Eve Chilali

What Do You Owe Him?

“My father,” I find myself telling my therapist, “had given me so much, in things, in time, and in patience, but had we ever gotten to know each other. His ways of emotion, avenues my Dad had trouble going down. It was easier to hand me money. We had a lot going on at home. I don’t blame him…”

I am prattling on, not wanting to bring up anything real. Rattling on and on until I am face to face with Eric, him leaning toward me, his hand on my knee, his dark brown eyes his thick hands his face begging me to stop.


I stop talking and look at him and say, “What.”

He shakes his head. Slowly. That soft, tender voice comes out again, not the therapists’ voice that is quiet yet confident. The one that is barely a whisper, the real Erik, who came out from time to time.

“What do you owe your husband, if you stay?”

I hadn’t even been talking about my husband, but he knows we are back together in my bit-sized apartment. My out-sized husband having to contain himself in this miniaturized place, not to boom his voice and let the neighbors hear.  Not to cross that ever-thinning line. Yet there it was: why didn’t I do this, do that, why was the pan washed this way, not that way, what an idiot I was for putting that lid in the dishwasher, what a bitch I was that I demanded his time on a Saturday, that I begrudged him not going to church now that he was back with us….on that first weekend. 

I wind up again. “Well, I am married and I know that someday he’s going to straighten out and then I think we can lead a stable life and . . . “

“I wonder what you owe him. Why you stay.” He is still sitting up close to me.

What do I understand about men? In my family we are distant, we never talk about real things; my father smiles, dances a jig in the kitchen, keeps our life on a keel, doesn’t let the facade down. Even at his lowest point, when his career ran out, when my brother was in jail, when their money ran dry from bailing him out, he still sang, loud and clear, Bing Crosby to my mother. He has a lot of strings to keep together.

Would I ever find anyone even close to my father?

Men I did not understand and so was frightened of them. Erik included.

“Do you know what I think of you?” he asks, my heart dropping to the floor. A two-bit whore who married an idiot? I think, some pathetic thing that keeps on coming in and telling the same story, over and over, and over?

“No,” I say, hesitating, not wanting to hear.

“I think you have potential, I think you can do what you want to do, and I know someday you’ll be this renaissance woman…”

“How do you mean?” I ask, genuinely ignorant of this term.

“You know, someone who changes several times over in a lifetime and blossoms into this wonderful, accomplished person…,” his fingers twitch, and I want to touch his hand. It has been two years by now, a long time, honestly, to build on.

“Th-thank you,” I am embarrassed that anyone would think this highly of me, would believe I had something meaningful to give. In fact, it horrifies me to imagine anything beyond my everyday existence. A girl stuck hiding behind a tree. Stuck in a life raft drifting into a cloud. Stuck in a fog of bright lights I couldn’t make out.

“There are some times, when I think, I look at you and I want to say that.”

“That what,” I say, feeling my hands shake.

“That you shouldn’t have to be afraid of him, you shouldn’t have to worry about his moods, you shouldn’t let someone, anyone, hurt your feelings that way…”

If you wanted to save me, deep in your heart, you would take me out of this whole mess, is all I can think.

I sit and stare at him. We lock eyes for a second. I touch my bag. It is two o’clock.

“I have to get back to work,” I say, sitting up, pulling back my hair.

As he stands up, a tear wells up in his eye. A tear for me, a tear that is too much for me to bear.

“I will see you next week,” I tell him. Although it takes me nearly half a year to go back.

Eve Chilali is an American Poet and Writer. Her works have appeared in Spirit, The Dillydoun Review, Contract, Interiors, Entrepreneur, Boston.com. She is working on her MFA in Creative Writing at Fairfield University. This piece is part of her upcoming collection, Some Other Perfect.