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Contemporary Romance Sad

We were meant to divorce after Roman Holiday.


As the credits rolled at the end of the film, I found myself sitting in the dark next to Rob wishing I could see his face. I’ve always found that turning to look at the person sitting next to you at a movie is a risk. Whether you know it or not, there’s something you’re expecting to see. What if you don’t see it? What if it’s something else? What if the person turns and looks at you as you’re looking at them and both of you are surprised by what’s there?


A small puddle of dried Diet Coke had been irritating me throughout the movie. I used it as an excuse not to move. Not to create the sound of a shoe being unstuck.


Come on, Grace, I told myself, The credits are almost done. The lights are about to come up. Let’s get going. We have a plan.


The plan was as follows:


  • Draw up a statement that we could deliver to our friends and families.
  • Put labels on all the items in our home we wanted to take with us once the time came to move. The house itself would go to neither of us since it would inevitably hold too many bad memories.
  • See a special screening of Roman Holiday at the Bradford Cineplex where we had our first date as a way to honor a relationship and marriage that was mostly good until it wasn’t.
  • Dinner at Chili’s
  • Early to bed so as to wake up at 7am the next day for separate trips to separate lawyers wherein we would begin the process of dissolving our union


It was critical that a trip to the Cineplex be a part of this plan.


People used to comment on how frequently we went to see movies. It was our Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday routine, but we would make special trips for anniversary screenings or for what we called “Oscar Runs.” At the end of the year, when studios are releasing all their awards fare at once, we would sometimes see two films a day. Rob’s father commented that seeing too many movies threatened to create a fantasy life that would overshadow the reality of day-to-day living. This sort of raincloud mentality was why most of his clients ended up leaving him after a year or two of therapy. The ones who stayed ultimately ended up institutionalized, and even Rob admitted that his father should have gone into a different field. When we got married, his father bought us a five-foot tall hourglass.


“When the sand runs out,” he explained, swirling gin from the open bar around in his glass at our wedding reception, “Years will have passed. Here’s hoping your marriage outlasts the sand.”


We had outlasted the sand, but just barely. The hourglass was placed in a closet upon moving into our house on Polymer Lane, and I happened to notice that its top half was empty when I began to clean out some clothing in preparation for the upcoming severance of our union. I considered turning it over, but decided to leave it as it was for the next inhabitants of the house to find. Part of me thought the object might be cursed, but then I remembered that I don’t believe in anything supernatural or spiritual. My wedding vows were thoroughly disappointing to everyone but Rob due to their pragmatic nature.


“Rob,” I said, “You’re a good man. I’m honored to take you as my husband.”


I heard my mother choke on her disapproval in the front row. The day after I returned from my honeymoon, I got a phone call from her chastising me.


“I understand that it was your wedding and your vows, Grace,” she said, “But would it have killed you to include the word ‘love’ in there somewhere?”


When I got off the phone, I was shaken. Despite how often in life I’d attracted my mother’s indignation, it never ceased to rattle me. Rob was still writing “Thank you” notes at the kitchen table when I hung up, and upon seeing my distress, he put down the special pen he used for cards and taxes, and said--


“Why don’t we go see a movie?”


If we had one thing in common, it was our shared love of the movie-going experience. We loved the blue-ish purple carpeting in the lobby of the Cineplex. We loved asking the girl at the front what book she was reading in between selling tickets. We loved complaining privately to each other that concessions was a rip-off even as we ordered half the menu and devoured most of it before the trailers were complete. We even had theaters within the Cineplex that we preferred over others. I liked Theater 2 and Theater 5, but Rob favored Theaters 1 and 9. We both liked Theater 11 and we refused to see anything in Theater 3.


We found that our marriage had three personalities--there was mine, Rob’s, and the personality of the marriage itself. It had characteristics and taste and anxieties. It was not simply the overlap of our individual selves, but a self unto itself. It was a place we could visit when we wanted to be reminded why we were together. Early in the marriage, that place felt vast. It felt like a colosseum. There were so many things to discover and celebrate. It was a memory palace of future memories. It was a locked diary where we could see each other’s secrets and promise never to share them. It was a place we felt safe.


If you asked me to paint you a picture of it, the best I could do would be a movie theater. One of the IMAX ones where the screen is several stories high and you feel as though you’re immersed in whatever it is you’re watching. The sound shakes your skin and if you don’t sit towards the back, you have to tilt your neck just so you don’t miss anything. That was our place. It wasn’t perfect. There was spilled soda and scattered popcorn kernels. The volume was sometimes too loud and a few of the seats creaked, but other than that, it was perfect. It was perfect because it was ours.


Unfortunately, as the years went on, that place began to shrink. It didn’t lose anything but its size, but, as it turns out, the size is sort of…the point. If nothing else, it needs to be large enough to accommodate two people. Our marriage went from being an IMAX to an indie house to one of those theaters they used to attach to the side of a mall. Two aisles on either side and a broken projector. Ripped up carpeting. Holes in the screen. Nowhere you’d want to go. Nowhere that could make you happy. Still, we kept showing up there the same way we kept showing up at the movies. The Cineplex kept expanding its theaters even as our love compressed. The price of a medium popcorn went up. We didn’t even notice. Apologies to Gloria Swanson, but it became evident that the pictures were still big. It was simply our marriage that had gotten small.


One Tuesday, after seeing an action film that I liked and Rob didn’t, we went out for drinks and Rob told me that he hated his job. He said he’d always hated his job. That it made him miserable. That everyday it was a struggle to sit at his desk and deny loans to people who needed them and smile at his boss, who would leave each afternoon at 2pm for an assignation with one of Rob’s coworkers at a seedy motel down the street. He’d never confessed any of that to me. All this news wasn’t anywhere in our marriage. Immediately, I went looking to see if I missed it somewhere in our marriage theater. Upon arrival, I discovered that I could no longer fit. There was a single chair and a trailer playing on a loop.


Coming Soon…A Divorce.


My enchiladas were getting cold. I looked at Rob. There are moments where, if you run fast enough, you can catch a departing train. The question is--Can you run fast enough? There was my husband--leaving the station. I didn’t have it in me. I simply couldn’t run that fast.


* * * * *


Rob had never seen Roman Holiday and I had only viewed it once when I was thirteen and obsessed with all things Audrey Hepburn. My mother stood in the doorway to my bedroom and commented that Audrey was not really that great of an actress, but simply had an abundance of charm. She meant it as an insult, but to me, it sounded like a superpower. An abundance of charm. No wonder everybody fell in love with her. I decided to try and cultivate some of that charm for myself, but it never sat easy with me. I was never going to be Princess Ann or Sabrina Fairchild or even Eliza Doolittle before she’s made over. I was too turned-in on myself. Too guarded. My father told me one day that he was going to get his car washed, and that was the last we ever saw of him. When Rob would complain about his own father’s shortcomings, I would agree, but silently think to myself--At least when he gets the car washed, he comes home afterwards. 


When I fell short of channeling Audrey Hepburn, I began a lifelong love affair with the tougher side of glamour. The Bette Davis contemporaries--not that there were many of those. My mother caught me acting out a scene from All About Eve one night before bedtime, and she asked why I couldn’t just watch regular movies made for people my age. I told her I didn’t feel my age. I felt removed from the present time, although I couldn’t articulate that part of it to her at that moment. There was a lost quality to me that concerned her, although I was a good student who never got into trouble. She sent me to therapy only to have the therapist report back that aside from a stubborn emotional detachment, I was perfectly well-adjusted. Upon leaving his office after our second and final visit, I thought--


Well, now you’re really on your own.


Right after college, a friend invited me over to her house on Halloween to watch scary movies. There were eight or nine people there, and I wound up sitting next to this gangly guy a year older than me who kept looking at me throughout both the first and second movie (Nightmare on Elm Street and When a Stranger Calls). As we were getting up to leave, I kept asking him if he was checking on me to make sure I wasn’t afraid.


“Oh no,” he said, “I knew you weren’t afraid. You look like you’ve never been afraid of anything in your entire life.”


I’m sure he thought it was a compliment, and that’s how I chose to take it, but it was the first time Rob was wrong about me. I thought I could take the inaccuracy and grow into it. That was my first mistake, but I would replicate it throughout our marriage.


“Then why were you looking at me,” I asked.


He ran his hands through the best mop of blonde hair I’d ever seen in my life. The other attendees were saying their goodbyes. My train was leaving.


“I guess you were my favorite movie of the night,” he said.


The next morning at breakfast, I told him that was the corniest line I’d ever heard in my life. He agreed, but then motioned to the diner around us and the clothes we were both still wearing from the previous evening as if to say--


But it worked, didn’t it?


* * * * *


Nora Ephron said that Sleepless in Seattle was not about love, but about love in the movies. Rob and I watched that movie together once, and agreed that You’ve Got Mail was a far superior film. What a cop-out to end the picture right as the two main characters meet. Nothing against Nora, but a modern audience watching the film might not so easily assume that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan wind up together. In fact, I was more inclined to believe those two realize in the taxi that they’re not compatible, Meg asks to get dropped off at the airport, and Tom takes his young son to the Statue of Liberty the next day after making him promise that he won’t attempt any further match-making.


In my rendition of the epilogue-that-wasn’t, Tom’s character presents the Statue of Liberty to his son like a gift, the same way the French did, and says--


“It may not be as romantic as the Empire State Building, but it stands for freedom. It’s a torch that never goes out. Nothing romantic about that. Nothing romantic about liberty. But glorious, right? Glorious all the same.”


This is why I became a chef instead of a writer.


Roman Holiday does not allow for any pontificating (Spoiler Alert). At the end of the film, Audrey has to accept that she’s a Princess and Gregory Peck is both slightly miscast in his part and not royalty. They share some parting sentiment, and then they go their separate ways with only their memories of motorbikes and kissing on a riverbank.


When we chose the picture as our last cinematic hurrah together, neither Rob nor I worried that anything in it would overwhelm us. It was just a romantic comedy--and an old one at that. Frivolous, frothy, and harmless. It had been so long since I’d seen it that I didn’t recall there not being a happy ending. Though it wouldn’t be realistic, it seemed impossible that Hepburn and Peck would not wind up together. If Julia Roberts and Richard Gere (an escort and a millionaire) could find lasting love on a fire escape, why couldn’t a Princess and a reporter? Why did this have to be love? Why couldn’t it be love in the movies?


The ending inched itself into me like a bad cold. I wanted to turn and see if Rob was as affected by it as I was. The credits played. The spilled soda pooled out so that it covered both my feet and then my hands and my neck. I couldn’t move. It must be the fault of the dried-up Diet Coke. What else could it be? The secured space of my marriage--the place I knew I would have to surrender--was already boarded up. I couldn’t see it--even in the most fantastical parts of my mind. Now, here was its physical iteration, and that had lost its comfort as well. Would I ever be able to watch a movie again?


The lights rose. Several people around us got up immediately. One made a comment about how gorgeous Audrey Hepburn was. “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.” An employee from the theater came down the right aisle and finagled with the air-conditioning. An older couple two rows in front of us shared a kiss, and then the man said something that made his partner laugh. I could see all this, but I couldn’t see Rob. I wouldn’t turn my head. As soon as I turned my head, it would be off to dinner, and then back home to a place that was no longer home, then an empty bed, then a lawyer’s office, then, then, then, then, then…


Then.


Rob said--


“Grace?”


I turned my head.


He was looking at me.


“Rob,” I said, “How long have you been looking at me?”


After placing the medium popcorn that stood between us on the floor next to the soda puddle, he took my hand. The hand that still had my wedding ring on it.


“The thing is,” he said, his wedding ring brushing against mine, “I should have never stopped.”


* * * * *


We always insisted on going to the theater, because when you watch a movie at home, you’re not doing it justice. You take a phone call. You notice a bit of dust on a bookcase and get up to clean it. You leave the picture on in the background while you do one chore or another. You don’t give it your full attention, and then you wonder why you didn’t like it more than you did.


In a theater, it’s just you and the movie. Nothing to get in the way of you appreciating it if that’s what you’re meant to do. It turns out marriage is very much the same way. You have to sit quietly at times and try not to miss anything. Even then, you will, but you can always go back and rewatch it. Love is not love like it is in the movies, but it turns out the movies can teach you a lot about how to love someone.


When we tell people about that time in our marriage, they squeal with delight when they find out that Roman Holiday was what saved us. Audrey Hepburn coming to the rescue for two lovers on the rocks. Teardrops falling on two hands that join together and never let go. A last-minute reconciliation as the final notes of Auric and Young’s score played their way out. We understand the impulse to think of it that way. It’s not exactly the truth--


But it’s a hell of a movie.

May 27, 2022 20:01

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21 comments

Jay McKenzie
06:47 May 30, 2022

You had me hooked from that compelling opening line. That packed a punch! This is beautifully structured and paced. I love the way that the act of going to the movies is a central pillar that these characters cling to. Lovely.

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Story Time
16:24 May 30, 2022

Thank you so much! I appreciate you reading it.

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Sarah Jade
13:21 May 31, 2022

IS NO LONGER NEWS THAT DR OGAH IS THE BEST SPELL CASTER OF THE YEAR. i have work hard and tried everything i could to get my lover back but nothing works out for me to get him back, till i came across a great man profile called Dr. OGAH, a love spell caster that helped me get my lover back to me wethin the period of 2days i want to say with his great power he has save so many lifes and relationship he was the only man i contacted and his love spell really brought my ex back for in case you need his help for your relationship to be restored y...

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Shea West
18:48 May 28, 2022

We found that our marriage had three personalities--there was mine, Rob’s, and the personality of the marriage itself. I think this line in particular encapsulates all relationships. It's like that line, There are three sides to every story- His side, her side, and then the truth..... Kevin you really boxed up what a dynamic can look like, and how the evolution of couples change for whatever reason. My brain has so much more it wants to say about this story but I can't do it as much justice as I'd like. So I'll stick with I loved everythin...

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Story Time
19:09 May 28, 2022

Thank you so much, my friend!

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Sarah Jade
13:22 May 31, 2022

IS NO LONGER NEWS THAT DR OGAH IS THE BEST SPELL CASTER OF THE YEAR. i have work hard and tried everything i could to get my lover back but nothing works out for me to get him back, till i came across a great man profile called Dr. OGAH, a love spell caster that helped me get my lover back to me wethin the period of 2days i want to say with his great power he has save so many lifes and relationship he was the only man i contacted and his love spell really brought my ex back for in case you need his help for your relationship to be restored y...

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Moon Lion
23:31 May 27, 2022

The details really made this story what it was, which was oddly understandable (even if someone has never experienced divorce or marriage) and full of contemplation on being with someone and its end. Also the beginning of the story was the perfect way to get readers hooked.

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Story Time
00:04 May 28, 2022

Thank you very much for reading it. I appreciate it.

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Sarah Jade
13:22 May 31, 2022

IS NO LONGER NEWS THAT DR OGAH IS THE BEST SPELL CASTER OF THE YEAR. i have work hard and tried everything i could to get my lover back but nothing works out for me to get him back, till i came across a great man profile called Dr. OGAH, a love spell caster that helped me get my lover back to me wethin the period of 2days i want to say with his great power he has save so many lifes and relationship he was the only man i contacted and his love spell really brought my ex back for in case you need his help for your relationship to be restored y...

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Kris Hawkins
01:52 Jun 02, 2022

Hey! This story came to me via the Critique Circle, and I'm glad it did! I really enjoyed reading this piece. Two things stood out to me the most: the characterization, and the movie theater metaphor for relationship. I thought both were very well executed, and the metaphor in particular made me want to go back and re-read to find all the connections you were making between the marriage and the movie theater. I love the idea that you can take a cinematic space and use it as an anchor for a meditation on the nature of marriage/relationship....

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Story Time
16:26 Jun 02, 2022

Thank you very much I appreciate it and looking forward to reading your story!

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Ace Quinnton
18:41 May 31, 2022

I've seen pattern in this prompt from other writers. Always something about marriage and divorce or some form of love. I've generally wondered about WHY the community is writing this. If you could explain it to me, I would appreciate it immensely.

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Story Time
20:24 May 31, 2022

I'm not sure I can speak to why a prompt draws writers to the same theme. I think if you include the idea of two people sitting together at the movies, it's natural to move towards love, dating, relationships, etc. If a couple is married or in a relationship, then a story has to change them in some way, and so it would make sense for the relationship to change, and since a break-up or a divorce is more interesting than "and then the relationship or marriage improved immensely" I suspect that would be why.

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Ace Quinnton
20:29 May 31, 2022

That makes sense. Thank you for explaining that to me. The story is very well written, and the overall storyline with Grace's eternal struggle was just SO GOOD. Keep up the good work, Kevin. You'll definitely go a long way in writing. I can guarantee it.

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Story Time
21:27 May 31, 2022

Thank you very much.

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Rebecca Miles
09:48 May 28, 2022

I like the premise of the story: that we need to look, not just see and when we stop looking and appreciating there's trouble. I enjoyed taking more than a look at this and the uplifting transformation which takes place .

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Story Time
17:46 May 28, 2022

Thank you, Rebecca!

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Sarah Jade
13:22 May 31, 2022

IS NO LONGER NEWS THAT DR OGAH IS THE BEST SPELL CASTER OF THE YEAR. i have work hard and tried everything i could to get my lover back but nothing works out for me to get him back, till i came across a great man profile called Dr. OGAH, a love spell caster that helped me get my lover back to me wethin the period of 2days i want to say with his great power he has save so many lifes and relationship he was the only man i contacted and his love spell really brought my ex back for in case you need his help for your relationship to be restored y...

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06:18 May 28, 2022

Hi Kevin, this story is wonderful. I feel like I know Grace and Rob as if they're real people. The best part, for me, was your use of the theatre as a metaphor for their marriage - it felt natural and well crafted. The happy ending wraps everything up nicely. I haven't seen Roman Holiday myself but now maybe I should!

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Story Time
17:46 May 28, 2022

Thank you so much, Shuvayon. And yes, I highly recommend it :)

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Sarah Jade
13:23 May 31, 2022

IS NO LONGER NEWS THAT DR OGAH IS THE BEST SPELL CASTER OF THE YEAR. i have work hard and tried everything i could to get my lover back but nothing works out for me to get him back, till i came across a great man profile called Dr. OGAH, a love spell caster that helped me get my lover back to me wethin the period of 2days i want to say with his great power he has save so many lifes and relationship he was the only man i contacted and his love spell really brought my ex back for in case you need his help for your relationship to be restored y...

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