Creative Nonfiction Romance Sad

                                                             June 3, 1987

The drive back to Ft. Worth was surreal. I had made this drive many times, but in the company of my wife. She was no longer my wife. The divorce was in the works, and I was fleeing. Back to the safety of my hometown, back to the certainty of things I had wanted to escape. Here I am, almost thirty, and back to square one.

I found an apartment three days later. I looked around after moving my belongings in. The detritus of a failed marriage: a sofa, a chair, a rickety dining table, clothes, books, a few personal items, and the unwavering feeling that I was truly alone.

The first night at my new place devastated me with its quietness. I drank whiskey that first night, straight and untainted by ice. You know, like the western heroes do. I wanted to silence the silence.

It didn’t work.


                                                              June 7, 1987

The doorbell blasted against Jubal’s skull. He tried to ignore it, and was partially successful. He tried ignoring the loud, insistent knocking at the door; he was unsuccessful in this endeavor.

He opened the door to a whirlwind. Jen burst in, talking a mile a minute, setting down two bags of fast food and a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey. Her purse found its way onto the French sofa and her car keys found purchase on the rickety kitchen table. Jubal stared at her, not knowing what to say, what to do, or how to act.

“Before you ask, it was Madison who told me. Your sister gave her this address and she gave it to me.”

Jen kept talking as she unwrapped burgers and fries. She looked at Jubal and motioned for him to sit down. He sat down.

“But – “

“Just shut up and eat. You’re skinny as hell, Jube.”

They ate. They drank. They plopped themselves on the sofa and listened to music. Jubal thought it would be a good idea to fall asleep, so he did.

Jen left him a note and then she left him alone. For the time being, that is.

If I were still a kid, I would be happy to know that I now had something to write about when my teacher assigned the inevitable essay of “What I did during my summer vacation.” I imagine that by the end of August, I’ll have enough material for a novella. Sleep well. You stink. Take a shower. Love, Jen


                                                           June 11, 1987

Jen and Madison arrived in my life like a fragrance. They weren’t just college friends. They were confidants, comforters, advisors, and shoulders to lean on. Lorelei, my ex, hated them.

I was much more rested and looked much better when Jen came to see me again. Shaved and showered and fully clothed in non-shitty attire, I actually looked decent. I do clean up well, though I prefer to dress as slovenly as possible. My planned trip to Albertson’s for a few groceries and lots of alcohol could wait, but the need for coffee could not. I brewed some pretty horrible coffee but Jen spiked it with a liberal dose of Jack Daniels.

At some point, Jen kissed me on the lips. Not a little kiss but one of those that signals to the recipient that the one transmitting the kiss means business. As much as I wanted to pull back, I didn’t. I don’t know why I wanted to pull back, for I had nothing left to lose now that I was divorced, but something in me told me that this was a very bad idea. Jen’s kiss won the day, though. Damn!

The kiss took the sting out of everything, diluting the pain of the past as the ever-present scent of gardenias tiptoed into my nostrils and stayed for the duration of the day. I put my hands on her still-slender hips as she kissed me again and then she embraced me with her mouth on my neck.

She whispered something, her plaintive, lost tone echoing in my head; she started crying silently, and I let the tears roll down my neck without saying anything. This was a Jen that was new to me, a vulnerable and lost little girl. Her pretenses and snappy ripostes deserted her, and she became so much more dangerous to me now than ever before. I knew, I knew that I could get lost in her, and it would be with the knowledge that I would never find my way out. I was indeed alone on this island, and there would be no Friday to save me, no Swiss family to show me the way to conduct myself, no Gulliver to befriend and counsel me. There would be a pig’s head on a stake, staring at me accusingly, knowing me.

Why she wanted me was as much a mystery as is the randomness that rules our lives. I was damaged goods, bruised and bloodied by the marriage wars, scarred by divorce and regret. I was a trophy that no one should care to win, the carnival prize that gets thrown under the bed until it collects enough dust and neglect to get tossed out with discarded toys and empty pizza boxes. I guess I have self-esteem issues.

The morning morphed into a scorching afternoon. We smoked a joint together and slumped on the French sofa, staring at the dull, tessellated patterns that the cheap curtains threw against the living room walls. I had put some CDs in my less-than-stellar stereo; the strains of Led Zeppelin and the Black Crows melded with the atmosphere, both soothing and jarring the soul. Finally, the music stopped. Jen sighed lazily and fell asleep on the floor. I fell asleep on the French sofa.

This is what we had become. Together and apart, still. Silent and close. Trusting. Peaceful but not at peace. At different levels in our lives. Mostly, though, we were dreamers without happy dreams.


                                                                July 1, 1987

“Your mom doesn’t like me,” Jen said. She stared at the placid Gulf waters and smoked a cigarette, not looking at Jubal.

“I know. It’s because of my sister. She thinks you’re a woman of loose moral character,” Jubal said.

“She’s very religious, your sister.”

Jubal lit a cigarette and turned to Jen, eyes twinkling.

“My sister has taken on the role of unofficial advisor to God. She thinks it her duty to let Him know where He went wrong with people like you and me. As far as I can tell, God agrees with her.”

“He wouldn’t dare disagree with her,” Jen said, laughing.

Jubal slid behind Jen and wrapped his arms around her, kissing her on the neck. Jen stroked his arms and moaned lightly.

“Are you in love with me?” Jubal asked, softly. The words rang in Jen’s ears.

“I love you, but I’m not in love with you,” she said, her gaze fixed on the warm Gulf waters.

Jubal tilted her head back, staring into her sunglassed face. He kissed her lightly and sighed.

“There’s a difference?”

Jen stood up, taking off her sunglasses and piercing Jubal with a studied gaze.

“Being in love is a ticket to the gates of Hell, boyo.”

“And loving someone?”

“You tell me,” Jen said, her voice sharp.

Jubal went inside and opened a beer. He drank from it deeply before answering.

“Purgatory,” he said. His eyes smiled but his lips didn’t.


                                                        October 21, 1987

We existed in a hazy whirlwind of bedroom activities and alcohol, interspersed with lucid conversation that was alternately disturbing and uplifting. When Jen showed up on my doorstep that first morning, I had no idea that we would become what we became, and what we became is as hard to explain as the nature of God. The closest I can come to this is to say that, between the chemicals and the chemistry, we managed to carve out a summer of desperate sex that had nothing to do with love and everything to do with finding out who we were and what we had to become to live with ourselves. We were, to put it simply, as totally fucked up as we had been before, but with a much deeper awareness of the depth of our fucked-up-ness. I didn’t know just how much my perception of everything would change come that first morning in June. And now, we have faced a lot of mornings after.

I’d always been partial to metaphors involving islands. Many of my favorite books dealt with islands in some fashion. I even liked to watch “Gilligan’s Island,” and I would have advised the crew to kill Gilligan if they ever wanted to escape the island. That would have been a mistake, though; their life was great and they didn’t even know it. They all had atonement issues, but those issues were largely inconsequential in the big scheme of things. What with the professor making life more comfortable for them and having two beautiful and unattached women on that island sounded pretty damn good to me. Although that island fantasy revolved around a threesome between me, Mary Ann, and Ginger, I’ve always had this thing about islands being metaphors for loneliness and abandonment and shit like that.

Jen talks a lot about seminal moments and defining decisions. Her fiery red hair and her weary, Madonna-like countenance lends an air of stunning beauty and deep sadness to her that’s hard to resist. Her vocal timbre has that backwoods Louisiana swamp deepness, the perfect voice for southern blues. If you can imagine Dusty Springfield crooning down a cavernous hallway, you can imagine her voice.

We’re living in the land of the lotus eaters. As far as I’m concerned, Gilligan can fuck up potential rescues to his heart’s content.


                                                            April 23, 1988

“It’s the domino effect,” Jen said. Her voice was controlled, steady, strong.

Jubal stared at her, not wanting to believe that she was leaving him.

“But – “

“It had to end someday, Jube. You knew that.”

“Dammit, Jen – “

“Look,” she said, “Madison finally showed some good sense and she’s divorcing Kyle. I think she needs me, and, well, we have to end.”

“Seattle? Seriously? I mean, I’ll hardly ever see you,” Jubal said, his voice cracking ever so slightly. Jen looked away from him and wiped a tear away.

“We have to end. Hell and Purgatory, sweetie.”


“Defining moments.”

“I – I don’t – “

Jen sighed, sat down, and patted the seat next to her. Jubal sat, dazed and stunned.

“We can’t go on like this. We’ll end up married, and that’s just an excuse to pick at each other’s faults and slowly grow fat together. This last year gave us both something that we had lacked.”

“What? Sex and whiskey?” Jubal sounded bitter.

“Hope. Renewal. Rebirth. You don’t hate yourself any longer.”

“So, you did all this for me?” The bitterness remained.

“No. I see myself as worthy again. You did that for me.”

Jubal shook his head and stood up. He paced the room, stopping every so often to say something, but in the end not saying anything. He knew his Jen. It was a done deal.

The minutes ticked by. Jubal continued pacing and Jen continued to sit quietly, watching him pace. The afternoon shadows lengthened, grew to sizes that felt uncomfortable within the confines of Jubal’s modest apartment. Somewhere in the distance, a child laughed.

Jubal broke the silence.

“Fine, but I get custody of the whiskey.”


                                                       June 12, 1988

It hurt like hell. The last night together was like my drive back to Ft. Worth last year. Surreal, but in a different way. I suppose surreal comes in a lot of different flavors.

Sex. Check.

Kisses. Check.

Tears. Check.

A long last look good-bye.

Double check.

I’ll miss her like hell. Her slender hips that she always deplored but, to me, had some magic ratio that made her so alluring. Her fiery red hair that owed nothing to a bottle. The scent of gardenias that always surrounded her. Most of, I’ll miss - her. What she is inside.

Chemicals and chemistry. Liquid therapy and moonlit coupling. Was it ever enough? I write this down and I wonder if I’ll ever read my words about our time together in the future. When I’m old and gray and fat, will I reach for this journal and relive the best, worst, most turbulent time of my life? Or will all the words jumble and become a pig’s head, staring at me?

I’m thinking I may never eat pork again.


                                                          July 29, 1999

Jubal watched the IV drip as it released saline from its perch above Jen to her thin, withered arm. He gazed at her with soft eyes, eyes that had recently been crying. He didn’t want her to die, but die she would. Ovarian cancer had taken over and it was in control. He felt helpless and hopeless and heartbroken, enraged that this was happening to Jen, drained of any strength he had felt when he first saw her like this three weeks ago.

“Another night together,” Jen said. Her voice was weak but it held some of the old magic in it. For a moment, Jubal was transported back to his small apartment in Ft. Worth, listening to Jen as she voiced some opinion or other.

“Is it as good for you as it used to be?” Jubal tried to keep his voice from cracking.

“Always, sweetie. What day is it?”

“Friday morning. One o’clock. I’ll be here all night, though. Maybe cop a feel when you aren’t looking.”

Jen laughed, then coughed. She moaned and closed her eyes.

“I don’t have anything left to cop, so to speak. My weight loss program is very successful,” she said.

“Hit the button, Jen. You’re in pain,” Jubal implored.

Jen shook her head.

“Not yet. I want to talk with you. I miss that, Jube. You and I, talking about everything and nothing.”

Jubal sat forward in his seat and took Jen’s left hand in his.

“Me too. Missed it like a cowboy misses his horse.”

The minutes proceeded to march slowly out the door. Dignified silence and the occasional wheeze from Jen only amplified the stillness of the room.

“Maybe I should have stayed and married you,” Jen said. She turned slightly to Jubal, blinking back tears.

“A regret?”


“You did the right thing. We would have done just like you said. Sniping at each other to while away the long Sunday afternoons. Our waistlines increasing with the passing years.”

“Might not have been so bad,” she whispered. Jubal leaned in close to hear her voice.

“It would have been hell,” Jubal whispered.

Jen smiled. She closed her eyes again.

“You remembered,” she said.

“Of course. Hell. Purgatory.”

Jen winced and remained silent. Jubal waited. The night was quiet once more. Not even the birds deigned to twitter.

“I guess – I guess I’ll fall in love with you now, sweetie. I put it off for long enough,” Jen smiled at him.

“Bad idea, love. First one you’ve ever had as far as I know,” Jubal said. His eyes twinkled, part of the reason due to the tears he couldn’t keep at bay. He watched as she winced in pain, marveled at her strength. He could never face it like her, impending death and the suffering that it caused. Jubal cleared his throat and angrily brushed a tear away. He felt like his eyes were betraying him.

“I think I need to sleep now, Jube. Give me a kiss. No tongue, though,” Jen said. Her pain was evident. She pushed the button that delivered a healthy dose of painkilling relief.

“Love you, Jen. Always,” Jubal whispered, then kissed her on her dry, cracked lips.

“Same, sweetie. Now, tell me about Gilligan and why you love him so much.”

Jubal shifted in his seat and began talking. Jen’s eyes were closed but a faint smile played on her lips.

“Gilligan was a genius, you see. He kept everyone in a sort of paradise through his tomfoolery, which I don’t think was an accident. Not for a moment. The man…”


                                                            January 1, 2000

Jen died that last night we had together. I hope to God that she’s still dreaming about islands. I never do. Dream, that is. Not even when I drink like a western hero.


                                                           October 12, 2023

I still visit her. Jen. She’s right in front of me, complete with a headstone bearing lovely words, and fresh flowers. I clear the leaves away so that the still-green grass is visible. I don’t know if she can hear me or not since I’m not privy to God’s machinations. I bet my sister would know, but I’m afraid to ask her. Jen would laugh if she knew that.

I stare at a picture I have of us. Our graduation party. I’m standing near her, very close. Close enough to lean in and kiss her, but I don’t. Her head is lowered slightly. She has that smile on her face. The one that’s impish and knowing and sad, all at the same time. She smells like gardenias and happiness.

I’m approaching sixty-six, I tell her, and she says nothing. I’m a little chubby, and my beard is gray, I tell her. She says nothing. I tell her that the biggest mistake Gilligan and his friends ever made was getting rescued. She says nothing.

But the sun chose this moment to break through. I figure that’s her smiling at me. Or maybe I’m just an old fool, wishing for things that never were.

The scent of gardenias arrives just in time.

December 07, 2023 12:15

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Mary Bendickson
20:00 Dec 07, 2023

Tenderly written. Love Jen tender.


Delbert Griffith
01:01 Dec 08, 2023

Thanks so much, Mary. It was hard to write. Cheers!


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16:02 Dec 07, 2023

Jen sounded as if she was full of life. Sad ending, sounds like they werent ready to settle down at that point in their life but had some good memories. Many very true observations your characters make in this story. Life is a journey and we need to keep moving. Thanks for sharing this.


Delbert Griffith
18:44 Dec 07, 2023

Thanks so much, Scott. I appreciate the comments and you taking the time to read my little tale. Yeah, it's a story that reminds me of a Bob Dylan song - Like a Rolling Stone. They had no direction. Cheers!


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Helen A Smith
17:43 Dec 15, 2023

This has a touching poignancy and is reminiscent of all the emotions that such relationships engender. It made me feel sad for Jubal’s loss. It’s not always possible to be absolutely certain whether it’s right to close the door on the past. It often can’t be forgotten. Tender story.


Delbert Griffith
00:57 Dec 16, 2023

Thanks so much, Helen. That you found poignancy in the tale warms my heart. I always appreciate what you have to say about my little tales, my friend. Cheers!


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Priscilla 🌹
04:36 Dec 14, 2023

Your interpretation of the prompt left me wondering whose hibernation was ending -- Jen or Jubal's (not a bad thing at all! If anything, it added dimension to the story.) Your writing style is really evocative and paints a solid picture that carries the reader gently through the story. Well done! Editing to say I had a similar interpretation of the prompt! Except mine was a breakup and not a divorce. Funny how grief feels like hibernation


Delbert Griffith
11:41 Dec 14, 2023

Thanks so much for the kind words and the thoughtful insights you had on my little tale. Jubal was the hibernating soul, but Jen, I think, could easily be cast in that light. That she chose to run off and be with another friend getting a divorce speaks of a person not quite sure of what they want. Maybe I should call her the divorce whisperer! LOL Grief feeling like hibernation. Wow, that's a good interpretation on grief. Well done. Again, thanks for reading and liking my story. Truly. Cheers!


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David McCahan
11:21 Dec 13, 2023

Crushing. A beautiful tribute.


Delbert Griffith
12:09 Dec 13, 2023

Thanks so much, David. I appreciate you reading and liking my little tale. Cheers!


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J. D. Lair
03:44 Dec 09, 2023

You got me all choked up over here Delbert! Wonderfully written, as always.


Delbert Griffith
11:23 Dec 09, 2023

Thanks so much, J.D. I appreciate the kind words, and I really appreciate you reading my little tale. I'm glad it resonated with you, my friend. Cheers!


J. D. Lair
15:20 Dec 09, 2023

It was relatable more than you know my friend. I could have been reading my own diary from 8 years ago. I do hope you found some lasting healing. <3


Delbert Griffith
16:42 Dec 09, 2023

Thank you, my friend. And you as well. Truly.


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