The Fortress: A Love Story

"I sat on the bed, watching him, too stunned to speak."
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Excerpted from The Fortress: A Love Story, published by Dey Street Books 2016

After my weekend in Paris, the breakdown of my marriage was irreversible. Just as quickly as we had fallen in love in Iowa City—two unstable elements forming a new compound—so too did we fall apart, the bonds snapping. The undoing of our union might have been part of our makeup, built into the very chemical bonds that had fused us, but I never expected the dissolution to be so fast and so complete. Within six months my husband and I would be divorced, our kids would be separated, our possessions scattered, our family blown apart. La Commanderie would be for sale and many of our cherished belongings sold to pay legal fees. All that held us together would dissolve to nothing, like a dead star disintegrating into a void.

“I want to talk to you,” he said again.

“Now.” I followed him to the bedroom. He closed the door and turned to walk the length of the room, pacing from the large wooden door to the window. This is what I had dreaded, this moment of confrontation, the moment of finality when we actually said the words “It’s over.” The end of the story had arrived, and it was a tragedy. There was not even the possibility of fooling myself this time.

I sat on the edge of the bed, holding my wineglass too hard, as if it were the hand of a friend. I was scared. The time of reckoning had arrived.

He paced the room. “I want to know everything.”

I didn’t respond but watched him walk to the window, turn, and pace back again.

“I’m waiting,” he said. “Start talking.”

“What do you want to know?”

“If you were unfaithful.”

Unfaithful. I thought a lot about this word over the course of my marriage, trying to parse the real meaning of it. Unfaithful. Faith was belief, and unfaithful was a loss of belief. I had believed in us had fought for us, had bet everything I had on us. But this relationship, this us, had become toxic.

It wasn’t the right moment to explain that to him. He continued to pace the room. Finally he leaned down and met my eye. He was over six feet tall, broad-shouldered and strong; I was five foot four inches, fine-boned, petite. There was no comparison in our physical strength. And yet for some reason I had never thought of him as a threat. I’d always thought of myself as the stronger one.

“Are you telling me you want me to look away while you have a lover?”

“I am resigned to stay with you for our kids, but I’m not resigned to be miserable anymore.”

“You blame all your misery on me, but this is a hundred percent your fault. Your mental problems are to blame for everything.”

My mental problems? Mine?

“Yes, your mental problems.”

“I’m the only stable person in this marriage,” I shot back.

“It is clear that you are going through some kind of bipolar episode.”

I stared at him, taking in this new twist on my personality. I knew what he was doing. If I were unstable, he was stable. If I were crazy, he was sane. If this mess of a marriage were my fault, he was innocent. But whatever words he might use, whatever new descriptions of me he might invent, there were no innocents in our marriage. I was at fault for the failure of our love, but so was he.

“That is ridiculous,” I said, rising to defend myself. “You know very well I’m not bipolar. I’m not even depressed.”

“You’re always unhappy. Unhappy with me. Unhappy with our marriage. I went along with your madness—the move, that ridiculous renewal ceremony, everything—so that you wouldn’t kill yourself.”

I sat on the bed, watching him, too stunned to speak. I had never tried to kill myself; I had never even expressed the smallest desire to kill myself. I loved being alive. If an immortality pill existed, I would swallow it. If this was his version of me, no wonder we’d had so many problems.

“I saved you from yourself,” he continued, moving close to me until he was right up in my face, his large green-hazel eyes close to mine. “You need me. I am the only one keeping you from committing suicide.”

“I’ll forgive you,” he said, his gaze locked with mine. “I’ll forget about Paris. We’ll pretend it never happened. If you tell me everything.”

I felt myself being drawn into the maddening rhythm of his thinking. Not so long before, I would have been able to shove my feelings underground, bury them and move on. I’d become so adept at it, that kind of emotional masochism, that it was almost natural. But now, here, at this moment, it was impossible.

“We can’t forget about Paris,” I said. “I can’t forget.”

His expression became soft, tentative. Time folded over, and suddenly he was the same man I’d kissed ten years before, in a library in Iowa City. There was the liquid sincerity in his eyes, the hope. “Do you love me?” he asked. “Answer that at least.”

I looked at my husband, really looked at him. I loved what we’d created together, the big, towering edifice of our shared dreams, but the edifice was crushing me. I didn’t love him, not anymore.

“No,” I said. “I don’t.”

Danielle Trussoni is an award winning memoirist and novelist. She is the author of The New York Times and international bestsellers Angelology and Angelopolis, as well as the award-winning memoir Falling Through the Earth. Learn more about her at Follow her on twitter @danitrussoni.

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