As they walked down the courthouse steps, at the same time, but not really together, he looked over at her.
Her hair was drawn back in a ponytail. Her green eyes were glistening in the sun because they were full of tears she was trying to hold back.
He reached out to her, wanting to give her one last hug, but he knew she wouldn’t lean into him the way she had so many times before. So he simply touched her arm. He touched her tenderly, and in that moment he wondered if he’d touched her that way more often if they’d be where they were today. It was a question that would haunt him every day for seven years.
She paused for a moment, look down at his hand on her arm, but without looking at his face, she pulled away, and walked the other direction at the bottom of the stairs.
And that was it.
Five years before, he’d vowed until death do us part. Today it was a touch on the arm, her tear filled eyes, and they parted without fanfare or ceremony, only a final divorce decree in each of their hands, photocopied and notarized, as they went in different directions.
This wasn’t the way it was suppose to end. He didn’t cry. He didn’t have tears in him to shed.
She said their marriage ended long before the affair.
She said she stopped loving him when her heart was broken wide open the day he went to a football game, which happened to be the day after she miscarried their baby. She told him to go. She told him to have some fun. He didn’t know any better, or so he told himself. But as he drove away, with his house in the rear view mirror and her, smoking a cigarette on the porch, he felt off.
He told himself he’d bring home flowers. He did. At 7:00 p.m. when he got home, she was in bed and didn’t notice him or the flowers. She was sleeping, so he didn’t touch her. He left her alone.
He left her alone too many times.
He thought she needed space to heal, but the more space he gave her, the further away she went. They didn’t fight. There was no screaming. There was no drama. She just left him, and while living in the same house, they were both alone.
As he got in his car, parked three blocks from the courthouse, he wondered why they didn’t fight, at least a little, for their marriage. He wondered why he found himself so easily in another woman’s bed, touching her tenderly, when the woman he loved had just walked away.
He ended his relationship with his lover the day his divorce was final. He saw the irony. It wasn’t humorous, it was just sad—pathetic actually. And for seven years, he wondered if he’d touched his wife tenderly more often, if they would still be together. Seven years is a long time.
He dated. He had lovers. He slept with women he called friends. However, he couldn’t shake the blanket of regret. He didn’t trust himself to get it right so he didn’t try to love again. He dreamed of her green eyes in the sunlight filled with tears so often he wondered if that moment on the stairs ever really happened or if he made it up to put a period at the end of his story with her.
Seven years later, he was sitting in the sunlight alone on a Sunday morning on his porch, with his laptop. His sister on the other side of the country was expecting a baby so he did something he rarely ever did. He logged onto Facebook to see if there were any updates. She was due any day. That’s when he saw it.
A mutual friend had posted a note to his ex-wife. They weren’t Facebook friends, but it was in his feed because of that mutual connection, and when he read it he ached.
“So sorry to hear about your father. He was such a great man. When will the service be held?”
And in that moment he flashed back to seeing that man, walking that woman down the center of a church filled with people who loved them. They say that’s the happiest day of your life, but he realized he hadn’t had a happier day since then. He closed Facebook. He wished he wasn’t hesitating. He wished he were braver. He wished he hadn’t let seven years go by without a phone call or an email to or from her.
He booked a flight.
He went home.
He got off the airplane and took a taxi to her parent’s house and like a scene out of a movie, he saw her sitting on the porch, smoking a cigarette, and he wished he’d brought flowers. She saw him get out of the cab. She walked over to him. He looked so much older, and yet exactly the same, and she touched his hand tenderly.
Six months later, he moved back into the home the court had awarded her. It didn’t’ feel the same. Nothing did.
They had dinner on the floor by candlelight surrounded by boxes of his things. He looked at her and said, “No one ever gets a second chance like this. I won’t waste it. I promise you.”
She looked at him, green eyes glistening in the candlelight and said, “Every ordinary day is a second chance. You wasted a lot of them. Please don’t ever leave me again.”
He knew she wasn’t talking about the divorce, or the affair. He knew she was talking about the day he went to a football game and came home with flowers and left her alone for too long. Having lived without her for seven years, he vowed to himself to never let a new day be a second chance wasted, and to touch her tenderly.
He knew then what he learned seven years before:
Happily ever after isn’t given, it’s earned.
Author: Lisa Hayes
Editor: Catherine Monkman