28. Second Chance

28. Second Chance

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters


Second Chance

The concept of two people living together for 25 years without a serious dispute suggests a lack of spirit only to be admired in sheep.

~A. P. Herbert

It was a strange experience. Married twenty-five years, divorced two. Our ostensible reason was the empty nest syndrome when our son went away to college. Idiosyncratic words and gestures crossed the threshold from cute to dumb. Silences hung from the ceiling, cocoons of sighing air.

Anger came easily, particularly the self-righteous, enabling anger without a filter.

One night, I stormed upstairs following a number of directed remarks to sleep in the guest room. My parting words were “I’m not going to live like this.” That weekend, a temporary hotel stay. A one-year apartment came next, followed by the purchase of a home for me.

We spoke to each other twice—division of property, no argument there, and also to sign the divorce agreement. Our son was not a direct part of anything, being away at college. Of course, this simplifies the story, but it was about us. He knew he was loved by both of us and would not have to make any choices.

A couple of years later, I got a letter with familiar handwriting. I was surprised, but not unpleasantly. I waited for about an hour to open it. I didn’t think there were any legal or family issues to resolve. It fell from my hand once, and I nearly tore it in half when I opened it. She had apparently written the letter in installments, as there were two different colors of ink.

My uncle had passed away two weeks earlier, and our son told her. “I know how important family is to you. I’m sorry Uncle Ed died. I’ve found out that doing things just to please myself doesn’t. Maybe we were too hasty. If you ever want to just sit down and talk about what we did and could do, we can have a beer or two and…”

Knowing she hated the taste and smell of beer, calling it “piss in a glass,” I could see the sour look. While reading, I heard the sound of water falling from a large block of translucent ice, held by both of us.

I finished the letter. The second part of the letter became the conventional catch-up with the news, closing with a reminder to call if I wanted to. I reached for the telephone, sat on the couch and dialed. She used her professional voice to answer, and I giggled, “Boy, you know how to get a guy’s attention. Needless to say, you have my interest. How about going to Fairchild Gardens?” This had long been a sore spot. She wanted to go there, and I resisted. I was pleased with myself for remembering that, but brought back down to Earth when she disclosed she and a girlfriend had gone down there three months earlier.

She must have sensed my disappointment, “Oh, but I’d love to go again. It’s even better than I expected. How does Sunday sound? Look, I’ve got to get back to work. See you at noon.”

Our son was home for spring break, and his total reaction to my announcement of our first date was “Cool.”

When I picked her up, he admonished us to take it easy. One might say he was unimpressed with everything.

It was a perfect spring Florida day. We talked about what each of us had done over the last couple of years. Of course, our son had passed on any interesting tidbits to each of us anyway. The sunroof let us bake in the sun, and when we arrived, the breeze off the water was welcome. The Gardens looked like the paint chip counter at Home Depot.

After the Garden, we went to a Mediterranean restaurant for lunch. I had lamb shanks, while she had a gyro. I saw her looking longingly at the wine list and told her I wouldn’t hold her to a beer. After we ate, she wanted to see my house.

The drive home was fairly comfortable. We spoke of our son and the immediate past and future, but did not refer to our former married life. The sun was setting when we arrived. I poured two glasses of wine, and we sat on the patio watching lights go on in the homes around the lake. Her warm hand grabbed my arm, and she pulled me to her for a kiss. I think it surprised her as much as it did me. We both sat speechless and smiling.

“Do you want to stay for dinner? I’m sure I can find something to eat.” (I had nothing in the refrigerator.)

“No, thanks. I have to go home and prepare for work. Maybe next time.”

“Sounds good to me.”

The unspoken words hung like a Calder mobile. We both had enjoyed ourselves, but didn’t want a couple of glasses of wine to rush that which must wait. I drove her home, the evening being as encouraging as the daytime. Just before leaving her house, I said, “I’ll call you later.”

“Okay.” A friendly and chaste kiss on the cheek and a hug.

We had several more dates and began to travel together again. I had forgotten what a pleasure it was to go somewhere I hadn’t been before, and how much we both enjoyed that. Mount Dora, New York City, and the Keys, even Epcot.

I found out later that she didn’t date. Neither did I during the time we were apart.

The summer air was waning, fall slowly cooling the air, but not the ardor. I once again asked her to marry me. “Yes.” The ceremony was the three of us and a clerk of the court, who read from a small tattered book in a government garden. We got into three cars and drove back to work.

I don’t recommend getting a divorce to save a marriage, but it worked for us, an unintended consequence. We needed a separation to find a reason to be married.

~Timothy A. Setterlund

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