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Romance Sad Fiction

“I want you out of my house, and I want you out now.”

“Think about the kids, honey.”

“You think about the kids. You should have thought about them before you dropped your trousers for some bimbo.”

“She’s not a bimbo. She’s an astronaut.”

“An astronaut in training. Just like you. Someone planning to leave her family and go gallivanting off into space.”

“OK, in training. Willing to sacrifice for mankind. I thought you were on board with the idea of me going into space on a commercial rocket. Now you’re calling it gallivanting off into space?”

“Don’t try to blame this on me. I was OK with you exploring space - not everything in a short skirt.”

“I’m not trying to blame this on you, Alma. And I’m not trying to explore everything in a short skirt. Not even everything in a bulky spacesuit. It just happened.”

“It just happened? Your bulky spacesuit just fell off? And hers? Then it just happened that your space probe found her docking port?”

“OK, it wasn’t an accident, and it didn’t just happen. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to happen, I didn’t plan it. I screwed up, big time. And I’m really sorry. Tell you what. I’ll go to counseling now, honey. You’ve always wanted me to go to counseling with you.”

“It’s a little too late for that, now, lover boy.”

“Listen to me. Listen to yourself. Just sit down at the table, and listen.”

Alma sat down at the far end of the kitchen table. “So talk. I don’t know what else there is to say but go ahead. Talk.”

Jonathan sat down across the table. “Thank you. Let me ask a question. How did you think our marriage was going when I left for training camp?”

“We had our problems, just like any couple after eleven years of marriage and four children.” Alma took a sip of coffee. “Ugh. It’s cold.” She got up and took her coffee to the microwave. She turned to look at Jonathan. “You were a jerk. Not as big a jerk as you became, but you were a jerk when you left.”

“Do you want to know what I think?”

“Not really.” She took her coffee out of the microwave, went back to the table, and sat down.

“I think you’re right, for the most part.” Jonathan licked his lips.

“That coffee smells really good. Would you mind getting me a cup?”

“Get your own damn cup. You know where the coffee is, and the cups.”

“OK, OK,” Jonathan held his hands up, palms out. “I’ll get my own cup.” He got a mug down from the cupboard. The one that said he was the World’s #1 Husband. He pulled the empty carafe out of the coffeemaker. “It’s empty. Are you going to want any more, or should I just do instant?”

“Do whatever the hell you want. You seem to be pretty good at that.”

Jonathan put the empty carafe back and took some instant coffee out of the pantry. After heating the water and stirring in the instant coffee, he sat down at the table again.

“I agree with you. We had our problems. Most couples do.” He took a sip of coffee. “And I was a bit of a jerk. I drank too much, trusted you too little, and spent too much time working on my game. Do you know what I planned to do when I left for camp?”

“Apparently you planned on dipping your wick somewhere else. Anywhere else.”

“No, that wasn’t in my plan. I knew I was a jerk, and I knew we had problems. I was overweight, and felt pretty lousy about myself.”

“It doesn’t seem like you thought much of me, either.”

“Not true, honey. I thought you were amazing. A wonderful mother, a good wife, and too beautiful for your own good. I knew Harry was snooping around. And Leonard. I was afraid you were sharing your charms with them because I was such a jerk.”

“Dead wrong, mister. Harry did give me a hint or two, but I believe in marriage. I believe in us, or at least I did. So I ignored his advances. Leonard could have tempted me a little more, but he’s in love with Marcy. And he’s faithful. You could learn a thing or two from Leonard.”

“All right, honey, all right.” Jonathan sipped his coffee. “I think it takes two to make a marriage or to break it. But I felt like most of our problems were my fault. I planned on dieting, working out like crazy, focusing my thinking, and becoming a much better person. Someone you deserved. I planned on coming back to you as a new man. Someone you would choose over Harry, or Leonard. Someone you could be happily married to.”

“That’s rich. In what universe would I be happily married to a lousy, stinking, cheating hunk? Oh, wait - you’re the spaceman. You’re going to go to other universes. Maybe you thought you already found one where you looking good and feeling better about yourself would make up for sleeping around.”

Jonathan took a deep breath and another sip of coffee. “Good one Alma. You also have a great sense of humor.”

“You think this is me being funny? You think I want to continue living with a man who thinks nothing of cheating on me?”

Jonathan clenched and unclenched his fists, took another deep breath, and silently counted to ten. “What I think is that I screwed up. Big time. I’m sorry. I don’t know how many ways to say that, or show it. But I want to try. I want to start with common ground and talk. Something we didn’t do very much before I left. I want us to be us again. And I think that needs communication, honesty, and maybe even professional help. Can you at least try to work with me here? Can we start by trying to agree on a couple of common things? Like the fact that we weren’t in a great state when I left? That I was being a jerk? That I screwed up while I was away? Can we agree on that, to begin with?”

“Oh, you were a jerk all right. I have no problem agreeing with you there. And you screwed somebody else while you were away. I’m not disputing that, nor the fact that you screwed up royally. I wouldn’t say we weren’t in a great state when you left. We weren’t perfect, I can agree with that. But we weren’t in such a bad state that I was looking for an out. Our marriage wasn’t driving me to screw around on you. It could have been better, sure. But it was us; not us plus one, Or plus more than one.”

“I’ll take that as a start. Thank you. Now, can we agree that I missed you while I was all the way across the country? That I was lonely?”

“Only if we also agree that I missed you, too. That I was lonely, here with the kids. Maybe having them around helped me deal with that, but it also meant I didn’t have any help with parenting.”

“Good. That’s good. We agree that we were both lonely, that we missed each other, and that you had to deal with the kids all by yourself. And you did a great job of that, by the way. I’m proud of you. It’s not every woman who could have pulled that off like you did.”

“Thank you. Apparently, you were trying to find someone else who could, though.”

“Never. Nobody could replace you as the mother of my children. And I wouldn’t want them to.” Jonathan took another sip of coffee, stared at the table, then raised his eyes to look directly at Alma again.

“Picture this. Ten men and two women leave their families and go across the country. We attend heavy classes all day long, five days a week. We can’t leave the facility, we can’t drink, we can’t eat any fast food. We’re all captive on base, in a small training facility, each with our own tiny room, roughly the size of a prison cell.”

“Here’s a picture for you. One woman and four children see her husband and their father climb into an airplane and fly away. She can’t, I can’t leave our house unless I take all four children with me, or bring in a babysitter. I can’t drink, I can’t eat anything healthy or the kids will have a fit, and they always want to go to a drive-through. School’s out, so the only breaks I get are playdates. I have my own room, the room I used to share with my husband, a man I thought to be faithful. The entire house feels like a prison at times.”

“Honey, I’m sorry. I realize you had to go through your own challenges, as well. I was really worried about you when I left. And I was really proud of you when I was allowed to call home once a week.”

“I loved those phone calls, too.”

“Do you remember what you said to me on the first one?”

“I said it felt like you were already in space, a universe away.”

“And do you remember what you said on the fifth call, halfway through my training camp?”

“I said I really missed you, and I would be glad when you came home. Boy, was I ever wrong.”

“Actually, you’re wrong now. I remember what you said because it pulled the rug out from under me. You said you weren’t sure you wanted me to come home. You were enjoying making all the decisions yourself, and taking care of the kids.”

“I did?”

“You did. And I thought I would die.”

Alma took a sip of coffee and glared at Jonathan. “I wish you had died. Or at least that you hadn’t come home. Not with your own shocking news, that you had been unfaithful. That really pulled the rug out from under me, I’ll tell you that.”

“Fair enough. And like I said, I’m sorry. Let me expand on what happened in camp.”

“You’re not going to share minute details of your indiscretion, are you? I really don’t want to hear it.”

“No intimate details, no. I just want to try to explain how things happened the way they did. Nothing justifies what I did, I really screwed up, and I’m sorry. But maybe if I tell you something about what I went through you’ll give me another chance.”

“Your odds aren’t good. But I’ll listen.”

“Thank you. Picture yourself away at training camp, in the environment I found myself in. Classes all day, demanding physical training with the need to pass a major obstacle course before graduation, living in a tiny room by yourself.”

“With you and the kids back home?”

“With me back home. No kids.”

“OK, I’ll try.”

“You can’t leave the base, there’s no entertainment, unless you consider talking with your fellow trainees entertainment, and you get to call home once a week. And you really look forward to those phone calls.”

“It sounds like you found your own entertainment. Were you the only one? Was she the only one?”

“She’s one of two women in the program. She’s you, or you’re her, in this little role play.”

“Oh, no you don’t. Don’t try to get me to play the slut that decides to find her own entertainment, With someone else’s husband.”

“No, not that. You’re in love with your husband who’s a country away. You miss him. You only get to talk to him once a week. NASA has your cell phone, so you can’t text, or Snapchat, or facetime . . . just an old-fashioned phone call, on a pay phone, once a week.”

“OK, I’m trying to imagine this whole thing.”

“Good. Now, you’re halfway through your training program. During the second half of the program, you don’t have a curfew. But you still can’t leave the base, you can’t go out to eat, you can’t drink, no movies, everything else is just as restrictive as the first half.”

“Is that to prepare you for being in similar conditions in space? Or to see if you break under those conditions?”

“I think it is. Anyway, you’re very excited now, because it’s Saturday, and you’re going to call your husband.”

“You don’t want to know what I want to call my husband right now. Or how excited I am to do so.”

“Got it. Now, switch back from being Alma Smirnov to your role as astronaut-in-training Susan Smallwood. You’re excited to call your husband. But when you call him, he tells you …”

“... that he doesn’t want me to come home?”

“... he misses you so much he can’t take it any longer. He’s saying goodbye because he’s going to end it all.”

“He’s going to what? Take the coward’s way out? And I’m supposed to be excited about calling him? About being married to him?”

“That’s right, you’re confused. You need to talk to someone, but your best friend Sherry isn’t available. You don’t feel close to any of the people you’re stuck with inside the compound. So you head out to the park bench on the hill outside your dorm. The park bench that offers a view of the Marmonack River and the beautiful lighted bridge spanning across to Dragon Island. A view that offers peace, calm, relaxation. A romantic view that offers all that.”

“Hold on. If I just talked to my supposed husband, who allegedly missed me, and is now threatening to commit suicide, I don't feel romantic. I feel undermined, confused, sad, scared, betrayed.”

“Exactly. And with no close friends to listen, you head to the park bench to think. To get away from the training, the dorm, the other trainees. To be alone.”

“That’s right, to be alone. No way am I looking to get laid by a stranger.”

“Right. But what happens when you’re not the only person who headed for that bench? What if someone else has the same lonesome need for a place to think, another human being who doesn’t feel romantic. He feels undermined, confused, sad, scared, and betrayed. Someone whose best friend is also in training, but a friend who is absolutely the worst person in the world to talk to about something like this.”

“You snake. You’re trying to get me to feel sorry for you.”

“Maybe a little. I’m trying to help you realize that two lonely people, far from home, feeling like their worlds just turned upside down, just happened to meet up just when they each needed someone to talk to. And they happened to meet up at a very romantic spot.”

“So you just walked up, sat down, and she jumped your bones? Or did you sweep in, take her in your arms, and offer physical relief and solace?”

“I’m trying to show that neither of us planned this. She didn’t jump my bones, I didn’t take her in my arms. We each offered, awkwardly, to leave. And we each assured the other it was OK to stay. Then we sat in silence. After a while we talked, we listened, we cried. For the next week, we met there every night, just to talk about feelings, options, plans. And about our next phone call home.”

“You waited a whole week to scrap your marriage vows. I’m impressed.”

“We each had another surprising, disappointing, upsetting phone call with our spouse. And after another week of being there for each other, another lousy phone call, she realized he didn’t mean it. He wasn’t going to commit suicide. He was just trying to manipulate her again. I realized you did mean it. You were thriving without me. You didn’t want me to come home, and upset your brand new apple cart. Then I talked to Ed.”

“There’s another mistake. You just told me he was the worst person to talk to about this.”

“He was. He is. But he was still my best friend. My only male friend at training camp. And what he said was no surprise. He told me he had known for a long time that we weren’t doing that well as a married couple. That remaining faithful to one woman wasn’t natural. That I should take advantage of having found someone who would listen to me.”

“Definitely the worst person to ask about this. But you asked. And you listened. And now you’re trying to blame your infidelity on him.”

“No. I’m the one who screwed up. It’s all on me. I could go into a long list of reasons why I thought it best for you, for me, and for the kids, that we dissolve our marriage. But I was wrong to think that way. I was wrong in not listening to your suggestion that we seek help. For a year and a half, I refused to consider that. But now I see more clearly. I know we can be so much more. We can make this work. And I’m ready to go to counseling and get help to make that happen. Will you please forgive me, Alma? Or go to counseling and try to find it in your heart to forgive me down the road?”

“No, Jonathan, I won’t. You think you see more clearly now, but I still don’t think you get it.”

“Help me get it then, Alma.”

“You broke my heart, Jonathan. You broke our marriage. You broke us.”

“I know, honey, I know. And I want to fix us. Whatever it takes.”

“This can’t be fixed. I’m sorry, but I don’t see any way I can ever trust you again.” Alma stood up. At least she frowned. “I want you out of here, Jonathan. And I want you out now.”

December 03, 2020 20:01

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