The keys made a metallic ‘clink’ when they settled into the bottom of the copper colored dish by the door, the one with the zodiac signs around the edge. He smiled. God how she hated that thing when he first brought it home. He was proud because it had only cost him 25¢ at a neighbor’s yard sale, but she sneered “You overpaid!” and threw it into the brown storage bin by the water heater in the basement. She knew he was pissed and quietly returned it to the shelf later that day with an apology and a promise of homemade lasagna for dinner.
He passed the painting in the hallway, the one with the kittens, the one that had caused a huge blowup. “I’m not putting a painting of fu**ing kittens in my hallway!” he’d shouted as he tossed the hideous thing into the back of the coat closet. The next day when he returned from golf, she wasn’t around. Normally she’d come out and say hello to his buddies. He assumed she was out for the afternoon with her friend. After the guys left, he went upstairs to change and found her curled up in a ball on the bed hugging the painting, eyes red from crying. Although he put the painting back up ‘in our house’ that same afternoon, she didn’t speak civilly to him for the rest of that weekend.
Sometimes their relationship was unbelievably light and fun. The bike rides down to Benson’s Pond, lunches at the little bistro over on 18th St, the water fight at the fountain by the swing set in the park, fall trips to her cousin’s house on the lake… those had all been amazing times. Lots of evenings spent laughing together at shitty reality TV, Sunday mornings sharing a quiet breakfast on the porch…. hundreds of times just like those.
There were also long dark days of not speaking. Little red hot verbal jabs meant to leave a mark. Sleeping in the same bed but feeling a million miles apart. Trying to share their lives under a wet blanket of past hurts and abuse that made starting out together with a clean slate next to impossible.
For the past few years, his mind shift would shift one way (it’s worth it) then the other (this sucks). Like Lady Justice trying to balance her scales on the deck of a rolling ship. What to do, what to think? Was he expecting too much or not enough? He’d never discuss something like this with anyone. His personal life was no one else’s business and besides – he would never throw her under the bus like that. For better or worse is what he’d said and he meant to honor that promise.
Some days the dilemma would weigh heavy, but other days he wouldn’t think about it at all. This had gone on in his head for years – his own mental tennis match. Back and forth. Back and forth. Not long ago, after a couple glasses of wine on a quiet Friday evening they had a very frank discussion, one of the deepest talks they’d ever had. He admitted to her his feelings of loneliness, emptiness, uncertainty. She confessed to boredom, admitted to a lack of enthusiasm for their relationship. She also mentioned casual lunches with a work colleague that were becoming longer and more frequent than they probably should.
Oddly there had been no anger in either of their voices, no crying, no screaming. Just truth in all its raw essence. They had agreed to use the following week to think more, put thoughts on paper and decide which way this was heading. Could it be fixed? Was it over? They both agreed that they just didn’t know, but they promised to write each other a letter.
He lit a fire, poured a bourbon and pulled his recliner close to the fireplace. For the 452nd time, he pulled her envelope from his pocket. For him, dinnertime had become something other people do. Work – drink – sleep – repeat. This was his life now. A life filled with reflection, sadness, guilt…. and most sickeningly of all…. relief.
It was a Monday morning when she’d handed him her envelope. With a Mona Lisa smile, she accepted his. After a quick peck on the cheek and a longer than usual hug, they were both out the door. The craziest of days at work had prevented him from having even one second of free time that day. Now he slumped in the recliner and turned the unopened envelope back and forth, over and around just as he’d done every night for the past three weeks. What if he’d just stopped for coffee that morning and read the damn letter? Would anything be different?
The contents inside were still a mystery to him. A separate but equally haunting question hammered his brain. Had she read what he’d written?
The accident report stated she was just starting to move when the other driver blew through the light, swerved to miss a school bus and hit her head on. The officers tried to comfort him by saying that her end came instantly. The explosion was simply the aftermath of a horrible event.
He finished his third bourbon, leaned forward and threw the envelope into the fireplace.
He didn’t want to know.
© Doug Fish, 2014
Today is the day! You don’t have to wait any more ‘sleeps’ to get on the plane and fly to your new home in Florida. Since you are only 3 1/4 years old, I wanted to write this so you can know more about the time when we lived in St. Louis.
Sometimes I wonder why we are moving. The neighborhood we are leaving is quite possibly the best place I have ever lived and the neighbors are some of the nicest people I have ever known. During our ten years there, we have met countless people who we hope will remain our friends for life.
We have made memories that will last a lifetime. I could write volumes about concerts in the park, house tours, runs from the fountain with friends, parties we hosted, watching it snow from our favorite corner table at our favorite neighborhood restaurant… the list would go on forever!
But… it is time for a change. Good times are ahead, with more adventures, new jobs, great weather year round and fewer bills to pay. Your Mom and I think it will be a better place for you to grow up.
The hardest part of moving will be leaving Grandma, Papa, Aunt H. and Miss J behind.
Nothing can convey the depth of our gratitude to them or explain how much they have been a positive influence in your young life. Your Mom and I have rushed about, tending to our daily tasks and not once have we ever worried about you when you were with them.
Many people measure success by the things a person has, where they attended school, how much money they make, what kind of car they drive, etc. The truth is, when it is all said and done, a person’s success should be measured by the positive impact they have had on the lives of other people – especially the life of a child.
They have been the steady hand guiding you during a period where we experienced parents in the hospital, job changes, uncertainty about how to be a parent as well as the normal everyday challenges that arrive for any family. Through it all, we never doubted for one second their love and commitment to you.
So now, change is at hand. Our family faces life without seeing our loved ones regularly, not seeing our good neighbors every day. Things always happen for a reason and I have no doubt things will work out for all of us despite how difficult it seems at the moment. I pray you will remember some of your time in St Louis because it has been one of the happiest times in my life.
To close, you should know that your Dad never says goodbye… he only says “Be well until I see you again!”