Dusk of the Living Gods
When we first started dating he asked me, "Are you a sunrise person or a sunset person?"
I responded, "What do you mean? Do I prefer sunrises or sunsets? I guess sunsets. Does that mean something?"
He nodded and explained, "Sunrise people look to the future. They're optimistic. Sunset people dwell on the past. They tend to be pessimistic."
"I thought it was just because I hate getting up early."
"But have you ever thought about why you hate getting up early? If you were to go to sleep early, you'd get up early, and get the same amount of sleep as going to bed late and getting up late."
"I guess that's true," I pondered. "Does this mean you're a sunrise person?"
He nodded. I thought that meant we were incompatible, and a relationship had ended before it had even started, but then he said with profound smile, "That means we complement each another."
That was nearly three decades ago.
Time flies whether or not you're having fun. Before I knew it, I had reached the big 4-0. Gray hairs and wrinkles mysteriously appeared overnight. My body started aching in places and ways I never thought possible. Soon two children had graduated college. And he and I had grown far apart.
I remember exactly when I fell out of love with him. It was before our first child was born, just two years into the marriage. We had the typical hysterical fight over nothing, where he walked out of the house and did not return for hours. He no longer remembers the fight, but I do. His family had annoyed me and I made some insult to his mother. Despite the lack of concern he showed for his parents, he was apparently quite protective of them. Ironically, years later, he came to agree with me, that his family was annoying and crazy.
But at the time he stubbornly did not speak to me for two weeks. I was the one who swallowed my pride and begged his forgiveness. But I never forgave him. I just stopped loving him. Or rather it was no longer the newlywed type of love. No longer the type of love where the sun rises and sets with him. I still loved him in a way, but no more than myself, or my sanity. Of course there were more arguments and each time I was the one who apologized, who gave in for the sake of our marriage. And each time what love remained eroded like the beach over time, consumed by the constant tide.
And when the children came, they became the center of my world, and any love for him waned even further.
But now the children are on their own. I am no longer their sun and moon. They have their own lives and I have none. Or rather I have no one except him.
I wish things could be as they were in the beginning, with that all encompassing love where you think of nothing else, feel nothing else. But once you fall out of love, there is no way to fall back in. Whatever caused it will always exist in your memory to call upon when things go wrong again.
They say people in love see the world through rose colored glasses, but it's more like they see things by candlelight - through a warm soft glow, not noticing the obscured reality hidden just beyond the candle's range. Or you can say, it's like listening to the roar of the ocean through a large seashell. It sounds like it's really the ocean, but in reality it's only the air current passing through the chambers of the shell. Once you know the truth, the magic is gone.
But you can choose to live within the illusion, acknowledging it for what it is, accepting it because dealing with reality is too difficult and complicated. I needed the security of marriage, of having someone to come home to, of having someone to care for me when I'm sick, and now when I'm old, in the dusk of life.
I know he too wishes we could be as we were in the beginning, more than I do, because he actually still cares. I am long past caring. I have accepted it. There is no reliving the past.
He once said to me that the difference between the two of us, or the difference between sunrise and sunset personality types, is that no matter what happens, he tries to make the best of it and look toward the future. He forgets about past disagreements and fights and never holds a grudge (so he says). But he claimed I revel in them, that I never forgive because I never forget and I bring up all his past mistakes over and over.
But if you don't recall the past, you don't learn from your mistakes. I learned from mine. I learned when to keep quiet and let him have his way. I learned to subtly undermine him to compensate for my compliance, to have my petty revenge. (I can cook better than he thinks and I really do know when to add bleach.)
A relationship is ultimately a struggle for control, and marriage is a constant struggle, much like the eternal struggle for power among the ancient jealous gods. He thinks he's the lord of the manor, the king of his castle, the emperor of an empire, the pharaoh of a dynasty, who rules and provides for our household, and we must all bow before him and live by his righteous rules. But it's all a fašade. He has no power. I am the true power behind his voluminous robes. Who took care of the treasury? Who took care of his heirs? Who truly provided food and shelter? Without me, checks to pay the mortgage and utilities would have bounced. There would have been no college fund for the children. There would have been nothing to eat but instant noodles and canned fruit. I was the one who kept the family together. I was the one who endured his presumptuous arrogance.
All these things come to mind as I spend time alone with him, without the children and the home to distract me. I think of how what we have is because of me. How he has done so little for me in all our years together. This trip is the first one he's ever planned, the first unasked gift that he's ever given me.
Here in La Costa del Sol, of Southern Spain, the sun does not set until after 9:00 pm during the summer months. The beaches are pristine, the Mediterranean transparent, reflecting only the sky above. Or so it says in the advertisements.
For the past week we've been trying to recapture what we felt so very long ago, after a quarter century of marriage, on our second honeymoon, visiting the same place as the first. We call it our second honeymoon because during those early years we could not afford to go on vacation after our first honeymoon. And when the kids arrived, we could not take a trip alone together. And when the kids grew up and we could afford it, it seemed we didn't want to go anywhere alone together at all.
It is our last night here. Tomorrow we'll be returning home, in cramped coach airplane seats for over six hours. At least they've banned smoking on international flights. Back then the smoke filled the cabin and made me cough.
We've been staying at a resort about two miles from the shore, atop a hill, or rather a small "mountain" as the resort brochures like to call it. The shore is rocky here, not like the coastline in the next town over, which has the pure crystalline white sand. Of course the resorts there are more expensive. We can afford it now, but it seems he finds this nostalgic.
We've just finished dinner in town and now we're heading back to the resort, on foot, stepping on jagged rocks, and fighting gravity, on stomachs full pf paella.
We've been having the same conversations over and over. That's what long married couples do. Normally we'd talk about the children, but during this trip he seems focused on ourselves.
"Do you remember our first time here? It was October and the sun still didn't set till nine."
I just nod. It was actually the end of September, when the weather was cooler and there were fewer tourists around. Not like now, in mid-summer, hot and crowded. I always plan trips during the off peak season. I don't know what possessed him to book this trip now. He said it was a surprise for our anniversary. We were married in the summer but our honeymoon was scheduled months later, when it was cooler and less expensive.
"Remember how so many of the stores and restaurants were closed during that time? I thought this would be a nice change."
I just shrug. Maybe. What's the difference? Cheap bastard wouldn't let me buy anything anyway.
The air is oppressive. It is too hot. I feel my blood boiling, my temples throbbing. I hate vacationing in the summer, even if it's by the water. His voice drones on and I stop listening.
My thoughts wander to all the places I wanted to visit. When I was young, I dreamed of traveling the world. I wanted to see the usual tourist traps like Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, the Coliseum, the Great Wall, and even the pyramids of Egypt, despite the desert heat - at least that's just dry heat, not this oppressing humid heat.
"Did you know the Sphinx is supposed to be 5000 years older than the pyramids? There are signs of water erosion rather than wind erosion. There are supposed to be man-made chambers underneath where its secrets are hidden," I suddenly say as the thought crossed my mind.
"Yeah, you mentioned that before. You still believe that stuff? Didn't they prove the chambers were natural geological formations? There's no such thing as aliens or Atlantis." He laughs at me.
I shrug. His mind is so limited.
We're quiet now as we walk along the rocky shore and then up the mountain path. Thankfully there are some steps cut into the mountain stone. We're now past the halfway point and he decides to take a break. There is a precarious precipice here that offers a spectacular view. He walks to the edge and looks out to the sea, taking a deep breath of the clean mountain air, untainted by man's machines.
"This past week.you didn't enjoy it. Did you?" he suddenly asks moodily.
I shrug without directly answering and walk over to stand next to him. It is so beautiful and peaceful here, but I won't admit it to him.
"I thought maybe. if we returned here, where we made such wonderful memories, maybe we could remember what it was like and maybe we could feel...but..." His gaze is fixed on the darkening horizon.
"We're both older now. Things change, people change," I say. 'I wish you would just grow up,' I think.
"Yes, they do, don't they. I wasn't sure of this. but I've decided.during this trip I realized."
"Sigh, what are you trying to say? Just say it." I'm tired of his incoherent wishy-washy-ness.
"Maybe it's just time for both of us to move on."
"What are you trying to say?" I ask again, not comprehending his words. His eyes still refuse to meet mine.
"You know. It's been over between us for a long time now. We just stayed together because of the children. They were all you ever talked about. And now that they're gone... we have nothing to say to each other."
'That's because you are a bore,' I think, but I remain silent, permitting him to have his say first.
"This trip, this failed attempt at a reconciliation, just confirms it."
"I don't want a divorce." There I said it. The "D" word. The one he is too cowardly to say.
"Why not? You don't love me anymore. You haven't for a long time. I've known it for years. I've felt it."
"I don't want a divorce," I say again without explaining. How can I explain it to him after all this time? What can I say to make him stay? I can't outright lie and say I do love him. He won't believe it anyway.
"Let's just head back." He turns from me to continue up the path. My eyes follow him.
Beyond his form, the sun's last rays spread red upon the water's reflective surface. Red - red like wine, like the wine drunk at our wedding; red like blood, like the blood that poured forth from my womb when I give birth to our children; red like the wine that turned to blood at Moses' command when the pharaoh ignored his pleas to set his people free. I am the pharaoh, Ramses, a living god, ruler of my domain. I am the sun and the moon to those who live in my realm and they must kneel before me and bend to my will. But he is Moses who will not bend, who turns his back on me, on his position as prince, on what we have built together. He must have his freedom. Why didn't the pharaoh kill him then?
I call for him and reach for him. to pull him back.
I watch as his body stumbles and falls - down into the blood red waters.
He tripped. That's what happened. It was an accident. Damn. I wish I hadn't done that.
Author's Notes: Title is based on "Dusk of the Gods" which refers to the last days of the Norse Gods before Ragnarok. The pharaohs of Egypt were considering living gods. "Dusk of the Living Gods" refers to the couple and the last days of their relationship and the struggle for control.