56. To Begin Again

56. To Begin Again

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Happily Ever After

To Begin Again

The restaurant was crowded, and I waited at the bar until my wife’s and my table was called. A fire roared nearby and a real tree stood simply in the corner, covered in small white lights and nothing else. I ordered my wife a glass of wine and sipped at my draft beer while she lingered in the bathroom.

No doubt she was drying her eyes and reapplying a third coat of mascara, I thought bitterly as I remembered the heated words and nasty barbs we had exchanged on the first leg of our trip from North Carolina to Florida.

We were going home to get a divorce. There was nothing pleasant about it. Neither of us was even trying anymore.

We had pulled over at the first nice restaurant we saw. Of course, we had passed a hundred others that either hadn’t lived up to her expectations or my price range. We blamed each other the more our hunger grew.

I grunted when the hostess told us that the wait was over an hour. My wife sighed and disappeared into the ladies’ room.

As I chewed on stale peanuts and ordered another beer, I watched the happy couples at the bar, basking in the firelight and looking forward to the new year that they had no doubt roared in together romantically.

My wife and I had spent the first day of the new year storming around the house, dividing the CD collection and credit card bills. We had been married for four years, so there was a lot to go over.

I watched a young couple kiss. An older couple held hands. I recalled a happier time, not too long ago, when my wife and I would have been right there with them. Lingering over cocktails at the bar on purpose instead of just rushing in to get a table, eat and get it over with.

I thought of the past year and its few ups and many downs. It had started with a job transfer, and things had gone downhill from there. My wife said goodbye to her fourth-grade students, and we packed up the car and moved ten hours away. We had no friends, no family, and our first month’s phone bill was enormous.

She found a job quickly and advanced easily, while I soon realized my new job was a big disappointment. She missed her family and her students, I missed my old job, and nothing worked out right. The move cost more than we expected, we rented an expensive apartment we really didn’t need, and there was nothing to do in our new town but eat and watch TV. And fight….

Resentment grew with each passing month. But instead of talking to each other and sharing our problems as we had in the past, we turned to grumbling and grousing, fussing and fighting.

How could I tell her I felt unfulfilled and defeated at my new job? The job that had caused her to uproot her whole life and follow her husband to a small town in the mountains of North Carolina?

How could she tell me she hated going into work every morning and felt unfulfilled without being in a classroom?

In the end, neither of us told the other anything. When we spoke at all, it was to yell or accuse or snipe or bark.

My wife appeared at the bar, looking beautiful despite her puffy, cried-out eyes. I felt guilty at her tears, and each drop was like a knife in my heart. There was a time in our life when the thought of making her cry had brought tears to my own eyes. But now each drop was like some stupid point on an invisible scoreboard.

I watched her cross the room and felt a lurch inside my stomach as I thought of my life without her.

“How do I look?” she asked instinctively, and I had to laugh. It was a question she asked constantly, all through the day and night. An inside joke we’d shared for years, soon to be shared no more.

She thought I was laughing at her makeup, and she quickly downed her wine with a sour expression on her face that had nothing to do with the vintage.

Our last name was finally called, and we rushed through soup and rolls. Silver clinked on fancy plates and we chewed in silence. There was so much I wanted to say to her, but after all that we had decided, what was the point?

Telling her I still loved her would only make our decision that much more difficult.

After ordering dinner I excused myself to go to the men’s room, stopping on the way to place a reassuring hand on her shoulder. Not surprisingly, her body clenched at my touch.

While inside the men’s room I heard the door burst open behind me and then the sound of water running, but my flushing couldn’t cover the sound of sobbing as I emerged from the stall.

A middle-aged man in a collared shirt and Dockers stood blubbering in front of the sink. He snuffled and snorted when he saw me, and I reached for paper towels and handed them to him in an unceremonious lump. He used them all and still the tears flowed. His face looked ruddy and flushed, and his washed-out eyes beseeched me to understand as he explained himself through his sobs.

“I’m sorry,” he choked. “It’s just... the tree and the lights. I thought I was ready. I thought I could do all this. But then I heard the Christmas music and I just... it’s the new year already. Why do they have to keep playing them? I just couldn’t do it. I’m sorry. I tried.”

“Tried to do what?” I asked gently, hoping I wasn’t prying. His pain seemed so intense, it was all I could do not to join him myself.

“Be... normal,” he explained, blowing his nose shortly after. “My wife. You see... she died six weeks ago and I —”

“Six weeks!” I shouted, fear clutching my young heart. “I couldn’t get out of bed if my wife had passed away six weeks ago.” Despite the current state of affairs of my marriage, I suddenly realized this statement was all too true.

He nodded, as if I had any idea what kind of pain he was experiencing.

“I know,” he nodded again. “I know. But... I managed to make it through Thanksgiving by drinking my way through a tropical cruise. I even managed to eat and sleep my way through Christmas. And... I thought I should be well by now.

“But Christmas was always her favorite. I never stopped to listen to all of those silly Christmas songs until this very night. My appetizer came, my drinks, my salad. It all just sat there while I listened to the words. Over and over. Then I just started bawling. I’m sorry, you must think me a fool.”

Just then the men’s room door burst open again, nearly knocking me to the ground. Two young men of college age rushed to surround the crying man. They wore expensive sweaters and grave expressions and called him “Dad.”

They asked if he was all right and turned their backs to me as they cleaned their father up in private.

The small room grew crowded, and I left them to their task. I wanted to ask the man how long he and his wife had been married, but by the age of his grown sons I assumed it was well beyond twenty years.

I watched my wife’s young face aglow in the candlelight, her fine hands curved around the stem of her wine glass. My legs felt leaden as I joined her at her seat, taking the chair beside her and pulling her into my arms just as the tears came.

“What’s wrong?” she whispered into my hair as I clung to her chest. Her tone held no scorn, only bare and naked concern that her husband should feel pain.

After so many hateful words, so many petty barbs, I was still her husband.

“I’m sorry,” I said, looking into her eyes.

Her tears spoke her truest fears, and in seconds we were tripping all over each other’s apologies. Relief overflowed our hearts as we spoke.

“I’ll find a job back home,” I sputtered. “I’ll work two jobs, whatever it takes. I miss our family, I —”

“We’ll both find jobs,” she joined. “You’ll see. We’ll be fine. We’ll start all over. Last year was horrible. This year will be fresh and...”

When our apologies and plans were spent, she held me close and whispered two words in my ear: “What happened?”

But how could I explain that in one quick bathroom visit I had lost her, and then found her, all at the same time?


~Rusty Fischer
Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul

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