Jen and Ryan had been fighting more in the last three months than they had in the last 16 years of being married. For the most part, their marriage had been a happy one; with only a few bad times they could recall. But six months ago Ryan had gotten into a car accident on his way home from work. It wasn’t life threatening, but to Ryan it might as well have been.
He hurt his neck and back to the point where he couldn’t go back to work. Worse, his job didn’t have short-term disability. So while his health insurance covered most of his medical bills, he wouldn’t bring in any form of income until he could return back to work. This put the responsiblity of paying all the bills on Jen’s shoulders. Their budget was already stretched thin, and now with only one income, stress and resentment were reaching an all-time high. In 16 years of marriage, this was the couple’s first real test—and they were failing it.
“Did you take out the garbage like I told you to?” Jen asked as soon as she walked through the front door, tossing her purse onto the coffee table while Ryan watched from his seat on the couch.
“Some of it.” Ashamed, Ryan looked down at the ground. “I couldn’t carry the bigger bags.”
Jen didn’t say anything. To show her displeasure, though, she looked around the living room but never in his direction. Then she disappeared into the bedroom for a few minutes. She returned wearing her pajama bottoms and an old t-shirt. Plopping down on the recliner opposite the couch, she immediately started playing with her phone. Ryan couldn’t feel any smaller if he was a flea.
“I made you some dinner,” he said in a meek voice, hoping this would sweeten her mood.
He must have said the magic words because her head perked up and she finally looked at him.
“It’s that healthy lasagna you like.” There was no change in her expression. “You know, the one from that keto website?”
Her face was a blank slate, but her eyes gave away the anger she was feeling. “You mean the same lasagna I made for you last week?”
Ryan’s face reddened. “Uh, yeah…” For some reason he’d thought it’d been longer since they’d last eaten it. With being stuck at home all the time, the days all seemed to blend together anymore. He felt like he was drifting through life and was on the verge of drowning at any moment. And Jen, who he always thought of as his life raft, now seemed too far away for him to reach. He was all alone.
Jen let out a deep sigh. For up to a month or so after the accident she played the role of loving wife. She took care of Ryan until he was back on his feet. But once he was back to normal—at least as far as outward appearances go—she had hoped things would go back to normal. Unfortunately, he had gained weight during the time he was bedridden, and this made it so his injuries were easily reaggravated. In her mind he was physically able to go back to work and relieve her of some of the stress she’d been under, but instead he lounged around the house all day gaining even more weight. They had many recent arguments about this, but Ryan would never budge on the fact he wasn’t physically ready to work again. Even after the doctor had cleared him for light duty.
What Jen didn’t know—and what Ryan refused to admit to himself—was that he was struggling with something more serious than the injuries caused by the accident.
The problem began a little more than a month ago. That was when Ryan first noticed he had trouble catching his breath after walking short distances. He had told himself it was because he hadn’t been able to exercise since the accident, coupled with the significant amount of weight he’d gained in such a short time. Instead of telling Jen or his doctor about the issue, he convinced himself that everything would be fine once he dropped a few pounds and started moving around more.
If Jen was more observant she would’ve noticed that Ryan wasn’t well. But other than fighting, they rarely talked. And this night was no different.
Ryan had watched Jen go into the kitchen. She was in there for some time before returning with a cold turkey sandwich. She took her place in the recliner and ate her sandwich while playing on her phone. Ryan had never felt so useless before.
Jen went to bed early while Ryan stayed in the living room watching TV. It didn’t take long before he grew bored and decided to call it a night. So he went in the kitchen and looked at his untouched lasagna with utter contempt. He tossed his failed dinner into the refrigerator, turned off the lights, then made his way to bed.
As he crawled into bed as quietly as possible, Jen grumbled something mean under her breath. This was something Ryan had grown used to over the last few months. It used to be when he went to bed she would roll over and flash him a warm smile, give him a goodnight kiss, then snuggle up in his arms with her head laying on his chest. Now she made it as apparent as she could that she detested his presence all together.
“…the days all seemed to blend together anymore.”
Once under the covers, he stretched his neck over and gave her a kiss on top of the head. She was still his wife and he still loved her very much. But as soon as his lips touched her, she elbowed him in the rib.
“I’m trying to sleep,” she said with an acid tongue, thnking he was trying to get some action.
Ryan dropped back down to his side of the bed. A thousand thoughts rushed through his head and he knew he wouldn’t be able to fall asleep. All he wanted was for his wife to love him again like he loved her. But he didn’t know how to make that happen, or if it was even his right to be loved by her anymore.