Her first waking sense was the smell of her own tousled hair, and the damp, wrinkled cotton on her face. It was only then that she felt more than saw the white light of morning.
Her nights were shot with dreams - of chases, abandonments, of her lover just beyond her reach. He was leaving her and he was cold to her, oblivious to the gnawing, churning inside of her, the pleading that refused to come out of her, locked inside, choking her.
He came in gently to raise her, as he always did. "I had a bad dream," she whispered. Then she cried, remembering. He sat, silent, sympathy on his face but not understanding. He knew about her dreams, and how she would cry 3 and 4 tissues' worth, even after she was awake and knew it had only been a dream.
"Don't leave me," she begged.
He chuckled, "I'm not planning on it, sweetie."
It was a phrase that never sat right with her, never comforted her in the way she wanted to be. This time, this time, she challenged him, "I know you're not planning on it, but will you?" she asked with emphasis on the verbs.
He was silent. His shoulders twitched as it always did when he was uncomfortable. He was the kind of man, like many men, who felt disingenuous talking about his feelings. But that discomfort could sometimes look like a person caught in a lie. Slowly, as if confessing something embarrassing, he said, "Well, it takes steps." He paused. "Those things don't just happen."
And in that moment, she understood everything he was trying to tell her:
"I'll never leave you," is the phrase young women want to hear, a romantic ideal of someone's emotional response, eschewing the inevitabilities the future will bring. "I"m not planning on it," acknowledges the real world temptations but says "I'm committed to you and I will keep my vow to you no matter what I face."
And in that moment, she was comforted in the way she needed to be.