The Life of Ford
Like most couples that don't have the initial love necessary in a healthy relationship, Della based her marriage on hope- a constant battle. She thought that if she believed strongly enough anything was possible, even love. She waited patiently but struggled continually with truth. Everything else was there. Respect was never an issue and neither was sacrifice. They both sacrificed a little of themselves in order to make the best out of their relationship. Yet, in Della's heart, the unexplainable thing that separates friends from lovers was missing. An attraction beyond just the surface was needed for their relationship to be an honest one.
Observers saw them as the perfect couple. It was hard not to notice the natural way they balanced one another. Della communicated well with others. Everyone admired her confidence. It made an otherwise ordinary woman quite attractive. Ford was not very talkative but Della made it simple for him. All he needed to do was respond. Her ability to make anyone feel comfortable was how the friendship began.
They had often seen each other in school and around the neighborhood. Della always spoke first to Ford, and he usually responded with a boyish smile. He had a mysterious charm about him that even he was unaware of, but often got him whatever he wanted including Della. The first time that they said more than one word to each other was during their senior year in high school. Della had asked Ford if he had planned to go to college. When they realized that they were both headed for the same school a convenient bond proceeded. It did not take long for Ford to begin expressing feelings towards Della. With little to no consideration, Della decided to give it a try, hoping that those genuine feelings would come later. Since they were still young she saw their growth as a realistic possibility.
There was no doubt that Ford was a good man and very modest about his accomplishments. During their college years Ford excelled in his medical program. In contrast, due to a family tragedy Della did not complete college. She received continuous support from Ford both emotionally and financially.
Ford finished school and received his degree, but it was easily forgotten. He did not doggedly carry it around awaiting an opportunity for acknowledgment. Out of consideration for Della, he humbled his success around her. Della found Ford's effortless acts of selflessness refreshing. This convinced her that his love was unconditional, although it was difficult for her to understand. She felt that Ford deserved better. She no longer had the poise that once completed her. Without her confidence Della had nothing else to offer anyone. She saw her college experience as evidence of her mediocre existence. This disappointment was a constant reminder of how average she truly was.
It was never an issue with Ford and because of this she became attached. Yet out of concern for Della, Ford tried convincing her to finished school hoping that this would allow her to regain her assurance. Her replied with the dismal comment, "it's too late." Besides Ford's subtle hints regarding starting a family was a welcoming conciliation for her. Since her feelings were meticulously increasing for Ford, she felt that their relationship might finally blossom.
She eventually grew to love Ford as one would love a pet. Ford clean looks, intellect, and benign personality was all that she thought she needed. She was determined not to allow this opportunity pass her by. Yet plagued by pride, she waited patiently for Ford to make it official. They had already been living together for almost two years in a small one-bedroom apartment. It was close to town and very convenient for Ford since he worked at a pharmaceutical company twenty minutes away. Knowing things would get better, she did not complain about their transitory living arrangements. She was already playing the role of a housewife before it was finalized.
When he got the courage to ask Della to marry him, she answered before he could finish- making it less awkward for both of them. Neither of them were romantics. She saw the ring and ignored truth. She reasoned that because the foundation of their relationship was based on friendship the transition into marriage shouldn't be too complicated.
Somewhere in between the years she loss herself and all that remained was an lifeless casing. This once very expressive human being withdrew from conversations with others including Ford. She slowly became a recluse yet still committed to not being alone.
After fifty-four years of marriage a day of reckoning was not far behind. Della finally concluded that hope was never enough to carry a marriage. The doubts that she tried desperately in the past to ignore began to surface. She could not endure the torturous thoughts of growing old with someone that she never learned to love. She only wished that they had remained friends. Fifty-four years yet she could never reciprocate her husband's love. During all those years, Ford appeared content with any brand of affection Della was willing to give to him. He didn't expect nor did he need much from her. His only request through their years together was for her to bear his children. Her obligation to him rendered no other answer but to at least please him in that respect. She happily obliged his requests in hopes that it would bring them closer and substitute for something that was not naturally there.
They raised five children and buried two of them. Their depths of ever growing silence were interrupted during the years spent raising their children. The loss of their two children was the only justifiable moment for the increased silence. After the children were no longer part of their daily lives, silence was now the only thing that they shared. This silence had no place amongst the living.
They maintained mutual respect and continued living together in this manner. Ford was all Della knew; therefore she tolerated the misery he unknowingly brought to her. Until the day an outburst of discontent finally erupted. Della had too much time alone that day and treasured the relief it brought. This was the first time she had been alone to think in a long time.
Ford had come home late that night from a weekend fishing trip. When he cut on the kitchen light he could see Della laying across the couch in the moonlit living room. Her face gave a peaceful yet somber expression. He moved about quietly so as not to wake her. As he made his way gently through the living room and towards the stairs, he heard what sounded like weeping coming from Della. Unsure of her level of consciousness, he did not want to fully awaken her. He tried hard to avoid all the cracks in the steps that he became familiar with during the twenty-one years spent in that house. He heard ongoing movements and knew she had awakened.
"Ford, I need to talk you," she said in the most pitiful voice that Ford had ever heard.
The voice surprised him. Halfway up the steps he turned around and looked at Della sitting listlessly. Even more pitiful than her voice was her disposition. This was the first time Ford could actually see Della's true age. It was evident in her voice and in the pathetic slow motions of her body. He felt sorry for her and didn't know why.
"You said something Dee"
"Yeah...we need to talk," she faintly replied.
By the sound of her voice Ford thought that maybe she had been drinking but he glanced around and saw nothing to support it. For all the years he had known her, he never saw her once take a drink. Even if he would occasionally bring home some wine, she would never taste it. In fact she despised alcohol. This, he believed, was because of the accident that killed her parents while she was still in college.
He calmly made his way back down the stairs and sat across from her on the old recliner. The kids played on it so much that it took too much effort to adjust it to the reclining position. No one had patience for it so they simply forgot about its usage. He sat so close to the edge of it that any quick movement on his part would have caused him to slide right off.
"No...no I'm not okay," Della replied in an almost pleading manner.
Noticing her response, Ford did not know what to say. He struggled to find the right reaction. He knew that he should truly be concerned. This was the first time he had seen Della cry since the death of their children. He had gotten used to the way things were and thought that everything was okay. It bothered him to see Della acting this way. He spoke curiously, "What's wrong Dee... what's the matter?"
"It's not just me...it's us Ford"
"What is it Dee?"
They looked at each other in the eyes for a brief time, forgetting about their mutual habit of avoiding such intimacy. It was different now.
"We don't love each other. You knew it all along and never said anything?"
"What are you talking about...you know that's not true"
"It's true Ford, you don't love me? You never cared to know me?"
"What's the matter? Where is all this comin' from Dee... of course I know you. We've known each other since high school... high school Dee. Remember? That had to be more than fifty years ago... Don't do this Dee-not now. We're just too old for this...we just too old." he said persuasively.
"You should not have allowed me to do this to you. I robbed you of true love. It just ain't right."
"Why now Dee, why are you saying all this now" he collapsed his head in his hands.
"Don't you know what I'm talking about?"
He looked up. Thinking that it was some secret Della needed to share Ford pressed her to tell him. At that instant he felt that whatever it was he would be willing to forgive. His main objective was to make her feel better. He believed once she got it out and she saw how forgiving a man he was she would be okay. They would be okay again.
"Come on honey, let it out. What is it?"
Della knew that she had to respond but was unsure how. It was too late to turn around. She did not want to hurt him but her words were not chosen carefully.
"After all these years Ford you must have felt it."
Ford did not respond during her terse moment of hesitation. He continued to listen apprehensively, beginning to feel a bit uneasy as to where this was leading.
"I never loved you Ford, didn't you know that."
She let out a descanting cry and continued, "Why couldn't you see that, I mean all these years and you couldn't see the sorrow in my eyes. It shouldn't have had to come to this but you never understood. I was waiting for the day that you would see it but you never did. You are so full of hope that you let it blind you. You forgot about love. You sacrificed being loved for the sake of me. Why did you let me deprive you of that? You should not have settled for me. I was miserable with you and you didn't even know it... There were times I had even wondered what it would be like if we had never gotten married. I know that this sounds awful but it's just how I feel most of the time."
She saw his eyes sort of drift away as if to say enough but she continued. She knew she had to finish now.
"We wasted all this time together and I just can't pretend to love you anymore. You shouldn't have wanted to live like this either. It was too much work for us. Now look at us. We're old! This house is old! The damn furniture is old! Everything around us is old. There's nothing-nothing in here that to tell us we are alive!"
Della then stopped, fearing that any more words might be too harmful. She waited, giving him time to absorb her words. They sat there for several minutes with only a coffee table between them. Not even the dependable sounds of the television or radio typically used when silence got too intense could rescue them. Only loud movements of discomfort could be heard. Della leaned back and let out a deep suppressed breath. Unaware of his own motions, Ford watched Della's every move. He observed this woman for the first time, the way a stranger would a willing victim. He did not see that frail hidden creature that once attracted him. Gone was that inner beauty that he gave her. He saw nothing. Nothing in her for him to fight for, except the fifty-four years he dedicated to them. He had rescued her from a life of loneliness but no longer felt honored by her humility.
Yet he someway found the strength to pursue. He remembered a promise that he made to Della's parents when they first left for college. He promised that he would take care of her. He told them that nothing would happen to her as long as he was alive. He now had a reason to continue his role as a supportive husband especially during times of despair. His obligation protected him and gave him a reason to continue. He was still submerged in emotions that he didn't know existed within him. Every word rested heavily on his tongue. He, too, aged as he fought to get up from the recliner. He continued back up the steps. But then turned around and spoke gently, almost whispering to himself.
"We're just too old to start over now...no one should die alone, not even you."
Knowing that this was indeed her reality, Della said nothing. She simply lied back across the couch as if the conversation never occurred.