We'd been dating for about six months when Linda looked at me with a final decision in her eyes, resolute firmness in her voice, and said, "I can't see you anymore." She was standing in the foyer of her tiny single mom house, her five-year-old son, Blake, sleeping in the other room. I was getting ready to leave and putting on my cool single man's p-coat, collar turned up. I was thirty-seven and never married. Linda was thirty-nine, recently divorced, and married twice.
I say resolute firmness because she was firm and resolute every time—every time she told me to get lost over the time we'd been dating. Like always, her expression was cold, stubborn, and exasperating. I knew it was an expression that came from the pain of two failed marriages and a five-year-old innocent boy to protect; a boy who had just lost another father to divorce. Five-year-old boys don't understand divorce I imagined. All they know is their heart is broken because they lost their dad.
This time was different though because I'd given up. I had decided she was damaged goods. "Ok, if that's how you feel. If you think it's best", I said, deciding the effort of dating her wasn't worth it. Inside, anger and adrenaline were spiking in my stomach. This was so unfair, I thought. But I kept the feelings to myself and simply raised the wall inside that closed off that area where I allowed myself to care--like I'd done so many times before. I knew Linda would never know I was so frustrated. I would simply thank her for the evening and walk out. But I knew once I’d left, we'd never date again.
Linda said, "This isn't going to work. We’re just too different.”
I turned to go but first I looked around. The house was so small I didn't know how Linda, Blake, and their cat managed it. The place was worn out with carpet all scratched up from the cat and shabby furniture in the kitchen and living room. Piles of scattered mail were on the kitchen counter under the wall phone. I looked over at the mail. Most of it was un-opened junk mail. I thought it curious that bills were mixed in and un-opened also. The phone bill. The water bill. One looked like a mortgage envelope. Piles of unorganized mail seemed odd as the place was small but also clean. No dirty dishes, no clutter, only this pile of dozens of pieces of mail haphazardly stacked on the counter seemed out of character, some of it opened, most of it not. The pile of mail was such a flaw. It struck me how I loved Linda's flaws even more than her perfections. There was a broken part of her that would never heal, broken by her husband’s cheating she never saw coming and a searing unrelenting pain that never recedes.
I needed to be brave for us both I thought. But that wasn’t really true. I needed to be brave because there was something deep inside me that couldn’t connect with other people. An autistic inability. At thirty-seven I’d never really opened up to anyone. Not one friend. People told me I had something missing and they were right. But Linda, in her quiet way, saw this. ‘This is how you talk to people,’ she’d say in silence, helping me. ‘This is how you make a friend,’ leading me, gently guiding.
So instead of walking out in polite, enraged, silence, I looked back at Linda and said, "I'll pick you up tomorrow at six. We have dinner reservations remember?" Linda looked at me and I could see a very small break in her eyes where the resolve was just so slightly broken, just so slightly warmer.
So I left that night in my cool p-coat and knew I was ready to marry Linda, if she’d have me, and take on a five-year-old boy. But I also knew if I told Linda I was ready to be a husband and father she wouldn't believe me. She would brace herself for the leaving. Only the patience of my behavior over time would prove different. Nothing such a big deal. Going to work every day. Being loyal. Being a dad who stays.
My hand shook on the elevator button when we rode to the third floor of the courthouse where you can get married by a judge. We had no witnesses so the judge brought her clerk in who stood by as Linda and I took our vows. We needed someone to sign so Blake, at five years old, was invited by the judge to sit in her seat and sign the document. We took a photo. The whole thing seemed so matter-of-fact until the judge stood and began the ceremony. That’s when tears streamed down my face.
I have a theory about cheating. Linda’s first husband never worked again after the divorce and lived an empty unforgiving life. I attended a stilted, uncomfortable family get together with Blake’s dad after flying across the country. We felt Blake should never feel we were unfairly holding him from knowing his, what we called then, his ‘natural’ Dad. This was opposed to ‘real’, like me. I sat with a very nice lady who was Blake’s grandmother. Somehow the subject of adultery came up. “All men cheat,” she said. “I don’t,” I said. She looked at me like I was an idiot. My theory? I believe hurting another person hurts yourself more. Naïve I know. Linda laughs at my theory. She calls me green. “You’re so green to pain,” she says.
It's thirty years later now and the boys are moved out. Linda and I now take care of each other; me with my forgetfulness, she with her hip replacement. There’s part of Linda that will never trust me, never one-hundred percent, the lack of faith a flaw. I joke if I die first she’ll think I’ll be unfaithful in heaven.
We have many friends. I have friends. But it’s just Linda and I looking back, and it turned out I got the better bargain. I was the one who ended up being saved.