Guilt Trip

3

You knew it before you said it. Before you opened your mouth; before her eyes went wide with shock; before you slammed the door, you knew. Don’t say it. Nothing good can come of this. But you did. You can’t argue that you had good intentions; you can’t even argue that you didn’t mean it. In the darkest, most selfish corner of yourself, you knew what you were doing. You heard the tiny voice of protest that told you to shut up, that you love this woman, that you were being unfair and immature. You ignored that voice.

And now here you are. Running. Not because it’s a nice day or you’re actually sticking to your exercise program this time. Not because you suddenly needed to feel the cold autumn air burn the back of your throat or to make yourself feel better about last night’s extra beer. Not even for the endorphin hit that should come rattling through your bloodstream at any moment now. Just to be gone. To be away.

You count your steps; you hum nonsense; you try to match the rhythm of your shoes to the rhythm of your heart. But a voice – your secret voice, the one you keep just for yourself – keeps stealing in. It sings up from the cold concrete; it swims in the cloud of your exhalation; it swoops and dives like a magpie. One relentless word. Idiot. Idiot. Idiot. The frigid air blocks your ears and you shake your head as you run, trying to rid yourself of the throb. Your shadow stretches and distorts as the sun sets behind your back.

In the failing light another runner appears and you instinctively lift your pace to overtake. Your heart responds and your blood rushes and thrums in the pipes of your veins and it’s almost enough to wash the ugliness of your behaviour from your mind. It’s embarrassing to replay your words in your mind, to relive them. It’s like watching yourself on an old home movie – I don’t really sound like that, do I? Why would I say that? And just like that, the rhythm changes. Why, idiot? Why, idiot? Why, idiot?

You loop around the footy goalposts in the park. Halfway through your usual route. More than half stuffed, too: your throat is raw and your lungs feel like they’ve been shoved in a sack and beaten. You’re badly out of shape. Time to head for home. But instead you keep going. Another kilometre. Another. You run until you physically can’t anymore. Your hamstrings feel like hot wires pulling tighter and tighter and your knees ache. The tips of your ears are incandescent with cold and your nose is running much faster than your feet are. You shudder to a stop in an unfamiliar park lit by a single streetlight. Moths flutter and fall like powdered fireworks in the weak orange glow and then you realise the throbbing twitch in your left quad isn’t your shrieking muscles after all. It’s your phone vibrating in your pocket.

You stare at the screen for a moment: your wife, smiling, sunglasses lowered to the bridge of her nose. The beach, last summer. Your favourite photo. Gee, that feels like a long time ago. After the things you said, you wouldn’t be surprised if she were calling to say she’s tipped your clothes out on the dark front lawn like a jilted girlfriend in some Ashton Kutcher movie. But you can’t bounce the call. ‘Hello?’ ‘Are you OK?’ And with those three words, you realise you’ve been running in the wrong direction for far too long.

Your guilt is not her problem. It’s yours. You can’t hang on to it, especially if it means more kilometres every week. It’s time to let it go. It’s time to apologise, and mean it. It’s time to accept her forgiveness. ‘No,’ you say. ‘My knees are killing. I’m too old for this.’ She laughs just like you hoped she would and then she stays on the phone for 53 minutes while you limp home. When you round the final corner, the lights are on and she’s sitting on the front step in the freezing cold, smiling. ‘Welcome back,’ she says.

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