Hannah, the wallflower


hannah“This is what people go through.” That’s the advice my old man gave me after my second wife killed herself. For more than three years I lived with oppressive grief. Holed myself up in a fire lookout in the Northern Cascades and contemplated why I always fell for the self-destructive types.

When I came back in from the cold I headed east to Boston. I stayed with my sister who was living in Cambridge, engaged to a grad student. They threw parties that brought crowds of intellectuals, artists and drug addicts together to binge drink and showboat. I’d earnestly try to enjoy myself but never could feel the spirit, so I’d usually just go back down to my room in the basement and read.

One such party, I came down to find Hannah quietly looking through my sketchpad.

Startled, she said, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I just..”

“Wasn’t enjoying yourself?” I asked

“I suppose not. How about you?”

“I just didn’t know what to say to them all.”

She was a shy girl, a PhD in Classics. Despite being extraordinarily beautiful, she’d only had two boyfriends, one of whom she never even kissed. What I liked about her was she never wanted to talk about my past, she was content to simply share her thoughts about her work. Our first date was at a Thai restaurant, where she broke  her thesis down over two hours and three glasses of wine. “What really intrigues me about Sisyphus,” she said, “Is he just can’t help himself.” It was riveting.

Hannah’s nervous anxiety and my deep rooted depression combined to create the most pleasantly subdued relationship I’d ever experienced. It made me wonder why I’d spent so many years chasing after banshees, hell bent on destroying me. After six months, though, I started to notice a change in Hannah. She was less reserved, more confident. When we went out for drinks with friends, she didn’t just listen quietly, but started injecting herself into conversations. I picked her up for dinner and she wore a strapless dress, a revelation for us both. She even got me to take her out dancing on her birthday, a very unusual request for a chronic wallflower.

It finally began to unravel, when, one night, she confessed that she had recurring fantasies about being unfaithful to me. We were close enough to reveal this sort of inner thought, but still I was stunned. All I could think to say was “I’d prefer if you didn’t cheat on me, but if you really have to, please don’t let me know about it.”

I never found out who she cheated on me with, but I could tell it was happening. She became even less shy, stopped caring about her work, started drinking heavily. Some mornings, I awoke to find her passed out on the living room floor. My only response was to recede deeper into myself. She cleaned out her stuff from our apartment one winter day and left me a note.


I’ve decided to go travel. Not exactly sure where I’m going, but my flight is into Madrid. I’ve decided to quit school. Sisyphus just doesn’t interest me any more. Thank you for your strength.


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