I could feel the weight of his gaze — it rested on my profile as I concentrated really, really hard on the menu in front of me.
Ew — please, please stop staring, my mind begged.
Every noodly fiber in my brain stretched and strained in an effort to push his longing away from me and onto something else — anything else.
The woman in the booth behind us.
The slice of banana cream pie on display inside a glass counter to our right.
The teaspoon resting in a pool of coffee droplets on the aluminum tabletop.
Anything. Whatever. Just. Look. Elsewhere.
Normally, I try my damnedest to put on a super cute performance when I know I am being watched by my man.
But now — no. God no. Now, I wanted to look repulsive, actually. I wanted to repulse and repel him because his eye raping was making my skin jump and curl and shrivel.
If you are a woman, then I know you know that feeling — that jumpy, curly, shrively skin feeling. You feel it when a guy is being a particular kind of gross.
I somehow sensed the staring was now being accompanied by open-mouth breathing and a side-cocked head. I also somehow sensed that the top two buttons on his Oxford shirt were undone, exposing a sparse patch of black wire.
Why am I here? This is all wrong. Why am I here?
I made the most unattractive face I could conjure, pushing my jaw down against my neck to force a double chin. I squinted my eyes, exaggerating the crow’s feet as I continued to review breakfast options:
Steak and eggs?
Biscuits and gravy?
I don’t ever eat like this. Again — all wrong. Why am I here?
Just keep reading. Don’t look up….keep reading.
“Enjoy two of our homemade buttermilk biscuits smothered in sausage gravy….”
I could feel the threat of a gag reflex at “smothered,” as a tube of Pillsbury biscuit dough — -seemingly lodged in my chest — exploded under the pressure of my ensuing panic, forcing a yeasty paste up into my throat.
I think I might vomit. Or cry. I’m going to vomit and cry.
It was then that I became aware he and I were not alone at our table.
There were suddenly two boys sitting across from us, and they were furiously scribbling crayons down to nubs, intent on covering their paper place mats with blue and red wax.
The smaller of the two threw me a sideways glance.
“I love coloring place mats, Mommy,” he said, tossing his red crayon aside to grab for a green one.
No, no, no, no! No “Mommy.” I’m not your Mommy, I thought. He can call me Miss Lauren, I reasoned, but most definitely not “Mommy.”
What did I do — what stupid, terrible mistake did I make?
Oh, God — what happened?
Why am I here in this diner, sitting down for a breakfast date with this guy — this guy who, apparently, I have encouraged to the point of longing gazes and open-mouthed breathing, and allowing his kids call me Mommy? This guy who looks like a mash-up of an old neighbor and that strange cashier at Giant who talks my ear off every time I accidentally go through his line.
My thoughts zig-zagged like a thousand pin balls in a frenzied attempt to identify whatever events in my life’s story had led me here to this completely foreign and unhappy place.
In a brief moment of clarity, I remembered my husband.
My husband! Yes, you, husband. Where are you? Oh, thank God — [husband’s name]! Yes, yes, yes. Him, please. I want him.
And then it became apparent that the husband was no longer a viable option. He was out. Obsessive staring guy and his two crayon scribblers were in.
Waves of intense hopelessness washed over me as I came to accept this whole awful scene was my new reality.
No, no, no, no, no……
When I woke up, I was still upset. The nightmare was over, but it had left an imprint that would likely take a few hours to shake off completely. That’s usually how these things tend to go, at least for me.
I breathed deep and immediately felt grounded by the faint smell of All Free and Clear mixed with Polo cologne and just a hint of sour bath towel.
Our bedroom, I’m nearly certain.
I opened my eyes and blinked into focus a large brown mass above me.
Ceiling fan. Ours. The husband’s and mine. Our bedroom, yes, definitely.
I turned my head to the left — the husband sleeps to my left — and rejoiced in all that was familiar. Big, broad shoulders. Long back. Thick legs capped by wide feet and odd Flintstone toes.
Oh, thank Jesus.
And I literally meant “Thank you, Jesus.” No worldly manhandling of the Savior’s name. I’m a believer, and I was literally sending up a mini-prayer of thanksgiving and gratitude.
I was thankful and grateful that I had not, in fact, made a dreadful mistake by deep-sixing my husband in favor of some awful conglomeration of men I’d never want.
I was also thankful and grateful to be married not to any of the men from my past — nor to the occasional man in a series of “futures,” who, in moments of carelessness, I idealize to unnatural levels of perfection — but to my man. The man I married nearly 13 years ago, and with whom I’ve produced two children and a life that suits me and him and us just fine.
I slipped out of bed, grabbed my robe, and headed downstairs to start the coffee.
Still enjoying that awesome sense of relief that comes with leaving a bad dream behind you, I started tidying up for breakfast. Working my way through the previous evening’s dinner dishes, I wondered why it is that I feel my deepest longing for him — my husband — in my subconscious.
You see, the diner nightmare was not the first dream to have left me desperate for the comfort of my reality. Two hands do not have enough fingers to tick off the number of times I have woken up frantic because I thought I had “accidentally” married an ex-boyfriend. Or because I somehow got entangled with that co-worker at my old job, or with that character actor who played the “crazy cousin” on last night’s episode of that syndicated sitcom I sometimes watch before bed.
All these dreams of “terribly wrong” serve to reinforce what is “terribly right.”
So, why can’t I get to this place of pure and absolute submission to the correctness of it all in our day-to-day, night-by-night living of real life? Why can’t I live in my waking hours the way I wish I could live in my dreams?
I’m going to change that now, I committed.
I’m going to start trying to live differently. I’m going to consciously love my husband as though my reality depends on it.
And really, our realities do depend on it. Right?
The coffee was ready, and so I grabbed two mugs from the cabinet as I heard the husband make his way downstairs.
“Good morning,” the husband offered as he blew past me toward the door that leads to our garage.
“Good morning,” I called back.
I stood at the counter, waiting for him to reemerge. I had his coffee ready, and I was hoping he’d have five minutes to spare. He usually does have five minutes for a few sips of coffee with me at our table.
When he came back inside, I could see he was not in a sipping sort of mood.
He was in a rush.
A second blow-by, this time past me and my coffee mugs and out to the foyer where his laptop rested against the wall.
Hoisting the black canvass strap up and over his shoulder, the husband came back into the kitchen in search of a to-go cup for the coffee, and to grab his keys and wallet.
Before he could make another move, I walked over to him and slapped myself against him — literally fell into him — wrapping my arms around his back and burying my face into his chest.
I breathed him in, and then said:
“I had the worst, worst dream last night. Oh my God, I am so glad I married you.”
Mildly amused, but failing to fully absorb my cue, he said:
“That’s sweet, babe. Me too. Hey — did you remember to buy the to-go mugs?”
I pulled back from him as he helped me further disengage, peeling one of my arms away as though opening a gate. He walked through and away, toward the to-go cup cabinet.
“[Husband’s name]!” I said. “I’m serious — I had a bad dream!”
“Sorry, babe. I’m just hot, and in a rush — you know…. Tuesday mornings. I’ll call you when I get to work.”
No, I didn’t know “Tuesday mornings” and I didn’t care if he was hot, and maybe he wouldn’t be in a rush if he woke up maybe ten minutes earlier.
I watched through the window as he headed down the driveway toward his car.
Mere moments into the conscious reality of a new day, and I was already agitated.
Okay. Yup. Got it.
This is soooooo why I tend to love you harder in my subconscious.
But, subconsciously, apparently, I really do love him….