Fiction 2010 / Issues / Spring 2010 / Volume 40

Proof — Sharon E. Trotter

The night before my marriage ended, I drove home in a terrible fog. I don’t mean a muddled state of mind, though that would be true. I mean fog. A thick shroud that forced me to creep along the A14 at less than 10 miles an hour. My lights were worthless. They merely illuminated the wall I kept driving into over and over again. Sure, in retrospect, it seems symbolic. But at the time, it was just weather. “It’s a rough one,” my manager warned me. This coming from a Brit, so I knew it was bad. I’d been driving our left-handed stick shift for 10 months, but I still had a tendency to drift into the right lane. And the roundabout near our flat? I often ended up going around the thing three times before finding the confidence to make my move. I didn’t need the added challenge of zero visibility. You’ll be fine, I told myself. It’s a test. Since the day after our wedding, when Alec and I had flown during a horrific storm, I had been turning nearly any situation I could find into a test. Having been filled with second thoughts before, during, and after the ceremony, I convinced myself during the flight that if the plane landed safely, it would be a sign we were meant to be together, that I had made the right decision. This was how low I set the bar. I was willing to accept not dying as proof. The plane didn’t crash. Not literally. Our marriage soon exploded, but individually we survived, bits of burning metal dropping from the sky as we drifted from the wreckage, alone in our own lifeboats on the black waters of the Atlantic. I like to think my humiliation was not for naught, that my parents didn’t spend a big chunk of their savings on a “bad decision,” a phrase that implies something as minor as the wrong pair of shoes. But I’ve never landed on any wisdom, just these lessons: 1. It’s a good idea to have dated the person you marry Seems obvious, right? But Alec and I never bothered. We were drinking buddies with the occasional round of sex on the side. The next thing you know, he hit a rough patch and felt lonely enough to ask me to marry him. My masochistic infatuation and fear of the future compelled me to say yes. Presto. Oh, I thought I loved him. I was twenty-one. I thought a lot of things. 2. Twenty-one is too young to make these decisions I had never filed taxes. But choosing a partner for the rest of my life? This, I could handle? Ridiculous. 3. Tequila should never be the glue that holds a relationship together Alec and I spent a lot of time discussing the nuances of the lick-it, slam-it, suck-it protocol. Time that would have been better spent, say, making sure we were on the same page when it came to money, kids, God, vacations, and in-laws. Of course, that assumes either of us would have had a page to begin with, when, in reality, we were page-less. 4. Tequila should never be the glue that holds a relationship together This one warrants repeating. Believe it or not, at the time I said “yes,” there was plenty of evidence that I wasn’t an idiot: graduating cum laude, including three semesters with a 4.0, being a member of the student senate, and writing for the university’s newspaper. And before college, managing to have escaped the wild west of my rural high school without getting pregnant or arrested or catching a sexually transmitted disease. No small feat. At the time of Alec’s proposal, I hadn’t gotten around to living up to my potential, but I hadn’t flamed out either. So there I was, a non-idiot, watching ginger ale slosh and spill as the plane lurched ahead with uncertainty. Dinner trays tumbled from the food cart. A flight attendant stumbled, her heels puncturing globs of gravy-soaked Salisbury steak. “Just a little turbulence,” she tried to assure us. At my bachelorette party, I had chewed the maraschino cherry off of my drink’s plastic sword and declared to my single friends, “I don’t think of it as marriage. I just think of it as hanging out with Alex. Legally.” I had felt wise when I said this. Wise. The flight attendant with the steak-covered heels tugged at the gold cross around her neck. I held Alec’s hand. I like to think he reached for mine, but I’m sure I reached for his. Just like when I bought that Mizpah coin necklace for the boy in eighth grade. Love me, I demanded. Love Me. “You scared?” I asked. “Nah. It’s just a few bumps. No big deal.” He put on headphones. Managed to chuckle to the scene in Mrs. Doubt/ire when Robin Williams puts out the fire on his foam breasts by hitting himself with pot lids. Which brings me to a fifth lesson, really, which is to never marry a man who finds Mrs. Doubt/ire funny. But I digress. Those last few months before I found out about Kimberly, we had a lovely little stretch there, and I’m glad. The anger I felt after learning about his betrayal was quickly followed by a sense of relief. Gratitude, even. I had been given a permission slip to undo the thing that shouldn’t have been done. But the night I drove home in the fog, a simple version of happily ever after still seemed possible. White knuckles gripping the wheel, I inched my way home. Crept into bed. Alec wrapped himself around me, and I felt the smooth band of gold around his finger. I told myself I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Moonlight slipped into the room beneath the cheap, pale blue, ruffled curtains. We were young, and we were almost in love.

 

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