b-side

I can’t bear to hear about any more divorces. Every where I turn, someone has news. I run into a friend at the coffee shop – someone I have not seen in months – and within moments, he says: “I think we’ll probably divorce.” Twenty-two years. Our poet friends, twenty years. Work colleagues – fifteen, seventeen, twenty-five years. I want them to be happy, of course, of course, but it frightens me, destabilizes me, to hear of all this loss.

I remember my mother saying – in one of her many proclamations about love – that once the word divorce is uttered in a marriage, there is no turning back. It then becomes only a matter of managing the speed with which you travel toward the inevitable end. “Be careful with your words,” she’d say, though she was careless and cruel with her own. “You can apologize all you want, but you can’t take them back.”

How is it that it ends, then – love?

Do you wake one morning with the idea lodged deep? The image of yourself, walking out the front door, down the wooden steps, and onto the sidewalk. You look to the right and then to the left, shove your hands deep in your pockets and walk, keep walking toward a light in the distance – a light just beyond where you can see?

Or standing in the kitchen at the sink, staring out the open window? The neighbor in her garden with her wide-brimmed hat, kneeling and bending, gathering branches, and you think, my god, I will not make it through this year.

Or in the bright light of a summer afternoon, in front of the courthouse where the papers have been signed, your copy of them rolled into your hand. With your other hand you shield your eyes from the blinding sun as you say, “No thank you,” to his invitation to lunch. “Maybe some other time.”

Or is it always ending? Are we always rescuing love from the brink where it teeters? So that the end of love is really just a series of small moments of inattention? Of looking away for too long? And looking back just an instant too late?

And what of the years that seem like magic? The years where the light is warm and endless. You drive to the beach with the windows open and spend the afternoons in the sand, the sea spray leaves you salty and damp. You picnic in the shade of the ancient trees and the sunlight is dappled on your skin. You walk holding hands as the light fades along the river that runs through the city. You stop on the bridge to look out over the water and embrace, breathe in the scent of him like it is oxygen itself, let it fill you up.

How then, does it end?

My friend says: “He asked me whether I had ever said I was sorry.” She is talking about the lawyer.

“Sorry for what?” I ask.

“Sorry that we could not make it work.”

I wait for her to continue, but she does not.

“And what did you say?”

“I said, do you mean the night that I begged him to let me stay? When I said whatever we needed to do, that I would do it? When I said, we are stronger than this, we are better than this, that whatever we are going through will pass – it will pass, if only we can hold on?”

“And what did he say to that?”

“He said. Oh. I guess you have, then.”

 

At the café, he says: “I don’t want to leave, but it’s just this constant battle. She wants me to change, I am not going to change. I’m fifty-six years old. I am not going to change.”

I am waiting for someone, but he sits down and I let him. “I mean, for god’s sake, I may be awful, but I’m not that awful. She could have done worse. I mean, after all this time, she still can’t bear me the way I am?” A man waiting in line at the counter turns around to see who is speaking. My friend lowers his voice, leans in across the table. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I am telling you this.”

I assure him it’s ok. Try to make a joke of it. Say: “But who is going to wheel you around when you are old?”

He laughs. “I know, I know. I can’t imagine trying to get to know someone new.”

“Can you imagine,” M. says, when we are with our friends, “the tedium of having to learn someone else’s music collection?” We are listening to old records we had forgotten we had. “All that history,” S. says, shaking his head. “How do you start over?”

We’re talking about a couple we know in common. “I really didn’t see that coming,” I say. We all nod in agreement, then are quiet for a moment. The record ends, and M. gets up to change it.