Test the Strength of Man
July 4, 2006
Even a day later, Andy still had trouble shaking the grocery store encounter. Mia had been his world. Even long after she was gone, his every thought revolved around her. She had been the woman he had always seen himself marrying. She obviously hadn’t shared the same vision. After all, it was another man’s ring she wore on her finger, another man’s children she bore. All Andy had to show for the past two years he had spent without her was Lindsey, who had only just recently accepted his worth. Lindsey, who was just learning what it meant to be in any sort of relationship.
“What are you thinking?” Lindsey smiled up at him before taking a sip of her lemonade.
Andy stole a glance at his mother who had hardly read a word on the magazine page she had been turned to since she had brought it out into the back yard from the kitchen. She pretended to be distracted by the chirping bluebird in a nearby tree when she noticed her son’s gaze on her.
“Not right now.” He replied gruffly. Lindsey sighed lifting her head off of his chest, and resting it directly on the hammock they laid in. Looking up at the sky she tried to cloud her mix of disappointment and fear she had made some sort of irreconcilable mistake.
Anne noticed the air of tension building around the pair and excused herself back into the house, “I’m going to pack a basket for the picnic.” She announced in quiet voice that easily conveyed her worry.
“The cans we bought for the food drive are in the pantry,” Lindsey told her as she hurried across the grass, “Third shelf, all the way on the left.”
Once his mother’s presence was only felt through her gaze from between the kitchen curtains Andy stood up. Lindsey shifted her weight to rebalance herself and watched as Andy began to pace between the hammock and the lawn chair his mother had been sitting in.
“I think I’ve started to rub off on you,” Lindsey joked a bit hesitantly. Andy brought a hand up to massage his forehead but gave her no verbal reply. The source of his anguish was easily traced back to Mia. A women who he had never spoke of, but whose presence alone told volumes of what they had been together. What she had meant to him, how she had left him. Recalling just that brief grocery store encounter Lindsey finally understood why on a lonely Chicago street, on an early grey morning, he had insisted on taking her home with him. He had needed to feel needed again, and that kind of heartbreak struck deeper chords when it wasn’t audible.
“I can guarantee when we meet again years from now you won’t find me like that, like her, married and with children.” The words escaped her lips like smoke from a cigarette, a familiar comfort she had been abstaining from almost completely since she met Andy.
“What?” Andy gulped his reply. Although it pinpointed no specific aspect of Lindsey’s statement, she felt the need to clarify her words. And as uneasiness grew with every second that passed she wished herself back to the life she had known. She wanted to be rolling through some unknown town, with her guitar at her side. Her window would be down and she would be praying for a reprieve of the heat. With a cigarette between her lips and an empty bottle of whiskey rolling around on the floorboards from the night before, she would be as content as a drifter could be.
“People like me shouldn’t reproduce.” She admitted although she could no longer look Andy in the eye, “It would only be a disaster waiting to happen.”
“Everything about you is a disaster waiting to happen,” He snapped back with no regret. In a sense he wanted her to scream, he wanted her to throw a punch or storm away. He wanted to see the tears streaming down her cheeks diverge as if only to avoid the band aid still healing the wounds of a previous breakdown. He needed conflict but his words provoked nothing more than the kind of acceptance Lindsey had never experienced before.
Her eyes were pensive as she replied, “I know. I know.”
“Why are you acting, so, so fucking empathetic?” Andy spat words of venom. Lindsey was just glad to see he had finally stopped pacing.
“Why are we even fighting?” Her patience, although exorbitant considering she had never thought of anyone but herself, was wearing thin.
“Don’t do that. Don’t...” Something between a bellow and a scream escaped Andy’s lips when frustration stole his words, “This isn’t like you! Scream! Cry! Throw something at me! Break down over absolutely nothing!”
“Andy.” She mimicked the gentle voice he often used when talking her off the edge of insanity. Her grip was so light on his wrist it was more temporarily ignored than unnoticed.
His eyes squinted with anger just inches from her face when he spoke again. “You’re unresponsive!”
Although his stare down was meant to be intimidating, Lindsey could see a hint of vulnerability in his eyes.
She had to restrain a shudder as his warm breath brushed across her lips and he just continued to grind his teeth.
“You’re detached from ALL reality!”
She found it almost humorous that with their faces so close their noses grazed when either flinched, yet neither would recoil.
“So why, are you acting like some sort of normal person now?”
Holding his t-shirt by its collar, just to be sure her reply struck him as his accusations were meant to strike her, Lindsey kept him close as she whispered, “I guess because I don’t need you anymore.”
Tearing away from her grasped, he was halfway across the yard before he turned on his heels and yelled, “Then why are you still here?”
Lindsey shrugged watching blades of grass fall flat beneath her feet as she crossed the lawn to meet him. When she stood close enough to see the whites of his eyes she shot, “Because it’s not over yet. You still need me.”
“Fuck off.” He uttered with disdain.
Lindsey turned up her face in thought before composing a calm reply. “You’re mother will start to worry if we keep this screaming up much longer.”
“You don’t think I know that?” At the mention of his mother, the anger in his voice faded into an empty sort of sadness, “Do you know what it’s like to disappoint someone beyond complete repair?”
“I disappoint myself everyday.” Lindsey replied.
“I was just a kid,” Andy continued disregarding her statement, “I was angry at the world, I got caught up in a lot of really destructive things. It hurt her so bad and I knew it, I would laugh about it. It was me against the universe, I was chasing death, like I was some sort of renegade.” He paused trying to collect his thoughts and balance the range of emotions he had skipped in just seconds. “And I turned my life around, but she still sees that kid in me. That destruction will never go away. No matter how much time passes I can still feel it every time she hugs me. Do you have any idea what that’s like?”
Lindsey’s compassion was slowly fading, “How often do you think I get hugged?”
“Do you even realize why that stupid grin hasn’t left her face since we got here?” He asked. Picking up on its rhetoric Lindsey shooed out the hostility left in the space between where each of them stood. “It’s because of you. It’s because seeing me with you means I’m not a completely lost cause, that Mia didn’t break me completely. She sits there and stares at us with that smile, because she sees a wedding and grandchildren, and a fairytale ending.”
“I already told you, people like us shouldn’t reproduce.” Lindsey choked on her words, but Andy understood nonetheless.
He closed the few feet of space between them and looked her directly in the eyes. When he mustered enough moxie to be completely honest he muttered the only handful of words that could convey everything that had been going on in his mind for the past twenty-four hours.
“I fucking hate you.” He told her, “And yet that’s why I love you.”
“Don’t tell me things like that,” Lindsey scolded, kissing him like it were some sort of punishment, “Now let’s go, we’ll miss the fireworks or something.”