Dancing for Fireflies

Dancing for Fireflies

From Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul

Dancing for Fireflies

On a Saturday morning a few years back, I made a difficult and irreversible decision. My daughter was at the piano, galloping through Unchained Melody. My son was polishing the hallway mirrors, eager to earn a few extra dollars for a new CD. I couldn’t decide if it was the warm mug of coffee cupped in my hands—brewed just right for a change—or the sense of harmony that seemed out of character in a house that had become a war zone as of late, but I realized how crucial it is that a home be a peaceful place away from the turmoil of work and school. And, in those moments, a startling thought welled up in me. I suddenly realized that little by little, I was jeopardizing the greatest source of safety my children can possess: the home that my husband and I have provided for them.

A safe home has little to do with physical elements, even though we judge other people’s homes by the craftsmanship of the woodwork or the quality of the drapes. I’m referring to the “atmosphere” of a home—or maybe “soul” is the definitive word. I recall one weekend years ago, visiting a college friend’s elaborate home. I was so impressed that each bedroom had its own bathroom with the thickest, most luxurious towels. Yet that detail seemed marred by the chilling silence that existed between her parents—a silence so loud that I still recall it vividly. I also remember a rather ramshackle house on the outskirts of my hometown. The lady who lived there was a seamstress, a kind woman who listened with eyes that smiled through peculiar blue-rimmed glasses. Whenever my mother took me for a fitting, I was never quite ready to leave. One evening when I went to pick up a dress, she and her husband, Eddie, with the oil-field grime scrubbed from his skin, sat at the table with their kids. They were eating peach cobbler, laughing loudly and playing Yahtzee, and on that evening, their home, with its worn furniture and framed paint-by-number artwork, was clearly one of the finest.

Uncontrollable hardships may plague a home’s well-being: the loss of a job, a serious illness or even death. But it’s the circumstances many of us encounter on a day-today basis that often wear us down and more often contribute to the breakup of a home. I know many couples just like my husband and myself. Once upon a time each other’s company charmed us. Our infatuation with each other seemed to cast a rosy glow over the fact that we could barely make ends meet as we struggled to balance part-time jobs with our college classes. Our furniture was the cast offs our relatives were glad to unload, we guarded the thermostat with a frugal eye, and tomato soup was a common meal staple. Yet the two of us created a mansion out of our passion. We graduated, found our niche in the working world, bought our first house, and when our children came along, we were even more enchanted with the cozy feeling their wide-eyed wonder contributed to our home. Long walks with the stroller, Dr. Seuss, dancing for fireflies in the warm twilight—we were happy.

But somehow twenty years passed and neither my husband nor I could account for the past five. Our jobs demanded more of our time, and our passion for each other slipped away so gradually I scarcely noticed. Our children grew older and fought more so we bought a house twice as big where we were soon spending our time in four remote corners: my husband with his work or evening TV, I with my nose in a pile of bills, my daughter’s ear glued to the telephone, and my son, depending on his moods, lost in the world of alternative music or ESPN. When my husband and I did talk, it was to argue about how to discipline adolescent angst, or whose turn it was to take out the garbage. What happened to the long walks, “Sam I Am” and the fireflies?

On that Saturday morning months ago, I faced a reality I had been denying. Something I never imagined could happen to me, had happened. I grew dependent on the attention of anotherman. Despite his graying hair, he’s uncannily like the strong-willed but sensitive guy who charmed me almost two decades ago. Our friendship sparkled because we’d never raised headstrong children, never lived together during hay-fever season, and never woken up to each other’s foul breath or puffy eyes. We had never experienced any of the tribulations,minor or major,which test and shape a relationship. In the months that followed, visits with him had grown more intense and drew me farther away from my husband, the other anchor in our children’s home. In fact, I had actually begun to imagine life without the man I had promised to love until my last breath.

And so, in one of the saddest and most awkward moments of my life, I told my friend that I could no longer see him. I ended a friendship with a person who had begun to matter very much to me. As I struggled to abandon my feelings for him and embrace the logic of closing the door, the days which followed were filled with a frightening revelation: somehow, unthinkingly, when half of marriages end in divorce, I had threatened our home with the most common reason: a lack of commitment. I had pursued a selfish desire to the point that I could no longer distinguish between right and wrong. I had been entrusted with a loyal husband and two remarkable children, yet I risked their well-being with every moment I spent in this other person’s company.

After my decision, there was a wave of emptiness that continually washed through me as I moved through each day. I felt it when I laid awake next to my husband who snored peacefully at three in the morning. It came again at work when my mind drifted away from the pile of paperwork in front of me or the discussion at a meeting. It welled up once more as I sat on the front porch with the evening paper and my two kids fought over the basketball in the driveway. Gradually, though, that feeling has been replaced with a sense of relief that, despite my temporary insanity, my family is safe. But a thousand “I’m sorries” will never take away the sting of remorse I feel nearly every time I look in my husband’s eyes and they smile back at me. While the passion we first had doesn’t always seem as strong, passion is meaningless compared with the qualities he possesses. I hadn’t a clue how much I would come to value his integrity, his work ethic or his devotion to our children. It wasn’t until I was confronted with the fear of losing the world that he and I had created together, that I recognized the pricelessness of his friendship.

So tonight, on an unusually warm evening for this time of year, my husband has agreed to join me for a walk. As I study the sky from the window by my desk, I see that there must be a thousand stars tonight, all sparkling like fireflies.

Sarah Benson

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