4. Words

“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, 
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Proverbs 12:18

“A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. 
A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul.”
Proverbs 18:6-7

Glancing down at his watch, The Uncle knew he needed to finish up for the day and head home for dinner. His stomach rumbled audibly as he walked down the hallway, driving home the point that he needed to call it a day. He hurried his pace back to his office, anxious to get home to his beautiful bride of almost four years.  

Military life often did not respect the 8-5 workday that much of the civilian world enjoyed, and The Uncle’s recent promotion to Major only further complicated his work schedule. Soldiers stopped and saluted him as he turned to enter his office. He was a young officer, but he was highly respected amongst his peers. A sharp and skilled soldier, he’d worked hard to get where he was today. 

Walking into his office, he glanced over to the phone on his desk. The voicemail light blinked red, indicating there were messages waiting for him. Undoubtedly, a handful of them were from Charlotte, wondering when he’d be home for dinner. Should they wait for him tonight? Dinner was growing cold! He could already hear her frustrated questions, and he decided to ignore the messages and just go home. While his quick advancement in the ranks was quite the accomplishment, Charlotte did not seem to be adjusting as well to the demands of his new position.

In just three days, he and Charlotte were supposed to go on a long weekend getaway to the mountains for their four-year wedding anniversary. It had been such a difficult year, and he was ready to have some time alone with her. They desperately needed the time away so they could reconnect. How had things become so difficult in just four years of marriage? Was this normal?

He missed the earlier days when it was just him and Charlotte. Walking out to his truck, he reminisced on those simpler times. Life had been blissful during their first few years of marriage. They had done whatever they wanted with their time, enjoying one another’s company to the fullest. They used to go off on these weekend getaways frequently, just for the adventure of it. There had not been heavy issues on their marriage, like the death of Charlotte’s sister and her family, or the infertility that continued to plague them. 

As he drove home, turning his vehicle into the officer’s housing, he shook his head with disbelief at how much had changed over the last year. The train accident had occurred just one week after their third wedding anniversary. What a terrible tragedy! Charlotte lost her sister, her brother-in-law, and a niece and nephew in one day. And then, just a little over a month later, their orphaned niece had come to live with them. In the twinkling of an eye, they went from a happy, nearly stress-free couple trying to begin their own family, to guardians of an eight-year-old girl.

Walking into the house, he could smell the delicious aroma of lasagna as it wafted through the air. He glanced in the kitchen to see two sets of dirty plates, cups, and utensils sitting in the sink. They’d eaten without him again. He couldn’t blame them, really, but it still made him angry all the same. Or was it hurt? He’d lost the ability to discern between the two. In the past, Charlotte would have waited for him to get home, no matter how late it was. She wouldn’t have even considered eating without him! She used to be so thoughtful. He felt in some sense like their niece had taken his place in Charlotte’s life, and he resented the little girl for this, even though he knew it wasn’t her fault.

On the countertop further down, a plate was filled for him with a heaping serving of lasagna, covered with a napkin so that it wouldn’t splatter all over the inside of the microwave when he warmed his dinner. Yet The Uncle was so consumed with nursing his feelings of hurt toward Charlotte and the girl that he didn’t even consider Charlotte’s thoughtfulness in making his plate. He popped his dinner into the microwave, pressed the number 1, and pulled out a bottle of beer from the fridge.

While the microwave hummed, The Uncle took a long sip of his beer before climbing the stairs to change out of his uniform. He heard Charlotte and his niece talking about something that had happened at school while she took her bath. He walked past the guest bathroom unnoticed, entering the master bedroom without even so much as a “hello” from Charlotte. Had she not even been listening for him to come home? He quickly changed and slipped back down the stairs, indignant at how Charlotte was so consumed with their niece.

As he was finishing his meal, Charlotte finally descended the stairs after putting their niece to bed. Her brown, curly hair was pulled into a messy bun on the top of her head, and her makeup was already removed. But even in an old t-shirt and cotton pajama bottoms, she still looked beautiful.

“Hey honey. I see you found your dinner.” She smiled pleasantly as she walked into the living room and took a seat on the couch, completely unaware of her husband’s hurt feelings. Apparently, she was not upset that he was so late in getting home.

“Thanks for waiting on me,” The Uncle said caustically, motioning to his plate with a tip of his head. He watched as her pleasant expression fell away, and she then clenched her jaw. It always amazed him at how quickly things could escalate. He really wasn’t sure why he’d felt so compelled to say those words, anyway, picking a fight where no fight had been waiting for him. 

“You didn’t really expect us to wait on you, did you?” she replied defensively. “I called you three or four times, and you never answered or even called me back! We would have waited had we heard something from you.” Her voice shook slightly as she tried to steady her anger. 

“You signed up for the military life when you married me! You knew this before you said ‘I do!’” Here they were again, having the same old argument they always seemed to have. It was like they were stuck on some kind of horrible merry-go-round, circling around and around the same “hot button” issues.

He looked into her eyes and saw a heaviness that was usually there on nights when she was thinking about her sister. He really wasn’t in the mood for a long discussion of her feelings, so he turned his attention to the beer on his right, taking another swig of it while he focused back on the television. He knew this hurt her feelings more than anything, but at the moment, he really didn’t care. Sometimes, apathy was the deadliest weapon against his wife.

At the next commercial break, The Uncle hurried to the kitchen, setting his empty plate by the sink and grabbing a fresh beer from the refrigerator. When he returned to the living room again, Charlotte had muted the television. Great, he thought as he sighed audibly. She wants to talk. 

“What is it?” he asked, with no emotion in his voice. Even as he pretended he didn’t care, he knew deep inside that he cared very much. He loved Charlotte with all of his heart, but he felt so rejected by her. He felt like she chose their niece over him all the time.

“I heard from Dr. Carter today,” she said, doing her best to ignore his supposed indifference. Her voice quivered as she spoke. Dr. Carter was Charlotte’s fertility specialist. So it isn’t that she’s thinking about her sister, he thought. She’s thinking about pregnancy. This was another issue he had long grown tired of discussing. Marital intimacy had lost its luster quite some time ago, as it had become more about trying to become pregnant than about being with one another in love and enjoyment.

Oh really? What did he want?” he asked indifferently. The Uncle knew Charlotte had been waiting on test results, but he feigned ignorance, driven by his own sullen feelings.

“The test results, babe. How could you forget? We have been waiting for two weeks now!” She couldn’t hide the hurt in her voice at his careless words. He could see on her face that she desperately wanted him to be close to her, to engage with her. Part of him wanted to draw close to her, too, but he held back. 

Shaking his head, he replied, “Right, right. Well, what did he say?” 

Charlotte glanced away for a moment, and when she looked back to him, tears were falling from her eyes. “The results weren’t good. He says it’s highly unlikely that I will ever conceive a child.” As she finished her sentence, Charlotte buried her face in her hands. She wept in front of him, and he sat there, dumbfounded, not moving a muscle.

In that moment, it felt as if someone had dealt him a blow to the gut. The Uncle felt the blood drain from his face. But instead of responding with the tenderness that Charlotte clearly needed from him in that moment, he allowed the deep-seeded anger in his heart to show instead. 

Speaking slowly, his deep voice almost grumbling the words, he said, “So you mean to tell me that not only do I have to raise someone else’s kid, but I’ll never get to father a kid of my own?” 

She pulled her hands away from her face, furious at his uncaring words. The tears had stopped for the moment, and her face was now red with anger. “How dare you make this about our niece. How could you? You agreed years ago that we would take care of their children if anything ever happened to Laura and Steve! Why must you always go back to this? You need to grow up! She’s here, and she’s not going anywhere!”

“It’s not the same, and you know it!” He spouted back, ignoring her valid points. “You shouldn’t have insisted we take her in, Char! Steve’s brother and wife wanted her just as badly, and they already have kids her age. She could have had playmates! She would have fit right in! We were okay just the two of us, didn’t you think? But you insisted! And now, look at us. You don’t even wait on me for dinner anymore. I’d even go so far as betting all this infertility nonsense is because of that kid. When is the last time we were together, and when was the last time it was even enjoyable?!” His strained voice had grown louder and louder, and he didn’t even realize he was shouting by the end of it.

Just at that moment, a sniffle drew their attention away from their very heated argument. Their niece was there, perched at the the top of the staircase, eavesdropping on their conversation. She quickly ran off when she realized they had found her out. How long had she been there? The Uncle was enraged by this clear invasion of privacy, but Charlotte had a very different reaction.

“You are and always have been so selfish,” she snarled at him. “I can’t believe you would say such hideous things, but to say them loud enough that she could hear…you reckless, foolish man!” she exclaimed angrily before she hurried off in the direction of the child.

Fuming from his outburst of emotion, The Uncle emptied his second beer, grabbed a third bottle, and left the house as quickly as he could. Crickets chirped, and stars were beginning to appear in the late evening sky. Lights were on in the houses around his, but there was no one to be found outside. Good. I don’t want to see anyone right now. 

The Uncle walked three times around his block before he finally felt his pulse slowing and his third beer finally taking effect on his senses. Calming from their earlier altercation, he sat on a bench to think things through. He was ready to go home and make up with Charlotte. His body physically ached to be with her, and he could hardly contain his desire for his wife. He even felt a small sense of remorse over his earlier, careless words. Although he didn’t regret what he’d said to his wife, he regretted how he had delivered his feelings to her. 

Walking back into the house, he found the tv off and only a lamp on in the living room. He turned off the lamp and quietly climbed the stairs, hoping Charlotte hadn’t gone to bed yet. When he walked into their master suite, he was relieved to see her finishing a letter at her desk. He walked over to her and placed his hands gently on her shoulders. I guess I’d better apologize now, he thought. He hated apologizing, but even more than that, he hated being at odds with Charlotte.

“Char…” he began, but just as quickly, she pulled her body away from him and rose toward their bed. 

“Don’t even come in here expecting something from me after what you’ve said,” she snapped, deep hurt and rejection clearly evident in her words. He stood there in disbelief, watching as his wife climbed into bed and laid so that he was looking at her back. Her icy cold reaction was salt to his wound.

A gentle stirring within him urged for him to pursue her more, to be gentler, humbler. Try again. But instead, he pushed down that desire and stormed out of the room. 

Descending the stairs, he walked to his office at the back of the house. Going straight to his desk, he pulled open the bottom left drawer and uncovered the hidden magazine. He had just purchased this at a convenience store the other day, shame and embarrassment flooding him as he made the purchase. The magazine was still in its plastic slipcover, unopened as of yet. 

But why should he feel guilty? He was a man, for goodness’ sake! A man with needs! Meanwhile, his wife was so consumed with that bratty little girl, she hardly even took notice of him anymore. He set the magazine on his desk so that he could grab another beer. He pushed down any lingering feelings of guilt as he walked back into his office and closed the door, locking it behind him.