches you more. Said I was too predictable, too gentle. Was that what this was today? I remember the seventeenth, you burnt lasagna that day- said that you were just trying to be spontaneous and surprise me with dinner even though you can’t cook to save your life.” He lets out a strained laugh. “You bought that new piece of lingerie and insisted that we put it to good use. Your words.”
“I remember,” you say, dropping your head.
“You don’t have anything else to say?” He is tearing up and you move towards him. “Stop, don’t you come near me.”
You have never seen him like this, and you don’t know what to do or what to say. You told yourself that you would leave Alexie after the New Year, that you would start the year off right.
“Can you at least tell me why?” Tears are falling from his eyes. He is staring at you like he is pleading for an answer, like he doesn’t even notice the tears soaking his face and shirt.
“Because I felt trapped and I needed something to help me breathe. For a while he was just a space to let go. We were only hanging out at first, going to lunch together. Then one night we went out for drinks after work and he kissed me, and it just felt right, it felt real. And I hadn’t felt that in a long time.” You are crying at this point.
“You didn’t tell me. How was I supposed to know how you were feeling if you didn’t talk to me?” His words are cracking now.
“I wanted to. I just didn’t know how.”
“So you decided to fuck someone else instead of trying?” He’s angry now and you can hear it in his voice. Your phone vibrates in his hand, he looks down at it, and your stomach drops. You can’t make out what the face he’s making now means. “Here, I’ve seen enough.” He walks to the foot of the bed and slides the phone across the bed like it is taking everything in him not to throw it. You pick it up. Alexie has sent you a picture of a bow tied around his penis and he says that your gift is waiting for you “as soon as the ball and chain falls asleep, Merry Christmas!”
You look at your husband. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I was going to end it”
“You shouldn’t have started it. Why didn’t you just talk to me? I’ve always been here for you.”
“I couldn’t.” You walk towards him and he takes a few steps back with his arms out, tensely, in front of him.
“Why? Have I ever given you a reason not to talk to me? I thought we were okay. You should have said something, not go running to that.” His face is soaked with angry tears. You try to move closer. “Stop,” he says and backs away. You think, if I can just get close enough, I can calm him down.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” You move closer.
“Stop, stop saying that because it’s not helping.” He doesn’t notice you’re getting closer, but you notice that he is shaking now. You get close to him, you’re right in front of him.
“I… I’m so s—”
“JUST STOP,” he yells, and you feel the impact of the back of his hand then you find out what it feels like to fall. You forget your feet. They’ve shifted, slipped, run, the floor is lava.