Drawn to each other – conflicting emotions
Two days later, alone in the bed, with Brent out of town again, Joellen had another dream. But this time nothing disturbed her before the final moment came. And this time, when she awoke, she remembered every detail – every nuance of pleasure.
Later that morning, after the kids were at school and she had cleaned the house, she drove to the church and parked outside the offices. North Karlson’s car was parked there already. She wondered what he did all day. For that matter all week. Sundays must be busy for him, even Saturdays preparing for Sundays, but he must have lots of time free during the week. Then she wondered where he lived. An apartment in town? A house? No, a house would be too big. And then it occurred to her that perhaps he had children, too. She didn’t know how long he’d been married or anything else about him.
And then there he was, coming from the church office building. He saw her car and squinted a little. Then he waved and walked over to the car.
Leaning down he said, “Well, hello, Joellen. What are you doing sitting out here? Did you want to see me?”
Joellen felt the space between her shoulders suddenly loosen and realized she had been as tense as a high-voltage wire.
“I think so,” she told him. “I’m not sure of anything anymore.”
He opened the car door. “Well come on out of there and we’ll sit down and talk a bit. You look a bit undone.”
Joellen felt like she was in a dream walking up the path, as if she was unconnected to what was happening, unaware of making a decision to move, just moving as if a wind was lifting her. She didn’t speak or look around. North Karlson walked beside her but she couldn’t have recounted whether he said anything or not. She was aware that the sun was shining, but she didn’t think about the time or season or anything around her. Once they were inside the office where she had spilled coffee, she didn’t sit, but stood in the middle of the room as if she was lost.
“Joellen?” North said. “Are you feeling ill?”
“I said are you feeling ill? Can I get you something?”
“No. No, I’m fine. I just … ” she didn’t know what to say. And then she turned to him, looked at his face and at his hands, hanging at his sides. She looked straight into that face – the one she had thought from the beginning had looked so kind and generous – and she walked toward him, slowly, deliberately, weightlessly, as a dreamer walks. She took his hands in hers and held them and looked into his palms and then back at his face.
“Do you think it’s possible to feel lonely when you’re with someone?” she asked, still holding his hands.
He disengaged his hands from hers but did not turn away from her. “Is that the way you feel, Joellen?”
“I think I must have been feeling that way for years. I don’t know how I could have ignored it for so long. I didn’t realize it until the day we met,” Joellen said in a voice that sounded to her too raw. “Do you know how that feels?”
“I know how it feels to be in a room full of people, all of them looking at you and listening to you, all of them relying on you, yet not one of them is really close to you and you are not really close to any one of them. Yes, I know how that feels,” he said.
She took his hands in hers again and raised his palms to her own face and placed them on either side of her cheeks. “Then we could help each other through this lonely time, couldn’t we?”
They stood there for how long she couldn’t say. Finally she stood on tiptoes and whispered to him, “The way I feel can’t be wrong. It can’t be a bad thing. I believe it’s good to feel deeply for someone, even if it’s someone I don’t really know. Sometimes it happens like that. Doesn’t it?”
North Karlson did not show in any way that he was shocked or angered or even confused by her statement or her actions. He held her face in his hands for a long time, studying her, drinking in this situation laden with possibility and risk.
“It happens,” he told her. “in all sorts of ways. I don’t know what to tell you. But you’re right. It’s possible to be lonely in a crowd and lonely in a marriage. But loneliness is not a good reason to embark on . . .” He did not finish the sentence.
She took his hands away from her face and still holding them led him to the small couch. They sat down, she still holding his hands, he still allowing it.
“I’m confused,” she said. “No,” she shook her head because she sensed he was going to say something. “Don’t say anything until I’m done. I went to see a lawyer. I realized I’ve been more than unhappy for many years, probably even since before I married Brent. I think I never loved him at all. I think I never should have married him. I think he only married me so he’d have someone to take care of his life, have his kids, and let him continue living the way he lived before we were married. I was stupid. But now I realize what it feels like to really want someone who makes me feel good about myself.”
She stopped. North disentangled their hands. He moved a little farther away from her. She sucked in her breath. She felt she couldn’t breathe.
“Joellen,” he began.
“Wait, before you say anything, I want to ask you a question. Did you love your wife in every way possible? Was she all you ever wanted?”
“That’s a hard question to answer, Joellen. And it’s not a fair question.” He stood up. “I loved her very much. Maybe not in the way you’re meaning right at this moment. I’m not sure what you mean and I doubt you do either. At a time like this, when you feel betrayed and angry, it’s natural for you to turn to someone else – someone like me – as a solution. But it isn’t that simple and it isn’t a solution. Marriage is something you have to work at to make it work. My wife and I had only two short years together. It wasn’t enough time to really build a marriage. We were just starting. But, yes, I loved her.”
He sat back down on the couch and looked at Joellen.
“Are you angry with me?” she asked.
“No, of course not. I’m confused. And I have conflicting emotions,” he shook his head slowly. “I never would have dreamed this could happen. Not this way. Not to me. Not now.”
“Did you think you would never love anyone again?” she asked.
“I didn’t let myself think about it,” he answered.