The Sandra Texts
The ultimatum works in romance only when one is willing to lose everything. Without this willingness it is a mere attempt at domination, possession. With it it is a last desperate cry.
The moment for such a cry came for Joshua. And he was willing to lose everything.
Through the second summer of their love Joshua and Katherine's estrangement ripened. Joshua wrote best in the mornings. To protect that writing he worked nights as a waiter in a 24-hour restaurant. Katherine, with just a part- time job at the university library, privately felt slighted by this schedule. It divided them. She was tender and good and she loved him. But she was sensitive and felt lonely and unsure of their future together. Joshua neglected her, it seemed. Joshua took her for granted, it seemed. His unflagging search for solitude, for focus, nourished and deepened these doubts.
That night was slow at the restaurant. That night an extra waitress was on the floor at the restaurant. That night the night supervisor sent Joshua home from the restaurant.
And so home Joshua went.
To find his driveway empty.
To find his apartment empty.
Instinct and intuition roused the ugliest of Joshua's fears. Where could Katherine be in the middle of the night? Where would she be sleeping? Intellectually, though, Joshua dismissed the thoughts. He repressed them. A friend of hers had left town for the weekend, he remembered. Paula had left Katherine the keys to her car and apartment. "There," Joshua said to himself. And off he went pedaling his bicycle toward Paula's apartment.
But the driveway there was empty.
The apartment there was empty.
And a sweat chilled suddenly Joshua's steady brow. The suspicions, the fears resurged. His eyes hollowed. He thought about how distant Katherine had grown lately, about how estranged they had become. His heart strangled. He recalled Katherine's keen need for companionship. Might it be? He could only think of one other place she might go for companionship. He refused to believe it possible. He could not imagine her there.
In ten minutes Joshua had pedaled to the dreaded place.
And there sat Paula's car.
Blind, Joshua was struck, numb. And the rest of that endless night was about mitigating this blow.
The nearest pay telephone. A telephone book. A telephone ringing and Joshua's heart thumping powerfully as his throat was too tight as he tried to swallow and gather himself into control.
"Hello." This was a deep sleeping man's voice.
"Have you seen Katherine? It's 3 a.m. and I can't find her."
A pause impregnated then by a cleared throat.
The voice was awake now.
"No," it said distinctly.
But Joshua knew. Paula's car was there. Joshua knew. In the parking lot of Grigor's apartment building Paula's car was there. Joshua knew. Parked in front of Grigor's apartment building was Paula's car, there. Joshua knew.
For the next three hours Joshua pedaled through the black silence of the Indiana night. Aimlessly, he pedaled, pedaled through the blackness, the darkness, listening to his heart rent, watching his future transform, mopping at his cold sweat, deciding on the path he would take without Katherine, feeling his veins thin and lighten his head. Every fifteen minutes or so he returned to the parking lot outside Grigor's apartment. By the time he passed Grigor's apartment to see Paula's car gone, he had accepted a life without Katherine. The Peace Corps, he had decided. Nepal, Bolivia. Somewhere very far away.
Joshua returned to Paula's apartment. There sat Paula's car, in the driveway, the hood still warm.
Joshua entered Paula's apartment without knocking.
Katherine emerged from a rear room.
Joshua stood solid, granite, adamantine, unshakeable. He had prepared himself to lose Katherine forever. But because he had prepared himself so he would not.
"Where were you?" he breathed. He had never been able to hide anything from her. Katherine saw his gravity, his torment.
"Joshua," she answered, startled.
"I got off work early. You were not home. You were not here. I saw Paula's car at Grigor's. The hood was cold. You slept there."
She put her hand to her brow.
Joshua remained standing.
"Did you sleep with him?"
"Did he touch you?"
"Did you kiss?"
But Joshua was prepared for this. He was ready. His three black hours had fortified him with a plan of action. There was only one dignified thing he could do. Joshua had to leave Katherine. But he could not. He loved Katherine. And he understood the source of this indiscretion. He understood her estrangement. He understood his own part in driving Katherine away, to another man, to Grigor. So there was only one dignified thing he could do. He had to reclaim his destiny. Joshua had to seize control again of his own fate. He had to make one final cry, one desperate, dignified cry.
The sounds of the dawn were rising.
The tension was steep.
Katherine sat wordless, stunned.
Joshua stood as solid as he ever would.
He spoke firmly: "You have to decide right now, Katherine. I will not leave here before you decide between him and me. You have to decide right now, Katherine. If you do not decide, I will decide for you. Him or me."
And he meant it. If Katherine would not choose, Joshua would elect right then for the Peace Corps and leave her there sitting as she was. By the end of that day he would be out of that town forever. Joshua felt his muscles itching to pack boxes. He twitched with a need to bolt, to flee his pain. He was so determined he almost craved her rejection. He craved to prove his resolve.
Katherine looked to him.
Katherine saw these things in Joshua.
She said to him, "You Joshua. You. I love you. I want to be with you."
And Joshua took one step toward Katherine.
And he fell to his knees.
And he buried his head in her lap.
And he wept uncontrollably.