“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“Nothing,” he says.
And we both know that he’s full of shit, although only one of us has any clue to what extent. And it’s not me.
He folds his arms across his chest, a visual cue that he’s closing himself off from me. He smiles a little to reassure me, but he doesn’t exactly make eye contact.
I have no idea what it is, but it is most definitely not nothing.
I read somewhere that men say “nothing” when what they mean is “nothing I want to talk about” or “nothing I can’t handle on my own”. I try to remind myself of that when what I hear is “nothing I’m willing to share with you”. I try to remind myself that “nothing” is not necessarily code for “something you did that I’m not going to tell you about.” I try not to take it personally.
But rejection feels personal.
And when he pretends not to see my outstretched hand, it’s impossible not to see that as rejection. It feels like rejection when I can no longer feel his presence inside me, when the connection is gone. It’s as if he’s unplugged from me, and the energy that’s been freely flowing back and forth between us is replaced by something cold and empty and lifeless.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 2009, it’s that labeling something as nothing leads to unmet needs and heartache.
And so I resolve to keep reaching.
I consciously avoid turning to my old familiar exits. I’m tempted to take my pain and run, looking for someone or something else to fill the void left by the distance between us. I pick up the phone, and hang it up again. I make a list of things to buy, and throw it away before I have a chance to breakout the medicinal debit card. I consider building my own wall of fines and nothings, and then I take a deep breath and lay down my weapons.
“I love you,” I say.
“I love you, too,” he repeats.
“Whatever is going on with you, it’s not nothing,” I push.
“It’s not you,” he assures me.
“It may not be me,” I concede, “but it’s something.” And I go on to explain the hurt to him. I do not yell or cry or hurl accusations, but neither do I pretend that everything is OK when it isn’t. I do my best to make specific requests about what I need to feel connected, so that at least he has the option of accepting my invitation.
I unclench my fists and uncurl my fingers. I close my eyes, I say a prayer, and I wait. For the nothingness to give way to something.