So I met him for dinner, my ex who called me “Sweetie” on the phone when he invited me to meet him. He’d gotten dropped off and was waiting for me in the parking lot when I got there.
My stomach lurched when I spotted him. He was at least three inches shorter than the last time I saw him and he looked strange to me.
He didn’t look at all like the man who used to be able to cut a cord of wood all on his own or the man who could walk 10 miles a day—any day—at the first sign of the sun. I understood Parkinson’s disease would steal from him. Maybe that was why I didn’t want him to call me Sweetie. I didn’t want to be a Sweetie who had witnessed a crime.
“I thought when we split we would be friends,” he was saying just before the waitress came over with the coffee.
I knew he would raise the issue. He’s the kind of guy who raises issues that other people—like me—don’t want to raise. But he’s a poet; he’s used to using words to get to the bottom of things. It was something about him I could always count on.
What do I say? Do I tell him the truth? Tell him that was then, this is now? That I prefer it this way? Do I tell him that, by the way, did he notice that he’s three inches shorter than he was a year ago and that he can’t articulate very well and that his voice was so weak I couldn’t hear him and that the blank stare on his face frightened not only the waitress but me as well?
Do I tell him that watching him shrink with Parkinson’s disease when we were together hurt me so much I couldn’t stand doing it. That I didn’t have the kind of eyesight it took to not see what was happening then and that I didn’t want to see it happening now?
Do I tell him what I coward I am?
What I ended up telling him was all of that.
Well, not really.
What I ended up telling him was a little bit about how we didn’t have any place of intersection in our lives anymore. A little bit about the fact that he was a happy hippy living in a hippy town a thousand miles away and I was a newly married happy housewife.
And then he told me that I wasn’t exactly only a housewife; he’d been following my writing online and then I told him there wouldn’t be any of “my” writing if it hadn’t been for him.
“You wrote that?” he’d said 15 years before when I read him something I’d written in my journal. “That’s a short story.”
I told him that I wanted to put my short stories into a book and he told me, “Why don’t you send the manuscript to me? I’ll edit it. It can be an intersection.”
After dinner I dropped him off on a dark street somewhere near his Airbnb, the one he rented while he was here for a few days, the one he said I wouldn’t like because it was too “down home” for me.
When he got out of the car the old me, the one who had been married to him for almost two decades, the one who had massaged him every night to relieve his pain, who had shaved him and combed his hair and driven him wherever he needed to go, the one who saw him change from strong to not-so-strong to not-strong-enough to cut up his own dinner steak, would have jumped out of the car in some kind of ninja stance and dared anybody in the world to do him harm.
The new me, however, the one who didn’t want him to call her Sweetie, the one who realized that after all, it took a certain kind of courage to leave him rather than to stay with him, sat in the car a moment and watched in the rear view mirror as all three inches of him shorter than he used to be walked slowly away into the darkness.
Author: Carmelene Siani
Editor: Travis May
Image: Flickr/Bosc D’Anjou