“Love is always better the second time around!” announced the talk show host. “ Welcome to SECOND CHANCES --where we put marriages back together again. This week, we’ll introduce you to three couples who would like to put their marriage back on track. Stay tuned to meet them!”
As the announcer’s voice trailed off, Jessica thought it was a bizarre premise for a show. Why wouldn’t people who wanted to put their marriages back together just go to counseling? Why would anyone appear on a TV show airing all their dirty laundry for the world to see? Did they really think it would be EASIER on television with everyone watching? Working as audience coordinator for this show was a strange job, but it was a job. She had started working here when one of her colleagues had mentioned it as a way to make some extra money. Her days were filled with her work as a journalist, and she spent her evenings here, with people who were hoping . . . for what? She wondered. She certainly didn’t understand the world she was living in. Much of it seemed like a far-flung mystery.
Jessica wasn’t married, had never been married, and didn’t WANT to be married after watching her parents’ relationship as she was growing up. There were lots of financial struggles. . . .but when finances were better, other problems took their place. There was her father’s drinking and her mom’s men -- and probably more she didn’t even know. “No, maybe marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. . .” she thought, as the announcer’s voice brought her back to the present.
“Let’s meet our couples!
Robert and Wilma Stone, married 25 years, with one child, Justin, their 24-year-old son, who still lives at home. . . and. . .
Newlyweds Richard and Kitty Reynolds. They’ve only been married one year, but they say the spark is gone and they don’t know how to get it back. . .
. . . .and. . . .
Longtime sweethearts Lance and Katheryn Sutton. . .
Everything else the announcer said blurred and the room spun. “Did he just call out HER PARENTS’ names?! What in the world were they thinking? In the first place, their marriage was more messed up than anyone she knew! And secondly, they didn’t even love each other -- did they? Why would they want to put that messed up puzzle back together?”
Jessica’s pulse raced and she felt beads of sweat gathering. She turned back to the stage, where her parents sat together on a lime green contemporary sofa. She noticed the set, wondering if all the bright swirls of paint were meant to evoke positivity and brightness or nausea. At the moment, she was definitely leaning toward nausea. She breathed in deeply through her nose to stave off the swirling feelings of her own, as the announcer turned to her parents -- HER PARENTS! She had spent much of her life trying to hide from them or simply hide them, and now, here they were for the whole world to see.
“Folks, we are back. SECOND CHANCES is the show that puts the heart back into reality TV,” the host said. “Lance, we’ve removed all the ladies offstage and they can’t hear a word you’re saying. In your own words, tell us, what is the main problem in your marriage?” the announcer asked.
Jessica’s father looked straight into the camera and said, “Well, we’ve always struggled with money, but the biggest problem is my drinking. I’m an alcoholic.”
Jessica could feel her mouth drop open, and tears pricking her eyes, like so many needles. “Was he really saying that? Was he admitting it after all these years?” She leaned in.
Lance continued, “It’s caused lots of other problems and it’s hurt a lot of people, especially my wife and my daughter, Jessica.”
The announcer asked, “How do you think we can help you, Lance?”
Jessica’s father said, “Well, I know I need to go for some treatment, but I can’t really afford anywhere fancy, and I’ve not heard good things about the local hospital’s program. But beyond getting help for my alcohol addiction, I’ve got no idea what to do next. I love my family. I love Katheryn, but I need help if my marriage is going to survive.”
“Well, thank you for sharing, Lance. . . . After this commercial break, we’ll hear from the ladies. Let’s see if Katheryn will reveal any deep dark secrets of her own!”
The commercial blared loudly on the set, but Jessica couldn’t tell you what they were advertising. She was supposed to be monitoring the audience and their reactions, but her mind was caught up in her father’s admission. Memories bombarded her -- arguments between her parents -- yelling, crying, throwing things. Visions of him, looking haggard and worn, with droopy eyes and slurred speech. That voice that he only seemed to use when he was drunk. She HATED that voice. . . .”
Another voice broke the trance -- the announcer told the wives it was their turn to tell the problems in their marriages. The other wives shared, with Katheryn twirling her hair in nervousness, like she always did, until it was finally her turn to share. “Well, the thing is, I mean I guess . . .I turned to other men for all the lack in my marriage. We had financial issues and Lance has always struggled with the bottle. I guess I was trying to escape those problems and just created even more problems. Lance would get powerful mad when he knew I had been with someone else, not that I blamed him. . . I’m ashamed of it now . . . .” She hung her head, still twirling her hair.
Jessica dropped her clipboard. “WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?” she shouted in her head. It actually appeared they were attempting to take responsibility for their own problems. None of their usual passing blame, no yelling and screaming. . . “Was it possible?” she wondered. “Could they repair something so broken?”
Jessica managed to do her job, although she felt like part of the audience as she watched SECOND CHANCES with rapt attention over the next 6 weeks, as secret after secret was revealed about her parents’ private lives. Much of it she knew, because she had lived through it. Her mother’s late night adventures with make-up and dresses -- leaving the house at all hours. Her father’s spending money on booze until there was no money for groceries, the times they’d had to move because they couldn’t pay the rent. . . Some of it came as a surprise, even to her. Like the fact that her father used to bring flowers to Katheryn. Yellow daisies were her favorite. Who knew? That was before she was born, so she wouldn’t know. They told stories of camping together by the river. They had never done that as a family, but she wished they had. . . . Lance told of whisking Katheryn off for a surprise when her favorite band was doing a concert in a nearby city. They had shouted and sang along and continued to sing all the way home. She could actually see the love in their eyes when they told about a night they spent on the beach -- walking and talking all night long, watching the sun set, the moon rise, and then watching them exchange places again as morning came. Were these really her parents? She didn’t know these people. . . Some of their stories made her laugh. Others brought tears. Why had they let this fade? This fierce, beautiful love for each other? Why?
Each week, Jessica got new insight into who her parents had been. She saw the pain in her father’s eyes as he shared how he had started drinking way too much. “We were already having money problems, and then I got laid off. Around that same time, my mom got sick with cancer. It was all just too much. I didn’t even tell Katheryn at first that I had lost my job. I pretended to go to work, but I really went looking for another job. When that wasn’t going so well, I started hitting the bottle pretty hard. I just wanted to take the edge off, but pretty soon, I was sunk deep.”
Another week, Jessica watched her mother dissolve into tears. “Lance was lost to me for so long. There were so many problems. All we did was yell and argue. I was still working, which was good because by then it was hard for Lance to get work because of the drinking. There was this man who was a client at our office, and he started with casual compliments -- they made me feel pretty, which I had not felt in quite a while. Then he invited me out for a drink one night, and it felt good to be with a man who wasn’t drunk and thought I was attractive and smart. I lost myself in that fantasy, which led to another and another. Lance got lost in the bottle. I got lost too. And in the process we almost lost each other.”
Jessica never understood the reasons behind the tension in the marriage. Now that her parents had shared their stories, she had a much better understanding of her parents as people -- just people. They had wants and needs, like everyone. They had been through quite a lot. The fact that her father had taken the step to admit his alcoholism and get some help took amazing fortitude, and she knew he would succeed.
Although it had seemed unlikely at the beginning, Jessica was thankful for this TV show that reminded people who they were and what they had. She was glad that her parents had the nerve and the guts to step out and bare their souls before the world. The world needed to see love like this -- love that was willing to admit mistakes, love that was willing to work hard to put jagged edges back together. Jessica was thrilled to discover her parents had that kind of love, and she was grateful that she’d had the opportunity to see it. She could tell her dad was getting help. The haunted look he carried when he was drinking had left him. Her mother looked more beautiful every week, and she knew that Mom felt beautiful, too. As long as Katheryn felt this way, there would be no need for other men -- no late night forays with make-up and dresses. She wondered how their lives would change because of this show. There had already been changes. After 6 weeks of watching their transparency and hearing all the stories they had never told her, she became their greatest champion. She called now, just to check in on them. They had even had a couple of dinners together since the show began. She attended a some AA meetings with her dad and mom. It felt good, after all this time to do things together as a family.
The producers invited Jessica to the stage to join in for the season finale, and she was honored to participate. It felt good to stand in the loving shadow of two parents who had fought their demons and won. She knew she would have the strength to do the same, if the time ever came. For the first time in her life, she was hopeful that there might be love and a marriage in her future. She was hopeful that her parents’ love and marriage would be a staple from now on, too.
Who knew that SECOND CHANCES really did put the heart back into reality TV?