How long had she been standing on the stoop? She had lost track of time. The last thing she remembered was thinking it might rain. She had been taking freshly laundered shirts from the clothesline but at some point her mind wandered off the task at hand. Now the sky was dark with clouds and the breeze that had been drying her laundry earlier in the day had ceased. A storm was brewing, she said to herself, as she finished taking shirts off the line.
Stepping down from the stoop with the laundry basket under her arm, she paused to look around. A change was definitely coming she thought. The air seemed charged with a tension you could almost feel, like sparks on your skin.
Today would definitely be the day.
With so much to do she wondered if there would be enough time to accomplish everything. In her mind she rattled off the list of things to be done: fold and put away the laundry; put clean sheets on the bed and clean towels in the bathroom; put a casserole in the oven and set the timer, set the table; make a list of the pre-made meals in the freezer; get the suitcases from the attic; pack.
So much to do.
She felt numb as she put the shirts on hangars and hung them in the closet. She felt numb as she meticulously completed each of the tasks on her mental To Do list. She was still feeling numb as she sat down to write the letter. The letter had to be written, especially now.
At first the blank page in front of her seemed too immense to fill. What could she write? How could she say what needed to be said? She picked up her pen and began:
For a moment today I stared at the calendar. June seventeenth. Our wedding anniversary.
You realized the date as well. I caught that look in your eyes. That don’t-say-anything-and-maybe-no-one-will-notice look. I have seen that look so many times in the forty-six years we have been married.
In recognition of the day I sorted through mementos of our wedding: the plastic flower corsage – you said it would last longer than the real flower; my little white wedding hat with the silk flowers; a wedding card from the parents of one of your friends, a wedding card from my co-workers; our marriage certificate. Not much to show for the most important day of our lives.
Notice I avoided referring to it as the happiest day of our lives? It wasn’t, was it. Our wedding photographs attest to that fact – all six photos. We looked like frightened kids. You, standing with your best friend as Best Man, looking like you wanted to bolt from the room. Me, gripping my sister’s hand. No one smiling.
My sister was Matron of Honour, and one of only three of my family members who attended the wedding.
Of course your parents came. Your mother kissed me on the cheek and whispered, “This marriage won’t last… I’ll see to that!”
No other family or friends came to wish us well. No showers, wedding feast, gifts. No honeymoon. What a celebration it was.
You remember why my family didn’t attend the wedding, don’t you? They were ashamed of me. Today no one would care if I were three months pregnant. It was a different story forty-six years ago.
We had talked about marriage but neither of us were really sure about it. We did not know each other well enough, I believe. We needed more time.
I did not want to have sex, but you kept pushing, needling me, promising to use a condom. Was that the first time you lied to me, or just one of the many lies you have told me over the years? Regardless, I believed you. What a fool I was.
When I told you that I was pregnant you asked if the baby was really yours. How could you even ask that question? I was a good girl – at least I was until I listened to you. To this day I cannot believe you had the nerve to suggest the child I was carrying was not yours!
I should have left you then but I was pregnant and had no other choice. My mother said, “You made your bed, now lie in it!” She would not allow me to stay home. I felt totally abandoned and alone.
Your father said you had to “do the right thing”, so you did. You decided when and where we were to be married. I was not given a choice. You made all the decisions and I reluctantly followed.
Our wedding was the beginning of turbulent years, with few highlights, and many heartaches. We could have grown closer over the years, but you continued to lie to me. I continued to buy into those lies.
I went from being my parents’ good girl to being my husbands’ dutiful wife. I stayed home and raised our children while you lived like a single man, doing whatever you wanted.
Oh yes, you had that millstone around your neck, didn’t you, that family you kept, like a separate life. You did your duty, keeping a roof over our heads and food on the table. Yet part of you was never there.
I believed that if I did not ask for much, did not run you into debt, and handled all the responsibilities for our children, that you would not feel so burdened. When it came to being part of our lives you had better things to do. Like watching television, sleeping, hunting, fishing, spending time with your friends.
I would tell the children that Daddy was tired from working at the factory and needed time to himself. Yes, I even lied for you, so our children would not think less of their father.
I tried to understand when you pushed me away and went places without me. You told people I did not want to go anywhere. Eventually they began to believe there was something wrong with me. You encouraged that lie. I could not tell them that I had nothing to wear except jeans and tee-shirts, and you could not afford to buy me anything nice to wear out. I could not tell them you did not want to be seen with me because you were embarrassed by me and my ‘simple ways’.
I was angry when you showed more interest in other women than in me. You even paid more attention to my sister than to me. No, you did not sleep with them, but there are many ways to be unfaithful.
Do you know how much I hated you? I have put up with being ignored, pushed aside, belittled and minimized for forty-six years. You looked at other women doing the same work I was doing and were more impressed with them than with me. I was never important to you.
I took my anger and frustration out on the children. I should have dumped it on you but you were never there.
You have been part of my life since I was seventeen years old but in all that time you have never valued me as a person. You have never valued me as your wife.
I know I said I hated you, but part of me loves you too. I never thought I could love and hate at the same time.
Do not misunderstand, I am not without my faults. I have let anger and sadness make me bitter. It spills out whenever we try to hold a conversation. That is all there is between us: a wall of broken promises, lies, angry words, and shattered dreams.
Now that the children have moved away we just pass like two ships in the night, barely acknowledging each other.
There is no point rehashing the past. I have done enough of that for both of us. I have lost count of all the times I tried to discuss our problems with you, while you stared at the television, or slapped cards down on the table, ignoring me, wishing I would just shut up and go away.
Well, you have got your wish. I am leaving you. I cannot live the remaining years of my life this way. Perhaps freedom is the best anniversary gift I can give you.
P.S. Funny, isn’t it, your mother always thought she would be the one to break up our marriage. It turns out she did not need to life a finger.
Placing the pen down on the table, she read the pages before her. She had not intended to write so much. Words just seemed to pour out through her pen.
Carefully she folded the letter, put it inside an envelope, sealed it, and wrote her husband’s name on the outside. In the kitchen she placed the envelope next to his coffee cup so he would be certain to see it.
Before she left the kitchen she gave a quick glance around the room, making sure everything was in its place. Room to room, she went, assuring herself everything was as it should be.
The first rumble of thunder could be heard outside.
She went up to the attic and got the suitcases. In her bedroom she carefully packed her belongings. She carried the suitcases down to the front door.
A crack of lightening, then a deep rumble of thunder, shook the windowpanes.
She reached for her coat hanging by the door, just as she had done so many times before. As she buttoned her coat a wave of sadness washed over her, the first real emotion she had felt all day. Tears welled in her eyes, spilling down her cheeks. She picked up her purse and car keys and opened the front door.
Rain was teeming down in straight lines. For a moment she thought God was crying.
The sound of thunder and pounding rain filled the silence of the house as she closed the door behind her.
© 2008 Tallulah